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
New polls:  
Dem pickups:  
GOP pickups:  

News from the Votemaster

Republicans Debate in Las Vegas Tonight

The fifth GOP debate(s) will take place tonight, with CNN serving as host. The undercard of Rick Santorum, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), George Pataki and Mike Huckabee will go on at 6:00 p.m. EST; the main event will be moderated by Wolf Blitzer and will start at 9:00 EST (though CNN is being coy about that in an effort to get viewers to tune in early for pre-debate coverage).

Much has happened since the last debate, including shootings in Paris and San Bernardino, some very controversial rhetoric, a favorable jobs report at the start of December, and the climate change accord. None of these things puts the GOP and its candidates in a particularly strong position, and Blitzer is known for asking hard-hitting questions. Further—and in contrast some of the past moderators—he is not likely to allow candidates to escape his grilling without giving an actual answer. So, the nine prime-time debaters will be playing defense much of the night. That said, not all candidates are created equal, and the group can be grouped fairly tidily into three tiers:

Tier 1: The Frontrunners

This tier consists of Donald Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Any of these three men may be the favorite to land the GOP nomination, depending on what you care most about. Trump, of course, is leading in the polls. Rubio appears to be the most electable, and seems to have the backing of the party leadership. Cruz has the best ground game, the clearest strategic vision, and is surging in the polls.

Donald Trump will enter this debate with his best polling numbers so far. However, because he's not the frontrunner in Iowa, and because he's been under attack from many quarters, the current narrative is that he's in some trouble. He was blustery in the first two debates, but more reserved (by The Donald's standards) in the next two. He does not want to lose Iowa, and he is certainly anxious about the rise of Ted Cruz. So, expect the bluster to return in full force, with the Texas Senator as a primary target. Of course, Trump will himself be a target, so we will see how well he pivots from offense to defense.

Ted Cruz has been playing a long game, and has felt little need to "score points" quickly. As such, in the previous debates the Senator has been content to rely on his well-honed oratorical skills, and to largely remain above the fray while letting the other candidates snipe at one another. He is not going to have that luxury any longer. Given his rise in the polls, he's become both a serious contender and a serious threat to the other eight people on the stage. He will be in Trump's crosshairs, and likely in those of Marco Rubio as well. Blitzer will also have a few choice questions. We shall see how well Cruz does when the spotlight is directly upon him.

Marco Rubio has also been playing a long game, and has also been content to shoot for par in the debates, largely repeating his finely-tuned talking points. However, it is clear that Rubio is nervous about Cruz, much more so than Trump, since they are trying to court many of the same voters (in terms of philosophy, geography, and ethnicity). As such, he may well join Trump, et. al., in trying to pile on the Texas senator. At the same time, it's become clear that Rubio does not do well when he is off-script, and that he has some serious liabilities. Of the three candidates in this tier, he is far and away the most likely to make a serious, campaign-damaging error if he gets (and fumbles) the wrong question.

Tier 2: The Longshots

This tier consists of Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, and Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ). These three are not all headed in the same direction, of course. Carson and Bush took turns as frontrunners (or near-frontrunners) and have gone downhill since. Christie, like a phoenix, has risen from the ashes (at least temporarily), and is trending upward. Still, the trio find themselves on the same rung of the ladder, at least at the moment.

Ben Carson is still performing fairly well in polls, but is hemorrhaging support, mostly to Ted Cruz. Gone are the days when he was the favorite to win in Iowa. This is being attributed to his weak grasp of foreign affairs, though his other gaffes/exaggerations/falsehoods surely must have played a role as well. Carson does not think well on his feet, and he famously has a calm demeanor not suited to sparring with opponents. As such, a debate is not exactly the ideal forum for him to try and right the ship. He will be able to display some newly-developed foreign policy chops, thanks to his travels in Jordan, but it's hard to see how that could be a game-changer.

Jeb Bush, meanwhile, has demonstrated that Jeb can not, in fact, fix it. Town halls, clever hats, catchy slogans, and millions upon millions of dollars in advertising—none of it is moving the needle. Like Carson, the debate format does not play to his strengths. His attempt to take down Marco Rubio in the third debate blew up in his face and, in general, Bush is a wonk, not a brawler or a brilliant public speaker. His best course might be to really hammer on the "We're about to choose an absurd candidate" theme. He went there previously, and it worked better for him than anything else.

Chris Christie, unlike Carson and Bush, is absolutely a brawler. He spent debates two and three yelling at anyone and everyone, like he was drunken Uncle Leo at Thanksgiving dinner. It didn't work for him then, which is why he got demoted for debate four, and it's not likely to work now. Christie's momentum is largely illusory, a reflection of his all-in approach to New Hampshire. He's not likely to change that in this debate, particularly if he continues to shout and to pretend that he is more conservative than Barry Goldwater. Everyone knows you hugged Obama, Chris, and no amount of anti-Obama rhetoric is going to erase that image. The conservatives don't trust you anyhow, so why throw the moderates overboard in a lost cause?

