Donald Trump, Hoping To Slow Ted Cruz’s Surge, Makes Inroads With Evangelicals

Donald Trump, Hoping To Slow Ted Cruz’s Surge, Makes Inroads With Evangelicals

By Kurtis Lee, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

In the final days before Iowans begin the presidential nominating process, Donald Trump, whose candidacy has perplexed and enlivened various factions of the Republican Party, is focused on shoring up the support of the state’s evangelical voters who could propel him to victory and bolster his momentum in the upcoming primaries.

Trump announced Tuesday the endorsement of Jerry Falwell Jr., an influential evangelical leader and president of Liberty University, who called the billionaire businessman a “successful executive and entrepreneur, a wonderful father and a man who I believe can lead our country to greatness again.”

The endorsement from Falwell comes a week after former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin tossed her support behind the billionaire’s candidacy. Palin has a strong following of evangelical and tea party supporters.

Each of those endorsements arrives as Trump seeks to slow the surge of his top rival in Iowa, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has strong support from evangelicals.

“It’s all calculated and really shows how he can morph himself so that he’s appealing,” Steffen Schmidt, a professor of political science at Iowa State University, said of Trump’s support from Falwell and Palin. “He does what he needs to. … He’s not a tried and true politician, but … in many ways, he has become a politician. Has Trump ever talked about evangelicals in his career? I would say not so much.”

Indeed, over the weekend Trump attended church in Iowa and last week he spoke at the invocation at Falwell’s Liberty University.

National polls show Trump is succeeding in winning over evangelicals—who are also influential in South Carolina, another state with an early vote. An NBC News/Survey Monkey poll released Tuesday showed Trump with 37 percent support from white evangelicals nationwide, while Cruz had 20 percent, a 9 percent drop since last week.

Still, a mix of state and national polls reveals the race for evangelical support appears to be a toss-up.

A Quinnipiac University poll of likely Iowa GOP caucusgoers released on Tuesday showed Cruz leading Trump among evangelicals, 39 percent to 27 percent.

On Tuesday, Trump went on the attack against Bob Vander Plaats, a powerful Iowa evangelical leader who endorsed Cruz. Vander Plaats is head of the faith-based group the Family Leader and a staunch opponent of abortion, and his endorsement was courted heavily by Cruz and Trump.

“Why doesn’t phony Vander Plaats tell his followers all the times he asked for him and his family to stay at my hotels,” Trump tweeted.

Cruz in recent weeks has battled Trump over the senator’s presidential eligibility (Cruz was born in Canada to an American mother and Cuban father) and his positions on immigration. The Texan has sought to cast Trump as a faux conservative whose Christian beliefs should be questioned.

A super PAC supporting Cruz released a television ad on Monday in Iowa castigating Trump for his past views on abortion, which cites a 1999 interview in which Trump notes he’s “pro-choice in every respect.”

“If Donald wins Iowa, he right now has a substantial lead in New Hampshire, if he went on to win New Hampshire as well, there is a very good chance he could be unstoppable and be our nominee,” Cruz warned pastors at a private meeting in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, earlier in the week.

Katie Packer, a Republican strategist who is unaligned in the 2016 presidential race but whose super PAC operates a website questioning Trump on various issues, said the businessman’s endorsements are an effort to validate his support among evangelicals.

“But his record—on issues like abortion—is not steadfast,” Packer said. “He’s wavered a lot.”

©2016 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in Muscatine, Iowa, United States, January 24, 2016.   REUTERS/Jim Young


Powerful Nevada Union Will Not Endorse In Democratic Primary

Powerful Nevada Union Will Not Endorse In Democratic Primary

By Kurtis Lee, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Nevada’s largest labor organization, the powerful Culinary Union, will not offer an endorsement before the state’s Democratic caucuses next month, a reversal from 2008, when a bitter fight emerged over its backing.

Local 226, which boasts 55,000 members who serve cocktails in casinos and prepare food for the roughly 50 million tourists who come to the state each year, said in a statement late Monday it will instead focus on helping elect a candidate in the November general election.

Eight years ago, in a closely fought Democratic primary, the union backed then-Sen. Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton. But the endorsement flowered into a hostile dispute, with former President Bill Clinton accusing the union of strong-arming its members — a majority of whom are Latino — into backing Obama.

At the time, the union’s endorsement proved to have little impact as Clinton went on to win the popular vote in the state’s caucuses by about 5 percentage points over Obama. However, Obama prevailed with the most nominating delegates from the state.

The Culinary Union’s influence remains strong because of its ability to organize voters, and Democratic candidates seeking the nomination this year have met with leaders of the union, courting its endorsement.

As the Democratic primary heads west — the Nevada caucuses are third for Democrats, after Iowa and New Hampshire — the support of Latino voters, whose vote is highly influential, will be critical for both Clinton and rival Bernie Sanders.

Polls have shown that the support of minority voters is an uphill climb for Sanders. A recent national survey from NBC News/Wall Street Journal found Clinton leading Sanders 69 percent to 27 percent with nonwhite voters.

