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With Iowa Vote Approaching, Bernie Sanders Is Gaining Steam

By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

CARROLL, Iowa — Fresh off a strong debate performance and buoyed by rising poll numbers, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders returned to Iowa with an air of vindication.

“We began this campaign some nine months ago. The media was saying, ‘Bernie Sanders, he’s an interesting guy, he has interesting ideas … but he’s a fringe candidate. … We already have the anointed candidate, the inevitable candidate,’” Sanders told hundreds of supporters gathered Tuesday afternoon at a winery here.

“Well, a lot has happened in the last nine months,” he said, “and the inevitable candidate is not quite so inevitable.”

The crowd roared in support.

Sanders, the professorial democratic socialist with an unruly cloud of white hair and wildly gesticulating arms, smiled and nodded in approval.

It’s a heady time for the independent Vermont senator. On Thursday, a Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll found Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton leading him by 2 percentage points among likely Iowa caucus-goers, well within the poll’s margin of error in the state that holds the first nominating contest in the nation in less than two weeks.

The news out of New Hampshire, which holds its primary eight days later, was even better — he has led Clinton in six of the seven polls that had been taken this year. A CNN/WMUR poll released Tuesday had him ahead, 60 percent to 33 percent.

On Sunday, in the last Democratic debate before the caucuses, Sanders aggressively confronted Clinton.

On the stump, Sanders connects with the frustrations of liberal voters who are tired of Washington politicians and establishment politics in the same way that GOP front-runner Donald Trump connects with those on the right.

Sanders rails against injustices that he says are harming working families: the economy is “rigged,” the disparities in income and wealth among Americans are “grotesque,” wages are “too damn low,” lax campaign finance rules are “undermining American democracy.”

Sanders doesn’t criticize Clinton by name, but he draws several distinctions with her, noting he did not vote for the Iraq war, has never been paid six-figure speaking fees by Goldman Sachs and does not have a super PAC supporting his bid.

“I don’t represent the billionaire class; I never have. I don’t represent corporate America; I never have,” Sanders told about 200 supporters at a barn in Fort Dodge, Iowa, on Tuesday morning. He said when he kicked off his campaign, he was told he needed a super PAC to compete but refused.

“We decided to do it the old-fashioned way — reach out to middle-class families and ask for their help,” he said, adding that he was stunned by the end result — 2.5 million individual contributions that averaged $27.

Sanders said he has spoken in front of about 40,000 Iowans. He hopes to make it to 50,000 by the Feb. 1 caucuses. Mike and Terry McCarville of Manson had seen him speak before and were committed supporters.

“There’s no difference between the Democrats and the Republicans — they’re all establishment politicians. He’s not,” said Mike McCarville, 62. “He’s not bought and paid for. That’s the biggest thing.”

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

Photo: U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at the Paul R. Knapp Learning Center in Des Moines, Iowa. Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Ben Carson Connects With Iowa’s Evangelicals

By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Earlier this spring, Ben Carson spoke to graduating high school seniors and their parents in a dim church sanctuary here, impressing them with the tale of how his poverty-stricken, violent Detroit childhood led him to become a world-renowned neurosurgeon — and of how faith played a crucial role in his journey.

Carson hadn’t formally declared he was seeking the Republican presidential nomination when he visited the Morningside Assembly of God, a Pentecostal congregation in this town 160 miles northwest of Des Moines. His life story left a deep impression on many of the parishioners.

“Humility. Smart and humble. And I believe in his leadership skills,” David Drew, the Woodbury County sheriff, said after morning services Sunday.

As he climbed onto his motorcycle, Drew, 55, contrasted Carson’s manner with that of another leading Republican candidate, Donald Trump. Carson “might not be the guy out there rah-rahing, but he has that quiet resolve. I’m very impressed by him.”

Carson recently surged to the top of polls in Iowa and nationally, largely with the support of evangelicals. The crucial question for the mild-mannered physician and author is whether he can sustain his popularity until the first votes are cast three months from now. Polling this early is not predictive, and the vast majority of Iowans are undecided.

In the last two Iowa caucuses, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee rode the support of evangelical voters to success here, but they failed to secure the GOP nomination because they couldn’t expand their base.

Carson, though, has advantages those two didn’t have — notably, strong fundraising. He raised nearly $21 million in the third quarter of 2015, topping the Republican field.
He also has a sprawling field operation created by a super PAC supporting his bid. And he is viewed favorably by nearly all of the voters who support another candidate or are undecided, both in national and Iowa polling.

Carson is light on specific policies, instead assuring voters that the steady hand he displayed in the operating theater is best to guide the nation. It’s a campaign driven by personality rather than policy, said former Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn.

“Even though he hasn’t been here quite as much as some of the other candidates, because of his books, because of his media persona, caucus-goers, even though they haven’t spent a lot of time with him personally, feel like they really know him as a person,” said Strawn, who has not endorsed a candidate.

“When you think about the slice of the Iowa caucus electorate he’s targeting — Christian conservatives, evangelical activists — ultimately, when those voters make their decision about who to support, they want to know who you are and that they’ve looked into your soul,” Strawn said.

Carson wasn’t expected to be a dominating factor in the GOP race. He had never held elected office. He didn’t have a national political profile. But in conservative communities like Sioux City, and before congregations like Morningside’s, he was well-regarded before he announced his White House aspirations.

“Ben Carson is not a newcomer … to evangelicals, home-schoolers especially. They’ve known him for a long period of time, and the reason they admire him so much is not because he’s running for president. It’s because they like his narrative,” said Steffen Schmidt, a political science professor at Iowa State University.

“He is one of those people who absolutely has a base in a part of American society that transcends politics,” he said.

Home-schooling families routinely use Carson’s books in their curriculum, Schmidt said. Carson has written several faith-based books, including an autobiography, “Gifted Hands,” that was made into a television movie starring Cuba Gooding Jr.

Outside Morningside church, Laura Armstrong, an Akron, Iowa, mother who home-schools three children, said she hasn’t settled on a candidate but is leaning toward Carson because of “his strong Christian values.” Her husband, Troy, a school bus driver, said the Lord will guide them in whether to support Carson.

Schmidt said Carson has to find a way to gain traction with other portions of the GOP, though he thought it would be difficult for the neurosurgeon to appeal to libertarians or establishment Republicans whose priority is the economy.

“He is not a natural candidate for those groups,” Schmidt said. “That’s what he’s got to work on, to see where he can expand his base.”

In Iowa, Carson’s campaign has fewer staff — seven people — on the ground than some of his competitors, though they receive high marks from political observers for connecting with voters by doing things such as grilling hot dogs outside church services and handing out water to runners during races.

A super PAC backing Carson has been active for well over a year and has one of the largest field operations in the state, with 28 people working out of an office in Johnston, a suburb of Des Moines. The staffers have distributed Carson’s latest book, “Rx for America,” to nearly 100,000 Iowans and have spoken with 18,000 registered Republicans on the phone.

The super PAC — which can raise unlimited amounts from individual donors but cannot coordinate directly with the Carson campaign — gives out barn signs, T-shirts and lawn signs. It has rented billboards around the state touting Carson; one will be erected outside the Des Moines airport next week that reads, “Welcome to Iowa! This is Carson Country.”

“What we decided to do is to educate about Dr. Carson, to bring his name ID up, and get as many books in people’s hands as possible before the caucus,” said Tina Goff, the Midwest regional director for the super PAC.

Carson, a first-time candidate, has made headlines for some questionable remarks, including that a Muslim should not be president and that being gay is a choice. He also stands behind his assertion that Joseph, a biblical figure, built the Egyptian pyramids to store grain.

Carson’s support never wavered. Instead, his backers blame the media.

“They’re twisting his words. You need to listen to the whole context of what he’s saying,” said Lindsey Fritz of Le Mars, Iowa. “You can pick and choose parts of what anybody’s saying to make them sound bad.”

Fritz, a surgical technician, added that she had read Carson’s books and watched the movie about his life.

“I’m Ben all the way. He’s so smart and honest, and he just has a realistic point of view, and he has no political background, really, but I think that might be just what we need,” said Fritz, 32. “He has no agenda.”

