USC/LAT poll: Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz gain ground in Republican field

Welcome to Trail Guide, your daily host through the wilds of the 2016 presidential campaign. It's Friday, Nov. 6, and this is what we're watching:

  • Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are forming a solid second tier among GOP hopefuls, a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll finds
  • Complete poll results will be released Sunday
  • Democrats have their first cattle call in the South Friday night. Evan Halper is there. 
  • It's almost exactly a year until Election Day and in Colorado, voters are  already looking  to 2016. The Times'  Mark Z. Barabak  and  Michael Finnegan  explore
  • Bernie Sanders is struggling to shore up support from some of his biggest allies: unions, The Times' Evan Halper reports
  • Ben Carson is facing new scrutiny as a front-runner

Hillary Clinton's rivals take some shots in South Carolina

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Democratic rivals exhibited some newfound feistiness Friday night, as they jockeyed to get on the radar of voters in a part of the country where Clinton dominates.

A South Carolina forum in which which each Democratic candidate had a separate chat with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow before an audience of 3,000 offered an opportunity for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley to make their case that they are worthy alternatives for the South.

It was no easy task. A recent Witnhrop University Poll has more than 70% of South Carolina Democrats supporting Clinton.

But her rivals had their moments on Friday, particularly O’Malley, who has struggled to get attention.

After Maddow noted all the candidates at the forum opposed the Keystone Pipeline, O'Malley was quick to point out:

“Yes, but Secretary Clinton got there just last week. And I was against it a year ago.”

(Fact check: It wasn’t just last week. But it was recent.) “I think leadership isn't about following polls,” O’Malley said.

It was the stuff of earlier O’Malley news releases. But the candidate, whose stage presence can be muted, hit the right notes with his delivery. Soon, he was boring into Sanders, the proud democratic socialist.

“It does not hold that a return to the old ideologies of the past, or debating the pros and cons of socialism, is going to solve our problems,” O’Malley said, unprompted.

Maddow was not going to leave it there.

“Do you think that him being a democratic socialist is disqualifying?” she asked.

O’Malley then noted of when Obama ran for reelection: “I was glad to step up and work very hard for him, while Sen. Sanders was trying to find someone to primary him.... I am a Democrat. I'm a lifelong Democrat. I'm not a former independent. I'm not a former Republican. I believe in the party of Franklin Roosevelt, the party of John F. Kennedy.... I've never once rejected the nomination of the Democratic Party. Nor will I this time.”

O’Malley even got to tell the world that he owns a kilt when Maddow lobbed one of a few lighthearted questions -- this one about wardrobe.

It was a good night for Sanders, too. The format suited him much better than the Democratic debate in Las Vegas did. He got to riff playfully on what irritates him about the media, carefully paint Clinton as the establishment candidate at a time the establishment has failed voters, and distinguish himself as the candidate who has actually been able to raise tens of millions of dollars while also “walking the walk” on ending the dominance of big donors in politics (as opposed to Clinton).

For Clinton, the stakes were lower. She delivered a generally crowd-pleasing performance. But it was one in which she avoided talking about her rivals.

HIllary Clinton and the death penalty

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s wavering on the death penalty has not been received well by many Democrats, who would like to see her renounce it altogether.

In South Carolina on Friday, she sought to clarify her position.

“There are some really heinous crimes that are, in my view, still arguably ones that should potentially still have the death penalty,” Clinton said. The architects of terrorist attacks such as 9/11, the Boston Marathon bombing and the Oklahoma City bombing are among those for whom Clinton argues the death penalty may be in order.

But although Clinton advocates preserving the punishment in federal cases, she emphasized that “a number of states … have moved much too quickly” to condemn defendants to death. “I don’t think you could make a case that all that has needed to be done to protect agasint discrimination and lack of fairness has been done,” she said. “Many states have gone too far.”

Rival Martin O’Malley’s campaign was quick to point out – while Clinton was still on stage -- that the front-runner also has said it is up to the states themselves to decide whether that has been the case. O’Malley says he would push to abolish the death penalty nationwide.

Bernie Sanders: 'Media drives me nuts'

Bernie Sanders may disagree with Hillary Rodham Clinton on “virtually everything” – but he stressed Friday the key word is “virtually.”

The Vermont senator, whose Democratic presidential campaign momentum has slowed of late and who is under pressure from advisors to take the gloves off, took a measured approach to attacking the front-runner during a candidate forum in South Carolina.

When moderator Rachel Maddow of MSNBC asked about his earlier comment to the Boston Globe that suggested he and Clinton have nothing in common, he walked it back some. He said he’s growing exhausted by the media constantly trying to draw him into a fight with Clinton.

“Media drives me nuts,” he said. “It is always this ‘gotcha’ stuff. I can’t walk down a hallway in the nation’s Capitol without people begging me to beat up on Hillary Clinton…I resist it and I resist it and I resist it.”

But then he went on to point out he and Clinton are not at all cut from the same cloth

“I would not have run if I believed that establishment politics and establishment economics can solve the very serious problems we face,” Sanders said. He challenged the front-runner on campaign finance reform. Sanders said he “walks the walk” on spurning big money in politics, and he suggested Clinton, whose supporters are pouring millions of dollars into super PACs, is not.