©2016 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton greets members of the culinary workers union local 226 after speaking at a demonstration outside the Trump Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada October 12, 2015.  REUTERS/Mike Blake 

Rand Paul Plans To Bypass ‘Happy Hour’ Debate, Will Make Pitch Directly To Voters

Rand Paul Plans To Bypass ‘Happy Hour’ Debate, Will Make Pitch Directly To Voters

By Kurtis Lee, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Rand Paul will not be on the main debate stage Thursday night in South Carolina and, for now at least, he’s sticking with his refusal to partake in the undercard debate.

The Kentucky senator’s displeasure with Fox Business Network, whose criteria left him on the outside looking in, has been clear in the onslaught of email blasts to supporters and social media posts from his campaign over the last 24 hours.

And instead of participating in the so-called “happy hour” debate alongside former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina and former Sen. Rick Santorum, he’ll be out on the campaign trail.

“He won’t participate,” said Sergio Gor, Paul’s spokesman, in an email, noting the candidate is scheduled to campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire.

For Paul, the son of libertarian icon and former Rep. Ron Paul, his absence from the debate signifies a slow, consistent decline.

When he announced his candidacy last spring, Paul labeled himself a “different kind of Republican” and sought to make inroads with voters who do not tend to traditionally vote for the party.

He traveled to inner cities, visiting leaders of black communities, and talked about issues such as reducing penalties for drug use as he courted young and minority voters.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times over the summer, he said his message of party outreach to minorities has resonated.

“I’m a believer that for the Republican Party to grow, we need to be a broader, more diverse party,” he said.

But if Paul, best known for his libertarian leanings, believes his message is working, he is clearly struggling with the majority-white GOP primary electorate in the early-nominating states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

He’s consistently polled toward the bottom of the field. An average of state polls in Iowa currently has him hovering around 3 percent, and in New Hampshire he’s at about 4 percent.

While he plans to pass on an opportunity to debate his challengers Thursday on television, he hopes, perhaps, his message will resonate directly with voters three weeks before the first ballots are cast in the 2016 election.

©2016 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul speaks at the Growth and Opportunity Party at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa, October 31, 2015.  REUTERS/Brian C. Frank


Trump Unconcerned About Role In Terrorist Video

Trump Unconcerned About Role In Terrorist Video

By Kurtis Lee, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Donald Trump brushed aside concerns Sunday about a recruitment video released by an al-Qaida affiliate in Africa that showed the Republican presidential front-runner’s call to close U.S. borders to Muslims.

The video, purportedly released by the Somali militant group al-Shabaab, shows Trump at a news conference last month calling for a “complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Using that as partial evidence, the video argues that the United States is an enemy of Islam and that Muslims should join al-Shabaab’s fight.

On Sunday, Trump said he was not bothered that the video used his image.

“They use other people too,” Trump said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “What am I going to do? I have to say what I have to say. … There’s a problem. We have to find out what is a problem. And we have to solve that problem.”

Trump called for the temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States after attacks by radical Islamists in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. Most other presidential candidates have denounced his proposal, noting that America’s Muslim allies are crucial to the fight against the militant group Islamic State.

Al-Shabaab has long aligned itself with al-Qaida, but a breakaway faction recently pledged allegiance to Islamic State.

Two weeks ago, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton said during a Democratic candidates’ debate that Islamic State had used Trump’s criticism of Muslims in recruiting videos. Trump demanded an apology, insisting that her claim was untrue.

The fact-checking website PolitiFact sided with Trump, saying there was no evidence to support Clinton’s claim.

(c)2016 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to supporters at the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort and Spa in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, December 30, 2015. REUTERS/Randall Hill

Cruz And Rubio Engage In Battle For Nevada Mormons

Cruz And Rubio Engage In Battle For Nevada Mormons

By Kurtis Lee, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

BOULDER CITY, Nev. — Deep divisions among Nevada Republicans over a $1 billion tax increase pushed by the state’s Republican governor are helping to shape the battle between Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas to win this state’s presidential caucuses — the first nominating contest in the West.

Rubio’s backers are eagerly eyeing Nevada as they look for an early-voting state the candidate could win. Although Rubio is widely seen as one of the leading contenders for the GOP nomination, the early primary states mostly look unpromising for him.

Cruz, by contrast, leads the polls in Iowa, which holds the first contest of the season on Feb. 1, and is well-positioned in several other conservative states that hold early contests.

With the stakes high here, the two freshman senators are vying to gain the support of a key voting bloc within the state’s GOP — members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who mostly lined up behind fellow Mormon Mitt Romney in the last two election cycles.

Mormons make up only about 4 percent of the state’s population, but their influence in Nevada’s Republican caucuses is much greater. In 2008 and 2012, members of the church accounted for nearly a quarter of Republican caucusgoers, entrance polls showed.

Both Cruz and Rubio — who attended an LDS church in Las Vegas in his youth — have enlisted politically prominent members of the church, and now the fault line on taxes that split the state’s Republicans this spring and summer has come to the forefront.

Rubio’s side includes prominent backers of the tax increase, aimed at expanding the state’s budget for schools, which Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval pushed through the GOP-controlled Legislature in May and June. The tax hike, the largest in state history, was strongly opposed by a large portion of the Republicans in the Legislature.

Also among Rubio’s backers is Bruce Woodbury, a Mormon and former Clark County commissioner who is so admired in southern Nevada that the I-215 beltway around Las Vegas is named after him.

