“President Obama on Tuesday offered an extended critique of the Republicans running to replace him, describing them as ‘troubling’ to people around the world and singling out” real estate mogul Donald Trump (R) “someone who would not be a serious president.”
Obama: “There is not a single candidate in the Republican primary that thinks we should do anything about climate change, that thinks it’s serious. … Well that’s a problem. The rest of the world looks at that and says, ‘Well, how can that be?’” (New York Times)
COURTING FREEDOM. Now that Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is out of the race, the rest of the Republican field is angling to win over the House Freedom Caucus.
Many members of the Freedom Caucus are fielding calls from the candidates.
Rep Mick Mulvaney (R-SC): “They all reached out one way or another. … It’s pretty transparent, isn’t it? Several of these people have never called me before in my life and now they want to talk.” (Politico)
AIRWAVE BATTLE. “In the Republican race,” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s (R) “Super PAC and campaign have spent nearly $13 million in ads for this Saturday’s South Carolina primary on Feb. 20 - followed by” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) “and his allies at $11 million in the state,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) “at $8 million and Donald Trump at $1.3 million.” (NBC News)
TO VOTE OR NOT TO VOTE? “In an election year, when a candidate’s voting record can be beneficial or politically damaging, candidates like Mr. Rubio and one of his rivals, Sen. Ted Cruz, have been making calculated appearances in the Senate. The cost of missing a key vote could be much worse than the cost of missing an important political rally or a fundraiser on the campaign trail.”
Sarah Binder, a political science professor at The George Washington University: “Neither could afford to skip the vote if there was a chance that the other senator would show up to vote and then claim to be tougher on North Korea than his opponent.” (Wall Street Journal)
WINNING EVANGELICALS. “While preachers and faith leaders back others, Trump has still commandeered support from those sitting in the pews [in South Carolina].”
Scott Huffmon, a political science professor at Winthrop University: “When they go to the ballot box, South Carolina voters behave like voters, not churchgoers. … That’s a little different than Iowa cause they do tend to coalesce behind one candidate, but not here.”
“The evangelical vote will be split widely among the candidates, but Trump has done perhaps the best job of striking a chord with conservatives on issues that have frustrated them like immigration and terrorism, said Jim Guth, political science professor at Furman University.” (Columbia State)
EARLY BIRD GETS THE WORM. “Florida and Ohio, the two biggest winner-take-all prizes on the presidential primary calendar in March, aren’t waiting until next month to vote. They’re voting now — and with potentially profound consequences for the 2016 campaign.”
“Struggling to survive until their home states’ votes are tallied March 15,” Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) “are racing to bank tens of thousands of early ballots that are increasingly being cast well before primary day.”
“In Florida, nearly 850,000 Republican absentee ballots have so far been requested. Almost 43,000 Floridians have already voted, roughly 25,000 of them Republicans.” (Politico)
ON THE TRAIL. Several candidates are looking ahead to Virgina’s March 1 primary and holding events in the state.
Kasich will hold a town hall at Virginia Commonwealth university on Monday, and Trump and Carson will separately appear at Regent University’s candidate series. (Richmond Times-Dispatch)