Do Debates Matter? – by Joseph P. Williams November 13, 2015

Democrat Sen. John Kennedy, left and Republican Richard Nixon, right, as they debated campaign issues at a Chicago television studio on Sept. 26, 1960. Moderator Howard K. Smith is at desk in center.

They’re often described with action words reserved for warfare or contact sports – battles, fights, counterattacks – with winners and losers determined within minutes of completion. Participants come armed with battle plans, self-serving data and talking points intended to create headline-generating heat, not necessarily policy light.

Critics say the televised, speed chess-meets-Mortal Kombat competitions between politicians who want to lead the free world too often turn on stumbles, errors and style over substance. Supporters insist on their value, but want reforms, now more than ever.

[READ: Immigration, Foreign Policy Splits Republicans In Fourth Debate]

Given such high stakes, relatively low expectations and declining overall TV viewership in an era where Twitter is a news source: Why are presidential debates still a thing?

Though they sometimes resemble the reality show “Survivor” more than a serious forum about the nation’s future, presidential debates are one of the top sources of information for voters, according to analyses and TV ratings. They can also determine which candidates can tap the ever-widening pipeline of money in politics – from small donors kicking in a few dollars to wealthy elites deciding which future president, or super PAC, is the best bet for their millions.

Yet the decades-old, gladiators-on-TV format is looking increasingly battle-worn.

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Rubio and Cruz See Spike in Attention – By JANET HOOK Nov. 8, 2015 5:30 a.m. ET

After standout performances in Colorado, candidates see rise in donations and poll standings

Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are two of the Republican presidential candidates that have gained the most traction following last month’s debate.

Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are two of the Republican presidential candidates that have gained the most traction following last month’s debate. PHOTO: CHRIS CARLSON/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Two of the presidential candidates who gained the most traction out of the last Republican debate are a pair of 44-year-old Cuban-Americans who are first-term U.S. senators.

There the similarity ends, and their differences define a fork in the road for the Republican Party.

Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, after standout performances at the debate in Colorado last month, have both seen a spike in media attention, donations and poll standings. But they are appealing to very different wings of the GOP electorate, with Mr. Cruz rallying anti-Washington conservative forces and Mr. Rubio drawing strength from to the party’s business-friendly establishment wing.

Their differences of both style and substance will surface again Tuesday in the third GOP debate in Milwaukee, where both senators will try to keep the momentum going in a forum focusing on economic issues.

Mr. Cruz rails against illegal immigrants; Mr. Rubio takes a more welcoming approach. Mr. Cruz opposed President Barack Obama’s fast-track trade bill; Mr. Rubio supported it. Mr. Cruz traffics in the highflying oratory of an evangelical minister’s son; Mr. Rubio’s brand of eloquence is more low key.

Both senators still trail the political novices— Donald Trump and Ben Carson—who lead the GOP field. But the Cruz-Rubio surge raises a surprising prospect: Two Cuban Americans are moving from long-shot to top-tier candidates in a party that has struggled to win support from Hispanic voters.

Mr. Cruz said it was “plausible” that the primary would wind up being a Rubio-Cruz face off, citing the history of GOP contests that pitted a conservative against a more moderate candidate.

“I think Marco is certainly formidable,” Mr. Cruz said. But, he added, ”once it gets down to a head-to-head contest between a conservative and a moderate…I think the conservative wins.”

A super PAC supporting Mr. Cruz took off the gloves last week in an ad in Iowa that attacked Mr. Rubio for his record on immigration.

“We all loved how Marco Rubio took apart Jeb Bush in the debate,” says the narrator of an ad from the pro-Cruz PAC, Courageous Conservatives. “But what’s Rubio ever done?…Marco Rubio looks good on TV, but that’s about it.’’

That is a change in rhetoric from a major Senate debate in 2013—the filibuster to block funding for Obamacare—when Mr. Cruz showered his colleague with praise. “I don’t know if there is anyone more effective, more articulate, or a more persuasive voice for conservative principles than my friend Marco Rubio,” Mr. Cruz said.

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Bush’s Rubio attack plan backfires – By ALEX ISENSTADT and MARC CAPUTO 11/05/15 06:02 PM EST Updated 11/05/15 07:59 PM EST

One of Florida’s top GOP fundraisers officially quits Bush team, signals shift to Rubio.