Four years ago, Woodbury appeared in radio advertisements urging supporters to vote for Romney. He plans a similar effort this cycle for Rubio, working alongside the campaign’s state director, Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison — another prominent Mormon — to build support ahead of the Feb. 23 caucuses.

“An essential factor is winning the election in November,” Woodbury said after a recent Rubio rally in a hotel ballroom a short drive from the Las Vegas Strip. “He has all the essentials: a powerful life story, he’s moderate — he can appeal to all segments of the electorate.”

His son, Boulder City Mayor Rod Woodbury, and two City Council members — all church members — also back Rubio.

Among the leaders of the opposition to the tax increase was Assemblyman Ira Hansen, a Republican who represents Sparks, just east of Reno. Hansen, also a Mormon church member, is now part of Cruz’s state leadership team.

“You see it at the national level and here: Cruz folks are much more conservative than Rubio’s,” said Hansen. “When it comes to social issues, when it comes to tax increases, if you’re a conservative — a true conservative — then Ted Cruz is your candidate.

“I think that Mormons and just Republicans in general want a true conservative who will stand for conservative values in Washington, D.C.,” he said.
Hansen says Rubio’s past support of bipartisan immigration reform, which included a path to citizenship for those in the country illegally, is also a negative for him in the state’s caucuses. It’s an issue on which Cruz has repeatedly assailed Rubio, saying that the Florida senator supports “amnesty” for those who have violated immigration laws.

Rubio’s campaign has two field offices in the state — one in Las Vegas, the other in Reno — and nearly a dozen paid staffers. The Cruz campaign has a similar infrastructure.

Cruz has enlisted Paul Workman, a former bishop in the Mormon church and a member of Romney’s 2012 Nevada finance committee, who says his job is to make sure LDS members know about Cruz’s record as a conservative.

Cruz “talks about his faith with confidence and how it guides him,” Workman said. “There’s a real openness to other faiths that he has. It appeals to me and I’m sure other Mormons as well.”

At a recent religious round table in Las Vegas hosted by the Cruz campaign, Workman spoke with evangelical Christian pastor Rafael Cruz, the Texas senator’s father. The two talked about Mormon doctrine — of salvation, atonement and family — and how to appeal to LDS voters. Workman says he was impressed by the elder Cruz’s knowledge of Mormonism, which he says will help bolster the senator’s LDS support.

Rubio supporters, however, say Cruz’s brand of staunch conservatism will not help the party win in November.

Heidi Wixom, a mother of six, lives a few blocks from a Mormon church in her eastside Las Vegas neighborhood. After rallying behind Romney in the last two elections, she remained torn for much of the summer and fall about which candidate to back. Electability in November was vital in her decision to support Rubio, she said.

“Just being a strong conservative doesn’t help the party,” she said. “You have to have shown you can work alongside Democrats; even if right now that doesn’t seem ideal, it will pay off in the general election.”

(c)2016 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio speaks at a campaign town hall meeting in Rochester, New Hampshire, December 21, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz Continue To Hammer Each Other Over Immigration

Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz Continue To Hammer Each Other Over Immigration

By Kurtis Lee, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

The back and forth over immigration between Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas has intensified since Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate with daily attacks and a flurry of television ads.

Sunday was no different.

Rubio, who has been repeatedly questioned over his 2013 support of a major immigration reform bill that would have provided a path to citizenship to people in the country illegally, has looked to highlight an amendment to the legislation that Cruz proposed. It would have scrapped the bill’s pathway to citizenship for immigrants who are undocumented but left open a route to legal status in the form of green cards.

“Ted was open, and was in fact a supporter of legalizing people that were in this country illegally,” Rubio said Sunday in an appearance on CBS’ Face the Nation. “He made it clear on multiple occasions that he was against citizenship, but he was open to legalization.”

Speaking to reporters last week in Las Vegas, Cruz insisted the amendment was meant as a sort of poison pill to the bill and that he has never supported legalization.

“I oppose amnesty. I oppose citizenship. I oppose legalization,” he said.

In an effort to push back against criticism, Cruz has highlighted the support of several conservatives, such as Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who have called Rubio’s attacks misleading.

Surveys of Republican primary voters have shown they strongly oppose granting citizenship to those in the country illegally. Cruz has sought to capitalize on that view.

He’s often assailed Rubio, who was one of eight senators to craft the 2013 proposal, as a supporter of amnesty. A new television ad released in Iowa on Friday hammers Rubio for his support of the bipartisan proposal.

“He still supports amnesty and citizenship to this day,” Cruz said while in Las Vegas, noting Rubio’s concession that he supports allowing some immigrants to apply for work permits and then, after 10 years, allowing them to apply for citizenship.

©2015 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidates (L-R) Governor John Kasich, former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, Senator Marco Rubio, Dr. Ben Carson, businessman Donald Trump, Senator Ted Cruz, former Governor Jeb Bush, Governor Chris Christie and Senator Rand Paul pose before the start of the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas, Nevada December 15, 2015.    REUTERS/Mike Blake


Colorado Embodies Nation’s Divide Over Gun Control

Colorado Embodies Nation’s Divide Over Gun Control

By Kurtis Lee, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — In this slice of the Rocky Mountains, bloodshed has arrived yet again, renewing passionate debate over whether gun control makes a community safer or places it more at risk.