And he pointed out that he was against the Keystone pipeline from the beginning.

But the biggest problem Sanders faces is not distinguishing himself from Clinton. It is winning the voters beyond the white liberals who have driven his momentum. They are supporting Clinton in much, much larger numbers. Maddow didn’t waste any time asking Sanders how the Vermont senator, who comes from a state that is 95% white and has had trouble winning support with minorities, can change that in a place like South Carolina.

“The issues that impact South Carolina, the South and all over America are the same issues that impact the people of Vermont,” Sanders said.

Maddow pressed. She asked Sanders if he has “enough real world experience with the issues racial minorities face.”

“If you check out my record, you will find there are very few members of the Congress that have a stronger record on civil rights,” he said, adding that he was there when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. marched on Washington. “More importantly, I think I have the economic and social justice agenda now that, once we get the word out, will resonate with the African American community.”

Clinton's rivals face big test in South Carolina Friday night

ROCK HILL, S.C. -- Here in South Carolina Friday night, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Democratic rivals have a crucial platform to make the case that the front-runner is not an unstoppable force.

It will be no easy task. Clinton may be showing signs of weakness in Iowa and New Hampshire, but not down here. Some 70% of South Carolina Democrats support her, according to a poll released this week by Winthrop University. Like Nevada, South Carolina is shaping up to be a firewall for Clinton.

The strength of that firewall will be tested Friday when she joins Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley at the first Democratic cattle call in the South, an event called the First in the South Presidential Candidates Forum.

Clinton’s rivals argue a big reason she is polling so strong in the South is because they are still unknown here. But there are undeniably other reasons. In South Carolina, in particular, black voters dominate among Democrats. Sanders has little experience connecting with blacks in a campaign setting, despite a strong record on civil rights, affordable healthcare, and boosting the minimum wage. He’s made missteps that have not helped – most notably an interaction with Black Lives Matters protesters that did not go well. The big crowds he draws tend not to be all that diverse. That is in contrast to Clinton, who has been campaigning amongs African Americans for decades, starting when her husband was running for governor of Arkansas. She has lined up endorsements from dozens of black leaders, and her campaign has had staff in South Carolina since she launched months ago. They have already held 1,100 events.

O’Malley, meanwhile, is not just struggling with black voters, but all voters. He barely registers in the polls. Outside the South Carolina event where throngs of activists hoisted signs for their favored candidate, there was scarcely an O’Malley sign to be found.

The event starts at 5 p.m. Pacific time. Watch here for updated coverage.


In the hot seat for the next debate: Its host, Maria Bartiromo

 (Richard Drew / AP)

(Richard Drew / AP)

Fox Business Network anchor Maria Bartiromo believes the Republicans are not helping themselves by whining about the moderators at the primary debates.

“President Obama said it, and it was true,” she said during a conversation at the FBN offices in Midtown Manhattan a few days before she takes the stage for the channel’s primary debate Tuesday in Milwaukee. “If these guys can’t deal with the moderators, how are you going to be able to deal with Russia and China?”

But Bartiromo is prepared to take the hits if the candidates get ruffled by the questions she and Fox News Channel and FBN anchor Neil Cavuto serve up during what will be the biggest night in the history of the eight-year-old business news channel.

“I guess it’s become cool to slap around the moderator. That’s OK,” said Bartiromo, who has a Brooklyn-bred toughness to go with her glamorous on-camera image. “I’m not uncomfortable with that.”

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With front-runner status comes scrutiny for Ben Carson

 (Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

As retired Baltimore neurosurgeon Ben Carson has reached the top in several recent national polls, he is also experiencing new scrutiny as a front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.

On Friday, his name dominated political news with a Politico report that his campaign “admits fabricating a West Point scholarship” in his autobiography, though that reference was later taken out of the story. The story also quoted a West Point spokeswoman as saying the famous military academy had no record of an application from Carson.

Barry Bennett, Carson’s campaign manager, said in an interview that Carson’s book, “Gifted Hands,” was accurate when Carson wrote, “I was offered a full scholarship to West Point.”

“I would not have used the word ‘full scholarship.’ I would have said ‘nomination,’ but it’s not a fabrication, it’s not a lie,” Bennett said in an interview. At West Point, tuition and other expenses are paid by the government.

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Early returns from the 'Jeb Can Fix It' tour aren't promising

 (Darren McCollester / Getty Images)

(Darren McCollester / Getty Images)

As Jeb Bush attempted to reintroduce himself to presidential primary voters in New Hampshire this week, the former Florida governor had a problem: Many had already met him.

“There’s a whole negative air about Jeb amongst the people I know,” said Myrna Greene, a retired school secretary who chairs the New Boston Republican committee.

Bush launched a “Jeb Can Fix It” tour intended to reboot his faltering presidential campaign in the crucial primary state after several missteps, notably a subpar debate performance. Bush has been to New Hampshire 17 times over the past two years, for a total of 30 days, according to, which tracks candidates’ visits. That tally does not include his visits campaigning for his father and brother.

