Parties Control The Mechanics Of Elections, But Can’t Command Loyalty

Parties Control The Mechanics Of Elections, But Can’t Command Loyalty

By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The roles of the Republican and Democratic parties are undergoing fundamental shifts that threaten their impact on elections and policy.

Built in the 19th century and dominant in the 20th, they now are largely out of date.

They still control the ballot and machinery like the primaries. But they do not hold the loyalty of the people. The largest party in America is no party, with the ranks of people calling themselves independents at the highest level in more than 75 years of polling. The parties do not control the message. People learn about politics from social media instead of traditional means such as mailings or campaign rallies. And the parties are no longer the sole banker of politics. Big-money interests now effectively create shadow parties with extensive networks of donors of their own.

The result: People are tuning out and turning away.

In 2012, average voter turnout for statewide primaries for president, governor and U.S. Senate plunged to its lowest level since the modern primary system became popular in 1972.

It’s a historic change in voter behavior. The Democratic and Republican parties have dominated American politics since the mid-1850s. They grew and prospered as inclusive coalitions that tolerated diverse views for the sake of winning elections, and then consolidating power.

Changes aimed at bringing even more people into the process in the 1970s, such as more primaries and caucuses, have not only outlived their original intent, but they also have wound up allowing unprecedented polarization to strangle party progress. Activists became adept at turning out their own ideological bases, leaving the broad middle on the sidelines.

“Americans’ attachment to the two major political parties in recent years is arguably the weakest Gallup has recorded since the advent of its polls,” the polling organization reported in January.

Just 29 percent called themselves Democrats last year, it found, “making it safe to conclude that the current (number) is also the low point in Gallup polling history.” Republican loyalty was only 1 percentage point above its recent low of 25 percent three years ago.

The bloc of independents reached 40 percent in 2011, and it has stayed at or above that level ever since.

Young Americans are the most indifferent to parties. Nearly half of millennials identified as independents in 2014, Pew found, more than the combined total of those willing to be called either Democrat or Republican.

“I never want to write down that I’m a Republican,” said Rebecca Sorensen, a sophomore at Penn State. She leans Republican but is reluctant to identify with the party because she supports abortion rights.

Historically, children adopted their parents’ political views, including identification with the two major parties. Not anymore.

Millennials get information from sources other than family dinners, neighbors or campaign brochures. If something piques their interest, they turn to Twitter, text messaging, The Skimm and other forms of instant communication.

“If I want to know more, I Google it,” said Jayla Akers, a sophomore at Penn State University.

Political parties are seen as too narrowly focused, too interested in keeping incumbents in office.

“Both parties get so concrete in their values they don’t see any other perspective,” said Bill Corbett, studying to be an auto body technician at Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology.

For generations, parties welcomed differing views and broader membership.

They now fire up the fringes. Republicans once had a strong bloc of abortion-rights supporters, for example, but in 1976 the party included in its platform support for a constitutional amendment “to restore protection of the right to life for unborn children.”

It’s now unmistakably the anti-abortion party, the comfortable home for conservatives and therefore the party that dominates the South and the Rocky Mountain West. Democrats are the party of the Northeast and the West Coast.

Some in the parties see the growing problem.

The Republican Party’s 2013 self-examination conceded, “Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the party represents, and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them.” Since then, party officials have tried hard to bond with younger and minority voters.

Democrats were critical of their own tactics. A party study last year found that too often, many of its candidates “were not connecting with voters and lacked some fundamental infrastructure and support to convey their message.”

“It’s true that today’s multifaceted political landscape changes the footprint of national parties,” said Democratic Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

But, she said, “in the primaries, we set the rules for the nomination and nothing can replace the unique ability of the national parties to effectively organize and mobilize voters,” and their role in the general election is so detailed it “cannot be replicated externally.”

While independents gain clout, so do the big-money groups that now operate as virtual political parties.

Freedom Partners, an organization sponsored by brothers Charles and David Koch of Wichita, Kan., last committed to spend $889 million on politics and policy in 2015 and 2016.

The total would surpass the $404 million spent by the Republican National Committee and the $319 million spent by the Democratic National Committee in the 2012 campaign, according to, which monitors political spending.

And that total would rival the $1 billion spent by all three major Democratic Party committees and the $1 billion spent by all three major Republican Party committees.

©2016 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidates (L-R) Governor John Kasich, Governor Chris Christie, Senator Marco Rubio, businessman Donald Trump, Senator Ted Cruz, Dr. Ben Carson and former Governor Jeb Bush listen to the U.S. National Anthem before the start of the Fox Business Network Republican presidential candidates debate in North Charleston, South Carolina January 14, 2016. REUTERS/Randall Hill 

Even Absent, Trump Will Cast Shadow Over GOP Debate

Even Absent, Trump Will Cast Shadow Over GOP Debate

By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

DES MOINES, Iowa — Donald Trump’s going to make a difference in Thursday’s Iowa Republican debate, even though he’ll be absent.

Trump is boycotting the debate, the last before Iowa Republicans signal their choice for a presidential nominee in precinct caucuses Monday evening. He’s annoyed with debate sponsor Fox News and with one of the moderators, Megyn Kelly. In the first GOP debate last year, she pressed him about his derogatory statements about women, and Trump’s been belittling her ever since.

So without him, the two-hour main event at Des Moines’ Iowa Events Center suddenly has an air of mystery. Will Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, Trump’s main challengers, be able to fire away at the real estate mogul without fear of retaliation? Or will the pre- and post-debate chatter be all about the candidate with the guts — or the gall — to skip a debate five days before the vote?

Trump and Cruz are dueling for the Iowa lead, with Rubio winning endorsements from mainstream Republicans and showing some potential to rise.

For others, the debate, and for that matter the caucuses, have different meanings. Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, and John Kasich, the governor of Ohio, are more focused on New Hampshire’s Feb. 9 primary, where the sort of center-right voters sympathetic to their views will be voting in bigger numbers.

But for those at the bottom of the polls, including Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky — who refused to debate earlier this month when he didn’t make the main event — the debate is the latest and perhaps most crucial chapter in the caucus campaign’s closing days.

The debate on the main stage will start at 9 p.m. EST. Four other candidates, including for the first time former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, will vie in a one-hour debate starting at 7 p.m. EST.

The buzz, though, will involve the Big Three. The outlook:

Donald Trump

He’s risen in polls as he raised doubts about Cruz. The debate could have helped him maintain that momentum and boosted the throngs of voters who enthusiastically pack his rallies to show up Monday. His pique at Kelly changed the dynamic.

Political wisdom says that in the days before the Iowa caucuses, a candidate needs to energetically barnstorm the state to show no voter is unimportant. Trump, though, has broken all the rules thus far this year, and he hasn’t been much for person-to-person campaigning.

He’s remained typically Trump. “Let’s see how much money Fox is going to make on the debate without me,” he said Tuesday.

Ted Cruz

He wants to stress policy differences with Trump and will maintain how Trump cared little about conservative principles until he started thinking about a White House run.

Cruz is likely to remind voters how in 2012 Trump was not as tough on undocumented immigrants as he is now, criticizing GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s views. “He had a crazy policy of self-deportation which was maniacal,” Trump said at the time.

Cruz could also go after Trump, who has close ties to Wall Street interests, for supporting the financial bailout of 2008. Trump did have reservations, saying “maybe it works and maybe it doesn’t.” Cruz is vulnerable, though, to reminders that he borrowed a half-million dollars from Goldman Sachs.

Marco Rubio

He’s trying to solidify his position as the darling of the Republican mainstream. The Des Moines Register and the Sioux City Journal, two of Iowa’s most influential newspapers, endorsed him in recent days. Monday, he appeared with “good friend” Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.

Rubio, though, has had trouble getting noticed in debates. Trump and Cruz have waged lively fights, while Rubio tends to be lost in the Kasich-Christie-Carson-Bush crowd. He’s also endured a series of ads from a super PAC backing Bush suggesting Rubio is a serial flip-flopper.

©2016 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa, January 26, 2016. REUTERS/Scott Morgan


Report Card: Seven Possible GOP Choices For VP

Report Card: Seven Possible GOP Choices For VP

By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Nikki Haley for vice president?

Let the runaway speculation begin.

The governor of South Carolina leaped into the forefront of possible 2016 Republican running mates Tuesday with her address following President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech. And she told NBC’s Matt Lauer on Wednesday that while she’s not campaigning for the job, she would “sit down and talk” with any candidate interested in her.

Still, there are many possibles:

Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio

Pros: Experience as White House budget director and U.S. trade representative. In 2010, the 60-year-old Portman easily won election to the Senate in a critical state. He’s considered a thoughtful center-right voice.

Cons: Quiet, unexciting, not conservative enough for the GOP right.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval

Pros: Was a federal judge, confirmed 89-0 by the Senate. In 2010, the 52-year-old Sandoval won the governorship over Rory Reid, son of Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid. Easily won re-election in 2014.

