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Ted Cruz, Donald Trump up in Iowa, but talk of “takedown” effort fades

Three weeks before Iowa kicks off the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are generating overwhelming enthusiasm among Republican voters in the state, along with concern, though not panic, among the party professionals who believe both are unelectable in November against the Democratic nominee.

Despite such fears, talk of a “takedown” effort aimed at either Trump or Cruz appears to have faded as the Feb. 1 caucuses in Iowa near. For now, there is nervous acceptance that two of the Republican Party’s most divisive figures may stay at the top of the presidential pack well into the first month of voters’ getting their say.

“Cruz would not only cost us the general, he would cost the GOP the future. Trump is not a Republican and he is not a conservative,” said Republican strategist Alex Castellanos, who is not affiliated with a 2016 campaign. “The geometry is conflicting: If you limit one, you aid the other.

“At the end, Republicans may face the devil’s bargain and have to settle for the lesser of two anti-establishment evils.”

That idea is echoed by party officials across the country, who acknowledged they have few tools to stop Cruz or Trump. Instead, there is hope that voters ultimately settle on what they consider a more viable alternative from a group of candidates that includes Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

“Let’s see how the votes go before we panic,” said Washington-based Republican operative John Feehery, who has been critical of Cruz and Trump.

There is little evidence of widespread alarm from establishment Republican leaders and their well-funded supporters. Despite their commanding presence in preference polls, Trump and Cruz have almost completely escaped paid attacks, particularly in Iowa.

A Florida billionaire spent $40,000 on newspaper ads to hit at Trump in early December. One, in Iowa, called the political novice a “destroyer.” A group backing Kasich put $15,000 into an online anti-Trump attack in late November and early December, but there was no special focus on Iowa.

A nonprofit group led by a political operative who has endorsed Rubio spent about $200,000 to air an ad in Des Moines that knocked Cruz for his opposition to National Security Agency surveillance, saying the Texas senator “voted to weaken America’s ability to identify and hunt down terrorists.” But that ad has not been on the air in at least a month, according to Kantar Media’s CMAG political advertising tracker.

Republican National committeeman Ron Kaufman of Massachusetts said the party’s “centrist conservatives” will have to be patient until what they see as a more electable alternative to Trump and Cruz emerges.

“This is about who’s going to be in the finals,” Kaufman said. “Clearly on one side it’s going to be Trump and/or Cruz. And for the centrist conservatives, it’s going to come down to one of three governors or Rubio.”

That may explain why the attacks on Cruz and Trump pale in comparison to the amount spent disparaging other candidates. For example, a Rubio-boosting group recently put more than $1 million into sharp-elbowed anti-Christie attacks in New Hampshire. Rubio has been the target of close to $1 million in negative advertising, mostly in Iowa and mostly by Cruz boosters.

There is unquestioned excitement among the GOP electorate in Iowa for the two front-runners.

On Saturday, Cruz concluded a six-day, 28-stop trek across the state, drawing overflow crowds everywhere — from a pizza restaurant in Pocahontas to a small college in Sioux Center, where hundreds packed the auditorium, spilling into the stairwell and upper level.

“There is no doubt that the Washington cartel is in full panic mode,” said an almost giddy Cruz this past week. “They are in full panic mode because they are seeing on the ground conservatives uniting.”

At other stops, Cruz supporters stood outside in snow and sub-freezing temperatures, unable to get in for a seat, but still trying to listen through open doors. At a Friday morning event in Mason City, 48-year-old Robert Peterson said he was sold on Cruz, even though he said he had never before voted for a Republican presidential candidate.

“It’s time for a change,” Peterson said, standing at the back of the room wearing a red ‘Cruz 2016’ button and holding a red, white and blue Cruz sign. “The status quo has got to go.”

It’s much the same for Trump, who is showing no signs of slowing down after leading most national preference polls since the summer. The brash real-estate billionaire and former reality television star routinely draws thousands of people to his rallies, packing high school auditoriums, arenas, convention centers — even an airplane hangar — across the country.

