Tentative Primary and Caucus Schedule
  March 1 (Super Tues)
  March 2-14
L blue   March 15-31
Delegates needed for nomination:
GOP: 1237,   Dem: 2242
Map explained
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Dem pickups:  
GOP pickups:  

News from the Votemaster

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Republicans Square Off in South Carolina Tonight
      •  Is Paul Ryan Really Headed for Big Things?
      •  New Iowa Poll: Cruz by a Nose
      •  Republican Donors Complaining about Lack of Return on Investment
      •  Republicans Tell Bush to Lay off Rubio
      •  Clinton Worried about Sanders
      •  The GOP Veepstakes Have Started

Republicans Square Off in South Carolina Tonight

The first GOP debate of 2016, and the sixth overall, will be held in Charleston, South Carolina tonight. The undercard gets underway at 6 P.M. EST, while the main event is at 9 P.M.. Fox Business Network (FBN) is hosting and broadcasting. It has only 65% household penetration nationwide, so it is trying to get cable carriers across the country to unbundle the channel while the debate is underway. Whether it is successful or not, it will also make the debate available for free over the Internet at foxbusiness.com.

The field is narrower than it was last time, at least by a little bit. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and George Pataki have exited stage right. That leaves us with Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum to duke it out at 6 P.M.. At the moment, the real debate is scheduled to include Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ben Carson, Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), Jeb Bush and Gov. John Kasich (R-OH). Still in question is the status of Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). Last week, FBN announced that the Senator was going to be demoted to the junior debate, and he declared that he would boycott in that eventuality. Yesterday, a new poll put him in the top five in Iowa, which would be good enough to qualify for the main stage. The poll was completed by the network's deadline for consideration, but was released after. Thus far, FBN is sticking to its guns, but booting Paul would shed an awful lot of uncomfortable light on the arbitrariness of these cutoffs. Meanwhile, whether the field is culled from nine to eight or nine to seven, it's still not enough to allow substantive time for each candidate. As such, the bet here is that Fox relents and grants Paul a reprieve.

As a business network, FBN prefers to keep the focus primarily on economic issues. It likely won't be able to do so on Thursday. This will be the GOP field's first real chance to respond to President Obama's State of the Union address, as well as Gov. Nikki Haley's (R-SC) rebuttal, with the latter now being universally interpreted as a slam on Donald Trump (and, to an extent, Ted Cruz). Undoubtedly, each candidate will work hard to try and show that he or she is the one who hated the SOTU the most. Engaging with Haley is a bit more dicey—she's not wildly popular in her home state (51% approval rating, as of December) but a South Carolina audience might not respond well to the criticisms of a bunch of carpetbaggers. Plus, she could end up on the ticket with one of these candidates. That could set the stage for some very uncomfortable questions down the road, not unlike in 1980 when George H. W. Bush was compelled to discover that he didn't really mean it when he described Ronald Reagan's fiscal plan as "voo doo economics."

There are a few other subjects that are all but certain to come up on Thursday. Iran's detention, questioning, and ultimate release of 10 American sailors, for example. Undoubtedly, Trump feels that the President's handling of the situation is "disgraceful" and "disgusting," and the other candidates agree. The debate is also being held just 10 miles from the site of the Emanuel AME Church shooting, so gun ownership and gun violence will surely be discussed. On a related note, next week is when the nation celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday and many Southern states also celebrate Robert E. Lee's birthday. A question along those lines is not outside the realm of possibility, and would certainly toss a big barrel of kerosene onto the fire.

Turning to the individual candidates, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz were cordial for a very long time, but it couldn't last, and the gloves have begun to come off in the past week or so. Trump's "birther" questions appear to be working in Iowa, so he may find a way to squeeze that in on Thursday. A better bet, however, is that The Donald brings up the newest Cruz revelation—the large personal loans the Texan took out and allegedly forgot to disclose during his Senate campaign.

