Jeb Bush talks energy and the long game in Pennsylvania

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks to local South Carolina Republicans on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. (AP)
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks to local South Carolina Republicans on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. (AP)

BY SALENA ZITO  szito@tribweb.com

Jeb Bush brings his presidential campaign to Western Pennsylvania Tuesday afternoon where he will lay out his energy policy at Rice Energy.

“The underlying premise is that the energy sector is extraordinarily important for high growth and high income for all Americans,” Bush said in an exclusive interview with the Trib.

The former Florida Governor is running for the Republican nomination for president. He is the third presidential candidate to visit Pittsburgh this cycle; Democrats Hillary Clinton and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley held fundraisers this summer but held no public events.

Bush said his expansive energy plan goes hand in hand with both his proposal to reduce taxes by $3.4 trillion in the next decade and his pledge for 4 percent economic growth, a rate the country has not achieved in almost 20 years. He said they are all part of a campaign that is designed to go the distance during the current upheaval in American politics.

“A lot of the energy driven by the current populist sentiments in this election cycle is that people feel as though Washington is managing our decline, and it leaves people feeling angry and uncertain about the state of the country and its future,” Bush said.

“There is great frustration and anger that the system is not working for anybody, and then there is the particular problem of Washington dysfunction,” he said.

“Rather than appeal to people’s angst and anger, what I am doing is offering up a set of proposals that has outlined the most dramatic reforms of any campaign,” Bush said, listing his cyber security, ISIS, tax reform and upcoming healthcare and higher education reforms, as well as his thoughts on how to “transform the welfare system into a system where the dignity of work is given far great value.”

He said, “The net effect – what I want people to know – is help is on the way.”

Bush said he designed his campaign to go the distance, not only with fundraising and endorsements in states beyond the traditional first two bouts in Iowa and New Hampshire, but also with a full range of polices for people to consider as they weigh their options.

“At the end of this process, people start migrating towards who can lead and who has the experience to be able to solve problems,” he said, adding that people are looking for which candidate has their heart, understands their plight and has the ideas to lift them up.

“That is just the natural tendency of American politics,” Bush said. “Every presidential race is different, but as you get closer to decision day, that is what is going to matter.”

Bush said the horse race that the media love because of the tension it creates does not appeal to regular people, who are watching only with peripheral vision. “They care about making ends meet and their families,” he said. “They care about why decision makers can’t solve problems.”

Bush said he was stunned when he read the news Monday morning that Iraq said it has reached a deal to share intelligence with Russia, Iran and Syria in the fight against ISIS militants, something he said would not happen under his presidency.

“My God, it is the policy of appeasement and weakness that has put us in a posture that is embarrassing for our country and even more important than that – dangerous,” he said.

“The leading indicator of this was Soleimani going to Russia in violation of the sanctions a couple of days after this agreement was announced, dealing with the Russians,” Bush said of  the chief commander for Iranian foreign forces outside of Iran going to Moscow.

“Shortly thereafter, the Russians and the Iranians are doubling down on the support of Assad and now this effort… this is horrific,” he said.

“We are sitting back, and now my guess is we will count on the Russians to be part of the efforts to negotiate  something. But basically we will perpetuate the Assad regime, and I don’t think it will do much to deal with ISIS, but it will certainly ruin our reputation as a willing partner,” he said.

That, he said, is exactly what they want: “They want to kick the United States out of the Middle East, and that would be quite dangerous for us and our national security.”

Pennsylvania and the long game

Bush said while he has a six-month ground game in place that will take his campaign well into the eight southern states that are slated to cast ballots on March 1, a day now called the “SEC Primary” after the iconic college football conference voters in those states religiously support, he’s not quite set up in Pennsylvania, yet.

Nevertheless, he chose Pennsylvania to talk about energy.

“The reason we are unveiling this in Pennsylvania – outside of this is where the energy economy is coming from – is because this is an important state in the general election, but also could be in the April primary,” Bush said.

In 1980 his father, George H.W. Bush, beat Ronald Reagan in a contentious primary in Pennsylvania. Bush ultimately lost to Reagan in that election. He was the last Republican to win Pennsylvania in a presidential general election – in 1988 against Democrat Massachusetts governor Mike Dukakis.