Cons: Untested beyond Nevada, and unexciting. See Portman.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez

Pros: The nation’s first Latina governor, the 56-year-old Martinez made Time magazine’s 2013 list of the world’s 100 most influential people. Re-elected last year.

Cons: Santa Fe New Mexican reported federal investigators are looking into campaign practices.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida

Pros: Yes, he’s seeking the GOP presidential nomination. But if Rubio, 44, doesn’t win, and runs a credible race, he’ll get a look for the second spot. He’s young, Cuban-American, and from a pivotal state.

Cons: So far he hasn’t gotten much momentum or stirred much passion among Republicans nationwide.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire

Pros: Ayotte, 47, is respected in the Senate as a thoughtful voice on national security matters. Won a Senate seat in a swing state.

Cons: Not a strong public speaker and faces a tough re-election campaign this year.

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota

Pros: A Republican hero because he beat Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle in 2004. Part of GOP Senate leadership, Thune, 55, is known as steady, thoughtful.

Cons: From a small state, doesn’t create much campaign excitement.


On paper there are lots of reasons Haley makes sense. Southerner. Daughter of Indian immigrants. A woman who would be on the ticket of a party badly needing help winning women voters. 43 years old. Second-term governor. Showed lots of grit last year when she led the move to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds.

Of course, this all assumes there’s logic involved in picking a vice presidential candidate. And there often isn’t.

©2016 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: South Carolina governor Nikki Haley speaks at the 2016 Kemp Forum on Expanding Opportunity in Columbia, South Carolina, January 9, 2016.  REUTERS/Randall Hill –


Young Americans: Connected To The World, Disconnected From Politics

Young Americans: Connected To The World, Disconnected From Politics

By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — They are connected to one another like never before. And they are as disconnected from American politics as ever.

They’re avid volunteers for community causes, yet most hardly seem to care about government or campaigns. They see a government that’s not deserving of their trust, resistant to change and barely caring about their needs. They don’t think their vote counts.

They are the young. Old enough to vote, numerous enough to pick a president or a Congress. And they don’t seem to care.

“I don’t pay taxes. I don’t pay for my health insurance,” said Emilia Pascarella, a sophomore at Penn State University. “I don’t feel I’m being affected.”

“I don’t think about government that much,” added Grace Nissi, a junior at Penn State.

Their comments are typical of nearly 80 young people interviewed in central Pennsylvania, a diverse cross-section of blue- and white-collar, black, white, Hispanic and Asian-American, students majoring in physics, health administration, advertising, electrical engineering and more — from Pennsylvania State University and the Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology.

And they explain why candidates for president are failing to tap the kind of youthful surge that helped Barack Obama win the White House.

Democrat Bernie Sanders draws big college audiences and gets good marks from many students. But his presidential bid remains a long shot. Hillary Clinton could be the first woman president, but young women don’t feel the pull of gender history. Marco Rubio promotes himself as the leader of a new generation, but few are familiar with him.

They are not passive.

They’re energetic volunteers and hard workers for community causes. They just see little self-interest in politics. By one measure, just one in five were politically engaged, according to a recent survey by the Harvard University Institute of Politics.

They see no need to be so. Most are confident they’ll find jobs. They don’t have to worry about compulsory military service. They can stay on their parents’ health care polices for several more years. The high cost of college is a big concern, but few see the government making things easier.

Rarely do young people cite the forces that seem to jar the rest of the civilized world, such as recent mass shootings or acts of terrorism. Those seem too difficult to resolve. On the three days of interviews, the news was dominated by the mass shootings in San Bernardino.

Virtually no one brought up the incident.

Driving this disconnect, ironically, is their connectivity.

Protest rallies and marches, favorite tactics of their parents’ generation, are yesterday’s strategies. Organizing via social media, where people almost spontaneously group and promote a cause but rarely see or talk to one another, is the new form of mass expression. But it’s rarely directed at the political process.

They see prodding the government as futile.

“Not much has really made a difference,” said Evelyn Van Horn, studying to be an auto body technician at the Central Pennsylvania Institute.

They came of age viewing Washington as incapable and unwilling to ease the sort of tensions that could have consequences in their lives. The oldest of their generation were entering second grade as Bill Clinton was becoming president. That means that in their lifetime, government has been a relentless object of scorn, if not ridicule.

The only presidents they’ve known, Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, have all been ongoing targets for not only critics but comedians. To the young, Washington is a leaden, bloated bureaucracy managed by confrontation-prone, self-absorbed lawmakers unwilling to bend.

Asked to name something government has done correctly, not a single young person volunteered anything at first.

At the Central Pennsylvania Institute, Jeremiah Bowers, a welding student, eventually mentioned highways. At Penn State, three finally spoke up. One mentioned support for gun rights, another help for disabled people and a third said she was pleased some Syrian refugees can enter this country.

More common was the attitude of Alexa Pane, a Penn State junior. She sat for six hours in an emergency room this summer waiting for her insurer to approve an X-ray of the freshly broken bones in her ankle. She blames the Affordable Care Act, saying it’s made the health system even more unresponsive.

Not even political promises to ease the cost of attending college douse this skepticism, even though it’s tough to find someone without a mountain of debt or a complaint about the cost of college.

Hillary Clinton is pushing a detailed college affordability plan, and Sanders would offer everyone free tuition at public colleges and universities. But few young people believe any program can win congressional approval, and if it does, it won’t be in effect in time to affect them.

If anything, such promises reinforce the idea that politicians pander but won’t deliver and seem to provide little comfort.

“By the time any such bill passed, I’d be long out of college,” said Michelle Mehallow, a Penn State junior.

There were pockets of what Jillian Susi, a Penn State senior, called “specialized self-interest.”

Black Lives Matter is of particular concern to young African-Americans concerned about police brutality. Kristina Sosa, a Penn State junior whose father in Mexican, is outraged by Donald Trump’s disparaging remarks about Mexican immigrants. David D’Imperio’s roommate is Syrian; that piques the Penn State junior’s interest about the refugee dispute.

Unless there’s a specific incident to incite an uprising, such as the recent furor over the University of Missouri’s handling of racial incidents, these concerns rarely evolve into lasting political movements, at least not at the moment.

If there is to be political organizing, it will come in a different form than the country has known. The rapid acceptance of same-sex marriage illustrated the generation’s potential clout. That movement came not from a classic lobbying effort or top-down organizing, but from a social media-directed groundswell.

Those efforts worked because same-sex marriage is an issue that not only affected people under 30, but offered positive change. “Gay marriage is equality. It’s hope,” explained Brooke Gejoff, a Penn State senior.

That sort of self-interest, though, has otherwise proven elusive. Parents may tell tales of protesting against the Vietnam War, finally prodding the United States to leave. Or how they got involved in the conservative movement that helped elect three Republican presidents and redefine the role and reach of the federal government.

There’s little talk of such mass action today. Big news stories just come and go, having little lasting impact.

Millennials follow the news on tweets, Facebook and messages, or read, a quick summary of the day’s news. If a story breaks, they go to their cellphones and find whichever source seems most up to date, but often the events seem remote.

“If I see something on Facebook I may try to learn more, but usually I stay out of things,” said Stephen Howell, studying to be a diesel technician at the Central Pennsylvania Institute.

©2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Penn State student Ariel Shafir talks during a McClatchy Newspapers focus group on presidential politics at Penn State’s student union building on Dec. 3, 2015 in University Park, Pa. (Christopher Weddle/Centre Daily Times/TNS)


Will The GOP Be The Party Of Trump? This Week May Tell

Will The GOP Be The Party Of Trump? This Week May Tell

By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Republicans face starting the election year branded as the party of Donald Trump and shutdown showdowns.

Or the party could emerge as the home of common-sense politicians promoting conservative ideals, while governing effectively and working with Democrats.

We’ll know by the end of this week.

Events on Capitol Hill and at a Las Vegas resort will leave images of the Republican Party likely to persist through the holidays and linger into 2016.

While Washington Republicans slug it out with Democrats and one another trying to craft a spending plan and avoid a government shutdown, the party’s presidential candidates will duel at Las Vegas’ Venetian hotel in their final debate of the year. On tap is a battle between establishment figures challenging front-runner Trump as he defends his insults to women, Latinos and people with disabilities, and his call to bar Muslims from entering the United States.

“This is not where the Republican Party expected to be at the start of the election year,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

The Republican brand is reeling. A mid-November Bloomberg Politics Poll found that 36 percent of Americans viewed the party favorably, compared with 46 percent for the Democratic Party. Voters under 30 favored a Democrat in the White House by 56 to 36 percent, a Harvard Institute of Politics survey found.