Jeb Bush speaks as Marco Rubio looks on during the CNBC Republican Presidential Debate. | Getty

Jeb Bush speaks as Marco Rubio looks on during the CNBC Republican Presidential Debate. | Getty


One of Florida’s top GOP fundraisers officially quits Bush team, signals shift to Rubio.

Jeb Bush’s decision to attack old friend and new rival Marco Rubio is backfiring, pushing important supporters to criticize the campaign’s tactics and driving one of Florida’s top fundraisers to officially quit and signal a shift in allegiance to the senator.

“I think the world of Jeb Bush. He was a great governor of Florida and is a really good person, but the campaign has hijacked his message,” said Brian Ballard, a Tallahassee lobbyist who contributed more than $25,000 of his own money and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars more for Bush’s campaign and the super PAC supporting him.

“The campaign has become negative, one that is about attacking and trying to bring down Marco Rubio. And that doesn’t sit well—not only with me, but with anyone who knows the two,” Ballard said. “Marco’s a friend of mine. I didn’t sign up for a campaign that was going to be negative and attack a bright star of the party’s future. It doesn’t make sense. I’m over it. And I’m done.”

Ballard said he decided to make his departure final and public after the Bush team called Rubio “the GOP Obama” and a “risky” bet due to his past personal financial struggles. Ballard said he stopped raising money for the campaign three months ago amid a dispute with the campaign.

One staffer familiar with Ballard’s conversations with the campaign was more blunt.

“While we appreciate Brian’s support of the governor, in August, we expressed to him serious concerns about his continued lack of discretion regarding campaign strategy — particularly in relation to his interaction with the national media,” said the staffer, noting that Ballard is a Donald Trump lobbyist. “He has not been actively engaged in this campaign or our team’s efforts for months, and his comments today are of little surprise to anyone. We wish him well.”

While Ballard’s decision and comments are the most striking, his sentiment of disappointment in the campaign was expressed to POLITICO in varying degrees by numerous Bush supporters — from members of Congress to those who have worked for the Bush campaign to donors who are unhappy with the direction of the election effort.


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Money churns in Carson, Inc. – By KATIE GLUECK and KYLE CHENEY 10/27/15 07:10 PM EDT Updated 10/27/15 10:14 PM EDT


Ben Carson’s campaign finance reports reveal a complicated money churn that relies heavily on telemarketing and direct mail pitches to mom-and-pop donors. | AP Photo


Inside the top Republican fundraiser’s secretive spending.

Ben Carson isn’t paying senior adviser Mike Murray a salary. But the Republican presidential contender is pouring millions into companies connected to Murray, one of the dozens of operatives benefiting from a surge in grass-roots donations to Carson.

Carson paid more than $1.3 million to TMA Direct, where Murray is CEO, and another $75,000 to Precision Data Management, where Murray is managing partner. Carson forked over more than $4 million for database services, web fundraising and postage to Ohio-based Eleventy Marketing, a company that lists TMA as a client. And Carson and Murray paid a July visit to an Akron-based telemarketing company whose call center raises money for Carson’s campaign and a conservative political action committee that Murray runs.

The payments to Murray-linked companies are part of nearly $11 million in third-quarter spending by Carson for services that help him raise even more money. Carson, whose $20 million third-quarter haul made him the top Republican fundraiser, is spending 55 cents of every dollar he raises on payments to fundraising-related companies and consultants.

His campaign finance reports reveal a complicated money churn that relies heavily on telemarketing and direct mail pitches to mom-and-pop donors. But the reports reveal few details about companies making big bucks from the campaign or exactly what services they provide.

Carson’s campaign did not respond to repeated requests for clarification, and Murray did not respond to calls or emails.


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The cruelest month of the 2016 race – By EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE 10/01/15 05:13 AM EDT

October poses serious risks for many contenders, but opportunity for a few.

October is put up or shut up time for Joe Biden.

October is put up or shut up time for Joe Biden. | AP Photo

October is when the 2016 campaign gets real.

Two debates are coming — one that will likely winnow the GOP field and one that could rearrange the Democratic race. A Benghazi hearing will either be a showcase or a feeding frenzy. And campaign fundraising reports are going to be making a lot of decisions for people, whether they like it or not.

It’s showtime for Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, who were supposed to be on glide paths by now. It’s also put up or shut up time for Joe Biden — and if the answer is yes, the time to find out whether the public polls he’s been solely relying on to gauge the race bear any relation to reality, or if the bottom will drop out as soon as he goes from potential to actual candidate.

