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Ben Carson endorses Ron DeSantis for U.S. Senate

GOP Senate candidate Ron DeSantis scored a major national endorsement Thursday, in the form of Dr. Ben Carson, whose name was linked with a potential Senate run weeks back.

“I am pleased to endorse Ron DeSantis for U.S. Senate. Ron is a thoughtful man of strong character and faith who has served our country in the military and who is dedicated to restoring America’s founding principles,” said Dr. Carson. “In the Senate, he will fight for the Constitution and for a strong national defense. He knows we must repeal ObamaCare, protect life and defend religious freedom.  Floridians don’t need to guess if Ron DeSantis will fight to change Washington – all you have to do is look at his proven conservative record. I urge all of my supporters in Florida to do everything they can to elect him. Ron DeSantis has my vote.”

“It’s an honor to receive the support of Dr. Carson, who has inspired millions of Americans with his incomparable life story and hopeful vision for America’s future,” said DeSantis. “Dr. Carson has been a clear and consistent voice regarding the need to repeal ObamaCare and restore the Constitution.  Dr. Carson’s support will magnify the fact that I’m the only candidate in this race with a proven record of standing up to the permanent political class in Washington. In Congress, I declined a pension, fought for term limits, and rejected special treatment for members of Congress under ObamaCare. In the Senate, I’ll continue to fight to make sure Washington lives under the same rules as everybody else.”

DeSantis, who faces a competitive primary to replace Marco Rubio against Carlos Lopez-CanteraDavid JollyCarlos Beruff, and Todd Wilcox, has combined a strong fundraising operation, savvy political moves, and grassroots outreach to catapult to the first tier of the race for the GOP nomination.

Carson, however, is an especially important endorsement.

A March poll showed enthusiasm for a hypothetical Carson candidacy among a staggering 56 percent of Republican voters.

Carson, however, has disclaimed interest in a Senate run. And Thursday’s key endorsement shows that DeSantis aligns with his vision for the GOP.

Of course, DeSantis’ opponents have their own takes.

The Carson endorsement played into the ongoing back and forth between the Florida GOP Senate campaigns of Reps. David Jolly and DeSantis. 

“Dr. Ben Carson says ‘Floridians don’t need to guess if Ron DeSantis will fight to change Washington.’  I’m not so sure about that, Doctor,” said Jolly’s spokesperson, Max Goodman, who also sent along a Friends of David Jolly 41 second digital ad asserting that DeSantis is “part of the problem in Washington D.C.

The ad begins with the stentorian voice of DeSantis addressing supporters, saying that “the difference is when you get up there, are you going to do what you say you were going to do, or are you going to drink the Kool-Aid and start to become part of the problem.”

From there, DeSantis’ voice cuts out, and a series of damning headlines that imply that the Ponte Vedra Republican has become part of the “problem.”

The ad hits DeSantis for attending the Koch Brothers’ “big money conclave in California,” for having skipped House votes to “campaign in Vegas,” for carrying the most debt in the Senate race, and for sometimes prioritizing fundraising over making votes.

The spot closes with a graphic promoting the Stop Act, authored by Jolly, which would preclude officeholders from fundraising. DeSantis, who has been the most active fundraiser on the Republican side, obviously diverges from Jolly’s position.

The video is below:

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Donald Trump scrambles to address delegate fight

He is the Republican Party’s undisputed front-runner, yet Donald Trump‘s White House aspirations may now depend on a messy fight for delegates he is only now scrambling to address.

Trump’s campaign on Monday vowed to pursue legal action against the Republican National Committee to protect his recent victory in Louisiana, one of many states that feature complicated rules allowing campaigns to influence the presidential nominating process weeks or months after their votes have been counted.

A similar process plays out nationwide every four years. Yet Trump’s outsider candidacy is so far driven largely by media coverage instead of the on-the-ground organization that rival Ted Cruz boasts. Now, Trump must play catch up — especially in the chase for delegates previously bound to former candidate Marco Rubio.

“A lot of Trump’s support has been through earned media, so you haven’t had the need to really focus on that aspect of it,” said Jason Osborne, one of several former Ben Carson aides tapped in recent weeks to undertake Trump’s delegate outreach. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t get up to speed pretty quickly on it.”

 Indeed, Trump’s campaign on Tuesday will announce plans to open a Washington, D.C. office to run its delegate operation and congressional relations team, said campaign senior adviser Barry Bennett.