Tier 3: Why are they still in the race?

This tier consists of Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), Carly Fiorina, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). These three have never cracked double digits in the polls and—more importantly—their path to the nomination is blocked by one or more candidates with the same resume. If they have not gained traction yet, what is going to change?

John Kasich is the "governor with executive experience." The 2016 campaign trail is littered with the corpses of guys like that—Rick Perry, Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI), Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA). Meanwhile, Kasich is still looking up at two others that are still alive. If the past few weeks are any indication, he will spend Tuesday night attacking Donald Trump from all sides. This may very well advance the Republican Party's interests—Reince Priebus will be cheering, at least to himself—but isn't going to propel Kasich forward.

Carly Fiorina is the "outsider with business experience" who, like so many others with that resume, believes that the federal government can be treated like a giant corporation. The first problem is, it can't. The second is that, even if it can, Donald Trump is making the same case. And he's doing it better, while also dominating the headlines and capturing the xenophobic vote. Fiorina impressed in the first and second debates, when she was largely an unknown commodity, but since then it has been Carly's greatest hits—she can nullify Hillary's "woman advantage," she wants to cut the tax code down to three pages, and she wants to build more ships, and more bombs, and more guns. Expect more of the same, since it's apparently all she's got.

Rand Paul is the "Senator with enough experience to know how Washington works, but not enough experience to have become part of the establishment." You know, like Rubio and Cruz. Unfortunately for Paul, he doesn't have the charisma or the debate skills of those two. Further, his libertarian sensibilities are too far outside the GOP mainstream. He almost missed the debate, and was apparently planning to end his campaign if he did not make the cut. That suggests two possibilities for Tuesday night. The first, and more likely, is that he's going to show up, give his usual low-key performance, and hope for a miracle. The second, and more interesting, is that he will do something shocking or provocative—a political "Hail Mary" pass. Unfortunately for those who like drama, he doesn't seem to have that kind of chutzpah within him. Of the nine, Paul is the most likely to have his "campaign suspended" press release all ready to go, and it would not be a big surprise if he issued it on Wednesday morning.

The upshot is that while the last few GOP debates have been a little anticlimactic, this one has the potential to be very interesting, and even to do some winnowing of the field. For political junkies, it will be worth it to tune in. (Z)

Trump Passes the 40% Mark Nationally

Although Donald Trump may be losing ground in Iowa, he may be improving nationally. A new Monmouth University poll released yesterday has Trump at 41%, the first time this year any Republican was been above 40%. What's more, this represents a jump of 13% compared to the October Monmouth national poll. Sen. Ted Cruz has moved into second place nationally, as Ben Carson and the other candidates are collapsing. Here are the results.

Rank Candidate Pct Change
1 Donald Trump 41% +13%
2 Ted Cruz 14% +4%
3 Marco Rubio 10% +4%
4 Ben Carson 9% -9%
5 Jeb Bush 3% -2%
5 John Kasich 3% +2%
7 Chris Christie 2% -1%
7 Carly Fiorina 2% -4%
7 Mike Huckabee 2% -2%
7 Rand Paul 2% -2%
11 Lindsey Graham 1% -
11 George Pataki 1% +1%
13 Rick Santorum <1% +0.5%
14 Jim Gilmore 0% -

If these numbers are verified by subsequent polls, the Republicans have a real problem on their hands. Not only is the the person who is far-and-away the front runner, Donald Trump, completely unacceptable to the party elite, but the #2, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is only marginally more acceptable. If the leadership were to begin a massive negative campaign to take down Trump, they might get Cruz instead, which, from their point of view, is only slightly better. Taking down both of them simultaneously to promote #3, Marco Rubio, is a tall order. Furthermore, as more information comes out about Rubio's personal finances (see below), he is looking less attractive by the day. And in case the establishment had any ideas about Mitt Romney coming out of retirement to save the party, Romney shot that down yesterday when he bluntly said: "I'm not running." (V)

Clinton Increases Her Lead over Sanders in Iowa

Hillary Clinton has expanded her lead in Iowa over Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to 9 points, 48% to 39%, according to a new poll conducted by Iowa polling guru Ann Selzer. In the October poll, she was ahead of Sanders by 5 points. Clinton has large leads with women (54% to 35%), the elderly (64% to 24%) and those earning $100,000 or more (55% to 30%). Sanders leads with first-time caucusgoers (49% to 40%), Iowans under 45 (58% to 31%), independents who plan to caucus with the Democrats (51% to 26%) and the nonreligious (55% to 36%). (V)

Did Rubio Violate Senate Ethics Rules with His Book?

