Tentative Primary and Caucus Schedule
  March 1 (Super Tues)
  March 2-14
L blue   March 15-31
Delegates needed for nomination:
GOP: 1236,   Dem: 2242
Map explained
New polls:  
Dem pickups:  
GOP pickups:  

News from the Votemaster

Rubio and Cruz Shine at Chaotic Debate

The third Republican debate was a real mess. Immediately after it, RNC chairman Reince Priebus tweeted: "CNBC should be ashamed of how this debate was handled." English translation: the moderators asked a few pointed questions that the candidates would prefer not answering. So they went after the moderators, instead. For example, When Becky Quick asked Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) about his bookkeeping skills (he bought an $80,000 boat when he was hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt), he shot back that this was just a discredited Democratic attack and he wasn't going to waste 60 seconds answering it. After the debate, CNBC spokesman Brian Steel sent out an email stating: "People who want to be President of the United States should be able to answer tough questions." Besides, if Rubio thinks that Hillary Clinton is far too polite to spend millions of dollars on ads attacking his messy personal finances, he is in for a big surprise.

It has already become customary in these clashes that Ronald Reagan's Eleventh Commandment—Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican—will be broken early and often. The first line of attack, coming primarily from Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), was directed toward "[candidates] who cannot do this job." The dustup that will get all the headlines, however, was between Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). Bush wondered, as "a constituent of the senator," why he misses so many Senate votes. It was a blunder, as Rubio clearly saw the attack coming, and had his reply at the ready: "The only reason why you're doing [this] now is because we're running for the same position, and someone convinced you that attacking me is going to help you." Bush was stunned; one could almost see the air leaking out of him as he deflated. He could have replied: "Senator Paul, right here on this stage, is also running for President, yet he hardly ever misses Senate votes." But he didn't. Bush is neither well prepared nor quick on his feet and that hurts. Badly.

These squabbles notwithstanding, the candidates spent far more of their time attacking non-Republicans, which may be a first for this campaign cycle. Their primary targets:

  • Hillary Clinton. In an acknowledgment that the GOP has already anointed her the Democratic nominee, she was mentioned by name 23 times, compared to only 3 mentions for Bernie Sanders. Benghazi, fiscal irresponsibility, and Obama 2.0 were the main themes. Mike Huckabee also implied that the former First Lady played a role in the death of her friend and attorney Vince Foster, thus dredging up a make-believe-scandal from 22 years ago.

  • Barack Obama. He got his time in the spotlight too, with 18 different mentions, most of them focused on foreign policy and socialism. Obamacare only got two mentions, one of those came when Carly Fiorina asserted that the program causes 470,000 small businesses a year to fail, which would mean every single business failure in America is due to Obamacare.

  • The Democrats. Nearly all of the candidates agreed that the Democrats are fiscally irresponsible socialists who are destroying the American dream. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) disagreed with this assessment, however, arguing that the Democrats are actually fiscally irresponsible Bolsheviks and Mensheviks who are destroying the American dream.

  • The media. In something of a new theme for these debates, the mainstream media came in for a number of withering attacks, most notably when Rubio referred to them as the "ultimate super PAC" for Hillary Clinton. One wonders, when hearing such things, whether Fox News—far and away the highest-rated news channel in the country—is not "mainstream," or is not "media."

For all of the bombast, and all the piles of red meat thrown to the base, it remains to be seen whether the fundamentals of the race change much. All of the candidates had a good moment or two, but none were able to maintain much momentum. After John Kasich's early and very pointed rhetoric about candidates who are not really suited to be President—a line of attack that seemed to be working well—he backed off and faded out for 20 minutes. Carly Fiorina had a nice line about the pundits saying she needs to smile more, followed by a smile held extra-long for comic effect, but then also failed to capitalize, spending much of the rest of the debate defending her record at HP and insisting that Hillary Clinton would be terrified to debate her. Even Donald Trump had Trump-like moments where he imposed himself on the debate, but then long periods—perhaps as much as 15 minutes—where he was not heard from. The fact that Trump nonetheless won all the post-debate instapolls suggests that voters largely decided to stick with the horse they were already on. Ergo, status quo.

If "winners" must be anointed, then Rubio and Cruz probably get the nod. Both appeared statesmanlike, both were able to explain their ideas, and both deflected criticisms and attacks fairly deftly. Given that they are both currently focused on treading water, a minor victory is a major victory. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) apparently turned in a fine performance in the undercard debate, but it is like the tree falling in the forest when nobody is around. When a candidate is debating at 2:00 p.m. PST, does he actually make a sound?

