- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 23, 2014

Who’s in charge of the elite Republican powerhouse, where strategy, money and mettle drive a party to victory? There’s no master commander, but rather an ever-changing cast of political titans who bring their personal prowess to the table. Take Mitt Romney, for instance. He is still very much the player, marching through recent Sunday talk shows with authority; much of his recent commentary has been more succinct and aggressive than when he was on the presidential campaign trail. He still claims he’s not interested in a third try for the White House, telling CBS on Sunday, “I’m thinking about the people who I want to see running for president.”

That’s what everyone is trying to do, apparently.

The siren call of the campaign trail is still there, and Mr. Romney must relish it. Case in point: he is in serious fundraising and strategizing mode, and might be turning into the “Romenator.” He journeys to Coral Gables, Florida on Monday, bound for a private moneymaking event on behalf of the Republican Governor’s Association with Gov. Rick Scott. Tuesday, he’s in New York City for not one but two fundraisers for U.S. Senate hopeful Ed Gillespie, who is running in Virginia.

Busy Mr. Romney is welcomed everywhere, and no wonder. He raised $1.1 billion during his 2012 campaign, and lucky is the candidate who draws his favor. Multiple analysts have already speculated that Jeb Bush draws the coveted Romney nod, at least as far as the White House goes.

And there’s someone else.

Mr. Bush will be honored at a private dinner on Thursday organized by Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson, an event that essentially begins the Republican Jewish Coalition’s four-day spring meeting — a very swell affair, and a glittering one.

“Join us for a terrific weekend of poker, politics, and policy at the fabulous Venetian Resort and Hotel,” the group notes.

And their partial line-up of speakers? Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey, John Kasich of Ohio, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, plus Dick Cheney, John Bolton and Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer. Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer himself will conduct a “communications workshop.”

And for the Republican heavyweights, that’s just for this week.

THEY’RE IN THE MONEY

Not too shabby: the Republican National Committee raised $7.1 million in February, and now has $10 million cash on hand. So far, the organization has raised $95.6 million for the 2014 election cycle, outraising their Democratic rivals for now. And it’s grassroots fare: 98 percent of the donations were $200 and under, with an average at $56.

“Every day the RNC is strengthening our national, permanent ground game and connecting with new voters, and the strong support of our donors and investors makes that possible,” says Chairman Reince Priebus. “As we head to November, Democrats are right to be nervous.”

PUTINOLOGY

“He goes to bed at night thinking of Peter the Great and he wakes up thinking of Stalin.”

Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, on Russia President Vladimir Putin, to NBC’s “Meet the Press”.

‘SLIGHT FAVORITE’ WILL DO

There are no brackets involved, only handwritten lists on white board. Nate Silver, the young political analyst who correctly predicted every state outcome during the 2012 presidential race, has promising news for the Republican Party. Eight months ago, Mr. Silver, founder of FiveThirtyEight.com, predicted that the U.S. Senate was up for grabs this fall. Things have changed.

“We concluded the race for Senate control was a toss-up. That was a little ahead of the conventional wisdom at the time, which characterized the Democrats as vulnerable but more likely than not to retain the chamber,” he says. “Our new forecast goes a half-step further: We think the Republicans are now slight favorites to win at least six seats and capture the chamber. The Democrats’ position has deteriorated somewhat since last summer.”

Mr. Silver cites President Obama’s declining approval ratings and a new influx of “credible” GOP candidates. West Virginia, South Dakota, Montana and Arkansas are “clearly” leaning Republican, he says. But they must win at least two toss-up races in Alaska, North Carolina or Michigan, or possibly finesse New Hampshire into the for-sure category.

“They’ll have to avoid taking losses of their own in Georgia and Kentucky, where the fundamentals favor them but recent polls show extremely competitive races,” the analyst says.

THE CLINTON PROS AND CONS

Opinion polls gauging the appeal of Hillary Clinton will likely increase as the 2016 presidential becomes more than just a weird glow on the horizon. Gallup, however, has already released the first notably finicky rating. The poll was not multiple choice; respondents volunteered their answers, grouped in three categories: Mrs. Clinton’s personal characteristics, policy issues and political leanings.

Her biggest selling points on the personal side is the fact that she would be the first woman president. For policy, it’s her take on health care reform, and in the political realm, it’s that her presidency would and would be a change from both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations.

The biggest negatives? Respondents ranked “not qualified” as Mrs. Clinton’s most worrisome personal quality. Policy-wise, they were concerned by her support of “socialized medicine” and politically, they fretted that her administration would be “a continuation” of President Obama’s agenda.

Obviously, these are complicated findings, with seemingly conflicting results — an indicator, perhaps, that Americans are conflicted about the prospect of President Clinton, Part 2. For example, the fact that she’s a woman may top her personal appeal list. But that very same factor appears as No. 2 on the list of her negative characteristics.

And another: the presence of Bill Clinton in the White House should she win is rated sixth on the list of positive personal characteristics — but fifth on the list of personal negative characteristics. Mrs. Clinton’s handling of Benghazi is ranked seventh on the list of negatives and “Clinton scandals, baggage” is eighth. See it all here: Gallup.com

TAX PARADISE

Economic mobility — our ability to climb the proverbial ladder — has a strong correlation to where we live,” reports John S. Kiernan, an analyst with the consumer group Wallethub.com. “Why? State and local taxes.” After analyzing data from Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley, Mr. Kiernan has calculated the states with the least taxes. Here are the top 10.

In first place, it’s Wyoming with an average tax burden of $2,365, followed by Alaska ($2,791), Nevada ($3,370), Florida ($3,648), South Dakota ($3,766, Washington ($3,823), Texas ($5,193), Delaware ($5,195), North Dakota ($5,588) and Colorado ($5,674).

In last place, incidentally, it’s New York, with a $9,718 tax burden.

POLL DU JOUR

44 percent of Americans say they have used their tax refund in past years to pay off their personal debt; 40 percent have saved their refund.

38 percent used it for “everyday” expenses such as groceries, household bills and gas in the past.

23 percent used the refund to travel, 21 percent applied it to a large purchase like a car or home.

29 percent are not anticipating a tax refund this year.

26 percent plan this year to save “all or part” of their tax refund; 25 percent plan to pay off their debt.

16 percent will use this year’s refund for everyday expenses.

11 percent will use this year’s money to travel, 9 percent will make a large purchase like an auto or home.

Source: An Ipsos Public Affairs/CarMax survey of 1,010 U.S. adults conducted March 3-4 and released Thursday.

Dynamics and dance moves to jharper@washingtontimes.com

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