Supporters began lining up at dawn for a 7 p.m. rally in Burlington, Vermont, this past week, while in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, hundreds stood outside in the bitter cold for hours waiting to get in.

“Folks, we have a revolution going on,” Trump said in Lowell, Massachusetts, marveling at the thousands of people who filled the arena. “People are tired and they’re sick of the stupidity that we’re seeing coming out of Washington.”

In the face of Trump’s prophesied revolution, the GOP establishment is preaching patience.

“I don’t think there’s a sense it’ll be time to panic if Cruz and Trump are on top in Iowa or New Hampshire,” said Katie Packer, who served as deputy campaign manager to Mitt Romney in 2012 and is among Trump’s biggest critics. “We have to let the process play out.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Chris Christie hits back against recent attacks in new ad

Chris Christie is hitting back against attack ads, saying a divided Republican Party could boost the Democrats chances.

The Christie campaign on Wednesday released an ad responding to recent attacks from a super PAC backing Marco Rubio. The advertisement is slated to run in New Hampshire.

The 30-second spot — dubbed “We Need to Keep Our Eye on the Ball” — features a clip of Christie, the New Jersey governor, speaking at Saint Anselm College.

“Do not be fooled: any significant division within the Republican Party leads to the same awful result — Hillary Rodham Clinton in January of 2017 taking the oath of office as president of the United States. This country cannot afford that outcome, and thus we Republicans have a duty — I believe a profound, moral duty — to work together,” he said.

The advertisement comes just days after Conservative Solutions PAC, a super PAC backing Rubio, released an advertisement — Favorite — that accuses Christie of embracing the policies of President Barack Obama.

“Chris Christie, one high tax, Common Core, liberal energy loving Obamacare Medicaid expanding president is enough,” said the 30-second Conservative Solutions PAC.

According to national polling averages compiled by RealClearPolitics, Christie is in fourth place with 4.8 percent support. He trails Rubio, who is in third place with 11.5 percent support, according to national polling averages.

In New Hampshire, Rubio has a smaller lead over Christie. According to averages of New Hampshire polls compiled by RealClearPolitics, Rubio is in second place with 13.3 percent support; Christie in in fourth with11.3 percent support in the Granite State.

The Christie campaign also announced six more hires to support expanding efforts.

Cash-rich super PACs prolong flagging presidential campaigns

Jeb Bush‘s recent cancellation of advertising plans in Iowa and South Carolina was yet another cost-saving step for a down-in-the-polls presidential campaign that had already thinned its staff. If not for his flush super PAC, the Republican might be gone from the contest by now.

That group, Right to Rise, has burned through half of its $103 million — which still leaves it with about as much cash as John McCain spent during the entire 2008 GOP nominating contest.

In the 2016 race, money isn’t buying love from voters. It is, however, buying some candidates more time.

Less than a month before voting begins, the Republican field is still thick with a dozen presidential hopefuls. Super PACs are one reason why.

Like Bush, Chris Christie and John Kasich are leaning heavily on these outside groups to communicate with voters. Nearly 96 percent of the money for Bush, Kasich and Christie commercials has come not from their official campaigns, but from their supportive super PACs, according to advertising tracker Kantar Media’s CMAG.

This is the second presidential campaign since super political action committees burst on the scene after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. The 2010 case made it clear that donors can contribute unlimited amounts of money to groups supporting specific candidates, so long as the candidates don’t directly control the spending.

That means that at any given time a wealthy admirer of a candidate can write a huge check to a super PAC to help keep that person in front of voters, through commercials and mailings. Some super PACs, including one for Carly Fiorina, even have campaign-like voter outreach efforts such as door-knocking and publicizing events that feature the candidate.

Those super PAC investments work as an incentive against a candidate giving up too soon, however dim the prospects.

While super PACs have dumped buckets of money into politics, they’ve also helped ensure a more competitive democratic process, said Bradley Smith, a former federal elections commissioner who advocates for looser fundraising restrictions.