While mass shootings have become more common all across the country, in Colorado, home to Columbine High School, the Aurora movie theater and, now, a Planned Parenthood clinic, the events resonate with profound power. And in a state neatly divided among Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters, no one side in the gun debate prevails for long.

Time and again in the wake of these shootings, Democrats demand tougher gun laws, while Republicans call reforms unnecessary and unlikely to stop violence.

“There’s no reason this should continue to happen,” Tom Sullivan said of Friday’s violence that left a police officer, Garrett Swasey, and two civilians dead after a gunman opened fire in a Planned Parenthood office here. Sullivan’s son, Alex, was killed three years ago in the theater shooting on what was his 27th birthday. “People who should not have guns walking around with guns shooting people. Why? Because they’re mad?”

Sullivan works with groups including Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Everytown for Gun Safety in calling for stricter gun laws nationwide.

In the months after the theater shooting, he helped Colorado lawmakers, mostly Democrats, push for new laws to impose 15-round limits on ammunition magazines and universal background checks on all gun sales and transfers.

At the time, the debate over the gun bills was so contentious that legislative committee rooms were often filled to capacity. Added security was provided to lawmakers in and around the Capitol.

The legislation became law, but in yet another sign of Colorado’s divided nature over guns, it also led to the ouster of two lawmakers that year, state Sens. John Morse of Colorado Springs and Angela Giron of Pueblo, in recall elections. A third state lawmaker chose to resign rather than face a recall election. All three are Democrats.

Laura Carno, a conservative activist from Colorado Springs who led the charge to recall Morse, wants to see a repeal of the state’s new gun laws.

“They don’t make anyone safer,” said Carno, citing the Planned Parenthood attack and a separate incident last month where a man shot and killed three people in Colorado Springs’ downtown corridor.

“These gun laws don’t keep guns out of the hands of criminals, because they’re criminals. … All they do is keep me from being able to buy the firearm of my choice,” she said.

On Saturday, law enforcement officials were still in search of a motive behind the rampage at Planned Parenthood, noting it could take several weeks before the investigation is complete. The Associated Press, quoting an unnamed official Saturday night, reported that Robert Lewis Dear, who surrendered to police, said “no more baby parts” after his arrest.

Police said Dear, 57, had carried a rifle but would not provide further details or say whether the weapon would have been illegal under the state’s new gun laws.

President Barack Obama, in what’s become a refrain after a shooting, called for more gun-control laws.

“This is not normal,” Obama said in a statement Saturday. “We can’t let it become normal. If we truly care about this … we have to do something about the easy accessibility of weapons of war on our streets.”

While Colorado lawmakers for the most part avoided blunt talk about gun control, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and Republican Mayor John Suthers of Colorado Springs did stand side by side at a news conference Saturday, vowing not to utter the suspected gunman’s name in public.

But in the past the two men have split over the issue of gun control. Hickenlooper was a staunch supporter of the new gun laws, while Suthers, who recently ended an eight-year term as state attorney general, opposed the measures.

When asked Saturday how he continues to deal with shootings in his state, Hickenlooper said the key is to persevere — and that discussions about preventing more bloodshed can come later.

“We will continue,” he said. “This is going to be our entire country, trying to figure out, how do we address issues around violence in our community. And the key here is, I don’t think this is the time to have that discussion.”

In 1999, Columbine High School, in a sleepy suburb of Denver, opened America’s eyes to the horrors of a mass shooting when 12 students and one educator were killed. And three years ago, in Aurora, a suburb less than 20 miles from the high school, movie-goers watched as a dozen people were slaughtered at a midnight premiere of a Batman film.

Each of those events brought added pressure to law enforcement and for their family members, including Donovan Ford.

Ford’s father, John Ford, is a 25-year veteran of the Colorado Springs Police Department and was one of five officers injured in the Planned Parenthood siege.

Donovan Ford, like many in the state, chose to focus on the victims of Friday’s shooting and the officers who rushed to the scene knowing a gunman was loose. He recently joined the Minneapolis Police Department and said he received a phone call Friday that he’s always dreaded.

“When you have a parent in law enforcement, you never know if they’re going to come home,” he said. “I’m lucky my dad will be OK. It’s just all-around terrible.”

(c)2015 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Ambulances wait on a road leading to a Planned Parenthood center after reports of an active shooter in Colorado Springs, November 27, 2015. REUTERS/Isaiah J. Downing

Chris Christie Bounced Off Main GOP Debate Stage

Chris Christie Bounced Off Main GOP Debate Stage

By Kurtis Lee, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

As Republicans look to winnow down a crowded field of presidential hopefuls, next Tuesday’s fourth televised debate will offer a shake-up in what’s become a topsy-turvy primary season.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was once seen as a GOP front runner, but whose “tell it like it is” campaign has failed to gain much momentum, will have to settle for the so-called “happy hour” debate that will precede the main event. So will former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won the Iowa caucuses when he sought the party’s nomination in 2008.

Both men failed to qualify for the main debate, which will feature eight candidates, because their support in an average of four recent polls fell below 2.5 percent. The qualification rules were set by Fox Business Network, which will host the debate in Milwaukee along with The Wall Street Journal.

