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Presidential Horse Race 2016: Marco Rubio’s antiquated Iowa strategy will fail

We begin today with a look the increasingly contentious relationship between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential race.

Everyone knows the two have largely been observing an unspoken truce when it comes to criticizing each other, but there are signs that might be changing. It hasn’t yet devolved into a full-scale “shooting war,” but the Marco Rubio for presidentpreviously warm association between the two is definitely chilling.

T. Becket Adams of the Washington Examiner reports on one particular example of potential ill will. “Donald Trump isn't worried about primary competition from Sen. Ted Cruz because national polling shows the senator is not a ‘serious contender,’ the GOP front-runner's campaign spokeswoman said Monday.

“’If you look at the numbers nationally, you will see [Cruz is] not really a serious contender and Mr. Trump is leading by a wide margin in several states,’ Katrina Pierson said after MSNBC's Thomas Roberts asked her if the Trump campaign sees the Texas senator as real competition.”

By that measure, The Donald must see himself as his only competition. He’s known for his sizable ego, but this line of thought – that Cruz isn’t a threat -- goes a little far.

Trump loves polls so it’s not surprising his spokeswoman would make this type of argument. The only polls that truly matter at this point are those in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, since the national surveys will definitely change after those three states vote.

The recent furor stirred up by Trump’s “birther” comments is another matter entirely. In the same interview cited above, Katrina Pierson tried to downplay the Trump campaign’s role in opening Pandora’s Box, but the damage is already done.

Or is it? Numerous conservative commentators have addressed the “birther” question and dismissed it as a mere distraction. They’re rallying to Cruz’s side in the face of unfair attacks.

And some even think Trump did Cruz a favor by making the Texas senator look like the victim in the exchange. Erick Erickson of The Resurgent writes, “Virtually every person in Washington, D.C. who the base of the Republican Party hates, from John McCain to Mitch McConnell, has refused to stand by Cruz. Not only are they not standing by Cruz, but their acolytes are amplifying it by asking why they should. ‘After all,’ they helpfully point out, ‘Cruz never stood with them.’

“In other words, the Washington Republicans the voters hate are the guys who Cruz would not stand with and now the Washington Republicans the voters hate will not stand with Cruz. Sounds like an endorsement to me.”

Erickson makes a good point. Here’s a bit on RNC Chairman Reince Priebus refusing to say Cruz is a natural born citizen. It doesn’t get any more establishment than that.

Who will the grassroots more likely side with, Ted Cruz or Reince Priebus?

Through all of this, Trump’s main campaign strategy appears to be to plant seeds in people’s minds and then follow-up with a series of denials or clarifications about what he’s really asserting.

It happened back in November when he walked back comments about seeing video of “thousands” of Muslims celebrating the 9/11 attacks (it turns out he was correct, but his numbers were way off). It happened with Ben Carson when Trump suggested the former neurosurgeon could be lying about his background.

It happened again last month when Trump first said he would ban ALL Muslim entry into the U.S. and then narrowed it to only include immigrants and refugees.

Now it appears he’s deploying the same “hit and walk back” tactics with Ted Cruz and the Constitution’s eligibility requirements.

For his part, Cruz might be preparing a counteroffensive. Rebecca Berg of Real Clear Politics reports, “Although Ted Cruz has insisted he will not personally attack Donald Trump as the race for the Republican nomination heats up, supporters of the Texas senator appear to be weighing how best to target Trump in Iowa, where Cruz holds a narrow lead.

“A message-testing phone call in Iowa on Monday floated seven distinct lines of attack against the national frontrunner, asking whether each one would make the listener more or less likely to support him.”

Berg does note that the call could not conclusively be tied to Cruz, only that “the call posed an open-ended question about Cruz’s support in Iowa, asking whether any message recently has made Cruz more or less favorable to the respondent.”

It sounds to me like the call could just as easily be testing attack theories on Cruz.

But going with Berg’s theory, it does make sense that Cruz’s people would be looking for ways to establish clear distinctions with Trump. The two candidates share a similar populist appeal but there are serious differences in terms of limited government philosophy and personal history.

There’s a choice to be made and it looks like Trump and Cruz might be moving towards helping people make it.

Marco Rubio needs an energy drink, not more water

Donald Trump planted another seed earlier in the campaign that started Jeb Bush’s rapid decline, namely that the younger Bush was too “low energy” to tackle the enormous problems in Washington.