“The complaint used to be that the candidates would fold up before anyone even voted,” said Smith, founder and chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics. “It’s not a bad thing that’s not the case anymore.”

One of the first presidential hopefuls to take advantage of the post-Citizens United campaign finance landscape was Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker who sought the 2012 GOP nomination.

Las Vegas casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson put up $20 million of his family’s money to back his longtime friend Gingrich. That money paid for TV ads when the candidate couldn’t afford his own, helping him stay afloat through third-to-vote South Carolina, which he won. Rick Santorum was in a similar position, benefiting from Wyoming investor Foster Friess’s super PAC assistance until his candidacy took flight after a surprising Iowa win.

“There’s no question that a super PAC gives you the ability to sustain the appearance of a campaign even if you can no longer raise money,” Gingrich told AP.

Both eventually lost to Mitt Romney, who dominated traditional campaign fundraising and also had a big-money super PAC helping out.

Gingrich said the 2016 race differs from 2012 in several crucial ways. “That was one guy with a bunch of money versus the rest of us, and now it’s a bunch of guys with a bunch of money,” he said.

At the same time, a celebrity businessman and political newcomer has shown that “money may not matter as much,” Gingrich said.

Donald Trump‘s campaign only recently made its first TV ad, putting up $2 million to air it this week in Iowa and New Hampshire. He has dominated the GOP contest without spending much campaign money, and without major help from super PACs — which he has decried as “disgusting.”

Bush, a former Florida governor, is in roughly the opposite position: His super PAC Right to Rise has pumped more than $50 million into its advertising campaign, yet he remains in the single digits in most preference polls.

The group is pressing ahead. It has booked at least $24 million more in ads over the next nine weeks in 10 states, including early voting Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, CMAG shows.

Over the weekend, Bush’s official campaign cuts its South Carolina advertising plan by half and pulled its Iowa ad reservations altogether, an Associated Press analysis of the CMAG data found.

Kasich, governor of Ohio, just began airing his first television ad on Tuesday, according to the campaign.

But his super PACs have been busy for months. They’ve showered New Hampshire viewers with almost $10 million worth of commercials and this week told federal regulators they’re buying more ad time and distributing pro-Kasich — and anti-Christie — literature to voters.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Mitch Perry Report for 1.5.16 – GOP candidates defend Saudi use of Sharia law

For nearly a year that they’ve been campaigning, the Republican candidates for president have focused on what they contend is how Barack Obama‘s bumbling foreign policy has led to the U.S.’s loss of stature around the world. While there could be some truth to some of the rhetoric, there’s also a lot of hyperbole and lack of nuance that has only been exacerbated in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris in November.

Take, for instance, their views on the weekend execution of 47 men by Saudi Arabia. They included dissident Shiite cleric Sheik Nimr al-Nimr, which outraged Iranians who then set fire to the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and the Saudi Consulate in Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city.

Tthe men were beheaded except for four killed by firing squads, according to the Reuters news agency.

So how should the U.S. deal with this? The Obama administration performs a delicate balance when dealing with the Saudis and Iranians.

According to Republican presidential candidates Saudis are good, Iranians are bad.

The Saudis justify their executions as part of its strict interpretation of Islamic law, aka Sharia law.

“Saudi Arabia is our ally, despite the fact that they don’t always behave in a way that we condone,” Carly Fiorina said Sunday. “Iran is a real and present threat.”

Ben Carson criticized the Obama administration for backing the Iran nuclear deal (a deal all the GOP candidates have condemned). “Of course, we don’t condone that kind of thing,” he said of the mass executions. “But I’m just saying we need to stop doing silly things that promote these kinds of activities.”

On “With All Due Respect” last night, Chris Christie said he could never support Iran in such a conflict.

Obviously, the Middle East kingdom is an ally because of its strategic importance and oil wealth, but its treatment of women and record on human rights are abysmal. Iran’s government has been a sworn enemy of the West for decades, of course, making it somewhat of a difficult choice as to who, if either nation, the U.S. should be backing.