In addition to the new space, Bennett said Trump has hired a veteran political operative to serve as the campaign’s convention manager. Paul Manafort, a seasoned Washington hand with decades of convention experience, will oversee the campaign’s “entire convention presence” including a potential contested convention, said Bennett.

The move marks a major escalation in Trump’s willingness to play by party rules and build alliances in a political system he has so far shunned. It comes as Trump faces a Republican nomination battle that will almost certainly extend until the final day of primary voting on June 7 — or even to the party’s July national convention in Cleveland — if he fails to secure the delegate majority needed to become the presumptive nominee.

In a campaign season so far defined by extraordinary insults and extreme rhetoric, the 2016 Republican presidential nomination fight could ultimately be decided by lawmakers, party activists and lawyers.

Selecting the people who will be delegates at the national convention is a tedious process governed by rules that vary from state to state. In some states, like New Hampshire and California, the candidates submit slates of delegates — actual people who would presumably be loyal at a contested convention.

In states like Louisiana, Iowa, Nevada and many others, delegates are selected at state and congressional district conventions and caucuses. To prevent mischief, the national party adopted a rule requiring delegates to vote, on the first ballot at the convention, to vote for the candidate who won them.

“Honestly, I’m new to the operation. It’s obviously not perfect,” said Trump aide Ed Brookover, who was Carson’s former campaign manager.

Brookover vowed Trump would have “an active presence” at every one of the upcoming lower-profile conventions and caucuses where delegates are selected. That includes this weekend’s state convention in North Dakota, where 25 delegates will be selected. All of them — in addition to the state’s three national committee members — will be free to support the candidate of their choosing at the GOP’s national July convention.

Carson himself will appear in North Dakota on Trump’s behalf, Brookover said, as part of outreach efforts that include hospitality suites for delegates, campaign surrogates, parliamentarians and support staff for all upcoming contests.

It takes 1,237 delegates to win the Republican nomination. Trump, with 739 delegates, is the only candidate with a realistic path to clinching the nomination by the end of the primaries on June 7.

Rubio’s recent exit gave Trump’s rivals an opening to help make his path harder. Most delegates are free to support the candidate of their choice if their preferred candidate drops out. The Florida senator suspended his campaign earlier in the month after accumulating 166 delegates — a trove that Cruz’s campaign is aggressively courting.

A dispute in Louisiana highlights Trump’s challenge.

Rubio won five delegates in Louisiana’s March 5 primary, people who became free agents after he suspended his campaign.

At Louisiana’s subsequent GOP convention, Cruz’s campaign secured all of Rubio’s delegates, as well as five others who were uncommitted. As a result, Cruz could end up with more delegates from Louisiana, even though Trump narrowly won the state’s popular vote.

Bennett said the campaign would formally challenge the certification of Louisiana’s delegates during the Republican National Committee’s summer meeting. Trump is most upset, he said, that Cruz’s campaign pushed its Louisiana supporters onto the national convention’s powerful rules committee.

Bennett predicted Trump would accumulate 1,460 delegates before the convention, making legal action unnecessary. That’s more than enough to claim the nomination outright even if Cruz successfully peels away some of his support in the coming months.

Louisiana GOP executive director Jason Dore, one of the uncommitted delegates for the state, acknowledged Cruz has had a stronger ground game in Louisiana than Trump and has worked on attracting delegates since the beginning.

As for the threat of a lawsuit, Dore said: “I don’t know who he’d be suing because these 10 delegates are free to support whoever they want under the rules. The party or I can’t force them to vote any way.”

He said the delegate allocation formulas were crafted in compliance with the RNC.

“We consulted with the RNC and followed their advice,” Dore said.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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Donald Trump: Is he the quintessential Florida Man?

Donald Trump drew thousands to his rallies around the Sunshine State, basking in their adoration, his face glowing like a Florida orange as he anticipated victory.

“Florida loves Trump, and I love Florida, so I think I’m going to win Florida,” he repeated.

Trump did win Florida on Tuesday, claiming victory with the bravado of someone who survived a particularly hellish South Florida commute.

