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Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) speaks at a town hall meeting, Oct. 7, 2015, at Briar Cliff University, a Catholic university in Sioux City, Iowa. (Photo by Jerry Mennenga/ZUMA)

Santorum poised to quit, GOP field will shrink to nine

02/03/16 04:22PM

Rick Santorum's 2012 presidential campaign was a lot more successful than many remember. Despite his humiliating re-election loss in Pennsylvania in 2006, Santorum managed to win 11 primaries and caucuses in 2012, and he did so on a shoe-string budget and without much of a campaign operation.
 
With those successes in mind, last spring, Santorum reminded RNC officials that over the last half-century, Republicans have nominated just three types of people for president. "No. 1, they were a vice president," Santorum said. "No. 2, they were the son of a former president. No. 3, they came in second place the election before, and ran again."
His point was hardly subtle: Santorum fell comfortably into that third category -- which meant the former senator had a perfectly credible claim to being the "next in line." Unfortunately for Santorum, voters didn't seem to care.
 
Rick Santorum is expected to end his presidential run and throw his support behind a rival candidate during an appearance on Fox News Wednesday night, according to aides.
The news was first reported by CNN and has not been independently confirmed by NBC News.
 
If the reporting is accurate, Santorum's decision comes on the heels of his 11th place finish in the Iowa caucuses this week, 10 places below his Iowa victory in 2012.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush waits to speak at a campaign event at the Greasewood Flats Ranch in Carroll, Ia. Jan. 29, 2016. (Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters)

Jeb Bush urges audience, 'Please clap'

02/03/16 03:09PM

The Iowa caucuses didn't go quite as well for Jeb Bush as he would have liked: he finished sixth with about 3% of the vote. Though some spun this as Bush taking the lead in the "governors' lane" -- he finished ahead of other governors in the race -- the problem is that lane is a made-up metric that doesn't actually mean anything.
 
The Florida Republican is likely to fare better in New Hampshire, where he's invested far more resources, and where polls show him in a more competitive position. But some anecdotal evidence suggests Bush still has some work to do. MSNBC reported this morning on a town-hall event the former governor held in Hanover last night.
"I will not trash talk. I will not be a divider in chief or an agitator in chief. I won't be out there blowharding, talking a big game without backing it up. I think the next president needs to be a lot quieter but send a signal that we're prepared to act in the national security interests of this country -- to get back in the business of creating a more peaceful world," Bush declared to the crowd Tuesday evening.
 
He was met with a long beat of silence.
 
"Please clap," he pleaded, drawing applause and awkward laughter.
Watching the video, I have no doubt the comment was intended to be funny. Bush had just delivered fiery comments about a serious subject, and he was likely looking for a quip to lighten the mood a bit.
 
But it was equally clear that Bush thought his rhetoric would spark some kind of reaction from his audience, which sat in stony silence. "Please clap" is just a heartbreaking phrase because it comes from a candidate who thinks he's delivering powerful, inspirational rhetoric, but who's also reminded from time to time that in order to get any kind of real validation, he literally has to ask for it.
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., gestures toward the audience before a television interview before a campaign event, Feb. 2, 2016, at the town hall, in Exeter, N.H. (Photo by Steven Senne/AP)

When a candidate takes a 'victory lap' without a victory

02/03/16 12:55PM

In 1992, then-Gov. Bill Clinton faced brutal headwinds ahead of the New Hampshire primary. Rocked by controversy and personal allegations, the Arkansas Democrat was written off, dismissed as a candidate who would have to drop out sooner rather than later.
 
And yet, on Primary Night, there was Clinton, making a memorable declaration: "New Hampshire has made Bill Clinton the Comeback Kid." What's less memorable is the fact that Clinton actually lost that primary. In fact, Sen. Paul Tsongas (D-Mass.) beat Clinton in New Hampshire by more than eight points. But because so many assumed Clinton would get crushed, his second-place showing seemed like a triumph.
 
It serves as a reminder that, as odd as this sounds, candidates don't necessarily have to win to seem like they won.
 
What we haven't seen, however, is a third-place finisher pretend to have scored an amazing victory. That is, until this week.
 
After losing to Ted Cruz and Donald Trump in the Iowa caucuses Monday night, Marco Rubio told supporters, "This is the moment they said would never happen!" It was, of course, the moment literally everyone said would inevitably happen -- Rubio was supposed to finish third in Iowa and he did.
 
But pesky details like election results notwithstanding, the Florida senator launched a strategy in which he'd simply act as if he'd won, and expect the political media, which often seems overly fond of Rubio, to simply play along with the charade.
 
Which is exactly what's happening. Paul Waldman highlighted some gems yesterday
No wonder Rubio took a "victory lap" yesterday without an actual victory -- which ordinarily would seem like a prerequisite to a victory lap.
 
