Quotes of the day

Donald Trump and Ben Carson remain the leaders in the Republican presidential field, both in California and nationally, but two freshman senators, Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, have moved into a solid second tier, a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll shows…

Rubio is in third place in the poll, at 14% in California and 12% nationally. Cruz is at 11% in California and 12% nationally…

One particular point of strength for Rubio — he has gained support among college-educated Republicans and is now in first place among that group in California.

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Cruz and Ru­bio, who polls show to be two of the most broadly liked can­did­ates among Re­pub­lic­ans, are each the firm second choices of donors to nearly every oth­er can­did­ate in their re­spect­ive wings of the Re­pub­lic­an Party, ac­cord­ing to a Na­tion­al Journ­al ana­lys­is of item­ized dona­tions to each GOP pres­id­en­tial cam­paign.

And while Re­pub­lic­ans’ money and votes are split among a wide range of can­did­ates right now, Cruz and Ru­bio’s pop­ular­ity with oth­er cam­paigns’ sup­port­ers sug­gests that they are the most broadly ac­cept­able can­did­ates to sup­port­ers of those two “lanes” of the Re­pub­lic­an Party—what the Los Angeles Times’s Doyle Mc­Manus re­cently called the “main­stream” and “in­sur­gent” wings of the GOP.

Both sen­at­ors are well po­si­tioned to con­sol­id­ate money and votes on their sides of the party as the field of can­did­ates win­nows this winter—if their cam­paigns con­tin­ue to win plaudits, as they did in last week’s CN­BC de­bate.

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Texas’ Cruz, 45 next month, and Florida’s Rubio, 44, are surging in public opinion polls and steadily amassing financial and organizational support. Ben Carson and Donald Trump still pace the field. But Cruz and Rubio have separated from the rest of the pack and are now within striking distance in key early primary states. Both campaigns like their positioning less than 90 days from first votes; both believe a Cruz vs. Rubio finale works to their benefit.

“The difference is, who went to Washington and stood up, not just to Democrats, but to his own party, on issue after issue?” a Cruz ally told the Washington Examiner this week. “The other fatal problem for Marco is ‘gang of eight’ support. People don’t trust him.”

“Rubio is able to play in both lanes,” a Rubio ally countered. “He is an anti-establishment champion who took on the establishment in 2010 and won. But at same time he’s able to speak to more mainstream conservatives and pull votes from both wings. That’s the big crux, especially given fact that both have strong conservative voting records. Cruz is stuck pulling from one lane of voters.”…

The senators joined eight other Republicans last weekend for a candidate cattle call at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines. All received healthy receptions. None, however, received the enthusiastic standing ovations on the front and back ends of their speeches that Cruz and Rubio did. And, none were mobbed afterward the way they were, as likely caucus-goers jostled for a picture with, or autograph and handshake from, the two rising stars.

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Cruz hung back, refusing to criticize Trump even though Trump was siphoning off many of the senator’s supporters and stealing Cruz’s populist thunder. A brilliant, classically trained debater, Cruz barely registered in the first two debates. That was a choice. He was biding his time.

Then there’s Rubio. He also refused to take Trump’s bait, but of more strategic importance was his decision to draft behind Bush, the anointed candidate of the so-called establishment. Rubio understood that he couldn’t defeat Jeb. He had to wait for his former mentor to defeat himself.

Both Cruz and Rubio seized their moment in the CNBC debate. Cruz’s perfectly pitched attack on the moderators and Rubio’s surgical jointing of Bush demonstrated that they both have what the Germans call Fingerspitzengefühl, a real-time mastery of battlefield conditions “at the fingertips.”

What happens next is unknowable. But it’s becoming ever more plausible that the race will come down to these two Cuban-Americans. (Perhaps waiting for the Castro regime to die breeds a certain amount of patience in Cuban conservatives?)

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The overwhelming majority (80%) of Republicans say businessman Donald Trump is an outsider candidate – the same number who believe former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is an establishment candidate. By smaller but clear margins, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson is an outsider and Sen. Marco Rubio is an establishment candidate.  For Sen. Ted Cruz, however, Republicans are split almost evenly: 35% say he’s an insider, 41% say he’s an outsider and 25% are unsure…

Rubio also receives higher favorability ratings than Cruz – and Trump – among Republicans, a gap that has grown since the beginning of the campaign. And Rubio is seen as more electable, with 60% of Republicans in the latest YouGov/Economist Poll taking the opinion that the Rubio “could possibly win” a general election, versus 47% for Ted Cruz.

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While nationwide polls have consistently shown Donald Trump and Ben Carson leading the pack of Republicans seeking the party’s nomination for the White House in 2016, a CQ Roll Call survey shows congressional staff members say the eventual nominee will be a current lawmaker — Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

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Mr. Cruz won [his Senate seat in 2012] without Mr. Rubio’s endorsement, and later confided to a Republican senator that he “resented” Mr. Rubio’s reluctance to endorse him. Now, the two Republican stars, biographically similar but stylistically opposite, are running for president, and Mr. Cruz is privately telling colleagues that he believes the race for the party’s nomination will boil down to a contest between himself and Mr. Rubio…

[O]ver the last few months, Mr. Cruz and Mr. Rubio have staked out opposing positions in the Senate that could become strengths, or weaknesses, in a two-man race. Mr. Rubio, for example, voted to give the Obama administration fast-track authority to push its Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, while Mr. Cruz, after initially supporting the bill, did not. And Mr. Rubio, loath to be tarnished with congressional inefficiency, has been less vocal about his willingness to shut down the government over the funding of Planned Parenthood than Mr. Cruz, who has predicated his presidential rationale on his ideological purity…

Republican senators said that while Mr. Rubio and Mr. Cruz were never close, they had detected a chill between the two. “Their relationship has diverged,” Senator John McCain of Arizona said.