The only actual Floridian in the race — Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American born in South Florida who earned all his degrees from Florida universities — failed to make his case, and Trump had already squashed the hopes of the GOP’s other Florida candidates like so many palmetto bugs.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush, who was supposed to have this thing locked up before the Southern primaries, flamed out shortly after he finally tried to find Trump’s jugular by labeling him “the chaos candidate.” Ben Carson, who lives in a West Palm Beach mansion, finally quit, too, and endorsed Trump.

Somehow, it’s Trump who captured Republican hearts in what some consider America’s strangest state. Trump made his name in New York City, displaying “New York values” with a brash, fast-talking, larger-than-life persona. But really, when you think about it, Donald Trump is the quintessential Florida Man.

“He embodies the Florida dream: the idea of a better life,” says historian Gary Mormino.

All the things people fantasize about in the frigid north — a beachfront mansion and endless riches to spend on endless rounds of golf — Trump has it and more, right here in Florida.

And he doesn’t just live the Florida lifestyle — he’s a Sunshine State soul mate.

“Trump is more casual, more flippant, less buttoned up, just like Floridians,” says Paul George, a history professor at Miami-Dade College.

But what about Rubio, the actual Floridian who dropped out of the race after Tuesday night’s crushing loss? Rubio seems youthful and has a vision for America, but “comes off as restrained,” George says, “much more buttoned up, which is ironic, since he’s from Florida.”

Like each winter’s snowbirds and two-thirds of state residents, Trump is from outside Florida. But he plays and does business here. In 2010, he launched a multilevel marketing company that sold vitamins to an adoring crowd of thousands in Miami. Earlier this month, after 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney declared that “a business genius he is not,” Trump summoned the media to his Trump National Golf Course in Jupiter.

“He’s an empire builder, and Floridians, especially South Floridians, are empire builders,” says George. “Or they dream of building an empire.”

While his Trump Tower penthouse in New York imitates the Palace of Versailles, his most famous home has been Mar-a-Lago. In 1985, he paid $10 million for the 58-bedroom Mediterranean revival mansion with a 20-acre oceanfront estate straddling Palm Beach Island.

Trump and his third wife, Slovenian model Melania Knauss, held their wedding reception at Mar-a-Lago, which Trump had turned into a high-end club, much to the consternation of his traditional Palm Beach neighbors. “Trump’s Palm Beach Club Roils the Old Social Order” was the headline on The Wall Street Journal story.

That’s another Florida Man attribute: roiling the social order. Trump’s been doing it for years.

Mormino, a professor emeritus at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg, points out Trump bought into Palm Beach when national ads by the tourism bureau proclaimed: “Florida. The rules are different here.”

That could almost be Trump’s campaign slogan, no?

Take his four corporate bankruptcies: No big deal in Florida, which trails only California in bankruptcy filings. Or his marriages: 7 percent of Florida’s men have married three or more times, like Trump. The national average is 5 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. Or the fact he has made and lost fortunes in real estate. Floridians still gamble on slices of sunshine, despite the last housing bust.

“Trump’s got the Florida values and Florida lifestyle down,” says George.

Trump’s brand was nicked by a failed condo project in Tampa, but that, too, was classic Florida. Trump boasted in 2005 the 52-story Trump Tower Tampa would be “a signature landmark property so spectacular that it will redefine both Tampa’s skyline and the market’s expectations of luxurious condominium living.”

Two years later, Trump sued for $1 million in unpaid licensing fees, the developer went bankrupt, and buyers who put 20 percent down on a tower that was never built were out tens of thousands of dollars.

“Trump was like the Pied Piper who led us all into it, trusting him that he wouldn’t put his name on something bad,” said Mary Ann Stiles, a Tampa attorney who lost $100,000 on the deal.

Ah, but no one wants to dwell on the bad here. They’d rather play — preferably under the cool shade of a palm tree — like golfers and presidents John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon did when they set up their Winter White Houses in Florida.

Trump has three world-class golf courses in Florida — Doral, Palm Beach and Jupiter. He invested hundreds of millions into Doral after rescuing it from bankruptcy, and the course has been a popular PGA Tour stop since 1962. But golf-watchers say this run is threatened by Trump’s remarks: the PGA canceled its Grand Slam of Golf at Trump’s course in Los Angeles after his comments disparaging Mexican immigrants, and Doral could be next.

Trump-haters may seek solace in this tidbit that Mormino pointed out: No Florida man has ever been elected president.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press

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Donald Trump celebrates victories in Florida, Illinois and North Carolina

Donald Trump promised to continue to “win, win, win,” after victories in three of the five states holding Republican primaries Tuesday.

