Presidential races

Presidential races

Ron Paul polarizing debate audience

AMES, Iowa — Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) has been drawing some of the most boisterous cheers of the debate — and some of the loudest boos. The audience's reaction shows that Paul is the most polarizing figure on the stage Thursday night.

The libertarian iconoclast was booed after demanding that moderators "let me finish" his point on opposing sanctions against Iran, and some in the audience tried to shout him down when he ran over his allotted time a few minutes later.

But his excitable speeches also drew loud cheers — especially when he demanded that America bring its troops home immediately.

Paul's idiosyncratic beliefs make him a hard sell for many traditional conservatives. But his supporters are die-hards, and could help propel him to a strong showing in the Ames Straw Poll on Saturday.


Bachmann hits Romney on Mass. healthcare plan

AMES, Iowa — Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), during the GOP debate Thursday night, slammed the healthcare law former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney helped pass.

Speaking directly to the camera and ignoring Romney, who gave her a wry grin from two podiums away, Bachmann said that the government cannot require citizens to purchase healthcare.

"The government is without authority to compel a citizen to purchase a product or service against their will," she said, "If the federal government or the state can force their citizens to purchase health insurance there is nothing that a state can’t do."

Romney's healthcare law included a mandate that all Massachusetts citizens buy healthcare. He said at the debate that to do so on the national level was a "one size fits all" plan, and that he would allow states to opt out of the law.

But Romney continued to defend the state healthcare law, arguing that the 10th Amendment allows the states to enact such a law but bans the federal government from doing the same.


Bachmann campaign targeting Pawlenty behind the scenes

AMES, Iowa — Rep. Michele Bachmann's (R-Minn.) campaign at at Thursday night's GOP debate showed its biggest immediate concern is fellow Minnesotan Tim Pawlenty.

During the debate, Bachmann staffers handed reporters in Iowa a tip sheet attacking Pawlenty's record, saying that as governor of Minnesota he was for "bigger and more intrusive government" and that he raised taxes. It also accuses him of flip-flopping on support of a cap-and-trade system and government bail-outs and calls his views on healthcare "strikingly similar" to President Obama's.

While former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is considered the Republican front-runner and Texas Gov. Rick Perry could cut into her Tea Party support if he announces a run, Bachmann's most immediate focus is on the Ames Straw Poll, where neither will be participating. Her campaign's tip sheet showed she is worried about losing the straw poll to Pawlenty, who has a strong organization in the state.


Former Bush strategist says Obama might have to go negative

AMES, Iowa — Matthew Dowd, a top strategist for former President George W. Bush's 2004 reelection campaign, said that President Obama will have to run a scorched-earth campaign to have a shot at reelection if the economy doesn't improve.

Dowd said Obama will be left with little choice if his poll numbers don't improve between now and election day, discussing reports that the Obama campaign's top strategy will be to go after former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney personally if Romney emerges as the GOP nominee.

Some have compared Obama's possible reelection strategy to Bush's attacks on former Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), a strategy Dowd helped to develop.

"If the right direction / wrong direction number is as abysmal as it is today, their only strategy for victory is to go negative," he told The Hill minutes before the Republican presidential debate in Iowa began. "If [the nominee] is Romney and Obama’s approval rating is where it’s at they don’t really have an alternative strategy. They don’t have a stay the course strategy."

Dowd is currently an analyst for ABC News.


Huckabee to perform with Pawlenty, Cain at Ames Straw Poll

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and businessman Herman Cain (R) have landed a big-name performer for their Ames Straw Poll tents: former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R).

Huckabee, whose political action committee HuckPAC will have a booth at the poll, will perform with boh candidates.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who ran her father's Iowa field operation in 2007 and 2008, is doing the same for Pawlenty this cycle. Sanders tweeted that she was "very excited" that Huckabee would perform with the campaign.

"Gov. Huckabee will be playing bass and Mr. Huckabee will be singing," Cain Communications Director Ellen Carmichael told The Hill. "The governor and Mr. Cain are going to collaborate on the arrangement. We're still waiting to hear what they decide on."

Huckabee's second-place finish in the Ames Straw Poll four years ago helped establish him as a serious contender in the state, and he won the GOP caucuses there months later. He is popular with evangelical conservatives in the state and has thus far not gotten involved with the Republican field for 2012. 

Pawlenty has a strong field organization in Iowa and Cain has a strong Tea Party following but both have been overshadowed in the state by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), and have so far failed to gained traction in polls.

Carmichael played it coy when asked if the duet could lead to an endorsement. "We'll see what Gov. Huckabee decides," she said.

This post was updated at 6:30pm to include Huckabee's appearance with Pawlenty.


