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Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina bounced off the main GOP debate stage

Welcome to Trail Guide, your host through the wilds of the 2016 presidential campaign. It's Monday, Jan. 11, and here's what we're talking about:

  • The Republican debate stage for this week is set and Rand Paul and Carly Fiorina did not make the cut
  • Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad weighs in on the Ted Cruz citizenship controversy
  • Hillary Clinton continues to showcase divisions with Bernie Sanders on gun control, and has netted the endorsement of former Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was wounded in a 2011 mass shooting
  • Tommy Chong is supporting Sanders' bid for the Democratic presidential nomination

Democrats make their pitch at Iowa forum

The Democratic candidates at a debate in November. (Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press)

The Democratic candidates at a debate in November. (Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press)

The tightening race in Iowa for the Democratic presidential nomination was on full display Monday night during a forum for candidates in Des Moines.

Bernie Sanders said he’d noticed Hillary Clinton’s campaign stepping up its attacks on him.

“The inevitable candidate for the Democratic nomination may not be so inevitable today,” the U.S. senator from Vermont said during the Iowa Brown and Black Forum, an event dedicated to minority issues.

You can watch the full forum here. 

In spending time with her in person, I also found a mother and a grandmother who truly heard me and understood the depth of my loss.

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, in a statement announcing her endorsement of Hillary Clinton. Martin, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed in 2012 by George Zimmerman as he walked home from a Florida convenience store.

Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina bounced from main GOP debate stage

Dismal polling numbers will keep Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and business executive Carly Fiorina off the main debate stage Thursday when Republican presidential hopefuls gather in South Carolina.

On Monday, Fox Business Network, the host of the debate, announced the two candidates did not make the cut for the prime-time debate, which will feature seven Republicans vying for the party's nomination.

To qualify for the debate, candidates had to either have placed in the top six in national polls, based on an average of the five most recent national polls recognized by Fox News, or have placed within the top five based on the average of the five most recent polls from Iowa or New Hampshire, the states that will hold the first two primary contests.

Fiorina, a former Hewlett-Packard chief executive and the lone woman in the GOP presidential field, had a strong debate performance earlier in the fall that helped boost her campaign, but was unable to sustain any of the momentum. 

During debates throughout the fall, Paul, who has struggled with fundraising and has seen little traction in his underdog campaign, often tussled with front-runner Donald Trump.

In a email blast to supporters, Paul’s campaign called the announcement an “outrage” and urged supporters to make a donation to his campaign. Moreover, Paul has indicated he will not take part in an undercard debate. 

Fiorina is scheduled to join former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in an undercard debate before the main gathering. 

Here’s who will be on the main stage:

Donald Trump

Ted Cruz

Marco Rubio

Ben Carson 

Chris Christie 

Jeb Bush

John Kasich 

The inevitable candidate for the Democratic nomination may not be so inevitable today.

Bernie Sanders, U.S. senator from Vermont, speaking at the Brown and Black Forum in Iowa

Earning more than $5 million a year? Clinton wants you to pay more taxes

 (Scott Olson / Getty Images)

(Scott Olson / Getty Images)

Hillary Clinton released new details on her tax proposals on Monday while campaigning in Iowa, calling for a 4% surcharge on Americans making more than $5 million a year.

The former secretary of State described the proposal, which would raise an estimated $150 billion over 10 years, as a way to balance out an unfair tax system.

“I think the tax system has gotten so badly out of whack, so unfortunately tilted for the wealthy,” Clinton said during a meeting with the Des Moines Register editorial board. More proposals are expected to be released in the coming days. 

A spokesman for Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Clinton’s chief rival for the Democratic nomination, was not impressed.

"At a time of grotesqueincome and wealth inequality ... Secretary Clinton's proposal is too little too late,” Michael Briggs said in a statement.

Clinton and Sanders are locked in a tight race in Iowa. A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed Clinton just 3 percentage points ahead, within the margin of error.

During her conversation with the Register, Clinton said she was more prepared for the Iowa caucuses than she was in 2008, when she finished third behind Barack Obama and John Edwards.

“Back then, I really didn’t know enough about a caucus,” she said. “I didn’t really understand all of the elements that had to be put together to be successful.”

She expressed confidence in her campaign’s efforts to make sure supporters show up at the caucuses and rally for her.

“We have built, really steadily, a systematic outreach program that I am very proud of,” Clinton said.

Trump joins Jimmy Fallon on Monday

There's a real double standard when it comes to me.