Republican leaders had worked hard to avoid this turmoil. The GOP issued a lengthy report after the 2012 elections explaining how it needed a more tolerant image. At the Capitol, Republicans took control of the Senate this year, giving them majorities in both chambers. Voters signaled in strong terms last year that they wanted Washington to govern, but once again lawmakers are struggling.

The government had been set to run out of money last Friday. Unable to reach an agreement that would pass Congress and win President Barack Obama’s approval, the deadline was extended until Wednesday night. Hard-core conservatives want a budget deal that could include limits on Syrian refugees entering this country.

“It’s a big sticking point,” Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., said of the refugee issue. “I think it’ll cost votes. I’m not going to vote for it without the refugee language in the bill, and I know there’s a lot of people of my same thought process.”

To get the spending plan approved, Republicans probably will need Democratic votes.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is trying mightily to calm the staunch conservatives and also project the self-assured image of a leader with a blueprint for governing. Forget Trump and the presidential free-for-all, suggested Ryan, who as chairman of the 2016 Republican convention is neutral in the presidential primary race.

He wants to produce an agenda on his own timetable.

“I don’t think that we have the time to wait until a nominee arrives, which could be as late as, I don’t know, June or July, to then come up with an agenda to show the country who we are and what we believe in,” Ryan said.

Peacemakers such as Ryan say the party’s differences are over tactics, not ideology. Once the party picks a nominee, this thinking goes, it can unify around shared views and contrast them with those of Democrats.

“We don’t run for office in a vacuum,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla. “If the Democratic nominee is Hillary Clinton, that’s certainly a damaged brand we can run against.”

A similar drama is playing on the presidential stage. Trump remains the front-runner, arguably as strong as he’s ever been, but he’s alienating a huge chunk of swing voters. Two-thirds of independent voters in last week’s CBS News-New York Times poll said they were concerned or scared about a Trump presidency.

The concerns about Trump have made a lot of Republican leaders nervous, and they’ve grown more critical since he proposed barring Muslims from entering the United States.

©2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign stop in Spencer, Iowa December 5, 2015. REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich 

Landscape Shifts: Democrats Could Take Control Of Senate

Landscape Shifts: Democrats Could Take Control Of Senate

By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — There’s another pivotal election next year besides the White House. The Senate is up for grabs, and the landscape a year out suggests the Democrats could win control away from the Republicans.

The party needs a net gain of four seats to gain control if a Democrat wins the White House, five if a Republican wins. Those are better odds than gaining a majority in the House of Representatives, which is expected to remain under Republican control, and winning the presidency, which right now is impossible to predict.

But the Senate has a special allure. Republicans have to defend 24 Senate seats next year, offices they won in 2010, when so much went right for them. Democrats only have to retain 10, and virtually all seem sure bets.

Not on the Republican side. The party swept to big 2010 victories as the tea party movement mobilized grass-roots conservative voters. Republican fury over Obamacare, which had become law eight months before the election, was peaking. The economy was officially coming out of the Great Recession, but barely.

Now Democrats could get even.

Seven Republican-held seats will be contested next year in states President Barack Obama won in 2012; all but Iowa have potential to be Democratic gains. The party’s also due for a boost because Democratic voters tend to turn out in bigger numbers in presidential years.

“Coattails will be a gigantic factor,” said Geoffrey Skelley, associate editor at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a respected Virginia-based political analysis group. If the Democratic presidential nominee wins by more than 5 percentage points in a particular state, that usually sweeps others into office.

The only Democratic-held seat in jeopardy is Nevada, where Minority Leader Harry Reid is retiring.

States Obama carried where Republican incumbents face challenges are Florida, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. Democrats have a unifying theme. Obama also carried Iowa, but Republican Sen. Charles Grassley is a strong favorite to win re-election.

“All you’ve got to do is look how they (Republicans) fouled this whole government system up and how they take responsibility for nothing that they do,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the campaign operation for Democratic Senate candidates.

Bring it on, counter Republicans.

“We can’t predict the future, but at this point last cycle a lot of folks were only talking about gasoline prices. On Election Day, the conversation was entirely different,” said Kevin McLaughlin, deputy executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

“Democrats have a record of terrible leadership that has made the economy and national security the top two issues with voters. We’ll take that,” he said.

Key battlegrounds:

Sen. Ron Johnson, Republican

Johnson upset veteran incumbent Russ Feingold in 2010, and they’re due for a rematch next year. Johnson, a political unknown at the time, “hit the race at just the right moment,” said Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School poll.

“He was a guy who had never run for office who cared about the deficit and was against Obamacare,” Franklin said. The state’s electorate is highly polarized, but turnout usually jumps sharply during presidential years.

Sen. Pat Toomey, Republican

Toomey had a well-developed reputation in the House as a hard-liner against wasteful spending before his election to the Senate. And he’s been a reliable conservative vote in the Senate.

That might be a problem in Pennsylvania, which has voted Democrat for president every election since 1992. But recent polls have shown Toomey comfortably ahead of potential Democratic challengers.

“Toomey’s going to be tougher to beat that people think,” said Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin and Marshall College Poll. “He’s conservative but not hot-blooded or provocative.” And he has been pushing stronger background checks for gun purchasers.

Sen. Mark Kirk, Republican

Democratic presidential candidates have rolled up double-digit victories in Illinois every four years beginning in 1992. Every Illinois Democrat who’s run for Senate in one of those years won. The likely nominee is Rep. Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran and a savvy campaigner.

Kirk was first elected to the Senate in the tea party year — winning the seat Obama had held — but is regarded as more of a center-right senator. Kirk was one of the first Republican senators to back same-sex marriage and has been an advocate for strong gun control measures.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Republican

The race between Ayotte and Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, is likely to come down to who voters like best. People get to know the candidates well, and thanks to New Hampshire’s status as the first presidential primary state, voters are tuning in early and campaigning already is fiercely under way.

It’s a tough race to call. Both candidates are personable and neither is seen as extreme. Ayotte got 60 percent of the 2010 vote. Hassan won a tough race in a tough year in 2014 by 6 percentage points. Polls show the race is a virtual tie.

Open Republican seat

Sen. Mario Rubio is running for president, leaving the nation’s premier swing state with a wide-open race. Democratic regulars are pushing Rep. Patrick Murphy, but outspoken Rep. Alan Grayson is challenging him. Among Republicans, candidates include businessman Todd Wilcox, Reps. Ron DeSantis and David Jolly and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera.

Thanks to the anticipated big presidential turnout, “Democrats have a better chance of taking back some of the statewide offices,” said Lance deHaven-Smith, a professor of public administration and policy at Florida State University. Florida’s such an ever-changing, diverse state, its Senate races are historically hard to predict.

Sen. Rob Portman, Republican

The genial Portman has long been a stalwart of the party establishment, which maintains considerable clout in Ohio. He has maintained a center-right image but could face stiff competition if former Gov. Ted Strickland is the Democratic nominee. A Sept. 25-Oct. 5 Quinnipiac poll had Strickland up by 3 percentage points.

Presidential coattails will matter here, but just how is uncertain. Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, is making a bid for the White House, and his presence on the ticket could swing the race toward Portman. Portman also could do well because “he’s not rough around the edges. He’s a low-key guy,” said Stuart Rothenberg, a political analyst who follows Senate races.

Open Democratic seat

Reid had to fight hard to retain his seat in 2010 and got a break when Sharron Angle, boasting “I am the tea party,” won a bitterly contested Republican primary and was a weak general election opponent. The GOP is expected to go more mainstream this time, with Rep. Joe Heck the favorite to become the nominee.

Democrats are buoyed by the prospect of former state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto as their nominee. If elected, she’d be the first Latina U.S. senator, a prospect that could spur a big turnout from the increasingly influential Hispanic community.

©2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: US Senate Building, Larry Lamsa via Flickr

Analysis: Kim Davis And Presidential Politics Are Probably Not A Good Mix

Analysis: Kim Davis And Presidential Politics Are Probably Not A Good Mix

By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Embracing embattled Kentucky court clerk Kim Davis is a surefire way to wound a presidential campaign.

Republicans Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz on Tuesday visited Davis, just as she was released from jail after five days because she refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Huckabee and Cruz undoubtedly will solidify their already-strong bond with Christian conservatives. But their public displays of unity are unlikely to jolt their barely-on-the-radar presidential campaigns.

Rushing to the scene of such incidents is historically full of political peril. “It never works,” said David Woodard, a Republican consultant in Clemson, S.C.

This year, there’s an extra hurdle. Usually such matters allow candidates to stand out, at least for a news cycle or two.
With 17 Republicans vying for the party’s presidential nomination this year, no man or woman is an island.

“Everyone is looking for a way to break out of the pack, but any stand someone takes this time is rarely taken alone,” said Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of the nonpartisan Rothenberg-Gonzales Report.