“We’ve got a long time between now and the caucuses in February, so this is a fight that’s just getting started,” said Haley Morris, a spokeswoman for former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who perhaps has the most to gain from the Democratic race finally becoming real enough to get him on stage next to Clinton.

By Nov. 1, this race is going to look seismically different — like Pangaea breakup level different.

It begins today, when campaigns begin sharing their financial filings and staffers at the weakest outfits start sending out emails to land new jobs before the stories of their boss’ demise break.

Hillary Clinton’s disclosure will show $28 million in cash raised, a haul that bumps her six-month total to an impressive $75 million. But Bernie Sanders’ $24 million in funds collected will be too close for comfort, fueling Democratic anxieties that she’s still not dominant enough. Meanwhile, she’ll have almost every other problem to deal with.


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Carson, Fiorina, Sanders Gain Ground in Their Parties’ Primary Races, Poll Shows – By PATRICK O’CONNOR Sept. 27, 2015 9:00 a.m. ET

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, left, speaks as Donald Trump looks on during the CNN Republican presidential debate on Sept. 16. ENLARGE

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, left, speaks as Donald Trump looks on during the CNN Republican presidential debate on Sept. 16. Photo: Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press


Patrick O’Connor

Sept. 27, 2015 9:00 a.m. ET

Republicans Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina and Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders have gained significant ground in their parties’ presidential primary races in recent weeks, the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and celebrity real-estate developer Donald Trump continue to lead the fields for their parties’ nominations. But Mr. Trump is now essentially tied with Mr. Carson, and significant movement has occurred among candidates just behind them.

Mr. Carson is the preferred pick of 20% of GOP primary voters, compared with the 21% who favor Mr. Trump. Behind them are Mrs. Fiorina and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, both with 11% support. Other Republicans register single-digit support.

In the prior Journal/NBC News poll, conducted in mid-July, Mr. Carson had only 10% support, compared with 19% for Mr. Trump. The retired neurosurgeon overtakes Mr. Trump in the new survey, conducted Sept. 20-24, when voters’ first choice is combined with their second.


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Super-PAC debuts pro-Fiorina documentary – By Jonathan Swan – 09/22/15 08:46 PM EDT

Carly Fiorina’s super-PAC is now in the movie business.

Getty Images

The outside spending group CARLY for America – which is not legally allowed to coordinate with Fiorina’s presidential campaign but can spend millions on her behalf – hosted Fiorina’s family, roughly 100 supporters and more than a dozen journalists at the Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse for the debut screening of “Citizen Carly,” a documentary that doubles as an hour-long campaign commercial.

The hagiographic film begins and is salted throughout with testimonials from friends and former colleagues of Fiorina’s. Fiorina, they say, is “indefatigable,” “enormously compassionate,” always “standing up for the little people.” Hers is a “classic American story.” As the testimonies are told, large words circle in the background: “strength,” “leader,” “compassion.”

But the film is also intimate, sometimes surprisingly so. Sitting on a chair beside her husband Frank, Carly’s voice breaks as she recalls the 2009 death of their daughter due to drug addiction. “Her poor little body. She was always a little girl. I think it just gave out,” Fiorina said. She said her “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” saved her.

The section of the film that deals with Fiorina’s cancer diagnosis shows a photograph of her, bald-headed and incapacitated, on a hospital bed. Another scene tells the story of Fiorina sobbing in a restroom on her 40th birthday when she realizes she won’t have a biological child of her own.

Much of the documentary is dedicated to answering questions about Fiorina’s business career, particularly her controversial six years as CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Former board members sympathetic to Fiorina, including vocal media supporter Tom Perkins, said it was the board and not her that was to blame for HP’s troubles during that period.


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The emergency meeting that led Walker to quit – By SHANE GOLDMACHER and ALEX ISENSTADT 09/22/15, 01:13 AM EDT

The governor left his closest supporters in the dark, even his biggest financial backers.



It’s almost always bad news when a candidate’s spouse calls an emergency meeting.

But that’s what happened late last week when Scott Walker’s wife, Tonette, and his campaign chairman, Mike Grebe, reached out to a small number of longtime Walker aides and summoned them to the governor’s mansion on Monday morning.

The topic was obvious: the future of Walker’s struggling presidential campaign.

Walker had just limped out of a disappointing second presidential debate. The governor had spent weeks preparing for the showdown, knowing his political life depended on it. He’d practiced giving punchier answers and making sure to use up all his allotted time.