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

File photo: Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa August 16, 2015. REUTERS/Joshua Lott

Trump Forcing Jeb Bush Into A More Offensive Posture

By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

The self-described “joyful tortoise” in the race for the GOP presidential nomination is more angry than happy these days.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who promised an optimistic campaign focused on his record rather than attacks on his rivals, has departed from that approach and begun to forcefully confront front-runner Donald Trump.

Last week, Bush’s campaign released a video and an online quiz targeted at Trump supporters that played up Trump’s past support for abortion rights, universal health care and Democratic candidates, including front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton. The quiz also got personal, going after Trump’s well-known phobia of germs.

“The man is not conservative,” Bush told reporters in Miami on Tuesday. “Besides, he tries to personalize everything. If you’re not totally in agreement with him, you’re an idiot or stupid or don’t have energy or blah blah blah.”

That’s a notable change in posture and tone for a candidate who is better known for his cerebral, wonky manner than his swagger. The shift is driven by Trump’s relentless and personal needling of Bush, whom he described Thursday as a “very low-energy person” and “a little bit sad,” as well as Trump’s unexpected and continuing dominance in the polls.

Trump goes after most of his Republican rivals, but seems to especially enjoy poking at Bush, for whom he once hosted a fundraiser at Trump Tower in Manhattan.

On Wednesday, Trump criticized Bush for speaking Spanish at a news conference. “He should really set the example by speaking English while in the United States,” he told Breitbart News. Trump has retweeted a critic who said Bush “has to like the Mexican Illegals because of his wife,” who was born in Mexico.

Trump trolls Bush on social media, arguing that the candidate is ashamed of his last name and highlighting that former firstlLady Barbara Bush said in 2013 that the nation had had “enough Bushes” as president.

“Mother knows best, Jeb!” Trump said on that post, on Instagram. Trump’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Political observers say Bush was forced to act, because of Trump’s leading status and the sustained, personal nature of his attacks.

“At a certain point, you have to respond. Because if you don’t, you look like you’re a punching bag,” said Tim Hagle, a political science professor at the University of Iowa. Bush has fallen to sixth place in an aggregate of recent polls in Iowa, which holds the first nominating contest in the nation.

Hagle noted that some of Bush’s supporters had expressed concern over whether the wonky candidate, who hasn’t run for office since 2002, could deal with the slashing nature of modern-day politics. “He’s got to show he has some fight in him,” Hagle said.

It’s a question that dogged Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, noted Jack Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College and a former national GOP official. The nation’s 41st president had been the subject of a 1987 Newsweek cover story that said the then-vice president was “fighting the ‘wimp factor.'”

“Now the younger Bush has to prove that he’s not a wimp,” Pitney said. The father fought back with pointed attacks on his rivals and the media, but Pitney questions whether that that is enough to tackle Trump, whose draw for voters is based more on personality than his record. “I’m not sure that the attack on Trump’s consistency is going to work. People are supporting him not because of consistency but because of brassiness.”

Brassiness is not a quality that has ever been associated with Jeb Bush, who lacks the Texas-twanged charisma of his brother, former President George W. Bush.

The new vigor — for a candidate who has enviable advantages in fundraising but has floundered in the polls — is purposeful and will continue, according to Bush campaign spokesman Tim Miller.

“Increasingly it has become clear that Trump was going to run a legitimate campaign so he’s being treated as a legitimate candidate. Part of that is contrasting Gov. Bush’s proven conservative record with Donald Trump’s past as a New York liberal,” Miller said. “This is going to be a sustained attack, a sustained campaign from Gov. Bush, to highlight the differences between him and Mr. Trump.”

Bush’s supporters appreciate the turn.

“In many ways, Donald Trump is a gift to Jeb Bush because he perfectly provides a very clear contrast to Jeb’s record of conservative reform and accomplishment in Florida,” said Paul Lindsay, spokesman for the Right to Rise USA super PAC, which has raised more than $100 million to back Bush’s bid but is legally not allowed to coordinate with his effort. “The campaign is capitalizing on that, and rightly so.”

The super PAC paid for an airplane to carry a banner reading “Trump 4 higher taxes. Jeb 4 Prez” over a August Trump rally in Alabama but has focused its efforts on biographical television ads introducing Bush to early-state voters. Lindsay said the group would not rule out future defensive action.

“We certainly reserve the right to defend Gov. Bush’s record and contrast it with all the other candidates in the race, including Donald Trump,” Lindsay said.

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

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush answers a question from the audience during a campaign town hall meeting in Laconia, New Hampshire September 3, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Jeb Bush Says His Trip To Europe Has Confirmed His View Of The World

By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

WARSAW — Midway through a three-nation trip intended to polish his foreign policy credentials, Jeb Bush said Thursday that his meetings with leaders in Germany and Poland have only confirmed his view of challenges facing the United States.

“It hasn’t changed my thinking about the role of America in the world, that we can’t be all things to all people, we can’t be the world’s policeman,” said Bush, who plans to kick off his White House campaign Monday in Florida.

“But we can be clear and consistent and engaged, both politically and diplomatically and in terms of military, we need to be engaged,” he added. “So I guess my views have been validated more in that regard.”

Bush has kept a low profile so far, meeting with political, business and civil leaders, but avoiding any controversy. He has said he is in a listening mode, and doesn’t plan to lay out his own foreign policy plans here in Poland’s capital or at his next stop in Estonia.

He met Thursday with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski and President-elect Andrzej Duda and other political leaders. He and his wife Columba also laid flowers at the Warsaw Uprising Museum, at a cross where Pope John Paul II conducted Mass in 1979, and at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Bush seemed to suggest he would endorse a more muscular foreign policy, saying the perception of American retreat from the global stage in recent years had emboldened Russian President Vladimir Putin to commit aggression in Ukraine.

“When there’s doubt, when there’s uncertainty, when we pull back, it creates less chance of a more peaceful world,” Bush told reporters. “You’re seeing the impact of that in Ukraine right now.”

Russian military forces have been accused of backing pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine, and Putin’s policies are inciting worries in much of Europe and Washington.

Bush again refused to take a position on whether the North Atlantic Treaty Organization should permanently station troops at bases in Poland and the Baltic nations. The alliance has rejected those proposals in the past.

But he said the U.S. military should increase its presence in the region. “I think we need to be more robust,” he said.

Bush’s visit has been overshadowed in part by headlines about staff turmoil and other problems in his campaign-in-waiting, and controversy over a 1995 book Bush coauthored that called for a return to public shaming to discourage behavior he considered immoral or improper.

“There was a time when neighbors and communities would frown on out-of-wedlock births and when public condemnation was enough of a stimulus for one to be careful,” Bush wrote in “Profiles in Character.”

“Infamous shotgun weddings and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ‘Scarlet Letter’ are reminders that public condemnation of irresponsible sexual behavior has strong historical roots.”

Bush said Thursday that some of his views on shaming have changed since 1995.

“My views have evolved over time, but my views about the importance of dads being involved in the lives of their children hasn’t changed at all,” he said.

Photo: Jeb Bush, via Facebook

Jeb Bush Calls Putin A ‘Bully’

By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

BERLIN — Seeking to burnish his credentials as a plausible commander-in-chief, Jeb Bush stepped up his criticism Wednesday of Vladimir Putin, calling the Russian president “a bully” who should be restrained.

On the second day of a three-nation European tour before he formally announces his campaign for president, the former Florida governor called for a more robust international response to counter Russian military support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

“He’s a bully,” Bush told reporters here. “And … you enable bad behavior when you’re nuanced with a guy like that.”

But Bush struggled to differentiate himself from current U.S. policy in the region.

He said the North Atlantic Treaty Organization ought to consider permanently stationing troops in Poland and Baltic nations that are on the front lines of the conflict. Members of the security alliance, including the United States, have considered and rejected that proposal in the past.

The Obama administration and other NATO governments instead have rotated more troops through those countries, and stepped up military exercises, intelligence sharing and regional air and sea patrols since early 2104, when Russia effectively annexed the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine.