Davis, the Rowan County clerk, was jailed Thursday. Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor and a Baptist minister, has close ties to the evangelical community. His website urged supporters to “Free Kim Davis Now,” arguing that people should have the right to practice their beliefs without government intervention. Cruz issued a statement on the day Davis was jailed, saying, “Today, judicial lawlessness crossed into judicial tyranny.”

Religious freedom has been a strong rallying cry for Republican conservatives this year, but not much of a political boon.

An uproar in the spring ended any hopes that Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana, had of seeking the presidency.

Pence was a rising Republican star. Then he signed his state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, protecting companies and individuals from government actions that would substantially burden religious practices.

Critics contended the law was a legal license to discriminate. Businesses threatened to boycott the state. Pressure was intense, and within days, the law was changed.

Republican presidential candidates at the time supported the original law, so no one stood out as the religious freedom champion. But the controversy gave party officials new reasons to worry.

Republican leaders have tried for years to erase the party’s intolerant image. A 2013 state of the party report found, “We do need to make sure young people do not see the party as totally intolerant of alternative points of view,” and the Republican National Committee has made strong efforts to be more inclusive.

Trouble is, while polls have consistently shown strong support for same-sex marriage, the idea is not overwhelmingly popular with Republicans. And presidential front-runner Donald Trump leaped to the top of the polls after railing against undocumented immigrants, including insulting Mexicans.

Concerns about an intolerant image haven’t stopped some Republicans from racing to the scene of incidents that could give them a spotlight.

In June, controversy erupted over whether the Confederate battle flag should be removed from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds after Dylann Roof, who was pictured on his website embracing the flag, was charged with killing nine black churchgoers.

Several Republican presidential candidates at first insisted it was a state’s rights issue, including former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Cruz. Huckabee said voters don’t want candidates offering their opinions on every “little issue in all 50 states.”

None got a boost with those views, and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley took Republicans off the hook by firmly declaring the flag must be removed from the statehouse grounds.

Now comes the Davis uproar. Huckabee and Cruz are vying with a host of others for the evangelical vote, a crucial bloc in Iowa, site of the nation’s first caucus Feb. 1. So far, Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson are doing well with the Christian right.

Supporters who gathered Tuesday to back Davis were pleased at the candidates who were clearly on their side.

Coleman Colston of Henry County, Ky., was waving two signs — one in support of Davis and one criticizing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jack Conway for not “doing his job.” Colston said he was very happy to see Cruz and Huckabee at the rally.

“I wish they all were here. Yes I do,” Colston said. “Every politician should be here. Every freedom-loving American should be here.”

And Republican are creating another problem for themselves, because the Supreme Court in June ruled for same-sex marriage, and majorities in recent polls have consistently supported it.

In the long run, what voters prize most is good judgment about the issues that most affect their lives, and racing to the scene of the latest controversy “could be seen as opportunistic,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion Research in New York.

Social issues such as same-sex marriage are not high on their list. Even among Republicans, the McClatchy-Marist poll found in July that only 12 percent of party voters saw social issues as most important.

Domestic issues such as health care and the economy topped the list, and people have repeatedly signaled they want a president who weighs options and makes sound decisions. Not someone who eagerly hustles to the scene of the day’s big news event.

Doing so, said Woodard, “is usually impulsive and just not well thought out.”
(Sam Youngman of the Lexington Herald-Leader contributed from Louisville, Ky.)

Photo: Kim Davis hugs her attorney Mathew Staver (R) after walking out of jail in Grayson, Kentucky September 8, 2015. (REUTERS/Chris Tilley)

Inside Democratic Party, Growing Concerns About Clinton

Inside Democratic Party, Growing Concerns About Clinton

By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

MINNEAPOLIS — As Democratic Party insiders gather for their summer meeting, there is a growing undercurrent of concern whether Hillary Clinton would be the party’s strongest candidate to keep the White House next year.

They still like and mostly support her. But many are increasingly questioning her handling of official emails while secretary of state and her response to the furor over it. Some worry about her ability to connect with voters. And all this is aggravated by Vice President Joe Biden and his supporters stepping up their soundings on whether to mount a challenge.

The controversy over Clinton’s emails “muddles the thinking of a lot of people,” said Alexandra Rooker of West Sacramento, vice chair of the state party in California.

“The email issue is affecting her campaign,” said Nancy Jacobson, a member of the Democratic National Committee from Orlando, Fla. She urged Clinton to offer an explanation with “simplicity and clarity.”

Clinton will address the Democratic National Committee meeting in Minneapolis on Friday. As party members gathered Thursday, Clinton support was easy to find.

But so was nervousness about her viability as a general election candidate. A new Quinnipiac University poll Thursday, for example, showed Biden doing better than her against potential GOP opponents Donald Trump, Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio.
Party officials most of all want a winner and are open to a Biden bid.

The vice president spoke to DNC members Wednesday in a 40-minute conference call. Asked about a presidential bid, Biden said he was trying to gauge “whether or not there is the emotional fuel at this time to run,” according to two people familiar with the call.

“If I were to announce to run, I have to be able to commit to all of you that I would be able to give it my whole heart and my whole soul, and right now, both are pretty well banged up,” CNN reported Biden as saying. Biden’s son, Beau, died earlier this year.

The conference call was arranged ostensibly so that Biden could discuss the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear deal. It also proved a reminder of his role as a key Obama lieutenant and showcased his expertise on a complex national security issue.

Biden has recently stepped up his consideration of a third run for the Democratic nomination. Saturday, he had lunch with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a favorite of the party’s liberal wing. Thursday, he reportedly met with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

Biden supporters are expected at the DNC meeting this week. Party officials said the Draft Biden 2016 committee, which is not formally affiliated with the vice president, is seeking meetings with members. Josh Alcorn, former top political aide to Beau Biden, joined the draft group this month.

Clinton is pressing hard, too. About two dozen volunteers, waving Clinton signs, were strategically positioned where DNC members gathered for meetings. Some officials said they expect to meet privately with Clinton here on Friday. They want to hear more about the email controversy.

Another concern: Clinton has so far failed to make much of an emotional connection to voters.

“I do hear that a fair amount, even among people for her,” said Donald Fowler of South Carolina, national party chairman during part of Bill Clinton’s administration.

Biden has that warmth, as well as longstanding political and emotional connections to this group. They gratefully recall his leadership roles over the years in championing tougher domestic violence laws, stricter tougher gun control and gay and civil rights, and more.

“He has a particular bond with a lot of folks in South Carolina,” said Jaime Harrison, chairman of the state party in South Carolina.

In Iowa, site of the first 2016 caucus, Biden is also well-liked, though he lost badly in the state’s Democratic caucus when he ran in 2008.

“There are some very loyal Biden people here,” said Andy McGuire, Iowa Democratic chairwoman.

Remember, said insiders, it’s still early in the presidential process and most voters are far from deciding. “We’re focused on North Carolina. What’s happening elsewhere is not affecting us yet,” said Patsy Keever, North Carolina Democratic chairman.
Clinton has tried to defuse the email controversy, earlier this month turning over to the Justice Department a server that has stored her email traffic since a few months after she left the State Department in early 2013.

Her lawyer also handed over a thumb drive containing copies of her official email. Clinton turned over 30,490 official emails to the State Department in December, and in March said she simultaneously deleted more than 31,000 personal emails.

State Department officials first found classified information in Clinton’s official emails last May, long before the controversy reached its current fever. It’s uncertain what she and her lawyer did in the ensuing weeks to fully secure the sensitive data, McClatchy has found. It also reported that her top aides are part of a federal probe into possible security breaches. Two emails on Clinton’s private account have since been classified above “Top Secret.”

When Clinton appeared at a Democratic gala with her presidential rivals in Iowa Aug. 14, she joked about the emails. The next day, she offered a vigorous defense during a news conference at the Iowa State Fair, saying she never sent classified material on her email and never received any classified information. And, she said, voters do not raise the issue.

That’s the general take of many of her supporters. “This will blow over,” said former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell.

Except so far it hasn’t, and that leaves an opening for Biden, if not someone else.

“A lot of folks out there are still looking at all the candidates,” said Scott Brennan, Iowa national committee member.

Photo: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton addresses union members as she tours the Carpenters International Training Center in Las Vegas, Nevada August 18, 2015. (REUTERS/David Becker)

If ‘All Lives Matter’ Is Politically Toxic, Can Anyone Build A Coalition?

If ‘All Lives Matter’ Is Politically Toxic, Can Anyone Build A Coalition?

By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Saying “all lives matter” has become a political liability in Democratic circles, which says a lot about how influential blocs are shaping the 2016 political debate.

When Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley uttered those words recently and triggered the wrath of black activists, the Democratic presidential candidates moved swiftly to make amends. Bernie Sanders also drew their ire, defended himself by noting his long-standing support for civil rights and was ridiculed. He’s since taken steps to show he, too, cares.