Write a great book, make a lot of money. It sounds pretty straightforward, but books and politics don't always mix. In 1989, Democratic House Speaker Jim Wright was forced to resign from Congess when it became known that he circumvented House rules about speaking fees by having groups that wanted him to speak buy copies of his book in bulk, for which he was paid an unheard of 55% royalty.

Now Marco Rubio's first book, for which he was paid an $800,000 advance, is in the news. The issue here isn't bulk purchases or royalty rates, but who wrote it. The National Journal's S.V. Dáte, who has been digging into Rubio's messy personal finances, has a new story on Rubio's finances today. In his FEC filings, Rubio's "leadership PAC" paid $20,000 to Mark Salter, Sen. John McCain's longtime coauthor, for doing something. In the acknowledgement section of the book, Rubio thanks Salter for helping him organize and revise the manuscript. That makes it sound like Salter coauthored the book. This is not illegal, but Senate rule XXXVIII says that senator's political accounts may not be converted to personal use. If, indeed, Salter coauthored the book, then Rubio's political donors helped finance a project that generated $800,000 for Rubio, thus violating the Senate's ethics rules. For a candidate with so many other issues around his personal finances, this just adds more fuel to the fire. (V)

Could Trump Run as an Independent?

From time to time, Donald Trump threatens the Republican Party with the possibility of running as an independent. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted threw some cold water on that plan yesterday when he announced that Ohio law does not allow a candidate who is affiliated with a political party to run as an independent and he considers Trump's filing to run in the Republican primary as evidence that he is affiliated with the Republican Party. On the other hand, a 1983 Supreme Court ruling, Anderson v. Celebrezze, allowed John Anderson, who had originally run as a Republican and then switched to being an independent in the general election, to get on the ballot. While the Anderson case is not identical to Trump's situation, it is possibly close enough. An alternative for Trump is to create a new political party and submit 30,000 signatures supporting it by July 5, two weeks before the start of the Republican National Convention. Still another would be to arrange to be selected the candidate of an existing third party, who might be delighted at the exposure and the matching funds for 2020. If Trump is still in the running in June, he has to decide whether to fight it out in a brokered convention or to travel down one of these other paths.

Another obstacle for Trump is Texas. Trump is registered to run as a Republican in Texas, which also means he cannot run there as an independent because the filing deadline was yesterday. Without Texas, Trump would have no chance of compiling the 270 electoral votes needed to be elected President. On the other hand, if Trump ran as an independent merely to punish the Republicans for not handing him the nomination, Texas is not the place to do it. To deny the Republicans the White House, he would need to drain off Republican votes in swing states like Florida, Ohio, Colorado, and Virginia, not deep red states like Texas. (V)

Billionaires Are Having Trouble Buying the Election

After the Supreme Court gave a green light to unlimited campaign donations in the Citizens United decision, billionaires throughout the country expected that they could now buy elections. The idea was to assemble a massive warchest, bludgeon your opponent with negative television ads, and relax on election night as the votes were counted. In 2012, it didn't quite work like that. Karl Rove's American Crossroads raised and spent plenty of money for Mitt Romney, but didn't get the result he was expecting.

Many of the big Republican donors were shocked at their loss and are quite gun shy so far this time. Rove has raised less than $800,000 so far this cycle and few big donors have made massive investments in any candidates so far. They may be waiting for the general election, of course, but by then they may discover they have a candidate they don't really like.

Some donors, like the Koch brothers and Chicago Cubs owner Joe Ricketts, have set up their own political networks that they micromanage themselves. However, they are slowly learning that they are no better at politics than Karl Rove and that buying an election isn't quite as easy as they had imagined. (V)

When Politicians' Lips Are Moving, Part II

Yesterday we noted a piece by Politifact's Angie Drobnic Holan in which she tallied the lies told by the 2016 candidates, and various other prominent politicians. Depending on your preferred measure, either Bill Clinton or Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is the most honest politician in America. Meanwhile, the Republicans did not fare too well, particularly the trio at the top of national polls.

