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Is Anyone Not Running For The Republican Presidential Nomination?

By Phil Mattingly, Bloomberg News (TNS)

Everyone, it seems, is in.

The multi-year “will they or won’t they” game that political reporters, operatives, and junkies have been playing was all for naught. Just about every Republican whose name was floated as a potential 2016 candidate — and a few who never even entered the conversation — have taken a look at the political landscape and decided to enter the race or have given clear signals that a campaign launch is imminent. While there are clear benefits to the diverse field, it is also already creating headaches for party leaders looking toward a major general election fight.

Six candidates already are officially in the hunt for the Republican nomination. Over the next ten days four more candidates may join the field. That group still won’t include expected players Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor; Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker; or New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Or Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Or Ohio Governor John Kasich.

“The field is larger and deeper than in previous cycles,” says Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report, a non-partisan analysis of campaigns and elections. And that, without question “makes things more complicated.”

Republican donors and operatives have for weeks been weighing the benefits (real debate over the issues; the type of race that excites all corners of the party; an unlimited number of attacks from all sides directed at Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton) and negatives (no control of aforementioned debates; no unified message; donors spread thin; a primary process that, like the one in 2012, may suck resources, energy, and some of the sheen off the eventual candidate) of such a deep field. But the hypothetical exercise turned real last week when it was reported that Fox News would limit participation in its August debate to the top ten candidates based on the average of the five most recent national polls.

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who will announce his decision on the race Wednesday, criticized the “arbitrary” nature of the debate metrics in an interview with National Journal. He pointed to the 11 states he carried in the 2012 campaign as Exhibit A of why using early national polls is a poor plan.

He also noted the possibility of excluding candidates with major government or business bona fides — like Jindal, or former technology executive Carly Fiorina, or South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who is expected to announce his entrance into the field on June first — as other examples of why the threshold was flawed.

That’s not to say there aren’t clear positives to the size of the group. The diversity, both in viewpoints and in backgrounds, the group brings to the table is something Republicans gleefully point out as a contrast to the current Democratic field of two (and dominated by one.)

“The quality of the candidates is just higher,” says Gonzales, something the party’s likely voters seem to agree with. A May 19 Pew Research Center poll found that 57 percent of Republican or Republican-leaning registered voters had a positive impression of the current field. That early enthusiasm, even with a looming hard-fought primary process, is certainly a step up from past years. The same poll found 50 percent of the same group had an excellent or good impression of the GOP field in September 2007. Last cycle was even worse: Only 44 percent had a positive impression of the field in May 2011.

Gonzales also points out a key, and too often ignored, point at this stage in the race: It’s really, really early. No, it sure wouldn’t look good to have the governor of Ohio, the premier swing state, left off the stage of the first Republican debate, which just so happens to be held in Ohio. But early debates aside, gaming out an elongated primary process with a sizable field of financially viable candidates ignores a key data point: the voters. Nothing whittles a field down quite like a couple of eighth or ninth place finishes, he says.

Photo: Teresa via Flickr

Ben Carson, Surgeon And Political Neophyte, Announces Presidential Candidacy

By Phil Mattingly, Bloomberg News (TNS)

Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who has become a conservative favorite on the strength of his motivational life story and strong opposition to President Barack Obama, said Sunday that he is entering the crowded Republican field and running for president.

He is expected to start his campaign Monday in Detroit.

The announcement puts Carson, 63, the black former head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, into his first political campaign after what his aides have described as a crash course on everything from economic issues to foreign policy.

Carson has portrayed himself in speeches and interviews as a fighter against political correctness and of politicians on the whole. It’s a position reflected in his policy ideas, many of which are laid out in his six published books that don’t necessarily follow straight conservative orthodoxy. He’s a fierce opponent of the Affordable Care Act who, as a world-class surgeon, says health insurance companies should be turned into utilities with profit limits. He’s a free-market advocate who points to the deregulation of Wall Street in the 1990s as the root cause of the financial crisis. He relied on food stamps at times in his youth, yet points to President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society era as the start of the steady fall of the country’s individualism and independence.

“I’m not going to do and say what’s politically expedient, I’m going to say what’s right,” Carson said in an interview with Bloomberg before his announcement. “If that’s something that resonates with the people great and if it doesn’t, that’s who I am and I’m not going to change.”

Carson’s candidacy can be traced back to February 2013, with a single speech at the National Prayer Breakfast challenging Obama on health care, taxes, spending, and the country’s direction _ all with the president and first lady sitting a few feet away.

The next day the Wall Street Journal published an editorial titled “Ben Carson for President.” Just a few months before his retirement from the medical profession, the speech set off a whirlwind two years for Carson. He has crisscrossed the country, sometimes delivering four to five paid speeches a week, and building grassroots support that has filled his campaign bank accounts. In the first 28 days after launching his exploratory committee in March, Carson raised more than $2 million. A political action committee established by outside supporters to push Carson toward running raised more than $13.5 million in less than two years as of the end of 2014, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

While enthusiasm in conservative circles continued to rise, he also drew unwelcome attention for a series of controversial comments. He’s equated what he sees as the loss of personal freedom under Obama’s health care law with slavery. He called citizens who refused to stand up against the Obama administration the equivalent of those who stood by and did nothing in Nazi Germany. While defending his belief that marriage should only be defined as between one man and one women, his loose phrasing made it appear he was comparing homosexuality to bestiality. (He later apologized.)

Those comments, and the economic policy platform Carson has pursued, have cost him the support of many of the same people who looked up to him as a community leader and role model in Baltimore.

(c)2015 Bloomberg News, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Ben Carson Launches 2016 Exploratory Committee

By Phil Mattingly, Bloomberg News (TNS)

Ben Carson, the retired pediatric neurosurgeon and conservative favorite,has formally created an exploratory committee for a potential presidential campaign.

“If I believe I have your support and your commitment to help, I will run for president to lead this great country to a brighter future,” Carson said in a video posted Tuesday on YouTube. “I will use these next few months to listen to you and prepare to answer that question myself.”

The move marks the latest in what have been a series of steps by Carson and his team to lay the groundwork for a potential campaign — one bolstered by strong showings in early polling of Republican primary states like Iowa. Carson has brought on Terry Giles, a Houston lawyer and businessman, to serve as his campaign chief executive and over the last two weeks has locked in commitments from potential senior staffers including a national finance director and national finance chairman. The hires follow the creation of a political action committee, USA First.

The move comes a few days after the Conservative Political Action Conference, where Carson finished fourth in the straw of potential presidential contenders. In a speech at the conference, Carson called for the country to move in a “new direction.”

Under the words “Unite,” “Heal” and “Thrive,” Carson’s team launched a website Tuesday with the announcement that presents Carson’s biography and will serve to collect names and addresses of supporters and potential volunteers. An admitted long-shot candidate, Carson has crisscrossed the country over the last year speaking at conservative events, generating grassroots support. He also generated considerable attention, both negative and positive, for his penchant for attacking “political correctness.”

“If you’re pro-life, you’re ‘anti-woman.’ If you’re pro-traditional family, you’re a ‘homophobe.’ If you’re white, and you oppose a progressive black person, you’re ‘racist.’ If you’re black and you oppose a progressive agenda, you’re ‘crazy.’ And if you’re black and you’re pro-life and you’re pro- traditional family, they don’t even know what to call you. You end up on some kind of watch list for extremists!” Carson said to cheers during his remarks at CPAC.

Photo: Ben Carson speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Gage Skidmore via Flickr)