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Jeb Bush calls Trump 'pathetic'

Welcome to Trail Guide, your daily host through the wilds of the 2016 presidential campaign. It's Friday, Oct. 16, and this is what we're watching:

  • Jeb Bush did not like Donald Trump's remarks about his brother. 
  • Poll finds Bernie Sanders has lost  his lead in New Hampshire.
  • President Obama will not be answering questions about every Hillary Rodham Clinton utterance
  • Democrats question  House Benghazi committee's focus on Huma Abedin. 

The politics of Clinton's anti-NRA barrage

When it comes to her Democratic rivals, Hillary Rodham Clinton's approach on the campaign trail is to ignore them -- with one notable exception lately.

She is working hard to highlight the contrast in her aggressive approach to gun control with that of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Sanders has a spotty record on the issue. Over the years, he has withheld his support from some landmark gun legislation. Sometimes he has voted with gun control advocates, sometimes he has not. (Though he boasts to progressives that the National Rifle Assn. gives him a rating of D-minus on its annual report card.) The inconsistency has become a political liability for him, even among Democrats in the rural, early voting state of New Hampshire, where hunting is popular and so is gun ownership.

The Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll of New Hampshire Democrats out Friday underscores why Clinton has been hitting the issue so hard, vowing to fight the NRA in spirited remarks at a rally in Texas on Thursday and then at a New Hampshire town hall on Friday. The poll showed 41% of New Hampshire Democrats consider Clinton's position on guns closer to their own, compared with 24% who support the Sanders approach.

In New Hampshire on Friday, Clinton did not mention Sanders by name. But she had some harsh words that seemed directed at him, charging there are "a lot of people in public life today who are intimidated" by the NRA.

Jeb Bush calls Donald Trump's comments about his brother 'pathetic'

Jeb Bush has worked hard to get out of his brother's shadow, but Donald Trump keeps bringing him right back under it.

On Friday, the billionaire GOP front-runner lured Bush into a heated exchange about his brother's presidency with some incendiary remarks in an interview with Bloomberg's Stephanie Ruhle. Trump blamed Bush for failing to protect the country against the attack on the World Trade Center.

"When you talk about George Bush, I mean, say what you want, the World Trade Center came down during his time," Trump said.

Ruhle interjected: "Hold on," she said. "You can't blame George Bush for that."

Trump didn't flinch. "He was president, OK?" Trump said. "Say what you want. Blame him or don't blame him, but he was president. The World Trade Center came down during his reign."

Jeb Bush could not let the comments go unanswered. He took to Twitter to defend his brother.

Obama gives Clinton a pass on disagreeing with his positions

President Obama gave Hillary Rodham Clinton a pass when it comes to opposing one of his administration's highest priorities, the ratification of a major new trade deal with 11 Pacific Rim nations.

Asked about her stand at a news conference Friday, the president issued an admonition to reporters about questions he will try to avoid answering.

"During the course of what will be a long campaign, I probably won't be commenting on every single utterance or decision that the various candidates make," he said.

"I think that it is natural and proper for candidates to run on their own vision and their own platform."

Questions about Clinton's position on trade are best directed to her, he said. But he indicated no great umbrage about his former secretary of State or other Democrats taking the other side on the issue, noting that they agree "on 95% of stuff."

He also downplayed how engaged he is in the campaign debate.

Some 15 million viewers watched Tuesday's encounter among the Democratic candidates, but Obama noted there was a baseball playoff game on at the time.

He was doing some "clicking back and forth," he said.

"The one observation I will make about the Democratic debate was that those are all some very fine people," he said, adding they generally agree with his outlook on the economy, foreign policy and issues such as climate change.

"You know, the vision of the Democratic Party that I fought for is one that is broadly shared by all the candidates," he said.

The president has shown little reluctance to weigh in on Republican primary politics. At a recent dinner he wondered why Republicans "running for my office" were "so down on America," citing what he said was the "new reality" they'd invented in which Obama inherited a nation enjoying a "golden era," and then "messed it all up."