“The idea of saying everything matters undercuts the value and point of highlighting black life as something worthy of concern,” explained Katheryn Russell-Brown, director of the Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations at the University of Florida law school.

The rapid responses of the Democrats, all of whom have long liberal and civil rights resumes, may have crossed a risky political line where they look overly beholden to a powerful, demanding constituency.

Both political parties struggle with where to draw that line. Republicans fear alienating evangelical conservatives and tea party activists. Democrats worry about angering racial minorities, single young women and gay rights advocates.

The political danger is not that these constituencies will switch sides, but that they won’t vote. Evangelical disillusionment with George W. Bush in 2000 arguably cost him a majority. A lack of enthusiasm among many blacks for 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry kept black turnout at lower-than-expected levels.

What’s happening in the unfolding 2016 campaign is the rise of identity politics. Thanks to social media, it’s now easier for like-minded interests or communities to organize and apply pressure on behalf of their special interests, often advocating rigid ideological responses to vexing problems.

That makes it tougher to build traditional political coalitions, let alone govern, since such efforts require those blocs to accept less than 100 percent of their agendas.

“People think the imperative of building broad coalitions is less important than demanding validation for their views,” said Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, a centrist Democratic research group.

Much of the black community has a host of non-ideological though unique concerns. The first African-American president is leaving office. There’s been uneasiness for years that Democrats assume they’ll get their usual overwhelming general election margin and therefore can concentrate on wooing swing white voters.

Most worrisome is a widespread feeling that black communities’ struggles with police have gained national attention, yet white politicians still don’t get it. Last year’s shooting of a black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., the death at the hands of police of Eric Garner in New York City, and this year’s riots in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody were all major news events.

“This has entered into people’s consciousness like it hasn’t before,” said Karen Dolan, director of the Criminalization of Poverty project at the Institute for Policy Studies, a liberal research group.

That’s why social media erupted in protest when Clinton, speaking last month at a church a few miles from Ferguson, spoke about how her mother believed “all lives matter.” The African-American community was still reeling from the Michael Brown shooting, and black activists were aghast at her comment, even though it wasn’t mentioned in the context of race.

The Clinton campaign is responding by citing her December speech in New York City where she said, “Yes, black lives matter.” In April, two days after the Baltimore riots, she used her first major campaign speech to outline a plan for criminal justice reform.

Thursday, during a stop in West Columbia, S.C., Clinton said there still are not enough jobs, the criminal system is “out of balance,” and African-American men are “far more likely to be stopped and searched” and serve longer prison terms.

Last week, Clinton’s rivals felt the activists’ sting. Protesters shouted “Do black lives matter to you?” as O’Malley spoke at Netroots Nation, a liberal conference. O’Malley tried to respond and talked about his record as mayor of Baltimore.

“Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter,” he said. Booing erupted. O’Malley, who as mayor of Baltimore was criticized among many blacks for his crackdown on even minor crime, left the stage.

Next up was Sanders, long a hero of liberal activists. “Black lives matter,” Sanders said. “But I’ve spent 50 years of my life fighting for civil rights.” The next day, BernieSoBlack was trending on Twitter, as users mocked him even as some praised his liberal leanings. The critics’ point: There’s a lot of work yet to do.

The concern was not strictly political, said Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, a movement seeking more attention for police-community issues. “If there’s a crisis in this country, you don’t ignore it,” she said.

O’Malley tried quickly to respond, apologizing and explaining his views. He tweeted Monday: “I’m not done listening.”

Many activists aren’t satisfied. Cullors wants to see more sensitivity and dialogue about issues of notable interest to the black community, notably criminal justice reform, police-community relations, education and income inequality. And stay away from saying “all lives matter.”

For political parties, this rush to ease the activists’ concerns creates a potential image problem, whether specific constituencies will appear to have a stranglehold on them. For years, presidential candidates won by delicately balancing loyal blocs, promising each just enough to satisfy them but not so much that it looked like pandering.

Today, the building blocks are different, as like-minded communities can more easily band together not only with ideology but identity. In 2012 and 2014, Democrats tried to piece together coalitions of single women, blacks, Latinos and white liberals, often stressing support for abortion rights, a path to immigration, more funding for social programs and support for gay marriage. Republicans built their own networks with positions that often promised the opposite.

The danger in this identity politics is that those who don’t feel part of any group feel abandoned. And winning with these new kinds of coalitions can make it harder to govern, since there’s often no unifying theme that creates a single mandate. Not even saying “All lives matter.”

In this sort of environment, said Marshall, “It makes it hard to achieve political cohesion.”

Photo: Whose lives matter? Yasmeen via Flickr

Santorum Joins A Growing GOP White House Race

Santorum Joins A Growing GOP White House Race

By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Rick Santorum, touting himself as the candidate of the blue-collar, family-oriented Republican, launched another presidential bid Wednesday, but this time he’s got a lot more than Mitt Romney to overcome.

Speaking to supporters in Cabot, Pennsylvania, near the town where he grew up, Santorum portrayed himself as a champion of working-class people.

“Working families don’t need another president tied to big government or big money,” the former U.S. senator said, “and today is the day we’re going to begin to fight back.”

He faces a rough political road, though.

“Santorum over-performed in 2012, but he did it against a much weaker field and, let’s face it: He did not get particularly close to winning the nomination,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia.

Still, don’t count the former senator from Pennsylvania out, said David Bossie, president of Citizens United, a conservative advocacy group.
“He has a difficult path, but he has a lot of residual good will in Iowa,” Bossie said.

Santorum spoke Wednesday near his boyhood home of Butler, Pennsylvania, 35 miles north of Pittsburgh. He cited his grandfather, who came to the United States from Italy, escaping the fascist government.

Santorum held up a lump of coal, symbolic of his immigrant grandfather, who labored in the mines. “This is where my American story started,” he said.

The newly announced candidate pushed a family-friendly agenda — he and his wife, Karen, have had eight children — and made a pitch for the blue-collar vote. He often urges reinvigorating America’s manufacturing base, for so long the economic lifeblood of the heavy industrial region where he grew up.

“Their priorities are profits and power,” he said of the powerful. “My priority is you, the American worker.”

Santorum urged adoption of a flat tax and an education system “customized to maximize” a student’s potential. He urged driving a stake through the heart of Common Core, a set of educational standards often opposed by conservatives.

He didn’t specifically criticize his own party, but he has in the past. “Do Republicans really care less about the person at the bottom of the ladder than Democrats do? To be painfully honest, I would have to say in some ways ‘yes,'” he wrote last year in his book, “Blue Collar Conservatives: Recommitting to an American That Works.”

“There are some in my party who have taken the ideal of individualism to such an extreme that they have forgotten the obligation to look out for our fellow man,” he wrote.

Santorum on Wednesday reiterated his unabashedly conservative views on social issues, noting that he believes every life matters.

Santorum emerged in 2012 as the favorite of hardcore conservatives. He won the first-in-the-nation caucus in Iowa that year, but not until it was too late. Romney, the eventual Republican nominee, was declared the winner by eight votes after the caucuses ended, but when official results were announced 16 days later, Santorum had won by 34 votes.

It was too late to gain any momentum, and Santorum had other troubles. He couldn’t match Romney’s money and organization, and he was seen by centrists as too far right to win against Barack Obama.

“I know what it’s like to be the underdog,” he told his supporters Wednesday.

(c)2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Screenshot: Washington Post/YouTube

Next: 5 More Candidates For President, And 5 Reasons U.S. May Not Notice

Next: 5 More Candidates For President, And 5 Reasons U.S. May Not Notice

By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Presidential announcement mania is coming. Look fast or you’ll miss it.

Five more candidates — four Republicans and one Democrat — are expected to formally announce their presidential intentions between now and June 4.

The twitterverse will hum, a poll may spike a notch or two and for an instant, cable channels will feature warm, fuzzy pictures of someone’s humble hometown.

And the public will shrug. Already, six Republicans and two Democrats have announced and found any momentum was fleeting.

The upcoming batch of Republican announcements includes: Rick Santorum, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania and 2012 Iowa caucus winner, on Wednesday; former New York Gov. George Pataki on Thursday; Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina on June 1; former Texas Gov. Rick Perry on June 4.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is expected to announce on Saturday his bid for the Democratic nomination.