But the fealty to the Saudi government is disconcerting.

In other news …

Marco Rubio and friends were busy on Monday. Just after the sun came up in New Hampshire, the GOP presidential candidate was delivering a major foreign policy speech, where he once again assailed Hillary Clinton as being a liar for her public comments regarding the tragedy at Benghazi, while saying something else entirely to others. Meanwhile, later in the day one of his super PACS, American Solutions PAC, began airing two ads going off on … Chris Christie? Yes, indeed.

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Three people are now running to be chairman of the Hillsborough County Democratic Party, and none of them are named Mark Hanisee.

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HART board member Kathleen Shanahan wants the agency’s chairman to write a letter to local newspapers about what the occasionally besieged transit authority has done and is doing for transportation in the Tampa Bay area.

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Tampa Bay area state Reps. Dana Young and Darryl Rouson plan an event this week to help Hillsborough County motorists restore their suspended driver’s licenses.

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The Republican Liberty Caucus is coming to the defense of a Miami-Dade County Republican who may be ousted from the party because of his advocacy for a Ted Cruz presidency. Manny Roman‘s fate is scheduled to be discussed this week at the Dade County’s Republican Executive Committee meeting.

Marco Rubio super PAC goes after Chris Christie in 2 new ads

According to an average of polling in New Hampshire compiled by Real Clear Politics, Marco Rubio is now at 13.3 percent support in New Hampshire, putting him 13 percentage points behind Donald Trump. That second place status is relatively tenuous, however, with Ted Cruz trailing him with an average of 12 percent, and Chris Christie two points behind, averaging 11.3 percent.

Conservative Solutions PAC, a super PAC supporting Rubio’s presidential candidacy, is now going after the New Jersey governor in two new ads that surfaced Monday.

One of them goes after Christie regarding his management of the Garden State. Titled, “Look at Me,” the ad bashes Christie for mismanaging New Jersey, where he’s now beginning his third year of his second term in office. It lists a survey that says that New Jersey has the highest tax burden in the nation, last in job growth, and mentions the controversial incident known as “BridgeGate” that appeared at one point to doom Christie’s hopes for higher office.

The other, called “Favorite,” blasts the Jersey governor for being a faux conservative. It begins by showing him with his infamous greeting of President Barack Obama just before the 2012 general election, when the president visited New Jersey shortly after Hurricane Sandy slammed the state. It goes on to attack Christie for supporting an Internet sales tax, Medicaid expansion, and Common Core.

“One high-tax, Common Core, liberal energy loving, Obamacare Medicaid expanding president is enough,” the ad says at its conclusion.

Christie did back Common Core standards back in 2013, but now says he “supports state educational standards over Common Core.”

Conservative Solutions PAC spokesman Jeff Sadosky says the two ads are a “significant part of our multimillion dollar ongoing ad buy in New Hampshire, but yes, there is also a digital campaign that moves with the TV ads.”

Mitch Perry Report for 1.4.16 – Welcome back Christie, Carly and the whole gang

Happy New Year to everyone, and welcome back to reading the MPR in 2016.

Yesterday many of the GOP presidential candidates were on “the shows” as The Donald refers to them, and there were amusing moments throughout the morning.

My favorite was perhaps Chris Wallace getting into Chris Christie’s grill regarding how the New Jersey Governor has been making hay out of Marco Rubio’s growing absentee problem in the Senate, an issue that backfired on Jeb Bush in a previous debate.

“Well, dude, show up to work and vote no, right?” Christie memorably cracked at a town hall in Iowa last week.

“You’ve been away from New Jersey for all or part of 72 percent of the time since you announced you were running for president,” Wallace riposted to Christie on Fox News Sunday. “When you look at the total, over 200 days in 2015, which raises the question — who are you to criticize?”

Then you had Jeb Bush looking stoic on the same program, telling Wallace that despite the fact that he’s foundering in the polls, “We’re going to be on the ballot in every state. That’s a hard thing to do. Not every candidate has done that.”

OK, Jeb, you’ve got that in your pocket. Let’s talk process again in another month.