But the reviews had been brutal. Donors were grousing, and money was drying up. It was a painful turn for Walker, who had quickly vaulted to the top of the Iowa polls, powered by a fiery January speech in Des Moines, only to drop precipitously in the summer amid Donald Trump’s rise. He had gone from frontrunner to also-ran in a matter of months.

So on Monday morning, the group of advisers – including veteran Walker hands John Hiller, Bill Eisner, Ed Goeas, and Jim Villa – huddled with Scott and Tonette Walker. The top of the agenda, according to campaign sources: polling and fundraising. And the numbers were bad.

Shortly after the meeting wrapped, Walker arrived at his decision: He was out. It was a shocking and sudden move that blindsided many of Walker’s closest allies, threw the power of super PACs into doubt, and opened opportunities for rivals to pick up patrons, staff, and supporters.

The seeds of Walker’s withdrawal had been planted five nights earlier in Simi Valley, when Walker spoke for fewer minutes than any other candidate on the debate stage. Instead of a breakout performance, the closet thing he had to a signature moment came as Carly Fiorina finished her impassioned answer on Planned Parenthood. Walker lifted his finger, as if to interject. He wasn’t called upon. He would speak only once in the next 30 minutes.


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Top Jeb fundraisers leave campaign amid troubling signs – By ALEX ISENSTADT and MARC CAPUTO 08/29/15, 06:26 AM EDT

The move comes amid weak poll numbers and concerns that Bush’s torrid fundraising pace has slowed.


Three top Jeb Bush fundraisers abruptly parted ways with his presidential campaign on Friday, amid internal personality conflicts and questions about the strength of his candidacy, POLITICO has learned.

There are different versions of what transpired. The Florida-based fundraising consultants — Kris Money, Trey McCarley, and Debbie Alexander — have said that they voluntarily quit the campaign and were still working with Bush’s super PAC, Right to Rise Super PAC. Others said the three, who worked under the same contract, were let go because they were no longer needed for the current phase of the campaign.

None of the three immediately responded to requests for comment. Bush spokesman Tim Miller would only say that “Governor Bush has the widest and deepest fundraising operation of any candidate in the field. Ann Herberger — a longtime aide with more than two decades of experience in state and national politics — will continue to lead the operation in Florida with our team in Miami.”

One source attributed the departures to personality conflicts in the campaign, some involving Bush’s finance team.

“They were glad to go. This wasn’t a shock to anybody,” said one campaign source. “There were just some personality problems. It happens when you have a big organization like this, a big campaign. Some of the national people are tough to work for.”

Alexander, Money and McCarley have deep and longstanding ties to Florida’s GOP power structure. Money is close with former House Speaker Will Weatherford, McCarley’s part of Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam’s political team, and Alexander has been a member in good standing of Bush’s operation since he was governor.

“They raised a lot of money out of Florida. A lot,” said the campaign source. “So if anyone says they didn’t quit, it’s not true. They’re still working for the super PAC as well. This is not about them,” said one source. “This is about the campaign.”


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Outsiders take over GOP – By Jonathan Easley – 08/12/15 03:42 PM EDT

Outsiders who have never before held political office are dominating the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

Donald Trump is the GOP front-runner, while businesswoman Carly Fiorina is surging after a strong performance in last week’s debate.

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson is also showing strength, and is a candidate to watch in the Iowa caucuses, where he is outperforming former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Conservatives are thrilled with the developments.

“This is a paradigm shift,” conservative Iowa radio host Steve Deace told The Hill. “The base of the party is in open revolt. We’re watching a political party dissolve. It’s a civil war and the GOP as it’s constructed may not survive.”

Others think Republican voters will eventually coalesce around a more traditional GOP candidate — perhaps Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker or Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

They believe Trump’s rise is a product of his celebrity and a media frenzy that will ultimately fizzle. They doubt that Carson and Fiorina will be able to compete in the fundraising fight, or pull together the political operation to make a deep run through the primaries.

But for now, the anti-establishment wing of the GOP is on the upswing.

Fiorina is rising in polls, moving into the top tier of candidates in Iowa and New Hamshire, according to two surveys released this week.

A new survey from Public Policy Polling showed Carson has pulled into a second-place tie in Iowa with Walker, who for months held a big lead over the field in the Hawkeye State. A Suffolk University poll released this week showed voters in Iowa believe Carson matched Rubio as one of the winners in prime-time debate.

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