In each of the past three debates Christie and Huckabee have joined the top-tier candidates in the main debate, but will now join former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who won the Iowa caucuses in 2012, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in the early round.

Some candidates fared even worse. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a foreign policy hawk who has offered feisty rhetoric in each of the past “happy hour” debates, failed to make even that stage. Also left out of next week’s undercard debate is former New York Gov. George Pataki. Neither received 1 percent support in even one of the four polls used to winnow the field.

The four surveys were by The Wall St. Journal and NBC News, Quinnipiac University, Investors Business Daily and Fox News.

Donald Trump will hold center stage at the debate, just edging out Ben Carson. Marco Rubio came in third in the average of the four polls.

(c)2015 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie answers a question from the audience during a campaign town hall meeting at Sayde’s Neighborhood Bar and Grill in Salem, New Hampshire August 24, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Marco Rubio Unmoved By Comparison To President Obama

Marco Rubio Unmoved By Comparison To President Obama

By Kurtis Lee, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Marco Rubio does not believe his short stint in the Senate should be a factor in his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination.

Despite some rivals, such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, questioning his attendance record in the Senate, Rubio said his work speaks for itself and is resonating with voters in early nominating states.

“There is no office in the world like the United States presidency. What I have shown over the last five years is judgment, good judgment, and understanding of the major issues before America,” he said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Recently some surrogates for Bush, a onetime Rubio ally and now a rival as they both seek the GOP nod, have dubbed the Florida senator a “Republican Obama.” (President Barack Obama, like Rubio, was a first-term senator when he ran for the White House).

“Look, campaigns are going to say whatever they think gives them an advantage. And obviously someone has convinced Jeb that attacking me is going to help his campaign. It won’t change the way we run our campaign,” Rubio said. “We’re going to give people a serious candidacy that’s optimistic but also realistic about America’s future, about our challenges, about the direction our country needs to go. That’s what I’m going to focus on.”

In the interview, Rubio, who is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he supported Obama’s decision to send 50 members of U.S. special operations forces into Syria to help fight Islamic State extremists.

“I don’t have a problem with the tactics of it. And the numbers might even have to be larger at some point. But I think the bigger issue is, can they arrive at a strategy? And that’s what I think the administration is still struggling to outline,” he said.

©2015 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidate U.S. Senator Marco Rubio speaks as former Governor Jeb Bush (L), businessman Donald Trump (2nd R) and Dr. Ben Carson (R) listen at the 2016 U.S. Republican presidential candidates debate held by CNBC in Boulder, Colorado, October 28, 2015. REUTERS/Rick Wilking 

Trump Releases Immigration Plan, Calls For Ground Troops In Iraq

Trump Releases Immigration Plan, Calls For Ground Troops In Iraq

By Kurtis Lee, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Donald Trump, who has angered many immigrant rights activists with inflammatory comments since he started his campaign, said Sunday that if he were to become president, those in the country illegally would “have to go.”

“We’re going to keep the families together … but they have to go,” Trump said, noting that as commander in chief he would reverse President Barack Obama’s executive orders that offer some protections to those in the country illegally. “We have to make a whole new set of standards. And when people come in, they have to come in legally,” he said.

The GOP candidate, in an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, said he would end Obama’s Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which allows young people brought to the country illegally to work and attend college without facing deportation.

Also Sunday, Trump released an immigration plan that includes the billionaire’s standard talking point on the issue: building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. He also called for ending birthright citizenship, tripling the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers along the border and the “mandatory return of all criminal aliens.”

The Democratic National Committee called Trump’s plan an obsession with “mass deportation.”

“The GOP should quit treating these families as second-class citizens and join Democrats who support immigrant families and want to keep them together,” said Pablo Manriquez, DNC director of Hispanic Media.

In the NBC interview, Trump called for U.S. ground troops to be deployed to Iraq to defeat Islamic State militants by taking away their oil supplies.

“I’ve been saying, ‘Don’t go into Iraq.’ They destabilized the Middle East. It was a big mistake,” he said about the Iraq war. “OK, now we’re there. And you have ISIS (another designation for Islamic State). And ISIS is taking over a lot of the oil and certain areas of Iraq. And I said you take away their wealth, that you go and knock the hell out of the oil, take back the oil. We take over the oil, which we should have done in the first place.”

Trump also said he supports affirmative action and gay rights.

“I’m fine with affirmative action. We’ve lived with it for a long time. And I lived with it for a long time. And I’ve had great relationships with lots of people,” he said.

When asked if private companies should be allowed to fire a person because he or she is gay, Trump said he doesn’t “think it should be a reason.”

In several national polls, Trump leads the crowded field of Republican presidential hopefuls in the early nominating states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

(c)2015 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to the media before heading over the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, United States, August 15, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Young

Likely 2016 Presidential Candidates Put Money To Work Through Their PACs

Likely 2016 Presidential Candidates Put Money To Work Through Their PACs

By Kurtis Lee, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

For New Hampshire’s Republican Party, the swarm of likely presidential candidates about to blanket the state has been preceded by another much-appreciated influx: money.

There was the recent contribution of $10,000 from Jeb Bush’s leadership political action committee, Right to Rise, ahead of a visit this week to the Granite State, his first since announcing he is exploring a run for the White House. Months earlier, $5,000 each came from leadership PACs established by Republican Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida, two other presidential prospects eager to make friends in the state that will hold the first 2016 primary.