On Monday, Jeb said: “In order to win you need to get a majority of the delegates; that is kind of the point. Sometimes campaigns don’t have the resources to do that, but we are looking at the long game.”

Exporting natural gas, creating jobs

Bush said on Tuesday he will propose something that he has been advocating for a long while: lifting the restrictions on exports of oil and facilitating the exports of natural gas, which he says the law does not prohibit but which the government makes very difficult.

Streamlining the federal natural gas export permitting process – which has broad bipartisan support in Congress – would, according to supporters, encourage more shale development domestically, and thus more job creation along the industry’s supply chain, as well as added local, state and federal tax revenues.

Under Bush’s proposal, more natural gas exports – including to non-Free Trade Agreement allies around the world, particularly in Eastern Europe where countries are deeply and sometimes exclusively, dependent on Russia to meet their energy demands – would help further reduce the nation’s trade deficit, and would not lead to significant price increases domestically, according to a U.S. Department of Energy-commissioned study.

Bush said too many families are having trouble making ends meet, and his energy plan is designed to create millions of jobs, increase wages, and lower energy costs.

“There are four components outside of lifting the export ban, which include more deference to states that want to drill, approving the Keystone XL pipeline, reduce overregulation and more affordable energy will help everyone rise up,” he said.

“All of the these policies together will roll out domestic energy production and create jobs, increase wages, make gas and electricity cheaper and help us achieve, and sustain, 4 percent economic growth,” Bush said.

Former PA Treasurer Hafer endorses Fetterman

Fetterman01BY DONALD GILLILAND  dgilliland@tribweb.com

John Fetterman is finally getting some love from political officialdom, sort-of.

Barbara Hafer, who served as both Pennsylvania Treasurer and Auditor, on Thursday endorsed Fetterman, the mayor of Braddock, in his run against Joe Sestak and Katie McGinty for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate.

“If John can do even a fraction of what he did in Braddock for other communities in the Commonwealth, Pennsylvania will thrive like never before,” said Hafer in a release.

Hafer, who started her career as a public health nurse in Braddock hospital, cited Fetterman’s record of bringing unprecedented investment to the struggling former steel town.

“While so many politicians were compromising their ethics or engaging in risky borrowing to try to stabilize struggling economies, John attracted millions to his home through simple hard work. And what’s more, he spent that money wisely, investing in everything from a community center that provides a safe space for families and kids after school to Braddock’s first commercial retail space in years. The Senate desperately needs someone with John’s record of getting things done,” said Hafer.

Hafer was a force in Republican politics during her tenure, but she switched to the Democratic party after she left public office. It’s unclear how much weight Hafer’s endorsement carries, but she’s the first person who has served in statewide elective office to say Fetterman’s her first choice.

In thanking Hafer, Fetterman cited “her unrelenting work ethic and her ability to put results before Party” as “two qualities I hope to take with me to the Senate.”

Fetterman is the charismatic dark horse is the Democratic Senate race. Sestak, a retired Navy admiral who served two terms in Congress is the front-runner, but he gives many establishment Democrats the jitters; they in turn convinced McGinty, a former state environmental protection secretary and chief of staff to Gov. Tom Wolf, to make a run. Whoever wins, will oppose incumbent Republican Pat Toomey.

PA Supreme Court candidates stacking up millions for fall

six judge mugsBY MELISSA DANIELS  mdaniels@tribweb.com

Pennsylvania Supreme Court candidates appear to have spent the summer months squirreling away cash for the final stretch of the election, according to the most recent round of campaign finance reports.

In the latest cycle – from June 9 through Sept. 14 – the seven candidates spent a collective $619,925, but they’ve still got a total of more than $2.6 million on hand.

Voters have yet to be bombarded with ads and mailers, but there’s still plenty of time – and money – for that to occur. The election is Nov. 3. The primary race drummed up about $2.4 million on television advertising, according to a joint study from Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice. Overall, the candidates spent at least $5 million on the primary.

About 42 percent of all the money candidates had on hand at the end of the most recent quarter is held by financial front-runner and Democrat Superior Court Judge David Wecht. Nearly all of it was raised during the quarter.