Trump won primaries in Illinois, North Carolina and Florida. He came in second in Ohio, trailing John Kasich. The Missouri Republican primary was too close to call late Tuesday night.

The New York businessman clobbered Marco Rubio in Florida. He received 46 percent of the vote, while Rubio received 27 percent in the Sunshine State. Trump won almost every county in Florida, save for Miami-Dade County. Rubio announced Tuesday he was suspending his campaign.

“I would like to congratulate Donald Trump on winning Florida’s winner-take-all presidential primary,” said Blaise Ingoglia, chairman of the Florida GOP in a statement. “While the Florida GOP will remain neutral in the Republican nominating process, we will continue our grassroots efforts to defeat Hillary Clinton and put a Republican in the White House come November.”

Trump has won 18 Republican primaries and leads in the delegate count. The winner-take-all nature of Florida’s election may help Trump secure the Republican nomination.

“I think we’re going to have a great victory,” said Trump during a celebratory speech on Tuesday. “We’re going to win, win, win, and we’re not stopping.”

Trump said his campaign has “had such incredible support,” pointing toward endorsements from Chris Christie, Ben Carson, Sarah Palin and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi as an example of that support.

“We have to bring our party together. We have something happening that actually makes the Republican party the biggest political story in the world,” he said. “Millions of people are coming in to vote. We have a great opportunity. Democrats are coming in, independents are coming in and, very importantly, people are coming in who never voted before.”

“I’m very proud to be a part of this,” he said.

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Joe Gruters confident Florida GOP will come together to back Donald Trump

Joe Gruters‘ association with the Donald Trump campaign is controversial, because, well, Donald Trump is controversial.

Gruters was named last fall to be the campaign chair for Trump in Florida. That’s in addition to his other public duties, which include being the vice-chair of the Republican Party of Florida, the chair of the Sarasota County Republican Executive Committee, and a member of the board of trustees of Florida State University.

Those conflicting roles have led some of his critics to say that he should step down from one of those public positions. Gruters has rebuffed the critics, and is feeling more confident than ever that his candidate will be the nominee this fall. And he has no qualms about the party coming together in November.

“Listen, primaries are tough,” he said while standing outside the room used by Trump at the Tampa Convention Center on Monday afternoon. “A lot of things get said in primaries. People are unhappy. Their candidate loses, and just like me, there’ve been times before where I didn’t like who are nominee was going to be. But by the end of the day, I was one-hundred percent doing everything I could for the person, and I think the same will happen here.”

Members of the GOP establishment continue to maintain that the majority of Republicans don’t support Trump, referring to how his victories in previous primaries and caucuses rarely exceed forty percent of the total vote.

That’s among a scattered field, however, and Gruters says that Trump’s numbers are growing as candidates like Ben Carson and Chris Christie drop out of the race.

“Eventually, all will be forgiven, and the Republican Party will come together, stronger and united and bigger and better than before, and I think we’re going to win,” he maintains.

Perhaps.

Earlier on Tuesday, former Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, a former surrogate for Jeb Bush, who is now supporting Marco Rubio, says he has certain expectations of who the GOP’s standard bearer should be, and says Trump is lacking in those qualities at the moment.

“I expect the nominee of the Republican Party to be presidential,” he told MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “I expect them to care about the poor. I expect them to care about free markets and free enterprise. I expect them to care about life. This is not a person who has not embodied what I look for in a candidate for the Republican nomination, and somebody I can support in November.

Gruters says that Trump has ignited a movement, referring to the dramatic increase in Republicans turning out to vote in some of the nation’s first primaries and caucuses.  Democratic strategist Steve Schale told the Wall Street Journal that based on the early vote in 14 counties across Florida, more than half didn’t cast ballots in the 2012 GOP presidential primary.

“I think at the end of the day we have to win the general election, and I think that Donald Trump has the ability to expand our base, to increase the size of our tent,” says Gruters. “You’ve seen it in the primaries; I think that the energy and enthusiasm that’s been created will be transferred over to the general election, and I think it’s going to be a historic election with DT carrying states that we were never even considered to have a chance of winning before.”

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Candidates no longer in prez race take 229K votes in primaries; Jeb Bush leads with 88K

For Jeb Bush, his presidential aspirations may be over, but not in the hearts of many of his more strident supporters.