But as his answer indicated, he wants to avoid being pulled into Democratic primary politics -- as Clinton alternately runs toward or away from his record and Vice President Joe Biden looms as a potential candidate.

Asked separately whether the window was closing on a Biden presidential bid, Obama responded tersely: "I am not going to comment on what Joe is doing or not doing."

He also made clear he doesn't plan to issue an endorsement right away.

"I will have a vote like everybody else as a citizen, and that ballot is private," he said.

Clinton pulls even in New Hampshire, poll finds

The newest poll out of New Hampshire finds that Hillary Rodham Clinton has regained her footing there. The lead commanded since July by insurgent Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont socialist, has evaporated, according to a Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll of likely Democratic primary voters. The poll suggests voters were impressed by Clinton's debate performance. She and Sanders are now practically deadlocked, with 37% supporting Clinton and 35% supporting Sanders.

"Clinton's willingness to engage Sanders on gun control established her progressive credentials," said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston, in a statement. "And her debate performance solidified her standing with New Hampshire Democratic voters, who have her leading her closest rival for the first time since July."

Democratic voters in New Hampshire also appear to be unenthusiastic about the prospect of Vice President Joe Biden jumping into the race. Half of those polled, 50%, say he should stay out, while 36% would like him to run.

Bush, Rubio fundraising tussle gets personal

The long friendship between Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio is being tested by the stresses of the campaign. Bush backers are not pleased by an implication from Rubio's campaign that the former Florida governor is burning through cash at an alarming rate. So fast that Bush — who has dwarfed Rubio in fundraising — now has less money left in the bank than his fellow Floridian, according to Rubio campaign calculations. The Bush people say that is nonsense. A Twitter war has erupted. The communications director for Bush's "super PAC" questions Rubio's grasp of numbers, pointing out that Rubio also claims he once ran a 40-yard dash faster than many elite athletes.

Huma Abedin questioned by Benghazi Committee

One of Hillary Rodham Clinton's closest advisers is being interviewed Friday morning by the House Benghazi Committee on Friday, as Republicans gather material for their much-anticipated grilling of Clinton in a public hearing scheduled for next week.

The adviser, Huma Abedin, a longtime confidant of Clinton who currently serves as the vice chairwoman of her campaign, has long been a target of Republicans. They have questioned an arrangement Abedin had with Clinton through which she was on the payroll of the State Department and also receiving substantial income from a private consulting business, as well as the Clinton Foundation.

More recently, however, Abedin's name has surfaced in the context of Clinton's email troubles. Much of the government email sent to Clinton on her private server while she was secretary of State was routed through Abedin. Democrats said the committee's focus on Abedin, who had little involvement in the events surrounding the attacks in Benghazi in 2012, is more evidence that the investigation is a partisan sham.

Committee Republicans say everything they will ask Abedin in the closed-door session is, indeed, linked to Benghazi.

"Ms. Abedin will be questioned about issues pertaining to the committee's charter: the events leading up to, during and after the attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012 and executive branch activities and efforts to comply with congressional inquiries into them," said a statement from the committee. It said the committee will not be questioning Abedin about her controversial past employment arrangement.

"The committee has typically avoided announcing appearances before it, but the continued mischaracterizations of the committee's actions by Democrats, partisans and outside groups necessitates a change in this practice," the statement said.

Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill said the committee explanation is weak.

"It remains unclear why the committee is focused on her, given her lack of knowledge about the events surrounding Benghazi," he wrote in an email to reporters. "The Committee's focus on Huma (as opposed to numerous intelligence and defense community officials still outstanding) is additional evidence that the actual attack in Benghazi, and its lessons about how we might better protect diplomats serving in dangerous places, are the last things on the committee's mind."

Merrill went on: "The Republicans' focus on her of all people, and their decision to leak details about her appearance, is just another tactic in their partisan plan to go after Hillary Clinton. And in that vein, we hope that the leaks that have become routine do not happen after she completes her interview."

Stay tuned.

Who really won debate? Polls say Clinton

In the hours immediately after Tuesday night's Democratic debate, media analysts and party strategists quickly declared Hillary Rodham Clinton the winner.