Liberal groups aim for counter-punch to Tea Party

A coalition of liberal groups seeking to create a counterbalance to the Tea Party movement have released the Contract for the American Dream, a response to the Tea Party-crafted Contract from America. The coalition includes the liberal groups and Rebuild the Dream, headed by Van Jones, former special adviser for green jobs in the Obama administration.

The group repeatedly criticized the Tea Partys goals during a Tuesday afternoon conference call, but Jones indicated they held a begrudging respect for the movements organizational abilities.

My frustration isn’t that the Tea Party got so loud, it’s that the vast majority of Americans got so quiet, Jones said. The majority of Americans have to reassert ourselves and reassert our values.

Jones said the new contract’s supporters could exceed the Tea Party’s influence.

The majority of Americans in this debt-ceiling debacle were simply not heard, and we’re trying to fix that, he said. This is an attempt to refocus on jobs, not cuts. Almost three times as many people participated in this contract as the Tea Party’s [Contract from America] at the start.

Jones said approximately 130,000 people had participated in shaping the Contract for the American Dream, while the Tea Party’s 10-point Contract from America had the input of approximately 50,000 people. Executive Director Justin Ruben criticized both parties for their handling of the economic crisis.

Neither party is dealing with this crisis right now, he said. One party is holding us hostage repeatedly and the other party has failed to stop them. Democrats have not been offering a clear prescription for getting the economy moving, and Republicans are offering a prescription that’s actually destroying this country.

Ruben’s criticisms mirror those of the Tea Party — that neither party is responding to what they view as mainstream American values, and that grassroots movements need to hold them accountable.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) also participated in the call, and said she plans to introduce the liberal coalition’s 10-point plan for Jobs, not cuts in Congress. She said the Obama administration had requested a copy of the plan but had not gotten back to her with their thoughts on it.

Erik Wasson contributed.


Poll: Obama's Georgia numbers better than in many swing states

A Gallup poll released Monday showed that President Obama's job approval ratings are higher in Georgia than in other traditional swing states including Florida, New Mexico and Ohio.

Gallup's results are based on aggregated daily tracking data from January through June, consisting of nearly 90,000 interviews nationally.

Obama averaged 47 percent approval nationwide during this period. In Georgia, he was slightly above that, at 48 percent approval and 44 percent disapproval. That ties his approval ratings in the quadrennial swing state of Pennsylvania and is higher than his numbers in nine states that he won in 2008: Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, New Mexico, Ohio, Nevada, Colorado, Indiana and New Hampshire.

Georgia is the only state in the poll that Obama didn't win in 2008 where his approval numbers are higher than his disapproval numbers.

The state has changed rapidly in the last decade, growing 18 percent from 2000 to 2010, with four-fifths of that growth from minority voters. The Peach State’s black population jumped by a quarter; African-Americans are now 30 percent of the state’s population. The state's Latino population also doubled.

Obama took 47 percent of the state's vote in 2008; this could be one of his few opportunities to expand the playing field in his reelection.


Tea Party Patriots hit back on S&P downgrade

The Tea Party Patriots attacked the Obama administration for Standard & Poors downgrade of the national credit rating the day after senior Democrats tried to blame the Tea Party movement for S&Ps move.

The group seized on an editorial in a Chinese government-run newspaper that said the U.S. needed to address its “mounting debts.”

“When Washington, D.C., gets slammed from the right by communists, you know we have a problem with our leadership,” Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler said. “[Politicians’] muddled thinking comes from a lack of leadership that has failed to face our debt problems or corral overspending.”

Their response comes as recent polls show the debt-ceiling debate hurt the Tea Partys standing with voters. A CBS News/New York Times poll conducted the first week of August had 40 percent of Americans disapproving of the Tea Party, with only 20 percent in support.

Democrats were quick to blame the movement for S&Ps actions.

The fact of the matter is that this is essentially a Tea Party downgrade,” David Axelrod, a top adviser for President Obamas reelection campaign, said Sunday on CBS. The United States came close to default, Axelrod said, because strident voices” in the Tea Party were willing to see the country fall short of its debt obligations.

Not one of the Republican presidential candidates stood up in opposition to that,” he said.

Standard & Poor’s blamed both mounting debt and the uncertainty created by the debt-ceiling negotiations for the downgrade from AAA to AA+, the first time the U.S. government has been downgraded since S&P gave it the AAA rating in 1917.

The Tea Party Patriots were the only major Tea Party group that refused to support any form of debt ceiling increase -- the other major Tea Party groups backed Republicans' plan to include a balanced budget amendment and cut spending.

Erik Wasson contributed.

This post was updated at 3:02pm.