For the candidates not named Cruz or Trump, desperation may be setting in. Marco Rubio has not had a great month and could use a strong performance to stabilize the ship. Since nothing else seems to be working, Jeb Bush has gone negative lately (see below), and he'll likely keep doing so on Thursday. Ben Carson is trying to win back the evangelicals that Cruz has stolen away, offering up strident pronouncements on a near-daily basis (the latest: He wants to investigate the Muslims who attended the SOTU.) Expect more of the same, assuming he manages to get a word in edgewise and does not fall asleep on stage. For Christie, Kasich, and Paul (if he gets his invite), the dream is probably already over, but they may as well give it their best shot and see where the cards fall when New Hampshire votes. Their problem is that South Carolina is an important primary state, too, and the more moderate/establishment positions that Hampshirites favor won't go over well with the Palmetto State's much more conservative voters. How will the candidates walk that very fine line? Your guess is likely as good as theirs.

It is worth nothing, finally, that this is not the last debate before D-Day (aka the Iowa caucuses). There will be another on January 28, just 72 hours before Iowans head to the caucuses. As such, the candidates who feel good about their prospects may choose to save their very best ammunition until then. We shall see. (Z)

Is Paul Ryan Really Headed for Big Things?

In the State of the Union address, President Obama offered a thinly-veiled critique of Donald Trump and other GOP candidates who pander to bigotry. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) was interviewed about the President's remarks on Wednesday, and he was livid, declaring that, "I think it sort of degrades the presidency to talk about primary politics in the other party." Of course, Nikki Haley also took a swipe at Trump, et al. in her response. So, what is the Speaker's assessment? "I think she's made her point pretty well, which is as conservatives we've got great principles, great ideas, and these are inspirational...ideas."

This seems like a bit of a double standard. And it's not the first time that Ryan has been accused of such recently; there was also the fact that he insisted on being able to spend weekends with his family before he would accept the Speakership, but then said he would not support paid leave for other families. Naturally, a touch of spin (or even a heaping pile of spin) is part of politics, but the most skillful operators are generally able to avoid the appearance of outright hypocrisy.

Meanwhile, there's being the butt of jokes (which is part of life as a public figure) and then there's outright derision. Ryan seems to be the target of the latter quite a lot for a relative neophyte. On Wednesday, for example, Twitter was abuzz with snide remarks about his SOTU facial expressions. During the VP run, there were the widely-mocked falsehoods about his marathon time (giving rise to the "Paul Ryan Time Calculator") and those very odd weightlifting photos, which inspired more than one Internet meme.

Also worth noting is that Ryan's political bread and butter is his economic plan/expertise, but because of the nature of the national positions he's held (vice-presidential candidate, Speaker), his ideas are actually not terribly well known. When and if they were to receive public scrutiny, well, they're certainly more radical than is comfortable for most voters. And to many observers—including conservatives like Ben Adler, they are outright kooky.

Finally, in the Speakership, Ryan has accepted a job that is high-profile, yes, but is also very difficult to do well. It's Washington's version of herding cats, and often "success" means that you left all factions equally unhappy with you. Not coincidentally, only one Speaker of the House—James K. Polk—has gone on to be president.

In short, there is an assumption—both within GOP circles and without—that Ryan is a rising star and a possible future presidential candidate. And certainly, he's thinking that way as well. But that reputation rests largely on his selection as VP candidate and Speaker, both decisions made by political insiders that prove nothing about the Wisconsinite's ability to connect with a national audience. It's still early, but thus far the tea leaves suggest that his future may not be so bright as it seems. (Z)

New Iowa Poll: Cruz by a Nose

A new Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll conducted by Ann Selzer, whose polls are the gold standard for Iowa, puts Ted Cruz on top (again). He and Donald Trump have been trading places of late and a lead of 3% in a poll with a 4.4% margin of error means it is still very close. Also—and this is the key to Iowa polling—turnout is the big unknown. In a good year, 20% of Iowa Republicans might show up to cacucus, provided that it is not snowing. If there is a blizzard on caucus night, only the most zealous voters will show up.

Rank Candidate 1st Choice 2nd Choice
1 Ted Cruz 25% 23%
2 Donald Trump 22% 11%
3 Marco Rubio 12% 16%
4 Ben Carson 11% 8%
5 Rand Paul 5% 2%
6 Jeb Bush 4% 4%
7 Mike Huckabee 3% 4%
7 Chris Christie 3% 3%
9 Carly Fiorina 2% 4%
9 John Kasich 2% 1%
11 Rick Santorum 1% 1%
12 Jim Gilmore 0% 0%

Selzer also asked the voters for their second choice. Here Cruz shines. To the extent people get pragmatic when they enter the caucus room and decide to dump Trump, Cruz is the one most likely to pick up their support. In a race as fluid as this one, that could be important.