The "losers" are any of the candidates whose time is running out, and who let one of their few remaining opportunities to gain traction slip through their hands. Rand Paul is an obvious standout in this regard—positioned at the far edge of the stage, he had a quiet and entirely forgettable night. Rand Paul 2016 should probably be renamed Rand Paul 2015 for the sake of accuracy, since he's not going to make it to January.

Another loser—or maybe "poor performer" is more apropos—was CNBC, who turned in far and away the worst job of hosting we have seen thus far. Even before the debate began, it was criticized for limiting (and tightly controlling) the debate's audience, as well as its decision to make live streams of the event available only to cable subscribers. The montage that served as prelude to the debates was both jarring and exceedingly crass, with the candidates' images and names appearing amidst flashy computer graphics, as if they will be starring in the next Transformers movie. Many of the questions were amateurish ("What is your greatest weakness?") or very strange (asking Jeb Bush about daily fantasy sports) or too obvious (Marco Rubio is just going to repeat his pre-written answer if you ask him about his personal finances). The moderators also struggled to stop the candidates from going over time or off subject. A few questions, deemed by the audience to be cheap shots, were roundly booed (for example, "Is this a comic book version of a presidential campaign?").

Politico's Glenn Thrush has five takeaways from the debate:

  1. Boulder crushed Bush. He was "meh" and tentative. His donors will be in full panic mode today.
  2. Rubio won. His quip about the media being Hillary's super PAC got the biggest applause.
  3. Donald Trump was a bit player. He didn't dominate like in the previous debates. He was barely there.
  4. Cruz makes hay out of media bashing. The Republican base hates the media and Cruz exploited it fully.
  5. Teflon Ben. When a moderator asked Carson about a product he endorses, the audience booed the moderator.

Our takeaway is: Rubio and Cruz are now the candidates to watch. Their chances definitely went up last night.

The next Republican debate is right around the corner, on November 10. Expect to see much the same lineups for the main event and the undercard, unless some of the weaklings drop out next week. (Z & V)

Could Bush Come Back Like McCain Did in 2008?

With his debating skills a "D+" at best, his campaign in disarray and his bank account low enough that he has had to fire consultants, Jeb Bush finds himself in the same situation that John McCain was in during the summer of 2007. By Nov. 4, 2007, an ABC/WaPo poll found McCain 14 points behind leader Rudy Giuliani. It looked like McCain was all washed up, but he retooled, fought back hard, crushed Giuliani in New Hampshire, and went on the win the Republican nomination. Not surprisingly, this is also Bush's scenario now (except for the beating Giuliani part).

Except that McCain's former staffers talked to Politico and said nope, the situations aren't comparable at all. One former top McCain aide even said the comparison was like the stuff sometimes found on the ground behind a bull. He went on to point out that McCain had a vast network of dedicated people left over from his 2000 run, a strong personality with plenty of charisma, and many volunteers in New Hampshire. Bush has none of that. All he has is a super PAC with a lot of money. It's not at all the same thing.

After the Politico story appeared, former Bush communications chief Nicolle Wallace, called it "Irrelevant Clackery of the Clacking Class." She also called it a "cheap shot" and, like Yogi Berra, said: "It's not over until it's over." Her problem and Bush's is that a lot of people think it is over. CNN agreed with Politico when it wrote: "It will take more than flying Southwest and carrying his own bag to make Jeb Bush the Republican comeback kid." (V)

Rafael Cruz is Too Busy To Campaign in Iowa So He Sent Rafael Cruz There

Sen. Rafael Cruz (R-TX), sometimes called "Ted," has spent a lot of time campaigning in the states that hold their primaries on March 1 (Super Tuesday). This has left him with too little time to campaign in first-in-the-nation Iowa, so he needed a proxy. His lovely wife, Heidi, a managing director at Goldman Sachs (the #2 executive there), is probably not a great fit for the rural, largely evangelical Republican electorate in Iowa, so Rafael sent in his secret weapon, Rafael Cruz, whom Rafael calls "Dad."