However, interviews with local Republican committee chairmen and activists suggest the tour is not dramatically reshaping his reputation there, though some still give him a shot to turn his campaign around before voters head to the polls Feb. 9. But with an unusually wide field of charismatic candidates from which to choose, many voters have moved on to others.

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USC/LAT poll: Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz gain ground in Republican presidential field

 (Associated Press)

(Associated Press)

Donald Trump and Ben Carson remain the leaders in the Republican presidential field, both in California and nationally, but two freshman senators, Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, have moved into a solid second tier, a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll shows.

Complete results of the poll, looking at voter attitudes one year ahead of the 2016 election, as well as the race on the Democratic side, will be released on Sunday.

Trump and Carson are virtually tied for the lead among Republican voters in California, with 20% for Trump, the businessman and reality TV star, and 19% for Carson, the retired neurosurgeon. Nationally, Trump holds a small lead over Carson, 25%-21%.

The poll, conducted online by SurveyMonkey, surveyed 2,009 voters in California and 3,035 nationwide. It has an error estimate of plus or minus 3 percentage points for the statewide sample and 2.5 points for the national sample.

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Bernie Sanders' momentum stalls in an unlikely place: union halls

 (Olivier Douliery / Abaca Press)

(Olivier Douliery / Abaca Press)

Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator, doesn’t hedge with labor. Just about anything on the broader labor agenda, he champions. He recently unveiled legislation that read like a union wish list in front of a spirited throng of laborers shouting approval.

Sanders bristled when a reporter asked whether the bill would help him win endorsements from national unions — which it hasn’t. “It’s not a question of winning,” he snapped. “This is legislation I have supported, quite honestly, since literally the first year I was in Congress.” That was a quarter-century ago.

Despite Sanders’ deep support for labor, a national nurses organization is the only major union to endorse him in the race for the Democratic nomination for president. It is dwarfed by much larger labor groups that are lining up with his arguably less committed, less reliable rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

National unions representing more than half of America’s 14.6 million unionized workers are already in Clinton’s corner, and many of the rest are heading in that direction. It is creating significant tension in some of the organizations and raising the question of whether the Sanders campaign is faltering or if union leadership has lost touch with its rank and file, large numbers of whom are turning out to support Sanders with unrivaled enthusiasm.

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Report: Ben Carson admits he never applied to West Point

Carson's application to and acceptance at West Point had long been a central part of his biography, but the service academy has no record of an application, according to Politico. And Carson's campaign manager admitted in response to questions from the publication that his assertions were not true.

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Carson challenges the media in his latest CNN interview

A CNN interview with Ben Carson turned contentious Friday when the Republican candidate and CNN anchor argued about journalists’ tactics.

Host Alisyn Camerota of “New Day” questioned Carson’s biography and his campaign’s refusal to share the real names of the people Carson claims to have attacked when he was young. The candidate responded by saying that those involved didn’t want media attention. He also accused the media of scrutinizing his background more closely than they did President Obama’s in 2008.

“This is a bunch of lies, attempting to say I’m lying about my history,” Carson said. “I think it is pathetic. The media tries to get you all distracted with this stuff so that you don’t talk about the things that are important.”

Camerota responded: “How is it victimizing by saying tell us more about this story? We’re interested.”

She moved on, attempting to pinpoint how Carson would confront the war in Syria and the refugee crisis. Carson said he would support a coalition of multiple countries to take on the Islamic State but didn’t detail specifics. As for refugees from Syria and elsewhere flooding into Europe, he said the United States would act stupidly if it took in any.

“We already have tens of millions of people here who are suffering economically,” he said. “Why would we bring more, particularly people who could easily be infiltrated by members of jihad? That would be a silly thing.”

President Obama has ordered his administration to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year for resettlement in the U.S., well short of the total advocates sought. U.S. officials have said that security screenings for potential refugees take 18 to 24 months.

Carson’s exchange with Camerota further deteriorated in the last minutes of the half-hour phone interview. Carson went on to say he thinks welfare has gone too far and the U.S. facilitated the dependency of disadvantaged Americans. When Camerota tried to follow up, Carson stopped her by attacking the media in general for what he called spinning words to fit their story.

In Colorado, voters look toward 2016 as they weigh presidential contenders

WHEAT RIDGE, Colo. -- D.J. Painter goes to work each day in a little slice of bike-riding heaven, a vast emporium selling every piece of cycling equipment imaginable.

Business at Wheat Ridge Cyclery, a 40-year-old family firm in the suburbs between Denver and the Rocky Mountains, has never been better -- some models roll out the door for $14,000 -- and Painter, a sales manager, is also doing well.

Still, he’s nervous about the future and the country his 10-month-old daughter, Zoe, will inherit.

“Is there going to be money for us when we retire?” said Painter, 41, a political independent who twice voted for President Obama. “Is there going to be Social Security? Is this all going to be on my daughter's shoulders?”

One year before the country chooses its next president, voters are anxious, wary and not terribly confident about what lies ahead -- sentiments found in ample supply across Colorado, one of just half a dozen or so states that probably will decide the 2016 election.

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