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Politics & Government

Politics Rewind: The First Cut Is The Deepest

Former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., who was lagging in the polls in 2012 but ended up winning in Iowa, says debate criteria this time are too exclusive.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., who was lagging in the polls in 2012 but ended up winning in Iowa, says debate criteria this time are too exclusive.

The perils of running behind in such a crowded field became painfully apparent to lagging GOP presidential hopefuls this week. Fox News announced that the first 2016 GOP debate on Aug. 6 in Cleveland would be limited to the top 10 candidates, based on an average of the last five national polls. As of now, it's very possible former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina (the only woman in the field), 2012 runner-up Rick Santorum and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., could be among those excluded from the event, while someone with more name ID like reality TV star Donald Trump could make the cut.

CNN is taking a different tack for their Sept. 16 debate at the Reagan Library in Southern California. The first part of that debate will feature the top 10 Republicans in polling, while a second part will let any candidate on stage who is registering at least one percent in polls. While that may be a softer blow for some, the reality is that nobody wants to be playing in the NIT while the big dogs are in the NCAA tournament.

Santorum, who pointed out he was near the bottom of the heap four years ago but went on to win the Iowa caucuses, was none too happy about the rules, saying polls weren't a good predictor of eventual success. And using national polls instead of early state surveys may not be the best indicator either, given the amount of time and money candidates pour into those places. Now, sagging candidates could be forced to spend precious resources on national ad campaigns instead of targeting voters they'll need in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

The first debate is still two months away, but with the field set to grow by three more next week, candidates need to move now to ensure a pot on stage in August or resign themselves to the stigma of being second-tier.

Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul took to the Senate floor for 10 ½ hours Wednesday, blasting the NSA's collection of phone records as reauthorization of the Patriot Act was debated.
Jim Cole / AP
Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul took to the Senate floor for 10 ½ hours Wednesday, blasting the NSA's collection of phone records as reauthorization of the Patriot Act was debated.

A filla-bust or boom for Rand Paul?The Kentucky senator took to the Senate floor for 10 ½ hours Wednesday, blasting the NSA's collection of phone records as reauthorization of the Patriot Act was debated. As NPR's Ron Elving pointed out, the marathon speech wasn't a filibuster. But the marathon speech still got the GOP presidential hopeful what his campaign was looking for – plenty of attention and a likely cash windfall. A fundraising appeal went out in the middle of his argument – the Center for Responsive Politics points out that when Paul spoke for 12 hours in 2013 against drone usage ahead of the confirmation of CIA director John Brennan, his fundraising spiked to more than six times its normal level.

For Paul, the stakes are much higher now. He's not only running for president in a crowded field but also trying to appeal to a niche audience – civil libertarians and even Democrats who are opposed to government surveillance programs.

Despite flak from most of his GOP rivals amid heightened questions about terrorist threats to the homeland, Paul hadn't budged. It may be a boon for him financially in the short term, but the real test of whether his anti-surveillance crusade is a bust will come in the primaries.

Questions dog Clinton as her campaign kicks into high gear.The former secretary of State said Thursday she plans to formally and officially launch her presidential campaign with a rally on June 13 – a high-profile kickoff as compared to her "soft launch" of small events in early states following her video roll out. But that news was quickly overshadowed on Friday by more scrutiny into the Clinton Foundation finances and a dump of 296 emails from her time at State, many relevant to the fallout following the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Although the candidate started taking more media questions this week, still more questions keep ballooning. Releasing these emails was a step, but it also gives Republicans even more ammunition to use when her campaign wants the focus to be elsewhere.

The Kentucky governor's race just got MUCH more interesting.A lot HAS changed in a year for Matt Bevin. After losing his longshot primary bid against now-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the wealthy businessman appears to have narrowly won a nasty GOP primary for governor by just 83 votes. The apparent nomination of the Tea Party favorite has Democrats enthused about their chances, despite the recently red leanings of the state. The governor's mansion is held now by a Democrat, Steve Beshear, and Kentucky is one of the last remaining Southern states where Democrats can still compete for statewide office. Democrats may also benefit from the odd-year election cycle, which separates the governorship from national politics. After Bevin's win, both the Cook Political Report and the University of Virginia's Crystal Ball moved the race toward Democratic nominee, Attorney General Jack Conway.

Rep. Frank Guinta, R-N.H., is under fire for $355,000 in illegal contributions to his campaign last cycle from his parents. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., has called on him to resign.
Jim Cole / AP
Rep. Frank Guinta, R-N.H., is under fire for $355,000 in illegal contributions to his campaign last cycle from his parents. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., has called on him to resign.

The race could be a rare bright spot for Democrats in the South this cycle, but there's more at stake than that. As NPR's Domencio Montanaro pointed out, the state's popular healthcare exchange, Kynect, could be on the chopping block if Bevin is elected. The state-based program remains popular and successful. Even McConnell was vague about what he would do with the exchange during his 2014 reelection bid. Expect to hear a lot during the general election this fall about the program and whether it can survive as a model for other state-based exchanges.

New Hampshire politics at play in campaign finance scandal.An overlooked story this week has been the saga of New Hampshire Rep. Frank Guinta. The Republican is under fire for $355,000 in illegal contributions to his campaign last cycle from his parents. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. – herself facing a tough reelection bid – swiftly called on him to resign. The New Hampshire Union Leaderwas more succinct, writing in a one-sentence editorial that "Frank Guinta is a damned liar."

Other top Republicans have said he should step aside, but no 2016 presidential hopefuls have called for him to resign – yet. For Ayotte, in view of her reelection hopes, the swift denunciation may have been the only option. For presidential hopefuls, Guinta and his problems haven't been elevated to national news yet, so why risk alienating any of the longtime politician's allies? Guinta is probably on borrowed time – but Ayotte may have just extended hers.

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