The cycle also included the first financial reports required from third-party Philadelphia-based Judge Paul Panepinto, who appears to be largely self-funded with a $150,000 donation to himself in mid-September.

Court election watchers predicted a flood of outside partisan money into Pennsylvania for this race, as a record-setting three seats are open, providing the opportunity to swing the political leaning of the seven-member body.

In-state lawyers are also expected to be heavy backers of the campaigns. In this cycle, the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association’s political arm, the Committee for a Better Tomorrow, chipped in $125,000 to each of the Democratic candidates.

Here’s what the candidates spent in this most recent quarter, and what they have on hand for the start of the fall election season:

Democrats

Superior Court Judge Christine Donohue: Spent $75,577; Has $510,648

Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Kevin Dougherty:  Spent $286,980; Has $511,595

Superior Court Judge David Wecht: Spent $92,038; Has $1,108,140

Republicans

Commonwealth Court Judge Anne Covey: Spent $53,612; Has $143,173

Superior Court Judge Judy Olson: Spent $11,062; Has $83,788

Adams County Common Pleas Judge Michael George: Spent $50,991; Has $126,166

Independent

Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Paul Panepinto: Spent $49,665; Has $150,335

Budget impasses in the time of Twitter

BY MELISSA DANIELS  mdaniels@tribweb.com

Gov. Tom Wolf doesn’t always sign his own tweets – but when he did this past week, it was to send a strongly worded message to Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman.

Budget impasses during the time of Twitter – what could go wrong?

The budget negotiations between the governor and legislative leaders are now in their third month, with little to show by way of consensus, but plenty of back and forth about who is in the wrong.

On Friday, Wolf sent a four-tweet message directly to @JakeCorman, the Republican Senate leader from Centre County. The tweets followed a press conference Wolf gave earlier in which he blasted the Senate’s plan to pass a stopgap budget in the wake of a nearly-three-month budget negotiation stalemate.

tw tweet 1 9-18tw tweet 2 9-18tw tweet 3 9-18tw tweet 4 9-18Wolf received some shout-outs from voters and residents supporting him, and a slew of retweets.

Then Corman responded – but not in the way you might think.

Corman thanked the governor for working with Republicans on the executive nominations – nothin’ but positivity, and a thinly veiled reference to the proposals GOP lawmakers are pushing for, depiste Wolf’s veto of their liquor privatization and pension plans earlier this year.

jc tweet 1 9-18jc tweet 2 0-19

Will Corman’s hopes be fulfilled, and will progress be made this week?

It’s unclear, especially when the House of Representatives could pass the Senate’s stopgap plan to partially fund the government, and Wolf has said he would veto the measure in favor of holding out for a true agreement.

We’re holding out, too.

PA investigates undue influence – to the last crumb!

 cardamom chocolate macadamia cookies (AP)
cardamom chocolate macadamia cookies (AP)

BY MELISSA DANIELS  mdaniels@tribweb.com

A Pennsylvania state agency armed with the power and responsibility to scout wrongdoing within the ranks of government has recently deployed its agents in pursuit of one of the sweetest kinds of bribery: holiday cookies.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced Monday the Office of Inspector General had begun posting its reports online for public viewing. The first investigates whether a contractor’s delivery of homemade holiday cookies violated state ethics rules.

The unnamed contractor works with PennDOT on vehicle registration issues. Employees at driver license centers, the report said, would refer customers to this business exclusively. But things got sticky around the holidays….

“OIG discovered the Contractor had a tradition of delivering cookies to PennDOT Driver License Centers during the holidays.  The tradition was started by the father of the current owner of the Contractor when the individual’s father operated the business.”

Family tradition, eh? Sounds suspicious. OIG continues:

“The cookies were homemade (not purchased from a store or dessert delivery business) and were of nominal value.  The cookies were presented on an ordinary tray and not a basket or other decorative container and were for everyone at the Center and not any specific employee(s).”

To be clear, these were not cookies delivered on a silver platter. Just an ordinary tray. Move along.

Overall, OIG concludes that, under the ethics and gifts laws in effect at the time the complaint occurred, the cookie delivery didn’t violate any laws.