Meanwhile over on Meet The Press, Rand Paul was defending the fact that while most of the candidates took off sometime during the holidays to be with friends and family, he took an awful lot of time off, prompting host Chuck Todd to ask “are you still fully running?”

Paul defended himself by saying that he was spending his time with family, doing some campaigning, doing some pro bono surgery (he’s also an ophthalmologist) and oh, yes, actually working in the Senate (actually, that’s questionable since they’ve been off since December 18, but whatever).

“So we also do a job. I mean, I have a job as senator,” Paul told Todd. “I’m one of the few of the candidates that actually shows up to vote. Both Cruz and Rubio are missing the vast majority of their votes. But I feel an obligation to the taxpayer that pays my salary.”

And what about Carly Fiorina, whose campaign seems to be going nowhere as well, though that doesn’t stop her from getting maximum media attention.

When asked about that embarrassing tweet of her on New Year’s Day, the one where she confessed that even though she “loves her alma matter, “ she was going to root for Iowa to defeat Stanford in the Rose Bowl, as transparent a phony play for caucus votes as has been seen in this campaign.

When asked about it yesterday by Dana Bash on CNN’s State of the Union, the former HP CEO said she had nothing to be ashamed of.

“For heaven’s sakes, can’t a girl ever have a little bit of fun? “ she pleaded with Bash. “That was a tongue in cheek tweet which the people of Iowa understand.

“It was a joke, not real?,” asked the CNN correspondent.

“Yes, it was tongue in cheek,” Fiorina replied. “For heaven’s sake, a girl needs to have fun sometimes. I guess it was a slow news day for the media.”

Yes, Bash reminded her, it was New Year’s Day, when one of the few substantive bits of news was how the Stanford Cardinal absolutely annihilated the Iowa Hawkeyes in one of the biggest Rose Bowl blowouts of all time.

Welcome back to the campaign trail, candidates, and welcome back to reading all about it on this site.

7 things to watch in monthlong sprint to Iowa caucuses

The 2016 presidential election has defied all expectations so far.

An enormous field of GOP candidates, still a dozen strong with a month to go before the leadoff Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1. The billionaire outsider who has tapped into the anger and fears of a nervous nation. A son and brother of presidents who is struggling to connect with voters despite his tremendous financial advantage.

In less than a month, voters will begin having their say in what could turn out to be a bitter, monthslong fight for the Republican nomination. On the Democratic side, front-runner Hillary Clinton is banking on neatly locking up the nomination as her GOP rivals tear each other down.

Some things to watch for in the four-week sprint to the Iowa caucuses:

DONALD TRUMP’S CHECKBOOK

To date, wealthy businessman Donald Trump has run a frugal campaign, skipping expensive television advertising as his Republican rivals and their affiliated super political action committees spend tens of millions of dollars on airtime.

Trump has promised that that’s about to change, announcing plans last week to spend $2 million a week on the air in three early voting states. Will Trump follow through on that promise? Television ad prices are only increasing as the voting draws closer, and Trump has yet to reserve any airtime.

TED CRUZ’S CLERGY

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is building a large organization of support in Iowa, amassing county leaders across the state and tapping a member of the clergy in each of the 99 counties.

The son of a preacher, Cruz aims to take a well-worn path to victory in Iowa: Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2008 and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in 2012 generated similar support among the state’s evangelical voters, and each won the caucuses. The question is whether that network of religious conservatives will coalesce behind Cruz this time or splinter.

Cruz has made strides, picking up the endorsements of Iowa evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats and Focus on the Family founder James Dobson.

ESTABLISHMENT CHOICES

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who entered the race in June as the front-runner, jokes that his father, former President George H.W. Bush, has taken to throwing shoes at his television set in response to Trump.

But as the caucuses near, the laugh lines have given to persistent frustration among party elders and its professional class that Trump remains a viable candidate. Several have said an effort must be mounted to take down Trump, but a coordinated campaign of negative ads has so far failed to materialize.

