Ranks thinning, traditional GOP candidates try to adapt

22 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Better candidates drop out early.

WASHINGTON — When Donald Trump slammed Carly Fiorina’s looks recently, the response was swift: an online video that extols her face and that of other Republican women.

Though he has been doing better than some of his counterparts, his bracket seems to be too competitive for him, strategist Nicole Wallace said on Rachel Maddow’s show last night. She went on to say that voters appear largely hungry for a candidate outside of the political establishment, explaining Donald Trump’s and Ben Carson’s surge in recent polls. “[Walker] has been an elected official all of his life,” said MSNBC.com senior editor Beth Fouhy. “He tried to be an outsider but nobody bought it.” But Super PACs, which can accept unlimited sums, were expected to change that equation. “Wealthy patrons might keep their favorite picks aloft through independent spending,” The Washington Post speculated in April. Scott Walker of Wisconsin was among the most successful fund-raisers in his party, with a clutch of billionaires in his corner and tens of millions of dollars behind his presidential ambitions. While Walker and Perry were both flawed candidates, their swift demise is a warning to others who hope to win the White House on the strength of their political resumes.

Instead, the video was the work of CARLY for America, a super PAC that has raised more than double Fiorina’s campaign haul but is barred from coordinating its spending with Fiorina. In Walker’s case, roofing billionaire Diane Hendricks gave the Unintimidated super PAC $5 million, according to the group’s July report to the Federal Election Commission. And it leaves the governors and senators still in the turbulent Republican race scrambling to adapt to a political environment that is rewarding those with the least governing experience. “The country is very unhappy now, and a winning candidate must be viewed as a change agent,” said Scott Reed, a longtime Republican strategist who advises the U.S.

On paper, he looked great — a governor elected multiple times in a blue state, even surviving a recall, with a record of conservative achievements in office. The rules on what amounts to coordination, however, are so narrowly defined that super PACs are increasingly acting as shadow campaigns — deploying staff to early voting states, financing feel-good biographical ads to introduce the candidates to voters and responding to attacks from rivals. Walker’s campaign committee was running dry, contemplating layoffs and unable to find enough money to mount a last stand in Iowa, a state that once favored him. I will still claim, however, that at least as of last week, Walker was a more likely choice for the GOP nomination than Donald Trump, Ben Carson, or Carly Fiorina.

Scott Walker, each had the support of well-funded outside groups but dropped out of the presidential contest recently as they struggled to win voter support and secure the donations they needed to fund their own staff, travel, rent and other expenses, such as ballot-access fees. In the peculiar argot of campaigns, this is known as “hard money.” To raise it, candidates spend countless hours on the phone—flattering, listening, cajoling, begging—and fly around the country, offering personal contact at fundraising events in exchange for cash, or woo bundlers to round up the donations for them. They are not entitled to the preferential rates on advertising that federal law grants candidates, forcing them to pay far more money than candidates must for the same television and radio time. Republicans voters’ apparent desire for a political novice is striking given that conservatives have long attributed some of what they see as President Barack Obama’s weaknesses to his inexperience when he took office.

Six Fiorina staffers, for instance, received more than $60,000 in total payments for “political consulting” from the super PAC on April 28, before migrating to her campaign in May. Walker’s decline and fall hint at the systemic dangers of the super PAC-driven financial model on which virtually the entire Republican field has staked its chances.

But Ryan added: “It would be wise to give money back to wealthy donors who ask for it because serious political professionals want to maintain relationships, not waste [donors’] money.” Other campaigns are now courting Walker’s biggest donors, The Wall Street Journal writes. Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, meanwhile, has appeared at fundraisers for a pro-Clinton super PAC, Priorities USA Action. As traditional candidates among the current GOP contenders try to break through, they’re employing a two-track strategy: distance themselves from Washington’s political elite while also building a campaign that can outlast voters’ discontent if the anti-establishment mood ultimately fades.

In the hours after Walker’s stunning withdrawal Monday, his experienced rivals intensified efforts to pitch themselves as Washington outsiders and political disruptors. “You cannot say that Scott Walker, Rick Perry or myself were insiders in Washington,” said Jeb Bush, the former two-term Florida governor who is also the son and brother of presidents. Outside groups “are shouldering far more of the burden for candidates than ever before,” said Elizabeth Wilner, a senior vice president with Kantar Media/CMAG, which tracks political advertising.

Super PACs and other outside organizations have sponsored nearly nine of out of every 10 political ads that have aired between Jan. 1 and Sept. 14, according to a Center for Public Integrity tally of Kantar’s data. Indeed, many of the Republicans criss-crossed the country this spring and summer to win over billionaires like the casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, the investor Paul Singer, and the conservative industrialist brothers David H. and Charles G. He probably could have strung out his presidential campaign a few more months on a shoestring budget, and maybe even found a few eccentric donors to back such an effort.

The first ad from his super PAC seeks to build support for Bush among conservatives by touting his record on issues such as taxes and charter schools. That also meant late starts in raising money directly for their own campaigns — and neglecting the hundreds of lower-tier wealthy donors and “bundlers” who help candidates raise so-called hard money for their campaigns, $2,700 at a time. But he’s a smart enough politician to see that probably wouldn’t have succeeded, and he’d have been humiliated in the early primaries and caucuses and just angered some donors who would have seen him as a waste of money.

Perry, for example, raised only $1.1 million when he last disclosed his tally on June 1, and had stopped paying his staff by the time he dropped out in early September. Much of the Republican donor establishment is waiting on the sidelines for a clearer picture of the race to emerge, hampering candidates’ efforts to bring in hard money, currency that a campaign needs to survive. “You know how hard it is to raise this money at $2,700 apiece?” said Anthony M.

An inexperienced politician can easily be snowed by a consultant who tells him that the silent majority are behind him even if they’re not showing up in the polls just yet. You have to be able to go up-range into the big donor community and downrange into the smaller donor community.” While the campaigns will not be required to report their latest fund-raising totals until mid-October, signs of belt tightening abound. Jeb Bush of Florida, whose super PAC pulled in more than $100 million through the beginning of July, ordered a round of cost-containment efforts, including pay cuts for some campaign workers.

But if the impact of Super PACs has been both widely exaggerated and more mixed than expected, they may still end up playing a critical role in the 2016 election. The group has worked to build a campaign infrastructure on Fiorina’s behalf and employs 17 full-time staffers in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, who tout her record with voters and show up at her campaign events, said Katie Hughes, the group’s spokeswoman.

I continue to think that candidates like Chris Christie, Rand Paul, and John Kasich are long shots for the nomination, but precisely because they’re politically experienced and have things to lose, they’re more likely to drop out early. Walker’s exit broke, Terry Sullivan, the campaign manager for Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, said that he had to personally approve any expense of more than $500 and that Mr. Most of the other candidates (with the notable exceptions of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, who have legitimate shots at the nomination) may stay in the race long after it’s obvious to everyone else that they’ve lost. Trump, who is paying his own way — are now relying to a significant extent on super PACs to communicate with voters on their behalf in the five weeks remaining until the next Republican debate.

John Kasich of Ohio, have invested heavily in advertising to promote their candidates, rather than negative ads attacking their rivals — the stock in trade of most super PACs during the 2012 cycle. Cruz with evangelical voters. “I think there’s a lot of experimentation as to what super PACs can effectively do in different campaigns,” said Dan Backer, a conservative election lawyer.

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