Hillary Clinton, saying she's unfairly criticized for shifting opinions on issues such as gay marriage when many politicians have "evolved" on the topic. She made the comment to the Des Moines Register editorial board.

In Iowa, polls show a back-and-forth struggle between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz for top spot

Real estate mogul Donald Trump, left, has called into question whether Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is eligible to run for president because Cruz was born in Canada. (Ethan Miller / Associated Press)

Real estate mogul Donald Trump, left, has called into question whether Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is eligible to run for president because Cruz was born in Canada.(Ethan Miller / Associated Press)

Donald Trump, whose insurgent presidential campaign has roiled establishment Republicans, continues to tussle with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for the top spot in Iowa, where caucus-goers will kick off the 2016 election in three weeks.

In a Quinnipiac poll released on Monday, Trump is at 31% among likely Republican caucus-goers. He is followed by Cruz at 29% and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio at 15%. The poll has a margin of error of about 4 percentage points.

For several months, Trump led the crowded Republican field in Iowa, but in recent weeks, Cruz has made significant inroads with evangelical Christian voters -- a key voting bloc in the state’s GOP caucuses. Among evangelicals, the poll found Cruz outpacing Trump 34% to 27%.

On Sunday, an NBC News/Marist poll showed Cruz at 28% and Trump at 24% among likely GOP caucus-goers.

An average of several polls from the Hawkeye State has Cruz leading Trump by about 2 percentage points, according to Real Clear Politics, a nonpartisan political news outlet that also specializes in aggregating presidential polls. 

With Cruz’s surge in Iowa, Trump has focused his attacks on the Texas senator, calling into question his eligibility to become president because he was born in Canada to an American mother and Cuban father.

Cruz has dismissed the criticism as baseless, noting the Constitution requires presidents to be “natural-born citizens” and that children of American citizens who are born abroad are automatically granted citizenship.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad -- surprisingly -- comments on Ted Cruz's citizenship

 (Charlie Neibergal l/ Associated Press)

(Charlie Neibergal l/ Associated Press)

Not long ago, Iowa's Terry Branstad gained distinction as the longest-serving governor in U.S. history, pushing past the 20-year, 11-month mark with two years still remaining in his record-setting sixth term.

To call him an Iowa institution is a bit like saying they grow a lot of corn in the countryside, or that it gets cold in the winter.

Part of Branstad's appeal is a studious anti-charisma. He is a dull speaker, conservative in a mainstream Republican manner and, while personally gracious, not the least bit dynamic. Think pressed turkey and mayonnaise on white bread.

He is dutiful, though, earnest to a fault and a constant presence in the lives of Iowans; Branstad will show up at the opening of envelope, however remote the occasion, and stay until they stack the chairs and kill the lights.

So it was a bit surprising Monday when the typically reserved Branstad lent credence to the inflammatory question of whether Ted Cruz, the Texas senator and co-front-runner in Iowa's Feb. 1 caucuses, is eligible to serve as president.

The trolling Donald Trump, who is battling Cruz for first place in Iowa, raised the issue last week, noting the senator was born in Calgary, Canada. Legal experts were quick to vouch for Cruz, saying he meets the constitutional eligibility test because his Delaware-born mother was a U.S. citizen, thus automatically conferring the same status on her son.

But speaking to reporters Monday in Des Moines at his weekly Capitol press briefing, Branstad said the question of Cruz's citizenship was "fair game."

"When you run for president of the United States, any question is fair game," Branstad said. "So let the people decide."

Branstad has withheld his highly coveted endorsement in the presidential caucuses, though in a 2014 Los Angeles Times interview he made clear that he would like to see a governor win the nomination. Many former aides have signed on with New Jersey Gov. Christie, who is hoping an impressive Iowa showing can launch him to victory eight days later in New Hampshire.

Also, Branstad's son, Eric, leads America's Renewable Future, an organization bankrolled by agriculture interests eager to thwart Cruz, who opposes federal mandates requiring larger amounts of corn-based ethanol be blended into the nation's fuel supply.

Whatever his motivation, Branstad's comment ensured questions about Cruz's citizenship, legitimate or not, would be part of the political discussion in Iowa for at least another day or two -- no small consideration, with the caucuses just three weeks away.


The truant officer is out looking for him.


New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie talking on MSNBC about Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and his missed time in the Senate. Of the three U.S. senators seeking the GOP presidential nomination, Rubio has missed the most amount of time in Congress.