“We have troops there now that move in and out, training exercises. But I think they could be more robust,” Bush said. “You see the difference between our training exercises and the Russian training exercises, where they deploy tens of thousands of people in the region. I mean, literally next door to our allies and our response is far less meaningful.”

Two major NATO military exercises, both led by U.S. troops, are currently underway close to the Russian border.

About 6,000 personnel from 13 countries, including the United States, are participating in the “Saber Strike 15” exercise taking place this month in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

In a press release, NATO said Saber Strike is led by the U.S. Army Europe, and the goal is to improve cooperation and capabilities for “future contingency operations.” The U.S. Air Force is providing aerial refueling, joint tactical air control, personnel and equipment airlift, and close air support.

In a separate exercise called BALTOPS 2015, 17 NATO and partner nations are participating in joint maritime maneuvers this month in Poland, Sweden, Germany and throughout the Baltic Sea. The goal, NATO said, is to “demonstrate resolve of allied and partner forces to defend the Baltic region.”

The exercise, which is led by the U.S. Navy, involves 49 ships, 61 aircraft, one submarine, and about 5,600 ground, maritime and air force personnel.

Bush is under a microscope at home and abroad to distinguish himself from his brother, President George W. Bush, who held the White House from 2001 to 2009, and his father, President George H.W. Bush, who was there from 1989 to 1993.

But wary of making the kind of gaffes that have caused stumbles for other presidential aspirants, the latest member of the Bush family to seek the Oval Office repeatedly declined to lay out specific policy proposals on his European trip.

“Look, I’m here to learn, to listen and learn, and get a better sense of all this. I don’t come to offer five-point plans,” Bush said in response to questions about whether the U.S. military should play a stronger role in the region.

Bush again declared the failure of the proposed “reset” of U.S. relations with Russia, referring to efforts to improve U.S. ties with Moscow shortly after Obama took office in 2009. Putin was then prime minister under Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Relations have soured steadily since Putin, who had previously served as president, was re-elected in 2012.

But Putin proved troublesome for George W. Bush too. Shortly after he took office in 2001, he said he had looked the former KGB officer in the eye and “found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy.” That sentiment was soon mocked by other Republicans, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

“Putin has changed,” Bush argued on Wednesday. “He’s just invaded another country, that was different than it was a decade ago. This is a different, this is a different Putin, much more aggressive. So, look, I don’t begrudge anybody trying to develop better relationships with any country, but it’s clear that in this particular case the much-heralded reset didn’t work out.”

Russia denies that it has sent troops in Ukraine.

Bush flew to Poland later Wednesday and made an unannounced visit to Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp. He is scheduled to meet Thursday with President Bronislaw Komorowski and President-elect Andrzej Duda, before he leaves for Estonia on Friday.

(Los Angeles Times correspondent David S. Cloud contributed from Washington.)

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

Photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin (theglobalpanorama via Flickr)

On Overseas Tour, Jeb Bush Hopes To Prove Himself On Foreign Policy

By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

World affairs are constants in Jeb Bush’s life.

He met his wife while a teenager studying in Mexico, majored in Latin American affairs in college and lived in Venezuela as a young businessman. He speaks fluent Spanish.

He had a front-row seat to the presidencies of his brother and his father during times of great overseas triumph and tribulation.
Bush, 62, spent the bulk of his adult life in south Florida, one of the most multicultural places in the nation. As governor of Florida, he led more than a dozen international missions, and he has visited 29 countries since then.

Yet Bush still feels compelled to embark on a modern-day rite-of-passage for presidential candidates — an overseas tour to showcase his statesmanship and burnish his foreign policy credentials. This week, he will take a whirlwind spin through the capitals of Germany, Poland, and Estonia before officially kicking off his White House bid on June 15.

The trip is a nod to the dominant role foreign policy is expected to play in the 2016 presidential campaign — one of Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton’s top credentials is her tenure as the nation’s top diplomat. Voters, increasingly alarmed by developments overseas such as Islamic State’s brutality and the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, are expected to prioritize foreign policy experience as they select the next president.

A foreign trip offers candidates upsides: a chance to be seen as a strong, capable leader on the world stage addressing issues vital to the nation’s interests. But as some of Bush’s GOP rivals can attest, any error could be magnified.

Bush faces an additional, unique test — differentiating his views from the foreign policies of his father, President George H.W. Bush, and his brother, President George W. Bush. The former governor has yet to articulate an agenda, but he frequently seeks to distinguish himself from the two presidents on the stump.

“Just for the record, one more time: I love my brother, I love my dad,” Bush said during a foreign policy speech in February in Chicago. “And I admire their service to the nation and the difficult decisions that they had to make. But I’m my own man and my views are shaped by my own thinking and my own experiences.”

Bush noted how much the world had changed since his father formed a coalition to fight the Gulf War in 1991 and his brother invaded Iraq in 2003. Then he emphasized: “New circumstances require new approaches.”

For a candidate whose biggest campaign stumble to date was his difficulty answering a question about the war his brother launched, it’s a recognition that his familial ties cut both ways.

The shadows of the two elder Bushes loom large in the nations the former governor is visiting.

In Germany, for example, President George H.W. Bush is remembered fondly for his role in the negotiations for German unification after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, said Kori Schake, who was a senior foreign policy aide in President George W. Bush’s administration.

But George W. Bush’s policies after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, such as the pre-emptive use of military force, prompted hand-wringing among Germans, she said.

“They thought they knew us,” Schake said. “Our reaction after 9/11 scared them.”

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Bush will spend much of his five-day trip meeting privately with government, business and civic leaders in Berlin, Warsaw and Tallinn, Estonia, about the economy, Trans-Atlantic relations, and security. Public events include a Tuesday speech at a major economic conference in Berlin alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves.

The former governor is expected to be asked about Russian aggression in Ukraine, and whether the United States has been a strong enough ally in the region. NATO, of which the United States is a member, is being urged to more forcefully confront Russian President Vladimir Putin by permanently stationing troops in Poland and the Baltic nations.

He could face questions about the CIA torture report, made public in 2014, that confirmed the existence of a secret interrogation site in Poland during his brother’s administration, and Obama’s decision to scale back George W. Bush-era plans to build a missile-defense site in Poland.

Policy experts said Bush’s challenge would be to showcase his views without explicitly attacking Obama on foreign soil.

“Obviously you want to demonstrate how you’ll be able to contrast your foreign policy if you’re president… but at the same time, you have to do it delicately,” said Lanhee Chen, a top adviser to 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. “Foreign policy and national security are going to be a huge part of this campaign and they’re going to be a huge part of how Republican candidates contrast themselves with the current administration… and also potentially with other Republican candidates.”

Such overseas journeys have repeatedly proven perilous for American politicians.

Romney’s foreign trip in the summer before the 2012 election was dominated by missteps. In Britain, he offended many when he questioned London’s readiness to host the summer Olympics shortly before the Games’ opening ceremony. In Jerusalem, he suggested that “culture” was responsible for economic disparities between Israel and neighboring Palestinian areas.

“I don’t think it was a defining moment during the campaign but at that point of the campaign, you can’t afford to lose many news cycles, and we lost a couple,” said Kevin Madden, a Romney adviser who faulted the campaign for failing to craft an overarching thematic narrative for the trip. In the absence of such messaging, Romney’s missteps were exaggerated, he said.

Earlier this year, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie flubbed a response when asked about mandatory childhood vaccinations while in London; he appeared to side with those who oppose vaccinations. At the same time, reports emerged about lavish trips he took that were funded by wealthy benefactors.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in February took flack for dodging questions about his views on foreign policy and creationism at a prominent think tank in London.

Bush’s life experiences, some argue, inoculate him from such blunders.

“So many of our GOP presidential candidates are using flash cards to try to memorize the different world leaders, and they’re traveling overseas to prove they can remember the name of a leader or a group,” said Richard Grenell, who served as the U.S. spokesman at the United Nations under President George W. Bush and is not aligned with any candidate. “This isn’t an educational trip for Jeb Bush.”
But others wonder about the wisdom of making such a venture.

“The upside is limited but obvious and that is you get your picture taken with the Queen of Siam or wherever you’re going,” said Rich Galen, a veteran GOP operative who worked for former Vice President Dan Quayle and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. “The downside, as Scott Walker found out, is that if you do one of these foreign trips — especially now — you damn well better know what the hell you’re talking about.”

