- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 24, 2015

With 2016 arriving in a matter of days, the presidential hopefuls are acutely mindful of two dates: Feb. 1, which marks the Iowa Caucuses, and Feb. 9 - the “First in the Nation” presidential primaries in New Hampshire. The candidates have raced back to the campaign trail with business on their minds.

First out the door: Democratic hopeful Martin O’Malley arrived in Iowa on Sunday, headed for a series of “leadership meetings” in nine towns. Close behind: Sen. Bernie Sanders has a six-town tour in the Hawkeye State on Monday before he heads to Tennessee for a visit to Knoxville.

Among Republicans, Sen. Marco Rubio plans a three-day “Out with the Old, in with the New” bus tour of seven Iowa towns, also Monday. Accompanying him for two of those days: Rep. Trey Gowdy, who advises, “Marco is a rock solid conservative and a strong leader we can trust. I look forward to campaigning in Iowa with him, and introducing my good friend to voters across the state.”

The two could cross paths with Gov. Chris Christie, himself making an eight-town tour of Iowa at the exact same time.

New Hampshire is also bustling. Donald Trump arrives Monday for yet another “Make America Great” jumbo rally in Nashua before departing for more of the same in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on Tuesday followed by a third rally in Hilton Head, South Carolina, on Wednesday. He’ll be in Florida for New Year’s Eve, ready to ring in 2016 with Fox News via a live video link. He’s bound for Biloxi, Mississippi, on Jan. 2.

Gov. John Kasich also heads to New Hampshire for a three-day, four-town visit. Hillary Clinton is the sole Democrat in the Granite State, making a one-day visit to Portsmouth and Berlin on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Jeb Bush is still plugging away. He’s in his home state of Florida, with two town-hall meetings and one fancy luncheon on his schedule for Monday, then he zips up to Peterbrorough, New Hampshire on Tuesday for a single town meeting. Sen. Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson appear to have taken the week off; they are scheduled to return to the campaign trail Monday, Jan. 4, along with Jim Gilmore. The tenacious Republican will be off to New Hampshire as well he says, for his 16th visit.

EXPLAINING THE IOWA CAUCUSES

There’s a reason why the candidates can’t wait to get back to Iowa, and it’s now scheduled for Feb. 1. That would be the 2016 Iowa Caucuses; voters from all 1,774 voting precincts in the Hawkeye State meet to elect delegates to the county conventions. And here’s a brief guide to the rest of it, courtesy of USpresidentialelectionnews.com, a helpful clearing house for such things:

“From the county convention, of which there are exactly 99, delegates are chosen for the state party convention. Eventually, the state party convention elects delegates to attend the national party convention, where a Presidential nominee is selected. The process is similar for both Democrat and Republican candidates. The winner of the Iowa caucus receives the most delegates elected to the county convention, which then elects delegates for that candidate to the state convention, and eventually, to the national convention.”

“The caucuses do not work the same as a typical primary. For example, the caucuses are usually held in homes or smaller venues, where voters discuss the candidates, then make their choice. The results are tallied and sent into party headquarters. Iowans, some many political observers, actively defend the caucus as a shining example of grassroots democracy, others charge that caucuses are archaic, arcane, and unrepresentative.”

The down home nature of it all is one reason why the candidates work so hard on their ground game in Iowa. The voters who get the ball rolling are watching, and waiting. And let’s not forget the “First in the Nation” primary in New Hampshire, now scheduled for February 9.

‘HIS BIG MOUTH WILL SAVE LIVES’

Figuring our Republican front-runner Donald Trump’s persistent appeal has become a cottage industry among press and pundits.

Longtime political observer Roger Stone suggests the candidate’s cachet is based on his appeal as an “alpha male.” According to talk radio host Michael Savage, Mr. Trump’s charm is in his immediacy: He gets his point across lightning quick, telegraphing his idea to voters in “half a sentence.”

“The bluster and put-downs are part of a meticulously calculated strategy by a surprisingly disciplined front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. Trump is the rare first-time candidate whose mastery of basic political skills seems unmatched by most, if not all, of his rivals in a crowded Republican field,” says Los Angeles Times political analyst Michael Finnegan.

Then there is Frieda Birnbaum, a New York-based psychologist who theorizes that when voters support Mr. Trump, it’s their way to vent their frustration with the political establishment. But she has one more idea.

Donald Trump is the world’s biggest bully. He is bigger than life. He is the Paul Bunyan of our times. Even Vladimir Putin is voting for him, so to speak,” she says. “Trump is brash, nasty and mean-spirited. But guess what? We need him now. His big mouth will save lives here and on the battlefield. And that is what matters.”

A FEW AUTHENTIC CHRISTMAS NUMBERS

“About nine-in-ten Americans (92 percent) and nearly all Christians (96 percent) say they celebrate Christmas,” says Michael Lipka, a Pew Research Center religion editor who delved into recent survey numbers from the nonpartisan pollster. “This is no surprise, but what might be more unexpected is that a big majority (81 percent) of non-Christians in the U.S. also celebrate Christmas. This includes 87 percent of people with no religion and even three-quarters of Asian-American Buddhists (76 percent), Hindus (73 percent) and roughly a third of U.S. Jews (32 percent).”

Half of Americans don’t care what kind of greeting is used in public at Christmastime; 42 percent like “Merry Christmas,” 12 percent prefer “Happy holidays.” About 72 percent say seasonal Christian symbols as well as symbols other faiths should be allowed on government property.

“Americans largely believe that elements of the traditional Christmas story reflect actual historical events. More than seven-in-ten (73 percent) say that Jesus was born to a virgin and 81 percent believe he was laid in a manger. And similar shares say that wise men, guided by a star, brought Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (75 percent) and that an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus (74 percent). Nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults (65 percent) believe that all four of these things actually happened, while 14 percent say none of them happened,” Mr. Lipka says.

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POLL DU JOUR

63 percent of Americans would put Russian President Vladimir Putin on the Santa Claus “naughty list”; 62 percent of Republicans, 61 percent of independents and 66 percent of Democrats agree.

61 percent of Americans overall would put Donald Trump on the naughty list; 39 percent of Republicans, 57 percent of independents and 82 percent of Democrats agree.

50 percent overall would put Hillary Clinton on the naughty list; 84 percent of Republicans, 57 percent of independents and 18 percent of Democrats agree.

48 percent overall would put President Obama on the naughty list; 84 percent of Republicans, 53 percent of independents and 19 percent of Democrats agree.

34 percent overall would put Sen. Ted Cruz on the naughty list; 17 percent of Republicans, 32 percent of independents and 50 percent of Democrats agree.

Source: A YouGov poll of 1,000 U.S. adults conducted Dec. 18-21.

Merry Christmas, and thank you for reading Inside the Beltway.


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