Bush tried to ignore the charge but it ended up sticking. Soon after, Bush could do no right – or more likely it was because Trump helped Republicans notice that maybe he was correct about Jeb.

Trump subsequently placed the “low energy” label on Ben Carson – and it stuck to Ben, too.

Now the “low energy” charge looks to have found a new home, though The Donald isn’t the origin of it this time.

Leon H. Wolf of RedState writes, “Although both Cruz and Rubio are coming down the home stretch in good position in Iowa, the way the two rivals are approaching the finish line could not be more different. Cruz is planning a frenetic tour across Iowa to press the flesh with Iowa voters. Rubio, who is running a more old-fashioned campaign, is going to blanket the state with… a TV ad blitz...

“The TV ads won’t hurt, but it’s an open question as to how much they will help in a time period where people depend less on processed ads than they used to.”

Seriously, Marco? You pretend to run for president and you’re going to make your case in the early states by blasting away on TV?

In the age of social media and up-to-the-moment message control, he might as well attach a banner to a horse and buggy and trot it over the icy roads of Iowa. People in the Hawkeye State want to see their candidates up close and ask them questions. Media is much more interactive these days, but how is a TV ad going to address someone’s individual concerns?

I think a major part of this lack of hardcore campaigning in the final days before the February 1 Iowa caucuses is due to a lack of supporting campaign infrastructure. Everyone knows Ted Cruz has been building local support from day one, courting help from Iowa clergy and recruiting coordinators in every county.

It looks like Rubio’s people just haven’t put in the work. First it was because they didn’t have the resources and then it was because…well, maybe Marco just didn’t have the energy for it.

He’s been too busy flying to fundraisers to pay for his private campaign jet.

What’s left is a candidate without an organizational foundation and very little time left to build one. If Rubio loses badly in Iowa and doesn’t meet expectations in New Hampshire, where exactly would he recover?

I bet he wishes he’d expended a little more energy a lot earlier. For now, it’s too late.

Ben Carson’s New Hampshire PAC staff jumps to Cruz ship

As if we needed any more evidence Ben Carson’s campaign is in serious trouble comes news that most of his Super PAC staff in New Hampshire quit and went over to volunteer for Ted Cruz’s campaign.

Jonathan Swan of The Hill reports, “The original report , from New Hampshire's WMUR, said that all five paid New Hampshire staffers at the main pro-Carson super-PAC, The 2016 Committee, resigned on Sunday.

“But a source familiar with the political action committee's operations told The Hill on Monday that one paid staffer, Sarah De La Cerda, remains in New Hampshire supporting Carson ‘and intends to remain there.’

“…Carson's support has plunged in recent polls, and the leader of the New Hampshire super-PAC staff, Jerry Sickles, told WMUR.com that while they continue to respect the retired neurosurgeon, they have concluded that Cruz, a senator from Texas, has a better chance of winning the Republican nomination.”

According to the staffers, part of the problem is Carson didn’t visit the Granite State often enough, choosing to concentrate on Iowa instead.

Regarding the defections, the good doctor’s campaign spokesman said they remain confident Ben’s support will grow -- but I’m not sure how.

It’s understandable how Carson would want to put a positive spin on his chances, but it certainly looks pretty bleak for him. If things don’t improve – rapidly – he could be the first of the “outsiders” to leave the race.

Carson definitely made an impact on all concerned, though he doesn’t really have a way back. Perhaps he’s hanging on to look stronger as a possible VP pick…

Fiorina not impressed with Fox Business Network over debate demotion

Finally today, Rand Paul wasn’t the only candidate who failed to meet the Fox Business Network’s criteria for inclusion on the main debate stage tomorrow night. Carly Fiorina met a similar fate, meaning she’ll be joining the second-tier candidates for the “Happy Hour” forum for the first time since August.

Understandably, she’s not happy about it.

Alex Swoyer of Breitbart reports Fiorina said during an appearance on CBS Radio Boston’s Dan Rea Show, “Well, you know, these polls are all over the map. In the Fox News poll, I’m in 6th place which would qualify me, but hey, I’ll debate anyone, anytime, anywhere. I’ll be in South Carolina and what I know is that polls don’t win elections, voters do.”

Similar to Ben Carson, Fiorina certainly must realize she’s not going anywhere in the Republican race. I’m not sure what her motivation is for staying in the race, but unless something shocking and spectacular happens, she’ll end up a footnote to this year’s race.

It is curious that Jeb Bush still manages to make all the top-tier events. What would the networks do if he failed to make the cut?

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