PennDOT policies prevent “personal” gifts, (these were for everyone!), and the contractors are barred from offering “money, gifts, or other items of substantial value . . . .” (their emphasis). Apparently, baked goods didn’t meet the threshold. Never mind the fact that if you wanted to secure an exclusive contract from a state agency with treats, those cookies better be amazing.

But, the report notes, Gov. Wolf’s gift ban signed into policy this January prohibits employees from accepting “any” gift or favor from outside entities, including contractors. The agency doesn’t flat out say “No cookies allowed,” but a FAQ on the gift ban does not provide an exception for this particular scenario. In fact, the guidance says state executive employees must go so far as to pay for the complimentary snacks offered at meetings and conferences.

“There is no exception for items of nominal value,” it says: “bottles of water and cups of coffee must be paid for if they are consumed.”

The OIG report closes with a recommendation that PennDOT update its policy in keeping with the executive branch gift ban and provide training to employees. (They also noted forms used to refer customers to vehicle registration and related services were not accurate, and suggested those be updated).

We poke fun, but there is a good-government lesson to glean – OIG says it initiated the investigation after receiving a complaint in July 2014 about the contractor giving gifts to PennDOT employees. And Gov. Wolf’s gift ban has been mirrored by other state agencies, a positive step for a state whose officials too often find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

We can only hope complaints about more luxurious kickbacks are getting investigated with the same vigor – down to every last crumb.

Another one bites the dust: Walker drops out of GOP race

Republican presidential candidate Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker holds up a dollar bill as he speaks during a town hall meeting in Las Vegas, Sept. 14, 2015. Walker announced one week later that he was dropping out of the race, largely for financial reasons. REUTERS/Las VegasSun/Steve Marcus
Republican presidential candidate Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker holds up a dollar bill as he speaks during a town hall meeting in Las Vegas, Sept. 14, 2015. Walker announced one week later that he was dropping out of the race. REUTERS/Las VegasSun/Steve Marcus

BY SALENA ZITO  szito@tribweb.com

It appears Scott Walker is only invincible in Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin Republican governor will depart from the Republican field Monday in Madison. Walker survived three elections in four years in the Badger State, winning both gubernatorial elections and a recall – and gaining voter percentages each time he was challenged. He was a big target for the national Democrats, the White House and unions, with millions spent to upend his governorship.

“I knew that the CNN debate was the beginning of the end last week; I just didn’t know the end was going to come to that quick,” said Bruce Haynes, a Republican media consultant at Purple Strategies in Washington.

Haynes said I means it’s a whole new ballgame in Iowa now: “Two months ago, he was at the top of the polls, now it’s jump-ball in that state.”

Walker blew up in the polls early in the year in Iowa, the state in which he was born, but by Monday morning his support in the latest polls had him earning less than one-half of one percent of Republican primary voters.

Walker’s departure comes one week after former Texas governor Rick Perry concluded he no longer would be viable to compete in the crowded primary contest.

Walker’s exit gives supporters a chance to make a move toward two people, said Haynes: John Kasich of Ohio and Marco Rubio, the current U.S. Senator from Florida.

“They could also move towards Carly Fiorina, who needs to prove to voters that she has a second act outside of a good debate,” he said.

Haynes says the way they seize the opportunity is a function of how good their campaigns will do.

What Walker’s exit does not do his help any of the insurgent outsider candidates such as entertainer Donald Trump and physician Ben Carson.

Under Walker, Wisconsin went from solid blue to a streak of Red. In addition to Walker’s three wins, the state GOP won a highly contested race for control of the state Supreme Court, twice took the attorney general’s and lieutenant governor’s offices, won control of the legislature and retained that control twice.

“People had hoped he would take that magic to the presidential level, it just never panned out,” said Haynes.

Pennsylvania budget impasse: How long can it go?

BY MELISSA DANIELS  mdaniels@tribweb.com

How much longer can Pennsylvania’s budget impasse last? If history is any indication, quite a while.