Today, the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza ranked the 12 biggest whoppers of 2015, and the GOP fared somewhat better. Republicans were responsible for six of the items on the list, compared to five for Democrats (with one nonpartisan entry). The Republicans' numbers would get even better if they shed themselves of Donald Trump, who produced three of the top five. (Z)

Donald Trump Has Found The Donald Trump of Doctors

On Monday, Donald Trump released a report on his health prepared by his longtime physician Harold Bornstein. Actually, The Donald was unclear on that latter point for a while, as he originally identified the author of the report as Jacob Bornstein, Harold's long-deceased father. In any event, the report is riddled with curious assertions and use of language, which The Daily Beast breaks down in great detail. For example, the document declared that Trump's medical tests showed only "positive results." Clearly, "positive" is being used to mean "good," but in a medical context "positive" actually means "an affirmative result." So, a test showing that a patient has cancer is "positive" but is most certainly not "good."

The real whopper, however, was the concluding statement of the report. "If elected," Bornstein declares, "Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency." Needless to say, most of the information needed to make such a statement "unequivocally" either does not exist (for any president before about 1920), or would be protected by privacy laws (for any president still living). Further, are we really to believe Trump is in better shape than Abraham Lincoln, who could lift weights in the hundreds of pounds without difficulty? Or Theodore Roosevelt, whose daily regimen of aerobics and resistance training exhausted anyone who tried to exercise with him? Or Jimmy Carter, who has already lived nearly 40 years beyond his inauguration (the 69-year-old Trump would be 108 if he served one term and then lived as many post-presidential years as Carter).

At best, the doctor was asked to engage in a little creative writing and took to the task with gusto. At worst, and more likely, he just signed a document prepared by one of Trump's staffers (perhaps even The Donald himself). The New York State Medical Board may have a few questions for Dr. Bornstein, at which point he may claim that the author really was his father Jacob. After all, Jacob probably doesn't need his license any more. (Z)

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---The Votemaster
Dec14 Yet Another Poll Released Showing Cruz Leading Iowa
Dec14 Cruz Closing the Gap Nationally
Dec14 Lineup Set for Next GOP Debate
Dec14 GOP Silence on Climate Change Deal is Deafening
Dec14 Rubio Doesn't Have a Debt Problem, He Has a Spending Problem
Dec14 When Politicians' Lips Are Moving
Dec14 Clinton Rallies Attract a Mixed Bag of People
Dec14 Marine Le Pen Loses in France
Dec13 Ann Selzer: Cruz Is Leading Iowa by 10 Points
Dec13 Cruz's Surge in Iowa Is Worrying Trump
Dec13 Who is Trump's Target of the Day?
Dec13 Could Trump Beat Hillary Clinton in the General Election?
Dec13 Clinton's Campaign Chairman Expects to Face Cruz in the General Election
Dec13 Rubio's Brother-in-law Was a Cocaine Dealer and Smuggler
Dec13 Sanders Blasts the Media
Dec13 196 Nations Agree on Climate Change Accord
Dec12 Trump Still Leading in First Poll After Muslim Remarks
Dec12 Should GOP Let Trump Run as an Independent?
Dec12 Donald Trump, the Media, and Bernie Sanders
Dec12 Cruz To Campaign in Super Tuesday States Next Week
Dec12 Japanese Dinner Goes over Badly with Conservatives.
Dec12 Carson Going Down in Flames?
Dec12 Clinton Ally Explains How Clinton Would Attack Cruz
Dec12 Democrats Refuse to Debate on WMUR Due to a Labor Dispute
Dec12 Putin's Problems in Syria Could Hurt Republicans
Dec11 Republicans Preparing for a Brokered Convention
Dec11 Romney in 2016?
Dec11 Republicans Support Trump's Plan to Ban Muslims
Dec11 Could Muslims Swing the Election?
Dec11 Loretta Sanchez Says Many Muslims Desire a Caliphate
Dec11 Cruz Bags the Big Three in Iowa
Dec11 Rubio Also Bags a Big One
Dec11 Good News, Bad News for Christie
Dec11 McCaskill Slams Rubio and Cruz
Dec10 Cruz May Be the 2016 Sleeper Candidate
Dec10 Trump Backs off Plan to Bar Muslims, but Only Slightly
Dec10 Trump Isn't Racist, Just Ask Him
Dec10 Would Conservative Pundits Support Trump against Clinton?
Dec10 Rubio Lands a Major Donor
Dec10 Scalia's Questions Take a Racist Turn
Dec10 Too Much Trump?
Dec09 Foreign Leaders Condemn Trump's Remarks on Muslims
Dec09 Republicans Also Condemn Trump's Remarks, But Cautiously
Dec09 Media Changing Its Approach to Trump?
Dec09 Clinton Prepares to Face Trump, Cruz, or Rubio
Dec09 Are the Candidates Polling at 0% Still Actually Running?
Dec09 Does Iowa Still Matter?
Dec09 Chris Christie Ascendant?
Dec09 Supreme Court May Change How Representation is Calculated
Dec08 Trump Demands Total and Complete Ban on Muslim Entry into the U.S.