One senator used the word “wariness.” Another said that an unpersuasive argument for getting one on board with legislation would be pointing out that it was championed by the other.

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A small super PAC supporting the presidential campaign of Sen. Ted Cruz has released a radio ad hitting Sen. Marco Rubio — in part because they don’t like spots another pro-Cruz super PAC is airing.

The Courageous Conservatives PAC created a 60-second radio ad to air in Iowa during talk radio shows slamming Rubio for doing little in the Senate aside from working with others to craft a controversial immigration reform bill that did not pass…

“What we want to see is the other pro-Cruz super PACs follow our lead and make ads that reflect the candidate. The candidate is an exciting guy. Boring ads don’t cut it,” Shaftan said. “People are concerned that there’s gonna be wimpy ads in defense of Ted Cruz.”

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In reality, the GOP nominating contest will be decided by an intricate, state-by-state slog for the 2,472 delegates at stake between February and June. And thanks to the Republican National Committee’s allocation rules, the votes of “Blue Zone” Republicans — the more moderate GOP primary voters who live in Democratic-leaning states and congressional districts — could weigh more than those of more conservative voters who live in deeply red zones. Put another way: The Republican voters who will have little to no sway in the general election could have some of the most sway in the primary…

Blue-state Republicans have already propelled moderates in the 2016 money chase. According to Federal Election Commission filings, donors in the 18 states (plus Washington, D.C.) that have voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1992 have accounted for 45 percent of Rubio’s total itemized contributions, 45 percent of Bush’s, 53 percent of Fiorina’s and 85 percent of Chris Christie’s. By contrast, they’ve provided just 20 percent of Cruz’s contributions and 36 percent of Carson’s. For comparison, blue-state Republicans cast just 37 percent of all votes in the 2012 GOP primaries…

The average blue district awards one convention delegate per 28,912 Romney voters, while the average red district awards one delegate per every 56,714 Romney voters. Thanks to this disparity, if a hard-right candidate like Cruz dominates deeply red Southern districts in the SEC primary, a more electable candidate like Rubio could quickly erase that deficit by quietly piling up smaller raw-vote wins in more liberal urban and coastal districts.

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[B]oth Cruz and Rubio have weaknesses that could hold them back.

Jeb Bush’s Super PAC still has tens of millions of dollars it could spend trashing Rubio’s reputation — and other attacks might not be swatted away so easily as the one on Rubio’s voting record. Other candidates could hurt Rubio by attacking his past support for comprehensive immigration reform. Plus, there has been some chatter that Rubio isn’t doing a particularly good job building a campaign operation, particularly in the early voting states. And even if Bush vanished from the race and Rubio picked up all his support, he’d still be trailing both Trump and Carson.

For Cruz, the main problem is, well, that the theory assumes Trump and Carson will vanish. That still could happen, and the history of non-politician candidates suggests it will — but the clock is ticking. Trump’s ability to dominate headlines between debates, and the enthusiasm shown for Ben Carson on social media, could keep them around for some time. Cruz has spent years positioning himself to run against the Washington establishment, but his credentials as a political outsider are obviously inferior to theirs.

While watching this debate, though, it was easy to imagine both Cruz and Rubio rising above everyone else — and battling it out for the nomination in the end.

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Senator Cruz is not unaware of his shortcomings as a politician. His confession that he is more of a designated driver than a guy you want to have a beer with — odious cliché — was well-considered. The republic could use a period of reflective political sobriety lasting, oh, 60 years or so, and Senator Cruz would be an excellent man to initiate that.

Nobody ever accuses Senator Rubio of Elmer Gantry-ism. Why? Because if he is a cynical, calculating performer, he’s a brilliant one. I like to think that I am immune to political oratory, but one does have to admire the way that Senator Rubio can turn on that American-dream stuff like flipping a switch. Shortly after the Gang of Eight immigration fiasco, I saw Senator Rubio face a very, very skeptical audience — with Senator Cruz also on the stage — of conservatives who were practically ready to bear him out of the venue on their shoulders when he was done. He is, as Jeb Bush put it icily, “a gifted politician.”…

If the final days of the GOP primary fight should in fact end up being a Rubio–Cruz contest, that would be an excellent thing: Republicans would be considering an all-Latino presidential field as a result of ideas, talent, and gumption rather than phony diversity rhetoric and affirmative action. Either man would provide a dramatic contrast to Hillary Rodham Clinton, who regards the presidency as a personal entitlement and who carries in her train more baggage than Louis Vuitton. Cruz-Rubio/Rubio-Cruz: One’s a little bit country, the other a little bit EDM — and the GOP could do a hell of a lot worse than either.

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