Here are the pitfalls they face:

  • Their poll positions may not change.”They may see a blip, but voters aren’t paying attention yet,” said Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. Former business executive Carly Fiorina had less than 1 percent in an April Fox News poll, declared her candidacy May 4, and is now at 1 percent.
  • The hometown glow may not last.”Most of us are still drawn to the real or imagined stability and solid values,” wrote Larry Sabato and Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. Santorum plans to announce near his boyhood home in Cabot, Pa., and Perry’s due to speak in Dallas. Chances are people will quickly forget — former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee announced in Hope, Ark., on May 5, and went from 9 percent in the April Fox poll to 10 percent after his speech.
  • You shouldn’t go home again.Graham plans an announcement in his home state, but a lot of South Carolina Republicans are cool to his conciliatory ways. Graham didn’t even attend the party’s candidate forum in his state on May 9. O’Malley, who plans a rally in downtown Baltimore, has faced questions about his 1999-2007 tenure as mayor, when his tough-on-crime policies often alienated black voters.
  • Don’t get boxed in.Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas announced his candidacy at Liberty University in Virginia in March, stressing his devotion to Christian principles. While that could help him among influential Christian right voters in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus, it also could brand him as overly beholden to that constituency, not a traditional recipe for nationwide success.
  • Will you still remember me tomorrow?The five hopefuls are barely known outside their home states and could engage in a media demolition derby. As soon as one’s done, another steps in. Santorum’s announcement is scheduled for 5 p.m. Wednesday, but the next day, bam, Pataki’s up. Forty-eight hours later, O’Malley. And so on.

More ominously, lurking just behind this group are bigger names who have signaled they’ll have something to say in June, such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Not to mention former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and Donald Trump, a man who knows how to get attention.

Get ready in June, he told an Iowa Republican dinner May 16, for an announcement that’s “going to surprise a lot of people.”

Photo: Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry is slated to announce his campaign for the presidency June 4. Ed Schipul via Flickr

Huckabee Launches Second Bid For White House

Huckabee Launches Second Bid For White House

By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Mike Huckabee’s back, hoping to lead a determined army of evangelical conservatives and blue-collar Republicans en route to the Republican presidential nomination and then the White House.

The former Arkansas governor launched his candidacy Tuesday in Hope, a hometown he shares with former President Bill Clinton, pledging to bring America “from Hope to higher ground.”

Huckabee, 59, portrayed himself as a humble man, different in background and philosophy from other candidates for president.

“I don’t have a global foundation or a taxpayer-funded paycheck to live off,” he said, a reference to the Clinton Foundation or the current senators and governors seeking the presidency.
He also took a veiled jab at former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose brother and father were presidents. “I don’t come from a family dynasty but a working family,” Huckabee said. “I grew up blue collar, not blue blood.”

Huckabee is likely to employ at least part of his strategy from 2008, when he last sought the White House. Huckabee, a Baptist minister with strong backing from the Christian right, won the Iowa caucus before fading fast elsewhere.

This time, he sees a more promising political landscape.

The Republican field is splintered, so it may not take big percentages to become a serious contender. Huckabee also sees his Arkansas roots — he and Bill Clinton each served 11 years as governor — as an edge in discussing the perils of electing Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.

Huckabee described his staunchly conservative philosophy, one that would mean a leaner government and a bond with God.

“The Supreme Court is not the supreme being and they cannot overturn the laws of nature or nature’s God,” Huckabee said. “We’ve lost our way morally.”

The government is too intrusive, too bloated, he said. Veterans must be a top priority, and in his administration, they are “not going to be left on the streets or in waiting rooms to rot.”

Education would be left to local officials, because “there is no constitutional authority to dictate education from the federal government.”

And he would offer new strategies for poverty. “The war on poverty hasn’t ended poverty,” Huckabee said. “It’s prolonged it.”

Many conservatives remain wary of Huckabee, since he presided over a series of tax increases. Evangelicals cheer his outspokenness, but his views outraged more mainstream voters.

Huckabee plans to head to Iowa next, where the 2016 field could have as many as 20 prominent Republican candidates. If so, 15 percent or so of the total could be enough to win. In 2008, Huckabee got 34.4 percent.

It’s possible that in a fractured field he also could survive the next stop, New Hampshire’s primary, which is less welcoming to evangelical candidates.

Next would be South Carolina. Huckabee lost to Arizona Sen. John McCain by 4 percentage points in the state’s 2008 primary.

“Huckabee would be in the hunt this year,” said David Woodard, a Clemson, S.C.-based Republican consultant. “There’s a lot of buyer’s remorse toward McCain.”

Huckabee faces at least four rivals for the evangelical vote. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson joined the race Monday. John Philip Sousa IV, chairman of the 2016 Committee, which supports Carson, said of Huckabee, “He’s a real talker, but he raised taxes a lot.”

Huckabee will also compete for the Christian right with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who launched his campaign at Liberty University, which stresses Christian theology, and possibly Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who won the 2012 Iowa caucus.

Huckabee retains a lot of goodwill and has shown a knack for relating to voters. He lost more than 100 pounds and wrote a book about healthy eating. He plays bass guitar in his own rock band. His followers like his ability to speak plainly.

As Craig Robinson, editor-in-chief of, put it, people “still really like Huckabee.”
Mike Huckabee
Born: August 24, 1955, Hope, Ark.
Family: Wife, Janet, three children.
Education: Ouachita Baptist University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Career: 1980-1992, church pastor. 1989-1991, president, Arkansas Baptist State Convention.
Political career: 1992, lost race for Senate; 1993-1996, lieutenant governor; 1996-2007, governor; 2008, seeks Republican presidential nomination, wins Iowa caucus, drops out in March.
Media career: 2008-2015, hosts Fox News Channel show; 2012-2013, hosts radio show.

(c)2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Screenshot via YouTube

GOP Campaign Slogan: Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

GOP Campaign Slogan: Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Republican presidential candidates want to win your votes by scaring you.

Thanks to the national security lapses of the Obama administration, “we will pay a terrible price one day,” says Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

“The next 20 months will be a dangerous time,” warns Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, but he offers this hint of hope: “January 2017 is coming.”

And so on. Republicans think fears of terrorist attacks are a major issue, and a major political motivator.

“Republicans are looking for some issue where they have a clear advantage,” said Ann Selzer, a Des Moines-based pollster who conducts Iowa and national surveys.

Selzer’s April 6-8 national poll found the percentage of people who name terrorism or the Islamic State as the 2016 campaign’s most important issue had nearly doubled since December.

Among Republicans, one-fourth said terrorism was their top concern. Democrats still listed unemployment as their first worry, with climate change next. Terrorism tied for fourth among Democrats.

Republicans see another big reason to keep pounding away on terrorism. If Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton wins her party’s nomination, they can conveniently brand her as a key architect of President Barack Obama’s national security policy. Clinton was secretary of state in Obama’s first term.

Republicans can also keep talking about the 2012 terrorist attack that killed four Americans in Benghazi, Libya. The House of Representatives has a special committee investigating the incident, and Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said he’ll call Clinton to testify. He also wants her to testify separately on conducting government business using email from a private computer server.

This campaign is all part of a narrative that’s become highly popular among the Republican candidates in stump speeches and media appearances.

They tend to start with zingers aimed what they label the Obama administration’s ineptness. “Barack Obama has never run a lemonade stand,” says Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush maintains that Obama is the first post-World War II president who “does not believe that America’s presence in the world as a leader and America’s power in the world is a force for good.”

That’s why, says Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, “We need a commander in chief in this country who, once and for all, will identify that radical Islamic terrorism is a threat to us all.”

Their narrative usually continues with dire warnings.

“There are thousands of people around the world who are plotting to kill Americans here and abroad,” Rubio said recently in New Hampshire. “This risk is real. This is not hyperbole. It needs to be confronted.”

He didn’t mention how the White House has tried to do just that. In February, the president hosted a summit on violent extremism, and cited U.S. involvement in a 60-nation fight against terrorism.

Republicans won’t relent.

Sometimes, tough guy talk backfires, as when Walker said in February that he was equipped to fight terrorists because he fought labor union protesters in his state.

Finally, in the Republican pitch comes the message of hope. “There is a pessimism in the world, but it does not have to be that way,” says former Texas Gov. Rick Perry
Sometimes Republicans are at war with one another. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., labeled U.S. involvement in Libya a mistake and criticized U.S. policy toward Syria and the rebels. He called Graham and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., “lapdogs for President Obama.”

McCain fired back, saying, “The record is very clear that he simply does not have an understanding about the needs and the threats of United States national security.”

Democrats’ response is that of course they want to combat terrorism. If Republicans are so intent on doing so, they ask, why did they stall Loretta Lynch’s nomination as attorney general for months?

“With all that this country is facing from terrorism,” asked Sen. Bernard Sanders, a Vermont independent, “How at this vital time can anyone elected to the Senate play partisan politics with something as sensitive as the head of the Justice Department?” On Thursday, Sanders announced his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Whether the Republican assault on national security policy becomes a winning strategy depends largely on events. President George W. Bush was able to use the war in Iraq — and the votes of dozens of congressional Democrats for the war — to help himself win re-election in 2004, but war weariness hurt Republicans in 2008 and 2012.