That’s because in part to concerns that it could backfire and further motivate Trump’s supporters, but also because several candidates vying to be the establishment choice are still in the race.

Will there be an attempt to undermine Trump? Will Bush — or Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Ohio Gov. John Kasich or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — emerge as the clear alternative to Trump before Trump or Cruz collects too many delegates to matter?

DEPARTURE LOUNGE

Two low-polling Republicans quit in December: South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and former New York Gov. George Pataki. While all the remaining candidates insist they’re not going anywhere, pressure could grow on other candidates to bow out and narrow the field.

Among those feeling the heat: Santorum, who has failed to produce the kind of excitement that propelled him to that Iowa victory four years ago. If he and others at the bottom dropped out and endorsed the same candidate, it could give rise to the Trump alternative who some are desperately seeking.

CLINTON’S TEST

A third-place finish in 2008 in Iowa completely disrupted Clinton’s strategy to win the Democratic nomination, and she never could catch then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. This time, Clinton has poured significant resources and staff into the state. Polls show her with an edge over her chief rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent.

If Clinton wins Iowa, a loss in New Hampshire to Sanders would be easier to contain. Back-to-back losses in Iowa and New Hampshire would generate fresh worries among Democrats about their front-runner.

JANUARY SURPRISES

The attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, shifted voters’ focus to national security issues. That was to the detriment of less-experienced and less-hawkish candidates, including retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson on the GOP side and Sanders.

Another attack, especially on American soil, could further diminish candidates without experience in office or those uncomfortable with a campaign focus on foreign policy.

FINAL DEBATES

The Republicans have two more debates — Jan. 14 in South Carolina and Jan. 28 in Iowa — before the Feb. 1 caucuses. Democrats will debate Jan. 17, also in South Carolina.

The GOP debates in 2015 broke viewership records, and the next two probably may provide make-or-break moments as undecided voters begin making up their minds.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Guest lineups for Sunday news shows

Guest lineups for the Sunday TV news shows:

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ABC’s “This Week” — Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders; Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson.

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NBC’s “Meet the Press” — Not available.

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CBS’ “Face the Nation” — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

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CNN’s “State of the Union” — Sanders; Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina; U.S. Rep. Dave Brat, a Virginia Republican

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“Fox News Sunday” — Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Chris Christie.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

New laws in 2016 show states are diverging on guns, voting

 Laws taking effect at the start of the new year show states diverging on some hot-button issues.

Restrictions on carrying guns eased in Texas, for example, but got tighter in California. It is easier to register to vote in Oregon, but there is another step to take at the polls in North Carolina.

The opposing directions in the states reflect a nation with increasingly polarized politics.

In the debate over gun control, both sides say their arguments are strengthened by a string of mass shootings this year. That includes the December attack at a county health department gathering in San Bernardino, California, when a couple who investigators say pledged allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State group killed 14 people.

Everytown for Gun Safety, a group backed by billionaire former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is seeking to be a counterweight to the National Rifle Association’s lobbying of state lawmakers. Both groups are expected to be active in legislatures in the coming year.

Whether to raise the minimum wage has become another hot topic in states and cities, with the issue getting no traction in the Republican-led Congress.

New voting laws, meanwhile, could help shape the outcomes in state and federal elections in the coming year. Democrats and others who want to boost voter participation have been pushing to expand access to the polls, while conservatives have pushed for measures aimed at preventing election fraud. Each side says the other is using legislation to help their favored party in elections.

A look at some of the more notable laws taking effect this month:

Guns

Texas, the second-most populous state, joins 44 other states in allowing at least some firearm owners to carry handguns openly in public places. Under the Texas law, guns can be carried by those with licenses and only in holsters.

Meanwhile, California, the most populous state, has multiple new laws on gun control. One tightens a ban on firearms in and around schools. Under the new law, the prohibition applies even to most people who are allowed to carry concealed weapons generally. Another allows people to request that a judge order weapons be taken away from relatives who are believed to pose a threat.