For the primaries and caucuses in 2016, nearly a quarter-million votes have been cast so far for 11 of the 13 Republicans who have already exited the race, including Bush, Ben Carson, Rand Paul, and Mike Huckabee.

Eric Ostermeier of Smart Politics analyzed the first two dozen early GOP contests, finding that more than 229,000 votes – almost 2 percent of all ballots cast – have gone to ex-presidential candidates.

Bush, who left the race Feb. 20, leads the pack with more than 88,000 votes – more than double the votes for any other former candidate. Of the 88,344 votes Bush received in 19 states and territories, 40 percent were taken in Texas on Super Tuesday (35,418), 1.25 percent of all votes cast. He also received 1.8 percent of the vote in Vermont, 1.12 percent in Tennessee, and 1.02 percent in Massachusetts.

Although he left the race last week, Carson racked up 37,942 votes, coming in second among the ex-candidates. Smart Politics calculated Carson took 1.75 percent of the vote in Idaho, 1.61 percent in Michigan, 1.51 percent Louisiana and 1.31 percent in Mississippi.

Among the other Republican former candidates, for others received more than 10,000 votes since leaving the campaign trail: Paul with 32,098; Huckabee with 27,141; Chris Christie with 16,013 and Carly Fiorina with 11,484. Huckabee’s best performance was in his home state of Arkansas on Super Tuesday; the state’s former governor took 1.17 percent of the vote.

Other ex-candidates making a showing in the 2016 primaries and caucuses are former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (8,023) and current South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (4,481), as well as former Govs. Jim Gilmore of Virginia (1,691), George Pataki of New York (1,691), and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana (219).

As the Florida primary approaches, with many early votes already cast, Bush – a favorite son of Sunshine State Republicans – is sure to boost his polling numbers, thanks to many Floridians who still believe he’s the best candidate for the White House, even if he isn’t actively running.

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Poll: Floridians wants Ben Carson to join Senate race

Five Republicans are in the United States Senate race. Yet if you believe a statewide poll released Monday, a lot of voters want Ben Carson to jump in.

56 percent would “definitely vote for Carson,” with another 29 percent saying it’s “too soon to say.”

Carson was over 50 percent in all regions but Northwest on “definitely,” which was at 42 percent, and 48 percent in that region opted for “too soon to say.”

The poll run without Carson had David Jolly in the lead with 18 percent, and Ron DeSantis at 11 percent in second place. Other candidates were in single digits: Carlos Lopez-Cantera at 9 percent, Todd Wilcox at 7 percent, and Carlos Beruff at 1 percent.

724 “likely August GOP Primary voters” were contacted via home phones or smart devices. Margin of error was 3.1 percent in this Survey USA poll.

The Democratic poll was interesting as well, with Patrick Murphy at 27 percent, Alan Grayson at 16 percent, and Pam Keith at 11 percent. 592 likely Democratic Primary voters participated, and MOE was 4 percent.

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New poll has Marco Rubio within striking distance of Donald Trump in Florida

Although Marco Rubio and his camp continue to say that he will Florida in the winner-take-all GOP presidential primary on March 15, there’s been little statistical evidence to date indicating that might be possible.

Until now.

A poll taken by the Tarrance group released Saturday shows Donald Trump continuing to lead in Florida, but only by five percentage points over Rubio, 35.4 percent to 30.3 percent.

Ted Cruz is a distant third at 15.5 percent, and John Kasich is at 8.5 percent.

Ben Carson, who dropped out of the race officially on Friday, is at 4.6 percent.

Who gets those Carson voters is crucial, obviously.

The Tarrance group asked voters to list their top three choices. Overall, Rubio received a combined 66.6 percent of combined 1st, 2nd and 3rd ballots. Trump was next with 54.7 percent, Cruz was at 52.7 percent and Kasich fourth with 40.8 percent.

The poll indicates that there’s certainly time for Rubio to catch up to Trump. While over 56 percent of those polled have already decided on their candidate, 23.5 percent say they are still looking at several candidates.

The survey also gives credence to those who claim that Trump’s appeal, while more than any other Republican running this year, caps at below 40 percent. When asked if they would never vote for Trump, 32.4 percent agreed with that statement, with 29.4 percent saying they “strongly” held that opinion.

The poll contains the results of a telephone survey of 800 registered “likely” Republican primary voters in the state of Florida. Responses to this survey were gathered February 29-March 2, 2016.