This time, Republicans see the public as weary of Democratic policies, and that’s a big potential plus. “Republicans have always been trusted more on national security,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres, “and Obama has been a weaker leader than people expected.”

(c)2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Texas Senator Ted Cruz (Peter Stevens/Flickr)

Bush Follows Bush On Campaign Trail

Bush Follows Bush On Campaign Trail

By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

MANCHESTER, N.H. — The shadow of his brother and father followed Jeb Bush on the campaign trail Friday, leaving him torn whether to follow them or inch away.

He was peppered with questions from reporters in New Hampshire about how he differed with President George W. Bush’s foreign policy. Not relevant, Jeb Bush insisted. The previous night, a voter asked him to explain why another president should come from the Bush family.

At the same time, the Bush name, and more important, its financial and political network, provide a huge advantage in the early going.

Bush is well aware he can’t escape. When he spoke at a breakfast Friday, staring right at him from the opposite wall was a big picture of his brother. Photos of his father were also plastered on the wall of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, where Bush appeared. “Brings back really fond memories,” he laughed.

The family name adds a new layer of skepticism to the lengthy, detailed decision process voters endure in the nation’s first primary state. When Bush spoke at the Concord Snowshoe Club Thursday night to Republican activists, retiree Bill Doherty got up and put the question about family ties squarely to Bush.

“Why should only two families produce the leaders in this country?” he asked politely. A Bush or Clinton has been president for 20 of the last 27 years, and now both Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton are among those seeking the White House.

Bush first tried humor and humility. “I have enough self-awareness to know that that is an oddity,” he said. He joked how he wanted to “break the tie” with the Adams family. John Adams was the nation’s second president and his son, John Quincy Adams, was the sixth. “One way to get people to deal with this is to get people to laugh,” Bush said.

While Jeb Bush does not look like his brother, he has the same way of gesturing with his hands, and the same use of quick laugh lines to deflect tension.

“You have brothers and sisters so you may appreciate this, we’re not all alike. We make our own mistakes in life, we’re on our own life’s journey,” he told the breakfast group.

At a news conference later, he said he’d differ because he’d stress his record as governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007. And, Bush insisted, “I’ll actually propose ideas for the future.”

One of his biggest challenges is defending, or deflecting, his brother’s national security policies. George W. Bush left office in 2009 deeply unpopular, largely because of American involvement in the Iraq War.

Asked if he would detail how his foreign policy might be different, Jeb Bush said, “No.”

Bush said earlier this year that intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, which his brother used to justify the invasion of Iraq, proved “not to be accurate.”

Asked Friday about other disagreements with his brother’s foreign policy, Jeb Bush said: “That’s not particularly relevant in a world of deep insecurity. Focusing on the past is not really relevant.”

What’s relevant, he said, is “the role of America going forward. And in that world what I see is insecurities creating dramatic insecurity for our own country.”

Bush does command a decent following of people who remember his brother and father fondly. “The Bush dynasty is one of the most significant strengths he has,” said Beverly Bruce, a Tuftonboro software marketer. “He not only has the experience level but also a sense of history.”

Doherty, too, was sympathetic. “He answered (the question) fairly. After hearing him, I absolutely would vote for him,” he said.

Whether others would, though, is another matter.

“There is that dynasty issue,” he said. “It’s a question on everybody’s mind.”

(c)2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Analysis: How Clinton Video Was Designed Face By Face

Analysis: How Clinton Video Was Designed Face By Face

By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Hillary Rodham Clinton can be a strong presidential candidate only if she gets broad, enthusiastic support from a new generation of voters. And that may be tough.

She’s the far-ahead front-runner for the Democratic nomination and may well coast to the party’s convention in 2016. But without the backing of younger voters, particularly women, as well as independents and liberals, she faces trouble in the general election.

The former secretary of state’s 2 minute, 18 second announcement video Sunday went right after those constituencies. It prominently featured a young mother, a woman in her 20s looking for work, an engaged same-sex couple and young children.

President Barack Obama eight years ago knew how to tap into that generation and its yen for younger, fresher politicians. He used social media as no national figure ever had before.

“Part of his appeal was ideological and part was generational,” said Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research in Florida.

In many ways, Clinton faces the same kind of challenge that’s tested Democratic frontrunners for decades. Democratic presidential candidates usually fall into one of two camps. There are the “inevitable” nominees who build support from the party establishment, notably labor unions, elected officials and big donors. Then there are the insurgents who are repelled by many of those same forces.

Clinton is more popular with women than men, but there’s been evidence that younger women are not eagerly embracing her, or for that matter the Democratic party.

“Women under 30 tend to look for something new,” said Coker.

They often didn’t rally around the Democrats’ efforts in 2014 U.S. Senate races to accuse Republicans of waging a “war on women.”

Such tactics remain problematic. A Quinnipiac University poll released last week found that 42 percent of all women in swing state Colorado, where the war-on- woman strategy backfired, found Clinton trustworthy.

One bright note for Clinton: She did better among women in the poll’s Iowa findings. The nation’s first caucus state is far more familiar with her, and she plans to make to her first campaign stop this week.

Even there, though, recent news was not all positive. Quinnipiac’s March 29-April 7 poll found her favorability among all voters in Iowa has “dropped significantly.”

Clinton will find in Iowa and elsewhere another hurdle: convincing Democratic liberals.

One potential pitfall will be her vote in the Senate in 2002 to support the war in Iraq.

It likely hurt her in 2008 against Barack Obama, who opposed the war. And former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee is thinking of challenging her for the nomination in part to remind Democrats of her pro-war vote. Chafee is not in he same category as Obama and unlikely to seriously contest for the nomination, but raising the issue on a debate stage could rekindle liberal doubts about Clinton.

So far, other potential challengers have been careful not to sharply criticize Clinton, and have gained little political traction.

By going too far left, though, Clinton risks alienating independent voters she many need in some primaries, where they can vote Democratic, as well as the general election.

Should no serious Democratic challenger emerge, and the skeptics remain unconvinced, the danger for Clinton is that she wins almost by default, a too-common occurrence with Democratic front-runners.

Former Vice President Walter Mondale in 1983 and 1984 sewed up almost every Democratic establishment figure, only to have barely-known Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado suddenly emerge as a challenger.

The left, independents and younger voters all hungered for someone new and out of the usual box, and eight days after Mondale won Iowa, Hart buried him in the New Hampshire primary. Mondale eventually won the nomination, but as a weakened candidate.

The blueprint for Clinton could be her husband. As Bill Clinton sought the 1992 nomination, liberals rallied around Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts or Jerry Brown, the once and future California governor.

Clinton strategists figured Brown and Tsongas lacked the broad support to mount a strong challenge, and they were right. As the primary season ended, Clinton strengthened his appeal to independents by slamming hip-hop artist Sister Souljah.

A month later, the 45-year-old Clinton picked Al Gore, then 43, as his running mate. The bid for younger voters helped make his campaign all about a new generation bent on improving a rickety economy.

Clinton, 67, won’t have that advantage. Liberals are unenthusiastic, and independents are skeptical. Under-30 voters were in elementary school when her husband won the White House.

Her big advantage as she starts this journey: “There’s a bloc of voters looking for an anti-Clinton candidate, and just can’t find one,” Coker said.

(c)2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Image: Screenshot via YouTube/Hillary Clinton

Oklahoma Frat Fallout: Some Speech Protected, Some Punished

Oklahoma Frat Fallout: Some Speech Protected, Some Punished

By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Three times in recent days, people uttering slurs against African-Americans were quickly punished.

Yet such consequences are hardly automatic. Insults aimed at Muslims, Latinos, Jews, women, and others are routinely decried but also often defended as free speech. A congressman says something derogatory about immigrants, yet remains a power in politics. An activist-preacher slurs Jews and is later an adviser to a president.

Some offensive speech is punished. Some is protected. The line changes, and shifts over time.

The latest furor was triggered by a video showing University of Oklahoma Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity members singing, “You can hang them from a tree, but they’ll never sign with me. There’ll never be a (n-word) at SAE.”

A few days later, Univision fired talk show host Rodner Figueroa for saying first lady Michelle Obama looked like a cast member of “Planet of the Apes.” Last week, a Cleveland anchorwoman returned to the air after being suspended for using a term offensive to African-Americans.

Where, asked some experts, was their right to speak freely?

When terrorists killed French journalists who satirized Muslims, President Barack Obama led the Western chorus defending “a universal belief in the freedom of expression…that can’t be silenced because of the senseless violence of the few.”

Yet speech often is silenced, or at least punished.

In Oklahoma, University President David Boren quickly kicked the fraternity off campus. “I have a message for those who have misused their freedom of speech in this way,” he said. “You’re disgraceful.”

They apparently weren’t breaking any laws, and some questioned whether their right to speak was being compromised.