Voting

California and Oregon become the first states that automatically register eligible voters when they obtain or renew their driver’s licenses. Critics of the measures — mostly Republicans — say that could lead to voter fraud and is part of a plan to register more voters who are likely to be Democrats. They say voters should register voluntarily. In both states, people are able to opt out of being registered.

Similar measures have been proposed in other states but never adopted. This year, Republican Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the concept in New Jersey.

In North Carolina, a voter identification law passed in 2013 that requires people to show a photo ID takes effect.

An amendment adopted this year allows voters who have trouble obtaining the required ID to vote anyway. That provision keeps North Carolina from joining eight states in which a photo ID is strictly required. There are still legal challenges over the law, and opponents want a judge to delay implementation.

In most states, voters are asked to show some kind of identification.

Public health

Hawaii becomes the first state to raise its minimum age, from 18 to 21, to buy or use cigarettes or e-cigarettes. It’s a move some local governments have made before, but never a state.

California joins West Virginia and Mississippi as the only states without a personal-belief exemption for parents who do not want to vaccinate their children. Children whose parents refuse to have them immunized against several diseases are not allowed to enroll in public or private school and instead have to be home schooled. There is an exemption for children with serious health problems.

Employment issues

In California, a new law lets female employees allege pay discrimination based on the wages a company pays other employees who do substantially similar work. Under the law, it is up to employers to prove a man’s higher pay is based on factors other than gender.

Oregon becomes the fifth state with a paid sick leave mandate for many employers.

Some cities in traffic-congested urban areas are trying to ease the burdens of commuting. Employers with at least 20 workers in Washington, D.C., and New York City are required to offer commuter benefits such as tax-free mass transit subsidies to their workers. San Francisco already has a similar ordinance.

In Missouri, a new law links the duration of jobless benefits to the state’s unemployment rate. When fewer people are out of work, those claiming the benefits will be cut off sooner. The maximum length of the benefits will be reduced from the current 20 weeks — already among the shorter periods in the nation — to 13. Only North Carolina, which has a similar sliding scale, has a shorter period: 12 weeks.

Minimum wage

The minimum wage rises in many cities and states with the new year. Some of the wage increases are coming under laws passed years ago that phased in the increases over a period of years. Some are automatic increases tied to the cost of living.

Fast-food workers in New York state receive their first pay bump under a new law that eventually will push their minimum wage to $15. The full amount will kick in at the end of 2018 in New York City and 2021 in the rest of the state.

The federal government has not touched the minimum wage since it was increased to $7.25 effective in 2009. Labor groups and workers keep pushing for higher raises while many business groups say raises could come at the expense of jobs. But with the federal rate unchanging, more state and local governments — particularly in the West and Northeast — are taking action.

The wages rise in California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Rhode Island, Vermont and West Virginia on Friday. States with automatic annual increases effective Jan. 1 are Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio and South Dakota.

Some cities, including New Orleans, also have new rates that started Friday. Minimum-wage fast-food workers in Seattle get a bump as part of that city’s phased-in increase to $15 an hour.

Taxes

Taxes have gone up in some places and dropping in others.

Income tax rates dropped slightly in Oklahoma, where state revenues have fallen sharply, and Massachusetts.

In North Carolina, the tax on gasoline dropped by a penny a gallon to 35 cents. The sales tax on boats will drop in New Jersey as of Feb. 1.

Taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products rose in Minnesota, as will hotel taxes in Hawaii.

Abortion

Physicians in North Carolina are required to provide the state with ultrasound images of fetuses and other data related to abortions performed after the 16th week of pregnancy.

For pregnancies terminated after the 20th week, doctors must explain to the state Department of Health and Human Services how continuing the pregnancy would have threatened the life and health of the mother. Some lawmakers who favor abortion rights say the state should not have this medical data.

Immigrant driver’s licenses

Two more states allow people who are in the United States illegally to be licensed to drive. Delaware’s law took effect Sunday and Hawaii’s is in effect in the new year.

Ten states and the District of Columbia already have similar provisions.