The Register lists eight takeaways from the poll:

  • Donald Trump may have reached his peak already
  • Ben Carson is moving in the wrong direction
  • Marco Rubio's isn't benefiting from his new home away from home in Iowa
  • Religious conservatives prefer Cruz
  • The most determined caucusgoers are for Trump, Cruz, or Carson
  • More than half of likely Republican caucusgoers are open to switching candidates
  • A majority of Cruz's supporters like his opposition to the Renewable Fuel Standard
  • Cruz has the most potential for growth in the last 3 weeks

As Yogi Berra once put it: "It ain't over 'til it's over." We have almost three weeks to go before the caucuses and things are very unsettled. Cruz's birth is a big issue as are his only recently disclosed loans for his Senate campaign. Anything is still possible (sorry Carly, not really anything).

Selzer hasn't released the polliing of the Democratic caucuses yet. She probably will today. (V)

Republican Donors Complaining about Lack of Return on Investment

Republican donors, who collectively have put over $100 million into super PACs are complaining that they are not getting much return on their investment. Jeb Bush's super PAC alone has spent over $50 million and Bush is having trouble polling at 5%. They feel that if you spend so much money, you are entitled to get something for it and it is not happening. Some of them are wondering if the super PAC era is over.

What none of the donors have apparently thought of is that old joke about the dog food. The CEO of a dog food company hires a top animal nutritionist, an expert on packaging, and a great marketing manager but the product still won't sell. He calls a meeting and asks why and a small voice from the back of the room says: "The dogs won't eat it." Maybe the problem is the candidate. In particular, Jeb Bush, despite all the money and huge network and famous family is not a good campaigner or debater and has nothing to say the voters like. Yes, Donald Trump is a phenomenon, but Ted Cruz is doing fine against him, probably because Cruz is a good campaigner, a good debater, and he has a message the voters like. In another realm, this is called backing the wrong horse. (V)

Republicans Tell Bush to Lay off Rubio

All the advertising in the world doesn't seem to be helping Jeb Bush rise in the polls, so he is now trying a new approach—destroy Marco Rubio. The theory here is if he can get rid of all the other establishment candidates, it will be him, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump, and he thinks he can win that one. However, other Republicans are now turning on Bush, saying he might end up pulverizing their only hope to defeat Trump and Cruz. One said it just looks like spite. Another suggested jealousy. Some of his donors have given up on him and don't want him to take down the establishment's next best hope.

This is the problem with a multiway race. Taking down another candidate doesn't necessary help you. His supporters might flee to a third candidate. In the case of Rubio, their second choice might well be Cruz. This is what Bush's donors fear. The fact that Cruz is the most popular second choice in Iowa just stokes this fear. (V)

Clinton Worried about Sanders

For most of the campaign, Hillary Clinton has ignored Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and just run a general election campaign, aiming all her fire at the Republicans. With Sanders rising in the polls now, she seems to be changing her tune. Over the past 10 days, the notoriously gunshy Clinton has appeared on five networks (CNN, ABC, CBS. NBC, and MSNBC) no fewer than nine times and she seems to be increasing her tempo. Up until now, she avoided network interviews like the plague. Now she is diving in head first.

Much of her fire is now directed at Sanders' policy proposals. One big target is his plan to introduce a single-payer health insurance scheme like Canada has. She says that Sanders glosses over the fact that this would require a big tax increase for middle-class families, something she opposes. Sanders has admitted that a tax increase would be needed but claims that not having to pay health insurance premiums would compensate for it.

Another area she has gone after Sanders is gun control. This is a topic where she has genuinely been to his left for years. He previously voted to exempt gun manufacturers from liability concerning the use of their products and she is not going to let anyone forget it, just as he is not going to let anyone forget her vote in favor of the the Iraq AUMF. Unlike the Republican brawl, the Democrats are actually conducting a primary where the candidates are arguing about the issues. It is unlikely the Republicans will be copying this model any time soon. (V)

