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2016 Hopefuls Get a Taste of a Campaign Challenge: Staying on Message

Successful presidential candidates just don’t have to be excellent fundraisers, compelling speakers, and competent debaters
Image: Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) Visits Diner In Las Vegas
LAS VEGAS, NV - JANUARY 16: U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is interviewed by members of the media outside the Peppermill Restaurant & Fireside Lounge on January 16, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Paul is heavily speculated to enter the presidential race next year. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)Ethan Miller / Getty Images

Successful presidential candidates just don’t have to be excellent fundraisers, compelling speakers, and competent debaters. They also need to do something else, especially in today’s media landscape -- stay on message. Just ask Rand Paul, who’s had to do some, well, creative damage control after participating in a CNBC interview, in which he stated that he’s heard of “many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.” Ditto Chris Christie who, after stepping in it with his own comments on vaccinations, stopped talking to the reporters who followed him on his overseas trip to London. “[W]hen The Washington Post asked whether he had discussed the Islamic State terrorist threat in his private meetings with Cameron and his cabinet members, Christie snapped. ‘No questions,” he said. ‘Is there something you don’t understand about “no questions”?’” On the other hand, you have Hillary Clinton (via her Twitter account) and Jeb Bush (also through social media), who have been able to stay on message -- though largely by avoiding the scrum so far. And today, Bush speaks to the Detroit Economic Club at 12:35 pm ET, where he will take questions from the CEOs in attendance. But it’s unclear if he will speak to the reporters who have followed him to Detroit.

And the danger of staying TOO on message

But there’s also the danger of presidential candidates appearing to be too on message; after all, a candidate needs to look and sound authentic. To be sure, there are many news organizations on the hunt for a gaffe or soundbite that will go viral. But designing a press strategy to completely avoid that isn’t going to succeed, either. Yes, unscripted moments can damage a candidate, but they also can propel one, too. Bottom line: The candidate who is likely to come out on top is one who is MOST COMFORTABLE in making a mistake -- or who quickly cleans up any damage. So embrace the chaos. As Republican strategist Kevin Madden, who worked for Mitt Romney in 2008 and 2012, tweeted yesterday: “Take your worst/craziest day in the statehouse/Cap Hill. It's like that EVERY day when you're a prez candidate.”

Previewing -- and pre-butting -- Jeb’s speech to the Detroit Economic Club

As mentioned above, Jeb Bush speaks to the Detroit Economic Club this afternoon. It’s a big deal -- it’s his first real policy speech since becoming an all-but-announced-presidential candidate. USA Today sets the stage: "Jeb Bush will test his themes about everyone having a 'right to rise' in remarks Wednesday, as he launches a series of speeches ahead of a likely presidential campaign. The title of Bush’s speech to the Detroit Economic Club plays off the name of his Right to Rise political action committee, which the former Florida governor recently established to support his political activities and serve as a vehicle to back federal and state candidates.” Interestingly, the Michigan Democratic Party is pre-butting Bush’s speech by noting that he opposed the auto bailout. “Just a couple years ago Jeb Bush was asked by Charlie Rose if he supported the President's decision to rescue General Motors. Without hesitation, he responded: ‘I don't. I don't.’ You don't?” writes Lon Johnson, the chair of the Michigan Democratic Party.

Senate holds confirmation hearing for Obama’s top Pentagon pick

Also speaking today is Ashton Carter, President Obama’s pick to succeed outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Carter has his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, and all of the ISIS-related news serves as the backdrop. NBC News: “Jordan Executes Two Prisoners to Avenge ISIS Murder of Pilot.” The New York Times: “United Arab Emirates, Key U.S. Ally in ISIS Effort, Disengaged in December.” The Hill: “Obama’s Pentagon pick worried about Iranian influence in Iraq.” Carter’s confirmation hearing begins at 9:30 am ET.

The White House’s PR countermoves against the GOP-controlled Congress

Meanwhile, over at the White House, Team Obama is having its second-straight day of responding directly to the GOP-controlled Congress. At 10:55 am ET, Obama meets in the Oval Office with the so-called “DREAMers” who benefited under Obama’s 2012 executive action. This comes a day after the GOP-led Senate voted -- unsuccessfully -- to advance a funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security that would have rolled back Obama’s executive action. And yesterday, Obama met with Americans who’ve written letters about benefitting from the federal health-care law -- right before the GOP-led House voted, again, to repeal the law. It used to be that the White House would often ignore the actions from congressional Republicans. But now, it’s clearly trying to counter them. The question we have is if these countermoves actually bring more attention to the GOP’s legislative maneuvers.

Breaking down yesterday’s House Obamacare vote

As for yesterday’s House vote to repeal the health-care law, it passed by a 239-186 vote. Interestingly, unlike in past years, ALL Democrats voted against the measure. What’s more, there were three GOP defections (Dold of Illinois, Katko of New York, and Poliquin of Maine). Why the change? It’s what happens after Democrats lose their southern moderates (like John Barrow), and when Republicans now have them (see Katko and Poliquin). Don’t forget, Republicans are at their high-water mark in congressional representation, while Democrats are at their low point.

New education report from the Jeb Bush-founded Foundation for Excellence in Education

Here’s one more Jeb Bush-related news event today: The Foundation for Excellence in Education, which Bush founded, is out with a new report on what demographic changes (in age) mean for U.S. education. “The number of Baby Boomers entering retirement has been well documented. As they leave the workforce, their contributions to government revenues will decline while their demands on government expenditures will increase. We tend to focus on the impact this will have on services, entitlement programs and public employee pension funds. But as Dr. Ladner points out, there also will be a very real impact on our public education system because the growing number of retirees is accompanied by a second demographic phenomenon – the growing number of school-age children.”

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