Pets

Illinois made it a misdemeanor to leave pets outside during extreme weather. Missouri, in a crackdown on the state’s commercial “puppy mills,” required dog breeders to provide more space for their animals and barred them from using wire-strand flooring in dog kennels.

Tennessee gave approval this year to the first statewide animal abuse registry. The law, which took effect Friday, requires the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to post to its website a list of persons convicted on or after that date of aggravated animal cruelty, felony animal fighting, or bestiality and related offenses.

The list is to include the animal abuser’s full legal name and photograph. Upon first offense, the person’s name will remain on the list for two years. Upon subsequent offenses, it will remain on the list for five years.

Amid attendance attacks, Marco Rubio focuses on Iowa

Amid new criticisms about his Senate attendance record, Marco Rubio says some of his rival candidates are getting “a little desperate and a little nasty.”

The Florida senator kicked off an Iowa tour Tuesday, as a super political action committee backing Jeb Bush announced a new ad in the state accusing Rubio of missing a Senate meeting after the November terrorist attacks in Paris. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also piled on during an Iowa stop, questioning Rubio’s Senate attendance.

After a town hall meeting in the leadoff caucus state, Rubio said the ad from Right to Rise “isn’t accurate,” adding that as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee he attended a different briefing on the Paris attacks. Asked about Christie’s comments, he said the governor had been away from New Jersey “half the time.”

“Candidates I think as we get down the stretch here some of them get a little desperate and a little nasty in their attacks,” Rubio said.

Rivals have tried to make an issue of Rubio’s attendance in the Senate. In 2015, he has missed about 35 percent of roll call votes, according to GovTrack.us. That’s more than any of the other senators running for president.

But several Iowans at the event said they weren’t troubled by Rubio’s Senate record.

“He’s out here trying to get the popular vote of the people,” said Mary Reed, 65, of Bellevue, Iowa, who is considering supporting Rubio “Missing a few votes does not bother me.

Before over 125 people in Clinton, Iowa, Rubio — who was joined by his family and Rep. Trey Gowdy, of South Carolina — kept his remarks focused on President Barack Obama and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, rather than his Republican counterparts.

“I have lived many of the things that people face,” Rubio said. “I want to know how Hillary Clinton is going to lecture me about people living paycheck to paycheck. I grew up paycheck to paycheck.”

Rubio stressed his support for securing the borders, investing in the military and repealing the Affordable Care Act. He also said he would back a convention of the states to amend the U.S. Constitution, to pass amendments dealing with term limits and a balanced budget. Conservative groups have been pushing for such an event, which has never happened since the original convention in 1787. Rubio said he supported a convention limited to those two topics.

Rubio is wrapping up his year in Iowa, where the Feb. 1 caucuses will kick off presidential voting, but has tried to avoid prioritizing any one of the early voting states, by running a nationally focused campaign that leans on strong debate performances and television advertising.

Unlike Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has set his sights on Iowa, or former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is pushing hard in New Hampshire, Rubio continues to spread his time and money across the early states, showing no indication he will choose just one to make his mark.

While supporters say Rubio just needs to stay in the top cluster in the first few states, some see his approach as risky. But Rubio spokesman Alex Conant said the campaign has no plans to “give up on states we can win.”

In Iowa, recent polls have found Cruz and Donald Trump battling for first place, with Rubio usually a distant third. He’s seen as competing most directly with others considered part of the GOP establishment: Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Most agree he doesn’t actually need to win the caucuses, but must emerge as the establishment’s leader.

A good organization is important in Iowa because caucuses take more effort than a primary, requiring voters to show up at a fixed time on a winter night. The Republican caucuses drew about 120,000 voters in 2008 and 2012 , about 20 percent of registered Republicans.

Rubio has fewer paid staff than some competitors and his state director hails from Arkansas. He draws large, enthusiastic crowds and has done at least 49 public events in the state this year — more than Bush or Christie, but significantly fewer than Cruz, who has done at least 80.

Questions about Rubio’s organization efforts are echoed in other early voting states, including New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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