Sanders says he's the most electable candidate

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton may squeeze out on top of primary polls, but Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said he’s more electable against a Republican candidate. 

In a Sunday interview with ABC News, Sanders referred to a Quinnipiac poll released in December that showed him beating Republican front-runner Donald Trump by 13 points in a theoretical match-up. Clinton came in at seven points up against Trump.

“If people are concerned about electability — and Democrats should be very concerned because we don’t want to see some right-wing extremist in the White House — I think Bernie Sanders is the candidate,” Sanders told ABC News' “This Week.”

Sanders insisted that his campaign’s energy, focus on what he calls the greed of corporate America and answers to voters’ concerns about social issues would drive a larger turnout than rival Clinton.

“Republicans win when people are demoralized and the voter turnout is low,” he said. “Democrats and progressives win when working people and low-income people and young people get involved in the political process.”

ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos questioned Sanders on Clinton’s recent attacks on his 2005 vote in support of the gun lobby. Clinton has accused Sanders of helping the gun vote in light of President Obama’s recent executive action to crack down on gun violence and expand background checks.

Sanders said legislation is complicated, but did not say whether he felt he voted wrongly.

“I will vote to revise that bill,” he said. “There were parts that made sense to me.”

He explained that the legislation protected a gun shop owner who sold a gun legally to a person who then misused the weapon. However, it did not protect a gun manufacturer who put the weapons in a location where criminals could easily access them illegally. 

Tommy Chong, feeling the Bern

Insert pot joke here. 

Yes, Tommy Chong gets that his reputation is all about marijuana given he is best known for the "Cheech and Chong" films. 

So why not go right for the obvious funny bone when recording a political video in support of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders?

Javier Panzar was there Friday as Chong shot the web short. He talked to Chong about Sanders, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. 

Read the story, and enjoy some behind-the-scenes video.

ABC drops ties with New Hampshire newspaper, and Trump tries to take credit

ABC severed its partnership with New Hampshire's Union Leader newspaper Sunday ahead of the Feb. 6 Republican primary debate they were to jointly host, saying that the paper's hostile rejection of GOP front-runner Donald Trump and endorsement of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie tainted what was intended to be an unbiased sponsorship.

"The current war of words with Trump, coupled with the endorsement already made, put us in a difficult position — there was just too much distraction from what we need to accomplish in the debate," ABC News Vice President Robin Sproul wrote to the Union Leader.

The paper’s publisher, Joseph McQuaid, who wrote a front-page editorial endorsing Christie in November, dismissed ABC's move and said the paper would overcome the “severed” relationship.

"We are amused by ABC apparently just discovering that we write editorials and endorse candidates. We have been doing both for decades and it hasn't been an issue for ABC or anyone else," McQuaid wrote. "... ABC is more concerned about appeasing the parties and candidates than informing voters.”

Immediately after ABC’s announcement, Trump tried to claim credit:

Trump’s relationship with the Union Leader and McQuaid soured when the paper ran a scathing front-page editorial on Dec. 27 slamming Trump's candidacy. It followed Trump's loud complaints about the paper after it endorsed Christie. 

He said Sunday that ABC took his lead by dropping the paper for the debate. ABC declined to comment on his claims. 

ABC News, the Independent Journal Review website and local ABC affiliate WMUR will jointly sponsor the debate at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., just three days before the New Hampshire primary.

Decker: 'Caution' seems to be the watchword in this political cycle

 (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)

(Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)

Californians who awoke last week from a 20-year slumber might have been confused at the messages delivered during two key political events in the state.

On Thursday, a governor repeatedly warned against excessive spending, pointing to charts that predicted a "devastating" recession in the near future, demanding that politicians save money for that rainy day and only sparingly look at the possibility of raising taxes.

At about the same time, across the state, a leading presidential candidate was also talking about government restraint, particularly when it comes to the economy and its impact on struggling Americans.

"I want to be the small-business president," the candidate said.

Before your lengthy nap, you might have bet that those statements had been made by Republicans. Yet the speakers last week were Democrats, Gov. Jerry Brown and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Gabby Giffords says Hillary Clinton only candidate to truly stand up to gun lobby

 (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

(Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Most of the people running for president talk a lot about how tough they are. But most of them have shown they aren’t tough enough to stand up to the gun lobbyists.

Former Rep. Gabby Giffords endorsed Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign over the weekend. Clinton has consistently assailed Bernie Sanders for a 2005 bill he supported that gave gun manufacturers and dealers immunity from product liability lawsuits.
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