“We’re a pivotal state in the election process, so it’s no surprise candidates are showing interest here,” said Jennifer Horn, the state GOP chairwoman.

At this stage of the 2016 campaign, the leadership PAC has become a vehicle of choice for presidential candidates. Common among members of Congress, but a relatively new device for those not holding federal office, such PACs enable prospective candidates to build donor lists, travel to early primary states and court future support by contributing to local officials and state parties, without having to formally declare a candidacy.

“It can be used as a warm-up to the main attraction,” said Anthony Corrado, a professor of government at Colby College in Maine who has done extensive research on campaign finance.

Unlike independent SuperPACs, which can receive unlimited contributions, leadership PACs can accept $5,000 per year from individual donors or other political action committees. Limits to how much these PACs can donate vary from $10,000 to state parties to about $5,000 to candidates per election. In the two years leading up to November’s midterm election, 496 leadership PACs spent $47 million on federal candidates, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Money raised by the PACs cannot go toward the candidates’ formal campaign, although the currying of influence in early or influential states will certainly be beneficial.

Last year, Reinventing a New Direction, or RANDPAC, established by Paul in 2011, contributed a combined $15,000 to the GOP in early voting states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, according to Federal Election Commission reports.

Meanwhile, Rubio’s Reclaim America donated a total of $10,000 to state parties in Iowa and New Hampshire. Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, launched his political action committee, RickPAC, last summer and gave $10,000 to the New Hampshire GOP and $5,000 to South Carolina Republicans.

The money sent to influential politicians has been equally sizable. Bush announced he contributed about $31,200 to House and Senate candidates from early voting states.

“These are all candidates Governor Bush is supportive of and who are up for reelection in 2016,” spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said. “Obviously they are in critical states, but it’s important to note that these are just the first round of contributions.”

Before the November election, RANDPAC gave about $14,300 to federal candidates from Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina; Reclaim America handed out about $22,000 and RickPAC $17,900 to candidates in those states. The Jobs, Growth and Freedom Fund, the leadership PAC of Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, gave $30,000 to federal GOP candidates from those states. These totals do not include the tens of thousands that the PACs also handed out through independent expenditures to support candidates such as Joni Ernst of Iowa, who won a competitive Senate contest, and Scott Brown, who failed to unseat Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.

Candidates and state parties in places like California and Texas, where primary voters cast ballots much later, have seen almost no donations from these PACs. (Bush is the only candidate to release tallies from this year; in odd years, PACs have the option of filing quarterly or semiannually.)

Because of federal limits, the sums given to candidates are relatively small compared with the millions these PACs rake in. In the last two years, RANDPAC raised about $3.7 million, and Reclaim America brought in $3.9 million — two of the highest sums of any Senate leadership PACs.

“Senator Paul is proud to have crisscrossed the country in the 2014 cycle on behalf of his ideas and of candidates nationwide,” Doug Stafford, executive director of RANDPAC, said in an email. “The PAC also built a nationwide donor and activist network to support those endeavors.”

Much of the cash raised by the PACs has gone toward travel, fundraising, consulting, polling and research, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Expenses for RANDPAC included $4,983 in equipment at an Arlington, Va., Apple store and $2,050 in hotel fees at Caesars Palace on the Las Vegas Strip.

“This is a good way to build name identification in critical states that helps down the road,” said Viveca Novak, editorial and communications director at the Center for Responsive Politics. “And when looking at the contributions, it’s clear that they’re targeted toward certain candidates in certain states.”

Republicans may have a more active palette of leadership PACs, because the party has far more presidential prospects than Democrats have, but they are not alone in their use.

Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat who is exploring a presidential run, has made significant contributions through his leadership PAC, O’Say Can You See.

Before the November election, his PAC handed out $24,500 in Iowa and New Hampshire to Democratic organizations and federal candidates. The Democratic front-runner, Hillary Rodham Clinton, has not set up a leadership PAC, but a SuperPAC that is trying to rally support for her has given the maximum of $10,000 each to the Democratic parties in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Because it is governed by rules different from those of leadership PACs, Ready for Hillary can receive unlimited donations. It has raised $12.9 million since it formed in 2013.

Ready for Hillary and the various leadership PACs also serve another role in these early stages of the race: collecting lists of supporters, which they can then turn over to the campaigns for a price.

Corrado, the Colby College professor, said the PACs served as the architecture for a political campaign that, for the nominee, could ultimately cost more than $1 billion.

“It makes for an easy transition when it’s time to actually get moving and hit the trail daily,” he said. “Those lists and established contacts will play heavily when it comes to raising money.”

Photo: U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Gage Skidmore via Flickr)

Philadelphia Will Host 2016 Democratic National Convention

Philadelphia Will Host 2016 Democratic National Convention

By Kurtis Lee, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

The Democratic National Committee on Thursday chose Philadelphia as the site of its 2016 national convention.

Philadelphia edged out Columbus, Ohio, and New York City to host delegates from across the country for a convention that is slated to be held much earlier in the election year than in previous cycles.

Last month Democrats announced the convention would be held the week of July 25, 2016, a week after the Republican National Committee holds its convention in Cleveland.