The GOP Veepstakes Have Started

With Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC)'s good showing in her response to the SOTU speech Tuesday, she moved up in the list of possible Republican vice presidential candidates. Nevertheless, there are other possibilities out there. David Lightman at McClatchy made a list of them.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH)
  • Pro: Experience as WH budget director and trade representative as well as being from a key state
  • Con: Unexciting and too moderate for right wing; his son is gay and he supports same-sex marriage
Gov. Brian Sandoval (R-NV)
  • Pro: Latino from a swing state; used to be a federal judge
  • Con: Never appeared on the national stage, unexciting, and maybe too centrist for GOP
Gov. Susan Martinez (R-NM)
  • Pro: Latina from a swing state and fiery conservative speaker; good looking (not PC but it matters)
  • Con: Under investigation for campaign practices and police found her found drunk at a rowdy Christmas Party
Marco Rubio
  • Pro: Young, good-looking Cuban-American from a key swing state
  • Con: Hasn't stirred much passion running for the #1 slot; would he for the #2 slot?
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)
  • Pro: Thoughtful voice in the Senate who won a seat in a swing state
  • Con: Not a great public speaker and she faces a tough reelection race this year
Sen. John Thune (R-SD)
  • Pro: A hero because he beat Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle in 2004
  • Con: From a small state that doesn't swing and not exciting

In reality, so many intangible factors also play a role that a candidate's C.V. isn't the whole story. Does the presidential candidate like the proposed #2? Does the proposed veep have any skeletons in his or her closet? Will whoever finishes as #2 in the presidential race have to be chosen to avoid having all of his supporters sit out the election? Can the veep carry his or her own state? All these things matter. (V)

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---The Votemaster
Jan13 State of the Union a Big Success
Jan13 Sanders Catching Up to Clinton in Iowa
Jan13 MoveOn Endorses Sanders
Jan13 Another Betting Market Says It's Hillary in 2016
Jan13 Young Women Support Sanders over Clinton
Jan13 Constitutional Law Professor: Cruz is Not a Natural-Born Citizen
Jan13 Repubicans Won't Approve Any New Obama Nominees
Jan12 Trump with Slight Lead in Iowa
Jan12 Obama's Final State of the Union is Tonight
Jan12 Why Have Recent Polls Been So Wrong?
Jan12 Clinton Calls for Surtax on the Rich
Jan12 Rubio Walking a Narrow Path in Iowa
Jan12 Thanks, Obama: Domestic Edition
Jan12 Rand Paul Goes Full Birther
Jan12 Paul's Presidential Campaign is Fading Fast
Jan12 More Carson Staffers Leave
Jan12 Koch Brothers' Father Built Key Nazi Oil Refinery
Jan11 Cruz is Leading in Iowa, Trump in New Hampshire
Jan11 Supreme Court Could Decide the Presidency
Jan11 Trump Promises to Tax Wall Street
Jan11 Advice for Republican Candidates
Jan11 No Primary Endorsement for Obama
Jan11 Cruz: A Spectacular Liar
Jan11 Adelson Stymied by Family Dispute
Jan11 Thanks, Obama: North Korea Edition
Jan10 Could the Republican Party Split?
Jan10 Three Theories of Trump
Jan10 Another Theory of Trump: Ignorance
Jan10 Why Hate Jeb?
Jan10 Bush: Clinton Would Beat Trump Like a Drum
Jan10 Marco Rubio's Footwear Becomes a Campaign Issue
Jan10 Fiorina Weighs in on Bill Clinton's Infidelities
Jan10 Lena Dunham Campaigning for Clinton in Iowa
Jan09 Economy Adds Another 292,000 Jobs in December
Jan09 Is Donald Trump the New George Wallace?
Jan09 Poll: 20% of Democrats Would Vote for Trump
Jan09 Trump Is Not Living in Iowa or New Hampshire
Jan09 The Conventional Wisdom Is Often Wrong
Jan09 Democratic Candidates Get Testy
Jan09 Rubio, Abbott Call for Constitutional Convention
Jan09 Democrats Press Obama on Deportations
Jan08 Planned Parenthood to Endorse Hillary Clinton
Jan08 Chairman of Congressional Black Caucus Endorses Clinton
Jan08 McCain Raises Questions about Cruz's Eligibility
Jan08 Trump Advocates Huge Tariff on Chinese Goods
Jan08 Trump Throws Protesters Out in the Cold
Jan08 Second-Tier Republicans Have a Bad Day
Jan08 Rubio Playing the Trump URL Game
Jan08 Republicans Want Nikki Haley To Be the Veep Candidate
Jan08 Obama Mounting Full Court Press on Gun Control