The senator's father was born in Cuba in 1939 and fought with Fidel Castro against the corrupt Batista regime. He was caught and imprisoned and at 18 he fled Cuba and landed in Texas, where he attended the University of Texas and got a degree in mathematics. He got married and had two daughters, the senator's half sisters, then got divorced. He then moved to New Orleans where he met divorcee Eleanor Darragh Wilson, the senator's mother. The Cruzes soon moved to Canada, where the senator was born. The elder Cruz and his family later moved back to the United States, where he became an ordained minister and worked to elect Ronald Reagan. He has since been involved in groups trying to put more Christianity into politics. As someone who combines fiery oratory with right-wing politics, he makes a perfect proxy for the senator in Iowa and other states, and he has spent much of this year campaigning for his son. The senator's mother, who is now long divorced from his father, is not political and enjoys spending time with her two granddaughters, especially now that their father and grandfather are off on the campaign trail all the time.

Cruz Sr. is no stranger to controversy. Just yesterday, while campaigning for his son in Salt Lake City, he said about LGBT activists: "I think that's the next thing that they're going to push, to try to legalize pedophiles." He also commented on public schools: "If you have children in public school, you either have to take the time to deprogram them from all the brainwashing that they're getting in the public school, or you have to take them out of public school, home-school them, or put them in a Christian school." The senior Cruz is apparently so focused on getting the nomination for his son that he doesn't realize what will happen in a general election debate when the moderator reads these statements and asks if Ted agrees with them. While he was at it, Cruz, Sr. said that he was appalled that Houston (where his two granddaughters live) has a lesbian mayor. You can just imagine how much footage of him speaking the Clinton oppo research team is collecting. (V)

Could a Cruz Nomination End the Gridlock?

It sometimes looks like Gridlock in Washington is going to last forever. Stu Rothenberg thinks that the only way to end it is for the Republicans to nominate Ted Cruz and watch him be crushed in a landslide that could make Barry Goldwater's defeat look like a near tie. At that point, the more moderate voices in the Republican party could go to the Freedom Caucus and say: "You got your ideal candidate. He was no RINO. Look what happened. Now shut up." Maybe they would and maybe they wouldn't, but it could allow the moderate wing of the party to take back control. (V)

Florida Newspaper to Rubio: Resign

The editorial board of the Florida Sun Sentinel has noted that Marco Rubio has missed 59 votes in the Senate (vs. 10 missed votes each for senators Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders). In fact, Rubio has missed more votes than any other senator. He also has missed committee meetings and intelligence briefings. The newspaper feels that although he is still collecting his $174,000 annual salary, he is not doing the job the people of Florida hired him to do and therefore should resign from the Senate. (V)

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---The Votemaster
Oct28 Tonight's Debate is Number Three for the GOP
Oct28 Carson Passes Trump Nationally
Oct28 Trump Plays the Faith Card
Oct28 On Taxes, Republicans Go for Puppies and Rainbows
Oct28 Mark Kirk Is the Most Endangered Republican in the Country
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Oct27 Boehner Negotiates Stealth Budget Deal
Oct27 Carson Has Double-digit Lead in Iowa
Oct27 Republicans Are In Denial about Hillary Clinton's Chances
Oct27 Cruz Working on Texas
Oct27 Jeb Loads the Last Bullet into the Chamber
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Oct26 Republican Voters See Trump as Strongest General Election Candidate
Oct26 Clinton Would Love to Face Trump
Oct26 Rubio Attacks Trump's Immigration Plan
Oct26 Carson Against Abortion Under All Circumstances
Oct26 Ross Douthat Meekly Predicts Rubio Will be the Republican Nominee
Oct26 Sanders Drawing Sharp Contrasts with Clinton
Oct26 No Smooth Sailing for Obamacare Repeal
Oct26 Fundraising Looks to Be No Problem for Ryan
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Oct25 Trump Attacks Carson's Religion
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Oct25 The Clinton and Clinton Show Hits Iowa
Oct25 Vitter Survives to Fight Another Day, Barely
Oct25 New Congressional Investigation: Planned Parenthood
Oct24 Jeb Bush Shakes Up His Campaign
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Oct24 Lincoln Chafee Quits
Oct24 Time for the Death Penalty to Die?
Oct23 Hillary Clinton Came, She Saw, and ... She Conquered?
Oct23 Political Market Did Not React to Biden's Decision
Oct23 Massive Ad Campaign Doesn't Help Bush in New Hampshire
Oct23 Why Is Clinton Targeting the Middle Class?
Oct23 Carson Suspends His Campaign
Oct23 Two More Black Eyes for Trump
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Oct22 Clinton to Testify Before Benghazi Committee Today
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Oct22 Sanders Was Right
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