“Philadelphia’s deep-rooted place in American history provides a perfect setting for this special gathering,” said DNC chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) in a statement. “I cannot wait to join Democrats across the country to celebrate our shared values, lay out a Democratic vision for the future, and support our nominee.”

Republicans held their 2000 convention in Philadelphia.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Marijuana Spurs Border War Between Colorado, Nebraska And Oklahoma

Marijuana Spurs Border War Between Colorado, Nebraska And Oklahoma

By Kurtis Lee, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

PUEBLO WEST, Colo. — On the front door of the 20,000-square-foot marijuana dispensary here is a laminated sign warning every customer: “It is illegal to sell or transport marijuana to another state.”

“And you can guarantee people read it,” said Rick Hooper, general manager of the Spot 420 in this barren part of southern Colorado. “We make it very, very clear that this is the law here.”

Whether people obey is an entirely different question, and some neighboring states don’t think a warning sign is enough.

A border war has broken out between Colorado, where recreational pot is legal, and its neighbors, Nebraska and Oklahoma, where it is not.

In December, the attorneys general of Nebraska and Oklahoma sued to stop what they say is a steady flow of marijuana across the Colorado state line. Kansas is considering joining as well.

The lawsuit, filed directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, seeks to strike down Colorado’s law legalizing recreational marijuana. It argues that Colorado’s statute conflicts with federal drug laws, which consider marijuana illegal, even in small amounts.

“Left unchallenged, I am confident Colorado’s law will cause long-term harm to Nebraska families,” the state’s new attorney general, Republican Doug Peterson, wrote in an open letter last week. “It is incumbent on Nebraska to take action.”

Coloradans, however, are bristling that its staunchly conservative neighbors are trying to impose their will on the “open-minded voters” of this centrist state.

“They can’t force their convictions onto Coloradans,” Hooper said.

Colorado’s marijuana law was approved by voters in 2012. It allows the sale and possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for recreational use for anyone 21 and over with a valid driver’s license.

Shortly after the new law took effect, the U.S. Justice Department outlined its enforcement priorities, saying it would not interfere with Colorado’s legal pot operations but would instead focus on, among other things, preventing marijuana from crossing state lines.

Oklahoma’s Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs said it had seen more “high-potency” marijuana arriving from its neighbor. Mark Woodward, an agency spokesman, said there had been about a dozen cases in the past year.

“Whether it’s people driving to Colorado and bringing it back, or mailing it through the Postal Service, it’s getting here,” he said. “This is marijuana with very high concentrations of THC, very strong stuff.”

Some police in Colorado agree it’s not difficult to get marijuana across state lines. “People can buy legal marijuana, take it out of its packaging, put it in a plastic bag, and there’s no telling if it’s legal or where it came from,” said Marc Vasquez, the Erie, Colo., police chief.

Colorado recently launched a $5.7-million ad campaign to make it clear to everyone — especially out-of-state visitors — what the rules are. Taking pot out of the state is a felony and a federal violation.

But the success of the campaign is debatable, given the ease of driving across state lines.

In Denver last fall, the police and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration raided several growing facilities that officials said were producing marijuana for out-of-state sellers.

But most dispensaries are not partaking in illegal activity, Hooper said. “We follow the rules, very strictly. Why jeopardize this movement?”

Nebraska and Oklahoma’s lawsuit argues that Colorado cannot pass statutes that conflict with federal drug laws. It is a violation of the U.S. Constitution, which maintains that federal law is the “supreme law of the land,” according to the suit.

In addition, the suit argues that Oklahoma and Nebraska will suffer in the long term because of increased costs from arrests, the seizure of contraband, the transfer of prisoners and other problems associated with marijuana crossing state lines.

Legal experts have mostly scoffed at the suit.

“This is a very weak claim. Their real beef is with the federal government for not enforcing the federal drug laws,” said Georgetown law professor Randy Barnett, who has argued a marijuana case before the U.S. Supreme Court. “It is not up to the states to sue each other when the federal government is not enforcing the law.”

The Supreme Court already has found that states have no duty to enforce federal law.

Oklahoma Attorney General. Scott Pruitt, a Republican, and Nebraska’s Peterson declined to comment for this story.

Critics of the lawsuit largely see it as political grandstanding by the attorneys general to their conservative constituencies.

But even among conservatives, there are complaints.

Last month, a number of GOP legislators, led by Oklahoma state Rep. Mike Ritze, sent a three- letter to Pruitt asking him to drop the suit because of its assault on the right of a state to pass its own laws.

We “do not feel that attempting to undermine the sovereignty of a neighboring state using the federal courts, even if inadvertently, is a wise use of Oklahoma’s limited state resources,” the letter said.

Peterson, in his open letter, stressed that he had no intention of giving up the suit.

“Nebraska has only one real choice, to uphold the law that exists for the protection of the public and well-being of Nebraska’s families,” he wrote. “We must not subject our youth to such a costly social experiment.”


(Times staff writer David G. Savage in Washington contributed to this report.)

Photo: Matt Beizaee is an employee of the Spot 420, a recreational marijuana dispensary in Pueblo West, Colo. (Kurtis Lee/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder Won’t Appeal Ruling On Same-Sex Marriage

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder Won’t Appeal Ruling On Same-Sex Marriage

By Kurtis Lee, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced Wednesday that he would not appeal a federal court ruling on same-sex marriage, a move that clears the way for nearly 300 gay and lesbian couples to wed in the state.