(Times staff writer Mark Z. Barabak contributed to this report.)

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

File photo: Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush looks on prior to speaking at the 2014 National Summit on Education Reform in Washington, DC, November 20, 2014 (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

Huckabee Video Highlights Themes Of Likely Presidential Run

By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Mike Huckabee, on the verge of announcing whether he will run for president a second time, on Friday released a video that outlined the foundation of his potential campaign.

“Every day of my life in politics was a fight and sometimes it was an intense one. But any drunken redneck can walk into a bar and start a fight,” Huckabee says in the video. “A leader only starts a fight that he’s prepared to finish.”

Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor who is scheduled to announce his plans in his hometown of Hope, Ark., on Tuesday and is widely expected to run, outlined his record as a Republican elected in a then-overwhelmingly Democratic state and highlighted his humble roots.

“I’m not a Republican because I grew up rich, I’m a Republican because I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life poor, waiting for the government to rescue me,” says Huckabee, 59, who unsuccessfully ran for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008.

In the video, which runs a little over two minutes, Huckabee points to successes that he will likely argue make him the best foil to Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic front-runner for president: He says that he defeated what he has called the Clinton “machine” in numerous statewide contests, and that during his decade-long tenure as governor, he worked across the aisle.

He also hits populist notes that separated his 2008 campaign from those of his GOP rivals.

“As governor of Arkansas, I cut taxes and welfare, balanced the budget every year for 10 years, and raised average family income by 50 percent. We didn’t slash, burn, hurt people, leave people impoverished. We empowered people to live a better life,” Huckabee says.

But such words also point to his vulnerabilities as a GOP presidential candidate. Although Huckabee did cut some taxes while governor, he also supported raising other taxes, which drew the ire of anti-tax groups in the 2008 campaign. A group affiliated with the Washington-based Club for Growth ran blistering TV ads in Iowa, which holds the first presidential nominating contest, calling Huckabee a “tax-and-spend liberal.”

The video’s historic pictures of Huckabee — and the Clintons — also point to the fact that he has been out of office for some time. If he runs, Huckabee will be competing in a GOP field that includes younger politicians who are openly calling for generational change, notably Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

Huckabee concludes the video by offering broad policy strokes but no detail — localizing power, protecting Social Security and Medicare, and defeating “radical Islam.”

“We believe in some things. We stand for those things. We live or die by those things!” he says. “Let’s win the fight for what matters most.”

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

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Comes Back To Iowa, Hoping For Better Result

By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Hillary Rodham Clinton, who officially jumped into the 2016 presidential race on Sunday, will get her first opportunity Tuesday to demonstrate how her new campaign will differ from her ultimately unsuccessful 2008 White House run.

Then, like now, Clinton entered the race as the all-but-certain Democratic nominee. But she finished a distant third in the Iowa caucuses, dogged by a perception among voters that she was disinterested in the personal outreach that is a prerequisite in states like Iowa. The showing in the state, which holds the first presidential nominating contest, was a first indication of troubles that would cause her to lose the nomination to President Barack Obama.

So, it’s no coincidence that Clinton’s first public campaign events for her new effort are taking place here, in the two largest media markets. On Tuesday, Clinton will meet educators and students at Kirkwood Community College in Monticello, 40 miles northeast of Cedar Rapids. The following day, the former secretary of state, senator, and first lady will greet business people in Norwalk, 15 miles south of Des Moines.

Both events are billed as roundtables, a reflection of the different tack Clinton is expected to take, especially in the early weeks of the campaign. The candidate’s announcement video and her advisers’ statements have strongly indicated that Clinton would be more focused on listening to voters than talking at them.

Already her young campaign has sought to make a virtue of Clinton’s informal trip to Iowa. Stealing a tactic from her 2000 Senate campaign in New York, she has ventured out, with aides, in a van, driving from New York to Iowa. She has been spotted at a gas station in Pennsylvania and a fast food restaurant in Ohio, appearances that spread swiftly over social media.

One senior campaign adviser, who would speak only on condition of anonymity, said Clinton’s 2016 campaign would be marked by “humility.”

“You’re going to see Hillary interact in much smaller settings than people might expect. She’s going to be in coffee shops and diners and other venues where she’s able to have one-on-one conversations with Iowans,” said the Clinton adviser, briefing reporters Monday about the two-day Iowa trip. “We understand one thing — we have to earn this.”

This time around, Clinton doesn’t yet face a serious rival, as she did in 2008. But Democrats in the Hawkeye State say that doesn’t matter — they want to see her try to connect with people if for nothing more than building a network of support here for the general election.

“She needs to get out of coronation mode and go out and meet people and really listen to everybody and see what they have to say,” said Cameron Wright, a 22-year-old law student who supports Clinton’s candidacy.

Photo: Hillary Clinton via Facebook

Analysis: Paul’s Challenge Is Moving Beyond Libertarian Niche

By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Sen. Rand Paul’s jump into the 2016 presidential contest underscored the challenges ahead for the Kentucky Republican as he tries to move beyond his libertarian niche to find a foothold in the campaign for the White House.

In the months-long unofficial part of his campaign, Paul has burnished his image as an unusual candidate for his party, visiting inner cities and college campuses, and talking about issues such as reducing penalties for drug use as he courts the young and minority voters. But to succeed Paul will have to shore up his appeal among the Republican base of older white voters — a dual need that carries the risk of forcing him into a more conventional posture.

Already his efforts have raised the question of whether he is canting his long-held views to feed his presidential ambition — and whether that will attract more supporters or fewer.

Much of the early attention he has received, particularly from voters who usually spurn Republicans, stemmed from his noninterventionist foreign policy positions and opposition to defense spending.

But he recently advocated a broad, $190 billion expansion of the Defense Department budget and has planned a South Carolina campaign visit this week that will feature an aircraft carrier as his backdrop.

He attempted to appeal to both his target audience and traditional Republicans on Tuesday with an announcement that emphasized his outsider credentials — he has been a practicing eye surgeon — and de-emphasized his term as senator. He also called for congressional term limits and broad changes to the way Washington operates.

“I have a vision for America,” he told hundreds of supporters. “I want to be part of a return to prosperity … a return to a government restrained by the Constitution, a return to privacy, opportunity, liberty.”

Although he criticized the Obama administration’s spending, he did not spare criticism of his own party.

“Too often when Republicans have won, we have squandered our opportunity by becoming part of the Washington machine,” he said. “That is not who I am.”

The staging of Paul’s announcement reflected his effort to expand the Republican base: introducing him were former Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. and the Rev. Jerry Stephenson, who are both African-American; Kentucky state Sen. Ralph Alvarado, a Latino; and a young University of Kentucky student, Lauren Bosler.

The slogan “Defeat the Washington machine; unleash the American dream” adorned the lectern at which they spoke. (Paul’s father, three-time presidential candidate and former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, was present but did not speak.)

A series of videos accented Sen. Paul’s call for reducing drug conviction penalties and his objections to collection of telephone data by the nation’s spy agencies — issues that he plumbed as he neared his formal announcement and returned to emphatically on Tuesday.

Absent was the red meat of vital importance to the Republican base: No mention was made of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, immigration or the religious freedom debate that has galvanized conservatives in recent days.

Cato Institute scholar David Boaz said that to succeed, Paul will have to draw new participants into the nominating process in big numbers, particularly in states where Republican contests are open to non-GOP voters.

“He’s going to get hit hard from both the left and the neocon right, and he hasn’t yet played politics at this stage, so I don’t know how good he’ll be,” said Boaz, author of The Libertarian Mind. “In the primary, there clearly are groups of voters who are not going to be attracted to the message that he’s offering, so one of his challenges is to get some of those independents to come into open primaries and to get young people to come into open primaries and especially the Iowa caucuses.”

The dual effort to appeal to traditional Republicans and those not allied with the party represents Paul’s greatest challenge in the primaries, and potentially his greatest strength in a general election, said Stephen Voss, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky.

“He’s so far from a conventional Republican, in terms of both his behavior and ideological stance,” Voss said. “He hopes to appeal to people who are not the standard Republican constituency, people more skeptical of military spending or projecting American muscle abroad. … That will help him appeal to a general-election audience, but in the short term, that’s a challenge.”

The attacks have already begun. Shortly before Paul announced his intentions, a group called the Foundation for a Secure and Prosperous America launched a $1 million ad buy in the early-voting states of Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, and South Carolina that deemed Paul’s foreign policy dangerous, according to The New York Times.

Paul spent a substantial part of his speech defending his national security views.

“I envision an America with a national defense that is unparalleled, undefeatable, and unencumbered by overseas nation-building,” Paul said.

Many political observers expect national security to be a more dominant theme in 2016 than in recent elections, due to the well-publicized brutality of Islamic State, the proposed nuclear deal with Iran, Russia’s behavior in Ukraine, and other problems overseas. All of the other potential presidential candidates have demanded a more aggressive posture than has Paul.

“Clearly, many would argue that he is an isolationist,” said former Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican and chairman of a group called Americans for Peace Prosperity and Security. “I think his challenge is can he keep his supporters and then move to a more peace-through-strength orientation.”

Tuesday’s speech by Paul, whose 2010 election was fueled by the rise of the tea party, received solid marks from prominent libertarians.

“He hit all the right notes in terms of signaling that he is serious about the libertarian dimension of his policy. I don’t consider him a hard-core libertarian. I consider him libertarian-ish. He brought that to Louisville today,” said Nick Gillespie, editor in chief of Reason.com.

In coming days, Paul plans to barnstorm the early-contest states, with events scheduled in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Iowa, and Nevada.

Paul entered the race eight days after his Republican colleague, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, became the first major candidate to announce that he would seek the White House. Cruz, a tea party favorite who gained fame for a nearly 22-hour filibuster urging the defunding of Obama’s health care overhaul, appeals to many of the same voters who would form Paul’s base.

Paul and Cruz have been overshadowed during the last few months by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has put on a fierce fundraising effort, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, whose anti-union and Midwestern sensibilities have found favor among many Republicans. Neither has formally announced, but both are expected to.

Some political veterans expect Paul to make a splash in the GOP nominating contest, as his father did, but question whether voters could picture him as the leader of the free world.

“He does make people sit up and listen,” said Kevin Madden, a Republican strategist who advised Mitt Romney in 2008 and 2012. “But one of the big challenges that Rand Paul will have is answering the question, ‘Is this a candidate that I can picture in the Oval Office?’ ”

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

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Gay Group Wins Formal Recognition From State Republican Party

By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

In a historic move, the California Republican Party on Sunday officially recognized a gay GOP group.

The Log Cabin Republicans, a 38-year-old organization that had unsuccessfully sought a charter from the state party several times in the past, received the formal imprimatur on a 861-293 vote at the party’s biannual convention in Sacramento.

It is among the first gay groups officially sanctioned by a state Republican Party.

Brandon Gesecki, a delegate from Carmel who supported the effort, said the vote showed how much the party in California has changed in recent years.

“It would have been the complete opposite 15 years ago,” said Gesecki, who also turned in a proxy vote from former Lieutenant Governor Abel Maldonado supporting the recognition. “The fringe does not control the party anymore. We truly are a big tent once again.”

Charles Moran, chairman of the Log Cabin California chapter, was visibly emotional after Sunday’s vote.

“I’m personally overwhelmed,” he said, noting that he got his start in politics as a staffer at the state party in 1999. “This is the culmination of a 15-year journey for me.”

The move comes as attitudes toward homosexuality and same-sex marriage have shifted across the United States. A February CNN poll found 42 percent of Republicans favored same-sex marriage, a sharp increase from previous polls.

Log Cabin was founded in California 38 years ago and was the first gay GOP group in the country. It and other groups have sparred with Republican officials and conservative leaders over the years, and received varying levels of acceptance.

The national Log Cabin group was once again turned down as a sponsor for last week’s Conservative Political Action Committee gathering in Maryland, but its executive director was invited to speak on a panel. In Texas last year, two gay Republican groups were barred from having a booth at a state party convention.

Tolerance in California has been greater. Last year, GOP gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari marched in a San Diego gay-pride parade, the first statewide Republican candidate to do so. Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, who is considering a run for U.S. Senate, supports same-sex marriage. The Log Cabin Luau, at which attendees don rainbow-colored leis and sip Mai Tais, is among the best-attended parties at state GOP conventions.

Moran and his supporters had cited the work that his members did in several competitive election contests last year to argue that the group deserves a party charter.

“We’ve earned our street cred,” Moran said Saturday.

The group worked for two years to make sure its application aligned with party bylaws.

“A lot of us knew we were Republican before we knew we were gay, so this is home for us,” he said.

With the recognition, “the left will not be able to say to us anymore, ‘The Republican Party doesn’t want you.’ ”

The group’s effort received support from longtime GOP leaders, including national committee member Shawn Steel, former state party chairman Bob Naylor and Assemblyman Scott Wilk.

“The Log Cabin Republicans have given their time, money and resources to this party time and time again, and we have given them nothing in return,” said Nathan Miller, chairman of the California Young Republican Federation, a group of young professionals that is chartered by the state party. “This vote is not about orientation, it’s about participation.”

Opposition came from social conservatives, who said the move violated the party’s values.

Andrew Levy, a delegate from Sacramento, said the decision to grant the recognition was an affront to his Jewish faith.

“People supported the Republican Party because they’re strong on family values,” Levy said, adding that the embrace of the gay group undermined his trust in the GOP.

John Briscoe, president of the socially conservative California Republican Assembly, pointed to Log Cabin’s support of same-sex marriage.

“I have a hard time understanding how we’re going to charter an organization that’s in opposition to our platform,” he said during the debate.

The party’s official platform says homosexuality is unacceptable.

“We believe public policy and education should not be exploited to present or teach homosexuality as an acceptable ‘alternative’ lifestyle. We oppose same-sex partner benefits, child custody, and adoption,” the platform says.

Some opponents said Log Cabin’s proposal was sneaked onto the convention agenda without notice, and that the group violates the party’s by-laws, which forbid the recognition of organizations focused on “lifestyle preferences.”

“The only thing I ask is this body stand on the rules we’ve supported for two decades that say there is a process to change the rules and the bylaws,” Assemblywoman Shannon Grove repeatedly pleaded during the hearing.

State party chairman Jim Brulte replied that he had followed the rules — by forwarding the group’s application to the volunteer organizations committee, which on Saturday voted to unanimously send the proposal to the floor for a vote.

The Sunday morning debate and vote count took nearly an hour. Five people were allowed to testify in support and five in opposition. Though the debate was largely civil, there were a few testy outbursts, mostly on points of order, prompting Brulte to admonish at one point: “Everyone, take a deep breath.”

Photo: John Carrel via Flickr

Poll: Senate Candidate Kamala Harris Unknown To More Than Half Of California Voters

By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — California Attorney General Kamala Harris, the only major candidate for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Barbara Boxer, is unknown by more than half the state’s registered voters, according to a new University of Southern California Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll.

Even more — six in ten — have no impression of her, favorable or dim.

The primary election is more than a year away, giving Harris, a Democrat, ample opportunity to raise enough money to introduce herself to California’s nearly 18 million registered voters. But voters’ lack of knowledge about Harris — a state official since 2011 — presents an opportunity for a challenger.

“She’s not some huge titan,” said Dave Kanevsky of American Viewpoint, the Republican half of the bipartisan team that conducted the survey. “She by no means has this election locked up more than a year in advance.”

Drew Lieberman of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, the Democratic polling firm, agreed but noted that Harris led the field of potential candidates in the poll and had strong approval ratings among voters who knew her.

“I wouldn’t trade her starting position for anyone else’s,” he said.

Harris announced her candidacy last month, within days of Boxer’s announcement that she would not seek re-election, and has since been holding fundraisers and securing endorsements.

In addition, the best known politician who was considering the race, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, announced this week that he would not run. The survey shows that he would have entered the race trailing Harris.

And although more than six in ten respondents could identify him, unfavorable impressions of him were twice as high as for Harris. Voters preferred Harris over Villaraigosa by nine percentage points in a multi-candidate field.

Such a gap could have been overcome, said poll director Dan Schnur, head of USC’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, pointing to the strong support Villaraigosa received among one of the fastest-growing voter groups: Latinos.

A bid by Villaraigosa “would not have been a suicide mission by any stretch of the imagination,” Schnur said.

In a head-to-head match, Harris drew 45 percent support, compared with 27 percent for Villaraigosa, according to the poll.

Harris’ advisers have clearly recognized her lack of a statewide profile. In the final days of her 2014 re-election campaign, in which she faced no serious threat, Harris’ campaign spent more than $1 million advertising on television outside of her San Francisco Bay Area home base.

Not surprisingly, some of Harris’ strongest support comes from Bay Area voters, 45 percent of whom said they plan to vote for her in the June 2016 Senate primary. Harris, who is half black, also polls well among African-American voters, 50 percent of whom support her. And 38 percent of voters with at least one college degree said they would vote for her.

Harris received more support from women and those over 50 than did any of the seven possible candidates tested: Both groups favored her at 29 percent, the poll shows.

Kim Ganz, 50, of San Jose, said it was important that a woman retain the seat Boxer won in 1992, known in politics as the “Year of the Woman” because a record number of females were elected to the U.S. Senate.

“I’m very sorry to see Barbara Boxer go,” said Ganz, a physical therapy assistant. “I do think it’s important to have a woman go into that seat, not just to represent us, but you carry on the legacy.”

But Ganz added that her support of Harris goes beyond gender and is based on her work as the state’s top law-enforcement official.

The poll of 1,505 registered voters, conducted for the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the Times, took place Feb. 18-24, ending on the day Villaraigosa announced his decision not to run for U.S. Senate. The margin of error is 2.7 points in either direction, and higher for subgroups.

Had he run, Villaraigosa would have entered the race as Harris’ most potent threat, despite her better showing, the survey shows.

He received support from 19 percent of respondents, compared to Harris’ 28 percent. Notably, he trailed Harris in Los Angeles County, 24 percent to 28 percent. But more than four in ten Latinos said they would back Villaraigosa, while 14 percent preferred Harris.

Martin Garcia, 20, said the historic possibility of electing a Latino senator from California was one reason he would have strongly supported the former mayor.

“It shows … we can be someone,” said the Compton resident, who is studying architecture at Cal Poly Pomona.

When he was younger, Garcia said, he saw Villaraigosa as mayor and thought, “I want to be just like him.”

Several others are said to be weighing a Senate run, and those named in the survey drew only single-digit support when respondents made their first choice. Among those possible contenders, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin received the biggest nod, with 9 percent.

Swearengin unsuccessfully ran for state controller in 2014, and her adviser has said that she is likely to forgo a Senate run to seek executive office in 2018. But among registered Republicans, she is the top choice for Senate, with 23 percent of their vote.

Republican registration is so low in the state — 28 percent — that prospects for a GOP victory in the race are considered slim.

Still, 56-year-old Republican Michael Marshall of Firebaugh, 40 miles outside Fresno, said he would support Swearengin for a change of direction.

California’s Democratic senators have failed the drought-parched Central Valley, he said — though he was skeptical of Swearengin’s viability against politicians from larger cities.

“They have a bigger population base, and that gives you a better chance,” he said.

Photo: Steve Rhodes via Flickr

Kamala Harris Launches U.S. Senate Bid, Begins Raising Money

By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — California Attorney General Kamala Harris on Tuesday announced her plans to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Barbara Boxer.

“I’m excited to share with you that I’m launching my campaign to represent the People of California in the United States Senate,” Harris wrote in an email to supporters. “Your support has been crucial to me every step of the way, and I’m asking you to help me build a grassroots campaign that reaches every community of California.”

Harris immediately started fundraising Tuesday, soliciting contributions of $2,600 for her run. Harris has cultivated a national profile among liberals, a popularity that her supporters hope she can tap to raise the tens of millions of dollars raised by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and unsuccessful Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis.

Harris pointed to her resume as an Alameda County prosecutor, the San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general. And she made a point of echoing Boxer’s reputation as a “fighter” in her email to supporters.

“I have worked to bring smart, innovative and effective approaches to fighting crime, fighting for consumers and fighting for equal rights for all,” Harris wrote. “I want to be a voice for Californians on these issues and others that impact our state in the U.S. Senate.

“I will be a fighter for the next generation on the critical issues facing our country. I will be a fighter for middle class families who are feeling the pinch of stagnant wages and diminishing opportunity,” Harris wrote. “I will be a fighter for our children who deserve a world-class education, and for students burdened by predatory lenders and skyrocketing tuition. And I will fight relentlessly to protect our coast, our immigrant communities and our seniors.”

This message was an effort to expand Harris’ prosecutorial message into a rationale for election to the Senate, a crucial need in what is potentially a crowded Democratic field for the seat being vacated by Boxer.

Other top Democrats who are seriously weighing bids are former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer. Several members of Congress are contemplating entering the race, as well as at least three little-known Republicans.

Harris, 50, is an instant front-runner in the contest, and according to an adviser, she was encouraged to run by Montana Sen. Jon Tester, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and Stephanie Schriock, the head of EMILY’s List, a group focused on promoting Democratic women who support abortion rights.

She has a highly visible public platform as a second-term attorney general who gained fame for winning settlements from banks over misconduct in how they wrote mortgages. But her challenge is to create a credible, compelling reason for her candidacy, notably among voters who remain concerned about the state’s economy.

In her current job, some view her as overly cautious and her rivals will scour her prosecutorial record.

But her most prominent potential rivals — Villaraigosa and Steyer — each face their own obstacles.

Though Villaraigosa is well-known as a two-term mayor of the largest city in the state, he has personal baggage, notably the adultery that led to the dissolution of his marriage. And he has been out of the public eye since 2013.

Steyer’s estimated wealth of $1.6 billion allows him to easily self-fund a campaign, but the former hedge fund manager’s business record and investments will be scrubbed by his rivals. And California’s political history is littered with the political corpses of wealthy, neophyte candidates who failed to win the backing of voters.

Photo: Amy The Nurse via Flickr

California Gubernatorial Candidate Trying To Push Beyond GOP’s Traditional Boundaries

By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — On a recent sunny Sunday in South Los Angeles, worshipers gathered in a wood-beam Pentecostal church to sing and offer testimonials of faith. In the middle of the African-American congregation, swaying during the hymns and dropping money into the collection basket, stood Neel Kashkari, the Republican candidate for governor.

Democratic politicians often drop by the Living Gospel Church — Rep. Maxine Waters and former Rep. Yvonne Brathwaite Burke are familiar faces. But Kashkari is the first GOP candidate to visit, said church administrator Lafayette Shelton.

The campaign appearance — like Kashkari’s weeklong experiment living as a homeless person last month and marching in a San Diego gay pride parade — reflects the unconventional campaign he hopes to mount in his improbable run against Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.

It’s a strategy driven by two factors: the need to create a buzz with little money — the Laguna Beach millionaire’s campaign is practically broke — and a belief that the state GOP needs to expand beyond its small, mostly white share of California voters to survive.

“He’s running the best campaign money can’t buy,” said Claremont-McKenna College political scientist Jack Pitney.

Provocative gambits are old standbys in politics.

Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Democrat Lawton Chiles of Florida each walked more than 1,000 miles in their respective states during campaigns in the 1970s. Bob Graham of Florida and Tom Harkin of Iowa held “workdays,” doing the jobs of their constituents, such as plucking chickens and shoveling horse manure.

Last month, several Democratic politicians lived on $77 for a week, the average earnings after taxes and housing costs for a full-time worker making the federal minimum wage.

In sleeping on park benches, eating at a food bank and showering only once, as Kashkari says he did, the former chief of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout is trying to generate attention for a campaign that is largely being ignored. And he is hoping such moves will help him forge an image as a new kind of Republican.

Even many members of his own party have viewed the first-time candidate as a dilettante. Harmeet Dhillon, vice chair of the state GOP, said many Republicans supported Kashkari in the June primary out of alarm over the candidacy of controversial conservative Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks). They had little enthusiasm for Kashkari because of his 2008 vote for President Barack Obama, his role in the bank bailout and his liberal social views, such as support for gay marriage.

Now some, including Dhillon, have changed their minds.

Kashkari’s effort to highlight poverty and unemployment was “a stance a lot of us would love to see other Republican politicians take — show some imagination and flair and take some risks and really walk the walk of the people in California who are suffering…. That is dedication, that is for real, and I am impressed,” Dhillon said.

Brown’s camp was not. The governor’s political spokesman, Dan Newman, branded Kashkari’s week among Fresno’s homeless a cynical stunt and said the candidate’s record contradicts his words. He questioned Kashkari’s concern about the impoverished, saying the candidate saved big banks while people lost their homes.

And he dismissed the Republican’s professed commitment to gay rights, pointing out his history of supporting candidates who opposed gay marriage, including President George W. Bush and 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

“It’s great that he now finds it politically expedient to pretend to care about issues like poverty and civil rights,” Newman said. “But people are judged by their actions.”

Kashkari faces long odds against Brown, who boasts a $22 million war chest and a 20-point lead in opinion polls. The Republican hopes to get some traction by arguing that the “California comeback” Brown has touted is not a reality for many.

“I’m using every tactic, every creative strategy I can come up with to force us in this state to have conversations” about the millions of Californians who are still struggling, Kashkari said in an interview. “I’m going to keep doing things like this, and he’s going to hide and duck, and I’m not going to let him get away with it.”

Kashkari has criticized Brown for paying too little attention to poverty and education in disadvantaged communities, topics that are not part of the traditional GOP playbook, though such issues are increasingly being raised by prominent Republicans such as Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

Kashkari’s campaign ploys mark a return to methods he used to prepare for his gubernatorial run: He met with people around the state, slept in an Oakland shelter and picked strawberries with Salinas farmworkers.

But when he ran against Donnelly in the primary, Kashkari spent his time courting GOP voters, routinely describing himself as a “conservative Republican” and vowing to “get able-bodied people off welfare, food stamps and unemployment.” He called President Barack Obama a “partisan warrior” who put his party above the nation’s interest.

At the Living Gospel Church recently, that rhetoric was gone. Kashkari didn’t mention his GOP affiliation, compared his and the president’s life stories favorably and repeatedly noted that as a U.S. Treasury official he worked for Obama as well as for Bush.

“There is no other country in the world where a brown kid like me, the son of immigrants, gets to go to Washington and work for two presidents,” said Kashkari, who is of Indian descent.

“You know what President Obama and I have in common?” he continued. “We both got that good education, and that good education opened the doors. And if you get that good education, nothing can stop you.”

Shelton, the church administrator, said he was “incredibly impressed” by the candidate’s appearance and that he did not understand why Republicans tended to ignore African American neighborhoods.

“A lot of religious beliefs we have are congruent with their beliefs,” said the 48-year-old Chino resident.

Most of the congregation’s members are registered Democrats, but “they don’t care about party affiliation as much as they do about message,” Shelton added.

Although political analysts say the 41-year-old Kashkari cannot beat the 76-year-old Brown in November, he could improve his stature in a state where the GOP has a shallow bench of future leaders — particularly if he does better among minority voters than previous GOP candidates.

“He’s a political pioneer, but most political pioneers lose, and he will lose,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “But that’s where the Republican party has to go, whether they want to or not.”

More California Campaigns Pit Democrats Against Each Other

By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — The race to succeed Rep. Henry A. Waxman is emblematic of a fresh wave sweeping across California’s politics and, increasingly, the national landscape: intraparty fratricide as a means of upward political mobility.

Four of California’s Democrats in Congress lost to members of their own party in 2012, while Republicans did not knock out a single opposition lawmaker. Another Democratic incumbent faces a stiff intraparty challenge in a Silicon Valley district this year, and the clash for the Waxman seat seems destined to be expensive and bloody as well.

In part, the in-party fighting exists because districts are increasingly partisan, meaning that the only chance to knock off an incumbent rests with someone of the same party.

At best, such fights harden the candidates for cross-party warfare. At worst, they leave bruised relationships, political wounds and, on occasion, a nominee who caters to the party’s base at the expense of broader appeal.

In California, there is the added fillip of the so-called jungle primary, in which the top two vote-getters in June move on to the general election regardless of party affiliation. In effect, that means members of one party can continue to battle one another until November. That could be the case for both the Waxman district in West Los Angeles, and the seat currently held by Democrat Michael M. Honda of San Jose.

“How nasty those campaigns get and how vicious they get and how personal they get is going to be an indicator of whether the ‘top-two’ has the real ramification of splitting the Democratic coalition,” said Democratic strategist Garry South.

Intraparty battle led to political retribution last year. Steve Glazer, Governor Jerry Brown’s 2010 campaign manager, and other Democratic consultants were blacklisted by the California Labor Federation after they worked against labor’s interests in two 2012 Assembly races that featured feuding Democratic candidates.

Bitter intraparty battles among both Republicans and Democrats are becoming more common across the country, as the number of contested districts shrinks. California has independent redistricting, which eliminated blatant gerrymandering that kept districts solidly in one column or the other. However, between the tendency of voters to congregate with those who think like them, and Democratic dominance in the state, more and more races in California are becoming head-to-head Democratic contests.

These battles could get even bloodier in big-ticket statewide races in 2016 and 2018, when the governor’s office and perhaps one or more U.S. Senate seats will be vacant. Senate incumbents Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, who are up in 2016 and 2018, have not said if they will run again.

“Republicans have to worry about the possibility in 2018 there are two Democrats running against each other for governor and no Republican even on the ballot,” South said.

Intraparty races are already building this year. The most prominent until now has been former Obama administration official Ro Khanna’s effort to unseat Honda. Establishment Democrats, from President Barack Obama down, are backing Honda, but Khanna is receiving major support — financial and tactical — from some Obama donors and strategists.

Representative Eric Swalwell of Dublin, who defeated Democratic incumbent Pete Stark in 2012, is facing a challenge by a fellow Democrat, state Senator Ellen Corbett of San Leandro.

Stark was one of four incumbents felled by fellow Democrats two years ago. Representative Joe Baca lost a challenge from Gloria Negrete McLeod of Chino. And after redistricting forced four incumbents into two Los Angeles-area districts, Representatives Howard Berman and Laura Richardson lost their offices.

Some Republican-on-Republican races are emerging in districts where their voting strength is consolidated.

The race to replace Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon in a district straddling Los Angeles and Ventura counties features former state Sen. Tony Strickland of Moorpark and Camarillo Assemblyman Jeff Gorell. In a solidly red Orange County district, a three-way fight is underway to replace Rep. John Campbell of Irvine, featuring County Supervisor John Moorlach, retired Marine Col. Greg Raths and state Sen. Mimi Walters of Irvine.

Some Republicans say the new rules could benefit them by offering them a chance in districts in which they never would have had a shot under the old system. If the right candidate surfaced, the Waxman seat could offer Republicans “a fighting chance in what would be an otherwise unwinnable seat,” said Adam Mendelsohn, a political strategist and adviser to former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

He acknowledged that any Republican would face an uphill battle because of the district’s makeup. But if Democrats damage themselves in a protracted battle, he argued, a credible center-right candidate with financial resources could pick up voters dismayed at the spectacle. So far, no Republican candidate of his description has materialized, although wealthy Republican-turned-independent Bill Bloomfield, who challenged Waxman in 2012 and won 46 percent of the vote, may run again.

Democratic entrants include former Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel and state Senator Ted Lieu of Torrance, with others circling the race.

“The feeling is 2014 is really where you see it, and the Waxman race is an opportunity for the power of the ‘top-two’ to come into play,” Mendelsohn said. “The question is whether the candidate will align with the opportunity.”

Reed Galen, a Republican strategist, agreed.

“There are only so many Democratic votes, and the Democrats are all going to beat the you-know-what out of each other,” he said.

Multi-candidate races are unpredictable, strategically fraught and subject to bank-shot calculations, since a move against one opponent, if it offends voters, could benefit a third.