The Our Principles PAC commissioned the poll, a Super PAC created to bring down Donald Trump. It was founded Katie Packer, a veteran Republican strategist who served as deputy campaign manager of Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.

Last week the group hired former Jeb Bush spokesman Tim Miller to be their communications adviser.

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Ben Carson spent heavy on consultants, light on 2016 campaigning

Ben Carson ran for president, and his consultants won.

The political newcomer who said this week he sees “no path” to the Republican nomination raised more money than any other GOP contender, $58 million since he began his bid last May.

But Carson’s campaign burned through much more of that money on fundraising and consultants than on mass media advertising, on-the-ground employees and other things that could have swayed voters, a review of his campaign finance reports found.

Carson’s campaign is an extreme example of the big-money business of presidential politics. The candidate himself, a soft-spoken retired Baltimore neurosurgeon, has wondered aloud whether his campaign aides were taking advantage of him.
He employed “people who didn’t really seem to understand finances,” Carson said in a CNN interview last week. And then he added: “Or maybe they did. Maybe they were doing it on purpose.”

Some people who worked with Carson’s presidential campaign are positioned to continue profiting from his elevated profile even after he officially ends his bid.

All told, the Carson campaign turned over at least one-quarter of the money it raised — $16 million — to fundraising and marketing firms owned by a pair of his top consultants, Mike Murray and Ken Dawson.

By contrast, the Carson campaign’s payroll for nine months cost less than $700,000, finance documents show, and the campaign spent less than $600,000 on television and radio advertising during the month that voting has taken place, according to advertising tracker Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group.

Murray has been a senior adviser to the campaign, owns TMA Direct and is managing partner of Precision Data Management, firms that provide fundraising services for direct mail and email to voters and broker lists of would-be supporters.

Dawson has been Carson’s unofficial chief marketing officer and owner of Eleventy Marketing. That company uses Facebook, Twitter and other social media to place digital advertising and raise money for its clients.

Murray and Dawson say the payments to their firms do not give a full picture of all the work they did — transforming a candidate with 50 percent name recognition among likely Republican voters into one nearly universally known now.

“We had the task of building the Carson brand along with raising money,” Murray said. “Everything we did netted money.”

Payments to TMA and other firms did not all go into the consultants’ pockets, he said. Much of it paid for postage, printing and other costs associated with fundraising. Dawson also said much of the $10 million paid to his company went right back out to pay for digital advertising and social media promotion.

“It allowed us to connect directly to people and to help identify people the message was resonating with,” Dawson said, noting that his company’s efforts “garnered the revenue that drove the apparatus.”

He said every payment to Eleventy was approved by Carson’s campaign managers and audited by campaign staff.

Carson plans to lay out his next moves in a speech Friday to the Conservative Political Action Conference in suburban Maryland. He has vowed to continue his “grassroots movement,” which includes his 700,000 campaign donors, the majority of whom gave $200 or less.

That could mean a return to the American Legacy Political Action Committee, a group that already has substantial crossover with the Carson campaign; in fact, Murray is its founder. Before beginning his presidential bid, Carson was the face of an American Legacy PAC project on health care.

Carson’s longtime confidant and off-the-books campaign guru, Armstrong Williams, took over Carson’s American Legacy PAC chairmanship and said he would encourage him to come back to the group, which he called a “natural” move.

“It gives him a platform,” Williams said. “Why start something new when you already have something in place?”

American Legacy PAC appears to do little more than raise money to pay people raising money.

Despite its mission of helping conservative candidates, the group reported giving less than 3 percent of the $10 million it raised in the past five years to political candidates and political committees, a review of Federal Election Commission reports shows.

Murray said American Legacy’s impact on politics isn’t fully reflected in its FEC filings, in part because the group encourages donors to give directly to candidates it supports. He said those candidates have netted “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” which American Legacy PAC has tracked through software.

The cost of all that fundraising is laid out in FEC documents.

American Legacy PAC has paid Williams’ production company more than $170,000 in the past two years. American Legacy PAC also paid Murray’s companies nearly $400,000 since its establishment in 2010. And it paid Dawson’s Eleventy about $30,000, which he said paid for building a website.

More than half of American Legacy PAC’s budget was eaten up by the telemarketing company Infocision. Carson’s campaign also paid the company almost $5 million.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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Viewer’s Guide: GOP debate about Donald Trump vs. everyone else

And then there were four.

Ben Carson‘s departure from the GOP presidential race means the quartet of remaining Republicans on the debate stage Thursday night get more time for attacks as Donald Trump treads a path to the GOP nomination and his three rivals try to trip him up. Cheered on by many Republican leaders, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich are racing the primary clock to March 15, likely their last chance to stop Trump in a series of winner-take-all contests.

Some things to watch Thursday night as the candidates meet at 9 p.m. EST for the Fox News Channel debate in Detroit:

HE WHO WAS NOT NAMED

Love him or loathe him, Trump has taught the poohbahs of the Republican Party what a power grab really is — and he’s done it by winning over large swaths of the GOP’s own core supporters far from Washington. His wobbling over whether to disavow the support of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke finally gave the Republican leaders of Congress a way to go after the billionaire publicly — without uttering Trump’s name. Trump responded by saying House Speaker Paul Ryan would have to get along with a President Trump or pay some sort of “big price.” On the eve of the debate, Ryan’s office confirmed that Trump’s campaign had contacted the speaker’s staff in a first sign of outreach. Notably, Trump has started talking about unifying the GOP. Look for Trump to be asked about the existential rift in the party and how he expects to govern.

___

RUBIO, RUDE? TRUMP, TOO?

The Florida senator who once insisted on staying above the scuffling has leapt right into it, emulating Trump’s schoolyard-taunting style.

At campaign events in the past week, Rubio made sometimes crude jokes about everything from Trump’s tan to the size of his hands — he even suggested that the billionaire wet his pants at the last debate. Look for whether a newly confident Rubio, emboldened by his first primary win in Minnesota Tuesday, keeps it up or takes a more statesmanlike approach.

And what to expect from Trump? “I can’t act overly presidential because I’m going to have people attacking from every side. A very good man, Ben Carson’s not there anymore, so now we’re going to have more time for the fighting,” he said. “When people are hitting you from different angles, from all different angles, unfortunately you have to hit back. I would have a very, very presidential demeanor when I win, but until such time, you have to hit back,” he told NBC on Thursday.

___

CRUZ’S STAND

Thanks to Rubio’s win Tuesday, Cruz can no longer say he’s the only Republican who has shown he can beat Trump. But he won three states on Super Tuesday — Alaska, Oklahoma and his home state of Texas. And the delegate math shows that Cruz is emerging as the candidate who might stop Trump. Look for some confidence from Cruz, because on Super Tuesday alone he came close to Trump. For the night, Trump won at least 237 delegates and Cruz won at least 209. Rubio was a distant third with at least 94.

Even Sen. Lindsey Graham, who a week earlier joked at a dinner about killing Cruz, acknowledged on CBS that the Texas senator might be the party’s best hope to beat Trump.

___

KASICH, STILL

The debate setting is likely most helpful to Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is looking for a strong showing in Michigan in the state’s March 8 contest, to survive.

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FOX AND TRUMP, FRENEMIES

Trump has uttered barely a peep about the fact that Fox News Channel is hosting the debate, and that his sometime-nemesis Megyn Kelly, is one of the moderators.

This is a marked change from the upheaval that led to Trump boycotting Fox’s debate just before the leadoff Iowa caucuses. Trump had demanded that Kelly be removed; Fox refused and Trump headed a few miles away to host his own event.

He later said that could have been one of the reasons he lost Iowa to Cruz.

Trump has not tweeted about Kelly in weeks. In an interview with the Associated Press this week, Kelly said she thinks Trump has more confidence now.

“He knows he can handle me. He can handle any interviewer,” she said.

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TRUMP UNIVERSITY

How good is a degree from Trump University? “Worthless” — as are his promises — according to former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Romney will brand the billionaire businessman as “a phony, a fraud” in a Salt Lake City speech on Thursday, as party of a push by GOP establishment figures to paint the billionaire as unfit to represent the party. Trump should have a few things to say about it. He already started slugging on Thursday morning, saying that Romney “begged” him for his endorsement four years ago, and called him a “failed candidate.”

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REMEMBER BEN CARSON?

Kelly said he wouldn’t have gotten much attention even if he had stuck around for the debate. Fox will concentrate its questions on Trump, Cruz and Marco Rubio — making for potentially awkward moments for Kasich.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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