Snyder, a Republican, said the state would follow the law and “extend state marriage benefits to those couples.”

“This is an issue that has been divisive across our country,” Snyder said, and noted the importance of the U.S. Supreme Court’s expected decision this year on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage involving four cases, one each from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.

“Our nation’s highest court will decide this issue,” he said. “I know there are strong feelings on both sides of this issue, and it’s vitally important for an expedient resolution that will allow people in Michigan, as well as other states, to move forward together on the other challenges we face.”

In January, a federal judge ruled that Michigan must validate nearly 300 same-sex marriages that took place in four counties last spring.

The state could have appealed the decision, but with Snyder’s announcement Wednesday the state opted against doing so.

On Tuesday, an appeals court struck down an effort to delay same-sex marriages in Alabama, though a last-minute appeal could offer additional delays in that state’s same sex-marriage fight.

Dozens of states in the last 12 months have made it legal for same-sex couples to marry.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Alabama Gay Marriages Could Begin Next Week After Court Lifts Stay

Alabama Gay Marriages Could Begin Next Week After Court Lifts Stay

By Kurtis Lee, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

A federal appeals court on Tuesday struck down an effort to delay same-sex marriages in Alabama, clearing the way for gay and lesbian couples to wed next week, though a last minute appeal could create additional delays.

The Atlanta-based 11th Circuit Court of Appeals denied a stay request from Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, who sought to defend the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
Strange had called on the appeals court to issue a stay until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on similar cases later this year.

On Tuesday, Strange said he would appeal the federal appeals court ruling to the Supreme Court, although justices have rebuffed similar requests in the past.

The Alabama case was brought by Cari Searcy and Kimberly McKeand, a lesbian couple who married in California. Searcy had tried to adopt McKeand’s 8-year-old son but was denied on the grounds that the state of Alabama did not recognize her as McKeand’s spouse.

Alabama is now set to become one of dozens of states that in the past year have made it legal for same-sex couples to marry.

Last month an Alabama District judge said an amendment to the state’s constitution banning the recognition of gay marriage, and another law prohibiting same-sex marriage licenses from being issued, violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment.

Days after the ruling, Suthers filed an appeal and asked for a stay to delay the marriages.

With Tuesday’s ruling, Alabama joins a handful of southern states, such as Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina, where state bans were overturned.

“The freedom to marry is a reflection of Alabama’s values of love and family. We look forward to seeing the first joyful weddings take place for same-sex couples throughout the state, and against this backdrop of happy celebrations,” said Equality Alabama board chairman Ben Cooper.

(Staff writers Lauren Raab and Christine Mai-Duc contributed to this report.)

Photo: J. Stephen Conn via Flickr

Judge Says Michigan Must Recognize 300 Same-Sex Marriages

Judge Says Michigan Must Recognize 300 Same-Sex Marriages

By Kurtis Lee, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

A federal judge ruled Thursday that Michigan must validate nearly 300 same-sex marriages, although the decision will not take effect until next month and could be appealed by the state.

U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith ruled that the state must honor the marriages that were performed last year after a different federal judge struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

In a short time frame — before an appeals court suspended the decision and blocked additional marriages — 300 same-sex marriages were performed in four Michigan counties.

Goldsmith’s ruling Thursday does not take effect for 21 days, pending an appeal by the state.

“Even though the court decision that required Michigan to allow same-sex couples to marry has now been reversed on appeal, the same-sex couples who married in Michigan during the brief period when such marriages were authorized acquired a status that state officials may not ignore absent some compelling interest –a constitutional hurdle that the defense does not even attempt to surmount,” Goldsmith wrote.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a statement that his office was reviewing Goldsmith’s ruling.

The ruling was lauded by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union.

“These marriages are cherished and valid — same as any other — and it’s only right that the courts and our country recognize as much,” Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan LGBT Project, said in a statement. “With this decision, they can finally begin to move away from uncertainty and unfairness and toward the fulfillment of their shared dreams.”

Earlier this week, a federal judge in South Dakota ruled that the state’s voter-approved same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.

AFP Photo/Joel Saget

Paul Ryan Announces He Will Not Run For President In 2016

Paul Ryan Announces He Will Not Run For President In 2016

By Kurtis Lee, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) announced Monday that he will not seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, saying his job as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee deserves his “undivided attention.”

“It’s clear our country needs a change in direction. And our party has a responsibility to offer a real alternative,” Ryan said in a statement. “So I’m going to do what I can to lay out conservative solutions and to help our nominee lead us to victory.”

In 2012, Ryan was tapped as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential pick. Before becoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Ryan served as chairman of the House Budget Committee.

“I want to thank everyone who encouraged me to run. Their words and continued support have been deeply humbling. And most of all I want to thank the people of Wisconsin for giving me the opportunity to serve our country,” Ryan, who is serving his ninth term in the House, said in the statement.

Last week, Romney, who has run for president twice, told donors in a closed-door meeting that he was seriously considering another run for the White House in 2016.

The list of potential 2016 GOP presidential candidates is long and includes Romney, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr