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Mitch Perry Report for 1.15.16 — Has the GOP contest wilted down to 2-and-a-half men?

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Happy Friday, y’all.

As we go into the NFL’s best weekend (and one of the greatest in all of professional sports) and reflect on the Oscar nominations (DiCaprio, Brie Larson and Stallone are locks, by the way, and though she won’t win, I’m all in for Alicia Vikander for Supporting Actress), Friday’s national story is Thursday night’s GOP presidential debate.

It was dominated by the clash between front-runners Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, with Marco Rubio again putting in impressive performances, as far as these things go.

Those of us in the media continue to perpetuate the idea that Rubio, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and John Kasich could impress New Hampshire, and become the more establishment candidate to go against the Trump-Cruz front.

Maybe so, and I’m not ready to dismiss any of the above until after New Hampshire, but my gosh, the GOP base seems (based on all polls) to be interested in choosing either Trump or Cruz to be their standard-bearer.

It was entertaining to see the two make each other look bad in the first half-hour of the contest. Cruz definitely got the best of Trump when the issue of Cruz’s birth in Canada, showing off his debate preparation.

“Back in September, my friend Donald said he had his lawyer look at this from every which way, and there was no issue there,” Cruz said. “There was nothing to this ‘birther’ issue. Since September, the Constitution hasn’t changed. But the poll numbers have.” The crowd whistled and cheered.

“And I recognize that Donald is dismayed that his poll numbers are falling in Iowa,” he said. “But the facts and the law here are really quite clear.”

Points to the Texas senator. Trump looked befuddled at that moment.

But Trump trumped Cruz on the whole issue of “New York values,” which as Cruz was (embarrassingly forced to explain), was code for a certain breed of liberalism, meant undoubtedly to hurt Trump with the Christian conservative crowd.

Bashing NYC, however, doesn’t carry the same punch in a Republican debate that it did pre-Sept. 11, 2001. It was a softball for Trump, who hit it out of the park defending NYC.

“You had two 110-story buildings come crashing down,” Trump said. “I saw them come down. Thousands of people killed, and the cleanup started the next day, and it was the most horrific cleanup — probably in the history of doing this — and in construction. I was down there, and I’ve never seen anything like it. And the people in New York fought and fought and fought, and we saw more death, and even the smell of death, nobody understood it,” Trump, in an uncharacteristically humane moment, said. “And it was with us for months, the smell, the air. And we rebuilt downtown Manhattan, and everybody in the world watched, and everybody in the world loved New York and loved New Yorkers. And I have to tell you, that was a very insulting statement that Ted made.”

Cruz ended up applauding the statement! Though at first it felt a bit exploitive (like Hillary Clinton‘s statement during the second Democratic debate when she was attacked for her alliance with Wall Street firms and turned it around to be about defending the city after 9/11), the whole line of attack was pretty damned dumb of Cruz.

Rubio broke up the back and forth between the two hilariously by declaring that it wasn’t an episode of “Court TV,” and he had other big moments bringing down Cruz and Christie. But Rubio always does well in the debates, there’s not much question about that.

The question I posed months ago was whether Rubio can translate his performances into rising poll numbers, and the answer is, “not yet.”

I also tweeted last night though the candidates couldn’t go far enough in blasting President Barack Obama for his stance on gun control, good luck with having such an absolute attitude in the debates in the fall against the Democratic nominee. Too many polls show the public wants some sensible reforms (like universal background checks), and en masse those candidates seemed to put themselves out of the mainstream in their zealousness to prove their Second Amendment bona fides.

There is one more debate before the Iowa caucuses, in 13 days. The cake appears to be baked in the Hawkeye State in it being a two-man battle, but the interest in this race is only increasing as we finally get down to the public voting for real, in not in a public opinion survey.

In other news …

Everyone loves Uber, right? Well, no, the taxi cab industry hasn’t, but it’s great for workers. Well, apparently not, going by what some drivers – who say they have loved working for the company – now say about their recent cut in pay.

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In the CD 11 race to replace Republican Rich Nugent, his former chief-of-staff, Justin Grabelle, has the quick lead in terms of fundraising prowess.

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A new study on the death penalty in Florida shows (surprise!) that the administration of the ultimate state sanction disproportionately affects blacks and Latinos and according to where you live in the state.

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And Jeff Brandes‘ bill that reform how the proportion of suspended driver’s licenses in the Sunshine State advanced in a state Senate Committee Thursday.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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