Such unexpected ricochets produced a surprise result in 2012 in an Inland Empire congressional district. Democrats had expected to take the seat, but four Democrats split the party’s vote in the June election, sending two Republicans into the general election. The winner was conservative Gary Miller.

“Nobody expected that congressional race,” said Paul Mitchell, a Democratic redistricting expert. “You had a situation where four Democrats split the vote, very low Democratic turnout, and voila.”

This year, the same forces are at play. Four Democrats are running for the Miller seat, although national party strategists are trying to winnow the field to increase a Democrat’s chances of taking the district. But with the top-two primary, no candidate has seen an incentive to leave — all they need to do is to come in second to move on to November.

Photo: DonkeyHotey via Flickr

Two Main GOP Rivals Of California Governor Brown Did Not Vote In Many Elections

By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — The two main Republicans hoping to take on California Governor Jerry Brown in the fall have failed to vote in many elections, according to documents and interviews.

Assemblyman Tim Donnelly has cast a ballot in about half of the elections held since 1995, while former U.S. Treasury official Neel Kashkari has voted in roughly 60 percent of elections since he turned 18.

Spotty voting records have dogged previous unsuccessful gubernatorial candidates, including 2010 Republican nominee Meg Whitman and 1998 Democratic candidate Al Checchi. Analysts said that although such revelations do not typically sink a candidacy, they offer Brown an obvious line of attack.

“It isn’t a fatal problem, but it’s a problem,” said Jack Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College and a former national GOP official.

“It might be more of a problem for Kashkari, because he’s parachuting into politics,” never having run for elected office, Pitney said. “Donnelly at least can say that he has participated in California government and California issues.”

Voters will take note but are more concerned with issues such as unemployment and the economy, Pitney said.

Dan Newman, a political spokesman for Brown, said Tuesday that voting is a “basic civic duty” and the “simplest possible way to affect public policy and show that you care.”

“For candidates to not vote suggests that their candidacies are more about their personal ambition rather than actually wanting to have an impact on public policy,” Newman said.

Donnelly, a 47-year-old staunch conservative from the Inland Empire town of Twin Peaks and the founder of a Minuteman border-patrol chapter, voted in 19 of 37 elections from 1995 to 2013, according to records provided by the San Bernardino County Elections Office.

The agency does not have voting records before 1995 because it switched record-keeping systems that year, spokeswoman Audilia Lozado said.

Jennifer Kerns, Donnelly’s campaign manager, noted that the lawmaker has voted in every presidential election since 2000, in every gubernatorial contest since 2006 and at other times when there were major ballot measures, such as the 2008 same-sex marriage ban.

“He voted in the elections in which there were pressing issues facing our state,” Kerns said. “It appears he may have missed a few of the local elections … but that may have simply been due to his travel schedule, raising five children and running a small business at the time.”

Kashkari’s campaign said the 40-year-old Laguna Beach millionaire voted in eight of 10 presidential and gubernatorial general elections, and about half of the primaries and local elections for which he was eligible.

A spokesman said his voting became more consistent once he learned, in 2006, that he could cast absentee ballots. Kashkari’s voting record was first reported in The San Francisco Chronicle.

The day after he announced he was running for governor, Kashkari acknowledged that he had not consistently gone to the polls. He cited his decision to leave a lucrative investment banking career at Goldman Sachs to work for the U.S. Treasury Department as proof that he values public engagement.

“I believe voting is critical, and civic participation is critical,” Kashkari told reporters last week. “That’s why I left a very attractive career in the private sector to go serve in the government for three years under two different presidents.”

Photo: Steve Rhodes via Flickr

California Republicans Fear Another November Of Democratic Dominance

By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Facing a daunting effort to unseat Gov. Jerry Brown, Republican activists in California are openly worrying about whether the party’s donors, elected leaders and voters will embrace any of the GOP gubernatorial candidates.

If Neel Kashkari or Tim Donnelly — the two major GOP candidates hoping to challenge Brown in November — do not receive enough support to gain momentum, critical races across the state could be lost.

They include several tight congressional races that could affect the party’s level of power in Washington and enough state legislative contests to affect Republicans’ ability to increase their voice in Sacramento by breaking the Democrats’ supermajorities there.

“I believe we are about two steps away from a nightmare scenario where (some) Republicans begin to simply give up and throw in with Brown, with serious negative consequences,” said Ron Nehring, former chairman of the California Republican Party.

His concern is emblematic of the party’s troubles in California. A Republican has not been elected to statewide office since 2006, and the GOP share of registered voters has dipped beneath 30 percent, a historic low. No viable Republicans have emerged this year to contest most of the other statewide offices up for contention, such as attorney general, controller, treasurer and lieutenant governor.

Political leaders in other states have grappled with cross-party backing for a popular incumbent, stoking Nehring’s fears in California.

In New Jersey, many Democratic mayors endorsed Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s re-election bid last year. That has been thrust into the news recently with allegations that his administration rewarded those who backed him and punished those who didn’t.

Earlier this month, a state GOP chairman in New York sent a letter to Republicans leaders imploring them not to endorse Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo for a second term. That state has not elected a Republican to statewide office since 2002.

In California, Republican Jon Fleischman, publisher of an influential conservative blog, is particularly worried about the gubernatorial contest’s potential effect on more than half a dozen congressional seats.

Many of those are held by Democrats considered vulnerable because their narrow victories in 2012 were sealed by the high turnout of President Barack Obama’s supporters. If Republicans could flip those seats, their power in the nation’s capital would increase, or at least help them offset losses elsewhere.

“That could tilt the balance of power in Washington, D.C.,” Fleischman said. “Because of that more so than anything else, there is a reason to not want to see the top of the ticket be anemic in California. If Jerry Brown wins in a blow-out election … he has big coattails.”

Public attention has just begun to focus on the governor’s race.

Kashkari, a former U.S. Treasury official and fund manager, jumped in Tuesday. Donnelly, a second-term assemblyman from Twin Peaks, began exploring a run in late 2012 and declared his candidacy in November 2013.

Kashkari, a Laguna Beach multimillionaire who has never held elective office, is a fiscal conservative who supports same-sex marriage and abortion rights and voted for Obama in 2008. He has pledged to create jobs and improve schools.

He spent much of the past year meeting with donors, voters, party activists and others as he weighed a bid for governor. Whether he can raise money and whether he will be competent on the stump are open questions.

Kashkari has some establishment support. His team includes veterans of the campaigns of former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former GOP presidential nominees Mitt Romney and John McCain.

The Republican Governors’ Association last week urged its Twitter followers to check out Kashkari’s campaign website, something it did not do on the day Donnelly kicked off his bid.

But what Kashkari’s campaign touts as his chief credential — leading TARP, the taxpayer-funded bank bailout under presidents George W. Bush and Obama — is also a vulnerability. The program was deeply unpopular among voters, who saw big banks getting help from the government as many homeowners suffered.

Donnelly, meanwhile, appeals to the grass roots of the Republican Party with his unabashed conservatism. He is a Tea Party favorite and the founder of a Minuteman border patrol chapter.

His campaign asserts that he excites bedrock Republicans, who are tired of being urged to support ultimately unsuccessful moderates such as 2010 GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman. She and others were said to have a better chance of winning a statewide race than a conservative candidate.

But Donnelly’s hard-line views on issues such as immigration and gun control may not appeal to a broad swath of Californians. And he has failed to raise any significant money.

Money will be critical in the contest against Brown, who has already raised $17 million, can claim to have repaired the state’s finances and is popular among voters.

GOP strategist Rob Stutzman, a former Whitman and Schwarzenegger adviser who is not working for a gubernatorial candidate this year, repeated what many Republican leaders said privately: that they fear the fallout if Donnelly is their standard-bearer in November. But they also don’t know if Kashkari is viable.

“If Donnelly somehow ends up being the nominee … I think you’ll see institutional Republicans, elected Republicans, supporting Gov. Brown. I think it will create a Republicans-for-Brown movement that will be rather open and probably energetic,” he said.

But “Kashkari remains a huge unknown,” he added, “because he’s never done anything like this before. ”

Photo: Amy The Nurse via Flickr