Perhaps my favorite headline of all was published by the Wall Street Journal: "Rubio's Rise Amid Trump's Slump." Remember, Rubio and Trump faced off in the same contest, in the same state, at the same time. Trump won more votes. Pundits don't care.

Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.3.16

02/03/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* Not quite content with his second-place showing in Iowa, Donald Trump this morning accused Ted Cruz of "stealing" the caucuses and committing "fraud." Trump was apparently referring to this controversy surrounding the Cruz campaign telling voters Ben Carson was quitting, a move Cruz has since apologized for.
 
* In the first New Hampshire poll conducted after the Iowa caucuses, a UMass Lowell poll released this morning found Trump leading the GOP primary with 38% support, followed by Cruz's 14%. Marco Rubio is third in the poll with 12%; Jeb Bush is fourth with 9%; followed by John Kasich at 7% and Chris Christie at 6%.
 
* On a related note, Kasich reiterated this morning that without a strong showing in New Hampshire, he'll quit. "If we don't do well, we're not going to be dragging around like some band of minstrels who beg people to come to our show," the Ohio governor said. Kasich, who finished eighth in Iowa, did not specify exactly what "doing well" in New Hampshire means.
 
* NBC News has learned that Bernie Sanders will begin traveling with U.S. Secret Service protection within the next 24 hours.
 
* Campaigning in New Hampshire yesterday, Jeb Bush delivered a "fiery riff about protecting the country as commander in chief." When it was met with total silence by the audience, the Florida Republican said, "Please clap."
 
* There's a fair amount of speculation about who'll be the next Republican presidential candidate to quit, and NBC is keeping an eye on a certain former senator: "Late last night, Rick Santorum's campaign released a press advisory announcing that Santorum was delaying his South Carolina kickoff events and is participating in 'media activities' in DC." Santorum, who won the Iowa caucuses four years ago, finished in 11th place on Monday night with just 1% of the vote.
 
* Hillary Clinton's first television ad in South Carolina, released yesterday, features support from former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. In the spot, Holder says, "If you want to make sure Republicans don't take us backward, help Hillary move us forward."
The landmark CN Tower is lit blue, white and red in the colors of the French flag following Paris attacks, in Toronto, Nov. 13, 2015. (Photo by Chris Helgren/Reuters)

Republican candidates remain focused on the other border

02/03/16 11:05AM

It's hard to pick the lowest single point in Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's (R) failed presidential campaign, but the time the Republican considered a wall along the Canadian border has to be among the most amazing.
 
On "Meet the Press," Chuck Todd asked Walker, "Do you want to build a wall north of the border, too?" The GOP governor replied it's "a legitimate issue for us to look at."
 
Six months later, Walker is no longer a candidate, but the Wall Street Journal reports that his former rivals are still thinking about our neighbors to the north. This article ran over the weekend:
In the waning days of Iowa's first-in-the-nation Republican presidential nominating contest, suddenly Canada is a central role.
 
This week both Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson have made the case that the U.S. faces national security risks along its northern border—reminiscent of former candidate Scott Walker's brief period of entertaining the idea of walling parts of the Canadian border to restrict immigration.
At one campaign event, Rubio heard from a voter who said, "Once the wall is placed down in Mexico, you and I know terrorists will try to come through Canada. What's going to be done about that?"
 
The Journal reported that Rubio not only took the question seriously, he also committed to thousands of additional federal agents along the Canadian border. "The threat to the Canadian border is real as well," the senator told the voter. "We need an additional 20,000 border agents. Not just on the southern border, but to partner with the Canadians on the northern border."
 
Around the same time, Ben Carson said Canada's decision to welcome refugees fleeing Syria's civil war represents a threat to U.S. national security.
 
The good news is, neither Rubio nor Carson endorsed the idea of a Canadian border wall. The bad news is, their rhetoric about Canada is nevertheless a bit much.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) meets with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 24, 2015.

The problem with the GOP's Zika virus appeals

02/03/16 10:29AM

There were reports out of Dallas overnight that health officials believe they've confirmed the first known case of sexual transmission of Zika virus. It's against this backdrop that The Hill reports Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is "pressing President Obama to move aggressively to combat the spread of the Zika virus."
McConnell on Tuesday warned that Obama needs to act now before panic grips the country, as it did when the Ebola virus dominated headlines in 2014.
 
"We need to get out in front of the Zika virus to make sure that we don't end up having the kind of feeling across the country that we're sort of reacting too late, like we did on Ebola," he said.
If McConnell is concerned about a potential public-health risk, great. If the Senate leader wants to ensure agencies and officials are prepared and taking necessary precautions, that makes perfect sense.
 
But that Ebola reference doesn't sit quite right.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) gestures as he speaks to voters at the Heritage Action Presidential Candidate Forum Sept. 18, 2015 in Greenville, S.C. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty)

Facing long odds, Rand Paul calls it quits

02/03/16 09:48AM

After his fifth-place showing in the Iowa caucuses this week, Rand Paul told supporters, "We fight on! Thank you for all of your support."
 