Not so fast, said supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Focus groups convened by CNN and Fox News had preferred Sanders. So did respondents to several non-scientific online surveys. The pundits were out of touch with the voters, some Sanders backers declared.

Three days later, we're starting to see some results from reliable polls. Looks like the pundits were right.

So far, at least three surveys that meet standards for meaningful public opinion research — one conducted by telephone and two online — have reported their results. All found a majority of Democrats calling Clinton the winner.

In a phone survey by Gravis Marketing, registered Democrats chose Clinton over Sanders, 62% to 30%, as the winner. An online YouGov survey for the Huffington Post had a similar result, 55% to 22%. And this morning, a poll for NBC by Survey Monkey had Clinton as the winner, 56% to 33%.

More importantly, the NBC survey showed Clinton gaining slightly as the favored candidate, largely at the expense of Vice President Joe Biden, who is expected to make an announcement soon about whether to run.

More polls will deliver additional data over the next week, but the evidence to date all points in the same direction: Clinton had a strong debate, it has helped her consolidate her position as front-runner and it has made a run by Biden more of a long shot.

Biden's people would run 'a campaign from the heart'

 (AFP / Getty Images)

(AFP / Getty Images)

For months, speculation about Vice President Joe Biden's political future has been driven largely by reporting based on anonymous sources, and only occasionally on word from Biden himself.

But late Thursday, one of Biden's closest aides for the first time laid out just where the vice president's deliberations stood and what a potential campaign might look like, as the Times' Michael A. Memoli reported last night.

Below is the full text of a letter from Ted Kaufman, the longtime Biden aide and former senator from Delaware, sent to the vice president's network of former staff.

Dear friend,

A lot of you are being asked, and have asked me, about the direction and timing of the Vice President's thinking about a run for President. On the second question -- timing -- I can't add much, except I am confident that the Vice President is aware of the practical demands of making a final decision soon. He has been in public and political life a long time and he has a good grip on the mechanics around this decision.

But on the first question, I know him well, and have spoken with him extensively about this issue. It will not surprise you, as it does not surprise me, what he will weigh in the decision and what - being Joe Biden - he will not.

All of you know well that the first and foremost consideration will be the welfare and support of his family. That's Joe Biden. He has been clear about this and it is as true today as it has been for the past several months. He is determined to take, and to give his family, as much time as possible to work this through.

But then the question is what kind of Presidential campaign he believes he would run, and what kind of President he believes he can be. If he runs, he will run because of his burning conviction that we need to fundamentally change the balance in our economy and the political structure to restore the ability of the middle class to get ahead. And whether we can a political consensus in America to get it done

And what kind of campaign? An optimistic campaign. A campaign from the heart. A campaign consistent with his values, our values, and the values of the American people. And I think it's fair to say, knowing him as we all do, that it won't be a scripted affair -- after all, it's Joe.

He believes we must win this election. Everything he and the President have worked for - and care about - is at stake.

I know in the daily ups and down of the political swirl, we all get bombarded with the tactics. So sometimes it's good to take a step back and get real again. Let's stay in touch. If he decides to run, we will need each and every one of you -- yesterday!

Ted

Ben Carson outpaces GOP rivals in fundraising reports

 (Eric Risberg / AP)

(Eric Risberg / Associated Press)

In a summer for political outsiders, retired surgeon Ben Carson far out-raised his Republican rivals in a crowded field, hauling in $20 million. But it's his fellow political insurgent Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) who ended the quarter with the most cash in the bank.

Cruz, the first-term Texas senator and tea party favorite, raised about $12 million in contributions and ended the quarter with nearly $13.5 million in the bank, compared with about $11.2 million in the bank for Carson and about $10.2 million for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, according to figures released by the campaigns.

Barry Bennett, Carson's campaign manager, said much of the money is being spent on a ground operation in Iowa, where Carson hopes to capitalize on his strong base of support among evangelical voters. In several national polls, Carson is trailing only current front-runner Donald Trump among Republicans.

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