“Absent information that is not at our disposal, it is difficult to imagine a situation in which a court would side with the university on this matter,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma said.

After all, “there is no crime in the U.S. called hate speech,” said Paul Butler, a professor of law at Georgetown University Law School, thanks to the First Amendment and a long string of court rulings.

Speech is often subject to two tests in this country: Whether it crosses a moral line that makes it impossible to defend in the court of public opinion, and whether it crosses a legal line.

Americans have become more willing, even eager, to express revulsion at slurs against long-oppressed minorities, particularly African-Americans.

Insults against Muslims and Hispanics do not stir the same sweeping rejection.

“We can permit free speech and at the same time say we are morally outraged,” said Daniel Wueste, director of the Rutland Institute for Ethics at Clemson University in South Carolina.

Dave Agema, a Republican National Committee member from Michigan, in October said that “camel jockeys don’t make good fighter pilots.” After other incendiary comments, the RNC’s executive committee censured him in January. He remains a member.

Two summers ago, Representative Steve King (R-IA), outraged young unauthorized immigrants.

“For every one who is a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that…weigh 130 pounds and they have calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

Despite protests, King was re-elected easily, and in January he hosted the first Republican presidential forum of the 2016 campaign.

The Reverend Al Sharpton in the 1990s called a Jewish store owner a “white interloper” and referred to Jews as “diamond merchants.” He said that his store owner reference wasn’t meant to apply to all Jews and that his other comment was misconstrued. He is today an MSNBC anchor and an adviser to Obama.

This much has changed: Slurs are more easily detected and debated today.

It’s a fulfillment of a principle Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis expressed in 1927: “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence. Only an emergency can justify repression.”

The media is particularly sensitive since it must balance a need for audience-building with not alienating potential customers.

That’s why extremes only occasionally cross the moral outrage line, and why the line is drawn differently depending on the speaker and the audience.

Bill Maher called Sarah Palin a vulgar word and remains the host of a program on HBO. Martin Bashir called her an “idiot,” as well as more offensive names, and resigned from MSNBC.

At Univision, Figueroa was dismissed after saying Michelle Obama “looks like she’s from the cast of ‘Planet of the Apes,’ the movie.” “What are you saying?” asked hostess Lili Estafan. Figueroa defended his comment, saying, “But it is true.”

In Cleveland, television anchor Kristi Capel returned to the air recently after a three-day suspension for using the word “jigaboo,” a deeply offensive term for African-Americans. She apologized to viewers.

But conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh remains on the air. Three years ago, he ignited a furor when he called Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” after the Georgetown law student found herself in the middle of a congressional battle over whether medical insurance should be required to pay for contraception.

The legal do-not-cross line is brighter.

Courts have long recognized two limitations on free speech rights. The fighting words doctrine allows the government to punish people for speech that might incite potential listeners to respond violently. In the Oklahoma matter, the test could involve whether an ordinary citizen hearing the chant would be likely to respond violently. The government may also prohibit hate speech if it is a “true threat.”

In the Oklahoma case, “The question is whether a reasonable person, notably a reasonable African-American, perceives an intent on the part of drunken fraternity members to harm them.” asked John Szmer, associate professor of political science and constitutional law expert at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Probably not, because courts have given wide latitude to the expression of one’s views. Courts, he said, are careful not to engage in what he called viewpoint discrimination.

“If we stop the Nazis and the KKK, they have ruled, who’s to say that in some town in the South we can’t stop civil rights protesters?” Szmer asked.

Four years ago, the Supreme Court affirmed the right of Westboro Baptist Church to protest, from a certain distance, at military funerals with its fiercely anti-gay message. The court said the First Amendment protects even offensive funeral protests such as the church’s infamous “God hates fags” message.

“Racial or hateful intimidating speech — by itself — is not a hate crime,” said Michael Lieberman, Washington counsel for the Anti-Defamation League.

When speech is accompanied by action, it crosses the legal line, said Lieberman, who has helped draft federal and state hate crime laws.

It’s a tough balancing act between allowing people to speak freely and stopping them from doing harm. “It’s an experiment,” Lieberman said. “And so far the First Amendment has worked pretty well.”

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Early Line: Three-Man Race For 2016 Republican Nomination

Early Line: Three-Man Race For 2016 Republican Nomination

By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The crowded contest for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination is emerging as a three-man race in its early stages.

Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker have emerged as early leaders. “They have the best ability to unite the various factions of the Republican Party,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres.

Rand Paul is close behind, but it’s uncertain whether he can grow much beyond the support he inherits from his father, former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. In 2012, Ron Paul got 21.5 percent of the Iowa caucus vote and 22.9 percent of the New Hampshire primary vote.

So far, said Ayres, “Rand Paul has yet to show he can break out.”

Early momentum matters. Big donors and big names are eager to pick winners, figuring that the sooner they commit, the more influence they’ll have. Three factors are crucial in determining who’s up or down: money, staff and buzz.

Bush, the former Florida governor, is reportedly amassing a daunting campaign treasury, perhaps topping $100 million by this summer. Bush campaigned in South Carolina this week.

“Bush has the name, and that gets him benefits,” noted Tyler De Haan, chairman of the Dallas County (Iowa) Republican Party.

Early money doesn’t guarantee victory, but it’s a leading indicator. By June 30 of 1999 and 2011, George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, respectively, were well ahead in the money chase. Each won the nomination the following year. An exception: By mid-2007, John McCain’s total trailed Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, but McCain went on to win the nomination.

Walker, the Wisconsin governor, has gained notice with his hires. While big names are expected to join better-connected candidates such as Bush, insiders take note when they go to someone such as the lesser-known Walker.

Rick Wiley, a former Republican National Committee political director, has signed on as a top aide. Kirsten Kukowski left her job as RNC national press secretary to become communications director for Walker’s political committee. Ed Goeas, president of the Tarrance Group, is a senior adviser.

Walker also gained momentum with his January speech to the Iowa Freedom Summit, an all-day showcase of possible candidates before hundreds of activists. Walker was the day’s star, explaining how he could streamline the federal government the way he tightened Wisconsin’s bureaucracy.

Donors and analysts see Walker, who also campaigned this week in South Carolina, as having broad appeal.

That’s gained importance in a campaign Republicans see as winnable. A McClatchy-Marist poll this month found that 39 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents thought it was more important to nominate someone who can win, up from December’s 33 percent.

A sign of the ability to win? Walker topped all other major Republicans when matched against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Rubio, a U.S. senator from Florida, has generated quiet but ample buzz. It began growing last year in Iowa, where he was an early supporter of Joni Ernst for the Senate. She stunned the political world with an easy primary win and in November won big over Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley.

In January, Rubio emerged as the favorite of a donor retreat hosted by the billionaire Koch brothers. He won an informal straw poll and was praised for his understanding of foreign policy.

Rubio also intrigues Republicans because he’s both Latino and young. Rubio, who turns 44 in May, would be the first Republican presidential nominee under 50 since Richard Nixon in 1960. (So would Walker, who was born in November 1967.)

“Rubio is an exciting candidate. He’s young and is showing a lot of appeal,” said Wayne MacDonald, former New Hampshire Republican chairman.

Being in the top tier also brings risks. Scrutiny becomes relentless. One of Walker’s marquee hires, veteran Republican strategist Liz Mair, resigned this week after one day on job when controversy erupted over her tweets that criticized Iowa.

Rubio’s onetime willingness to create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is getting new attention, and Bush’s Florida record is still being closely examined by party insiders.

Much of who’s ahead and who’s not at this stage “is based on who’s known and who’s not known,” said Fergus Cullen, another former New Hampshire Republican chairman. Cullen hosted a reception at his home for Bush last week.

What’s lacking in the top tier is a hardcore conservative or Tea Party favorite.

Tea party loyalists are sympathetic to Walker, for example, but still have some doubts. At a Tea Party Patriots telephone town hall meeting this week, some questioned whether he has shifted his position on government help for ethanol over the years.

Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, is popular in Iowa, but memories are fresh of how his support all but evaporated after winning the 2008 caucus. Rick Santorum did well early in 2012, but the former Pennsylvania senator lacked money and wider appeal once the campaign moved to bigger states.

Others raise serious questions, said Jane Aitken, coordinator for the New Hampshire Tea Party Coalition.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is too eager to use military force, Aitken said, and “most Tea Party supporters are anti-interventionist.”

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson attracts a passionate following but is unproven in the political arena. Former Texas Governor Rick Perry and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal have stirred little support, finishing 11th and 12th, respectively, in the Feb. 28 Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll. And few take businessman Donald Trump’s bid seriously.

That leaves the top tier, at least for now. “Remember,” said Cullen, “last time almost everybody seemed to have a time in the sun.”

Former Governor Jeb Bush of Florida speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)