The message seemed to suggest the Kentucky Republican would continue his longshot presidential campaign, though Paul apparently changed his mind soon after. This morning, the senator's campaign issued a press statement announcing the end of his candidacy. It read in part:
"Across the country thousands upon thousands of young people flocked to our message of limited government, privacy, criminal justice reform and a reasonable foreign policy. Brushfires of Liberty were ignited, and those will carry on, as will I.
 
"Although, today I will suspend my campaign for President, the fight is far from over. I will continue to carry the torch for Liberty in the United States Senate and I look forward to earning the privilege to represent the people of Kentucky for another term."
The announcement comes as a bit of a surprise, in part because of what the senator said on Monday night, but also because Paul's support exists largely in the GOP's libertarian wing -- which exists in New Hampshire in ways it does not in Iowa.
 
But the combination of weak fundraising, low poll numbers, and a crowded top tier created hard-to-deny circumstances: Rand Paul simply did not have a path to the Republican presidential nomination. What's more, the Kentucky senator is the only 2016 candidate in either party who has a re-election campaign to think about this year, which created an added incentive to leave the race early and focus on the contest he's more likely to win -- just as party officials have been reminding him to do for months.
 
The question worth considering is why Paul failed so badly.
Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to the media before a campaign event at Hampshire Hills Athletic Club on Feb. 2, 2016 in Milford, Iowa. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Maybe Donald Trump's showing wasn't so bad after all

02/03/16 08:51AM

The day after this week's Iowa caucuses offered a case study in the oddities of mainstream political analysis. I've been at this for a while, and even I spent much of the day shaking my head in disbelief.
 
If the buzz and hype are to believed, here's what we're supposed to believe: the Democrat who finished first in Iowa looked weak by winning, while her second-place rival looked impressive. The Republican who won wasn't particularly important -- even though he was expected to lose -- while the second-place finisher was the day's biggest "loser" and the candidate who finished third is taking a "victory lap," despite the lack of a victory.
 
For the punditocracy, all of this makes perfect sense.
 
There's no shortage of angles to this dynamic, but as the chatter grew louder yesterday, I found myself thinking more and more about Donald Trump's performance. MSNBC's Ali Vitali reported yesterday that the Republican spent the day complaining and licking his wounds.
Blaming the media for unfair coverage of what he called a "long-shot great finish" in the Hawkeye State, Trump began reminding people of an undercurrent that he said followed him throughout Iowa: He wasn't supposed to win there. Trump echoed the sentiment during his Monday night speech in Iowa, reiterating on Tuesday that it factored into his strategy on the trail.
 
"Because I was told I could not do well in Iowa, I spent very little there -- a fraction of Cruz and Rubio," he wrote.
Look, some elements of this are simply undeniable. When one candidate leads in every poll, and then that candidate loses, there's a letdown. As Rachel explained on the show last night, "That's how these things go. You raise expectations that you're going to win, and you don't, you get bad press."
 
But while I'm usually not sympathetic to Trump's arguments, it's worth kicking around a contrarian idea: maybe he did pretty well in the Iowa caucuses?
Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a "get out the vote" event at Nashua Community College on Feb. 2, 2016 in Nashua, N.H. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty)

Putting the 2016 spotlight on water, 'environmental justice'

02/03/16 08:00AM

They're sometimes called "sleeper issues." Most Americans can easily name the key issues that define major elections -- the economy, foreign policy, national security, et al -- but occasionally an issue just outside the spotlight will make its way onto the agenda, connecting with voters in surprising ways.
 
And while 2016 is still getting underway, Hillary Clinton is pushing just such an issue: water.
 
For example, to her credit, the Democratic candidate recognized the importance of the crisis in Flint, Michigan, before other candidates -- and even many news organizations -- took note of the story. Yesterday, Clinton added Jackson, Mississippi, to her focus, as the Clarion Ledger reported (thanks to my colleague Laura Conaway for the heads-up).
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said Tuesday she's concerned about lead levels in Jackson's water and called for national infrastructure improvements. [...]
 
State health officials notified officials in Jackson on Thursday that 22% of water samples taken from city residents' homes in June contained excessive lead levels. City officials notified residents Thursday and Friday.
"I'm heartened that Jackson city officials are taking the right steps to fix the problem, including repeated testing and openness with the results, so families can stay informed,'' Clinton said in a statement. "As the emergency in Flint, Michigan, has made clear, cities and states must treat these situations with the utmost seriousness and do everything in their power to ensure that families -- especially children -- have access to safe, clean drinking water. We as a nation must make urgent investments to modernize our utilities and infrastructure, to keep families and communities safe and healthy."
 
Clinton has even introduced a new phrase into the lexicon: "environmental justice."

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