Friday saw another one-step-forward, two-steps backward budget play in Harrisburg, when the state Senate passed a stopgap plan to partially fund state government programs. But the measure is bound for a veto from Gov. Tom Wolf, who lambasted the plan as a hypocritical ploy during a press conference last week.

And so the impasse continues.

Tom Kozlik, a municipal strategist from PNC, researched budget battles from the past 60 years:

late budget chart

Of the 12 previous late budgets, see how most were resolved before Labor Day? And how all but two were resolved before Christmas? Also note how some only ended with the creation of new revenue streams, a top priority for Wolf this year?

Gov. George Leader set the record when his 1956 budget wasn’t finalized until the following June – after 336 days.

The only other budget to break the Christmas threshold was Gov. Raymond Shafer’s 1971 budget, which took 248 days and ended with the creation of Pennsylvania’s income tax.

Shafer also holds the record for most late budgets: four – which puts to shame Gov. Ed Rendell’s oft-bemoaned two (395 combined late budget days under Shafer  v. 277 combined late budget days under Rendell).

This year, after more than 80 days, the lack of a state budget is beginning to take its toll: in Erie schools may temporarily close because of a lack of state funds and the fact borrowing costs would approach $200,000.

Nevertheless, the pinch isn’t necessarily sharp enough, nor widespread enough to put pressure on lawmakers to come to a compromise.

Harper Polling found just 11 percent of Pennsylvanians say the impasse has a “significant impact” on their lives, compared to 35 percent who say it doesn’t have much, or 27 percent who say it has no impact at all. (l3)

Fetterman releases one of best campaign videos of the season

BY DONALD GILLILAND  dgilliland@tribweb.com

“It must have felt like the end of the world…”

So begins the first campaign commercial for John Fetterman, mayor of Braddock near Pittsburgh and the third Pennsylvania Democrat to enter the race for U.S. Senate.

It’s one of the best campaign videos you’re likely to see this season.

The first few phrases of the voice-over are exactly what you’d expect from a campaign spot aimed at introducing the candidate’s back story – then it’s revealed the voice-over is no professional narrator, but Fetterman himself … and the unspoken message is driven home: this dude is totally authentic, the real deal.

And it sure doesn’t hurt that Fetterman’s story – and Braddock’s – is the stuff of film: Harvard graduate moves to a gritty impoverished old steel town and helps it make a comeback – a destination for artists, small businessmen and dreamers and a place where people want to live again.

The story is so good, the campaign video does not have to be heavy-handed… the uplifting musical score is barely audible (but it’s there).

The video achieves a rare thing: it feels real, unscripted.

It’s been viewed more than 125,000 times on Facebook and YouTube in less than a week.

It should keep Joe Sestak and Katie McGinty up at night.

Neither of them can tap the deep chord of optimism and faith that resonates through the Fetterman spot.

Sestak, a retired Navy admiral who served on the White House NSA staff under Clinton and went on to a seat in Congress, is a charismatic and unconventional campaigner, but there’s a stiffness to him, residual military starch. There’s also his stubbornness. Having misquoted Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Sestak refused to correct himself even after it was pointed out, which suggests he’d rather persist in an error than admit having made an error… not an uncommon human trait, but not one most folk look for in a U.S. Senator.

Which is one of the reasons the Democratic Party establishment were desperate to find someone to run against Setsak, ultimately convincing McGinty to make the challenge.

McGinty, a former Al Gore staffer who also has experience in the White House and who led Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection under Gov. Ed Rendell, likes to emphasize her blue-collar roots, reminding voters she’s one of 10 children born to a Philadelphia police officer.

But McGinty on the campaign trail – she ran unsuccessfully for governor last year – does not impress: rather than channeling Ann Richards, she too often projects Dora the Explorer. Some of that could be chalked up to the fact last year’s campaign was her first, but even her latest campaign video feels like an effort.

Sestak has proven he can be an effective campaigner, but gives the ol’ heads the jitters; McGinty has policy chops, no question, but struggles on the hustings. Both have access to lots of cash.

Fetterman, who has no cash and no statewide campaign experience, will have to do extraordinary – even miraculous – things to win.

His video makes you think that maybe he can.

Watching it, I can’t help but wonder if years hence, some chronicler of the election might write that for Sestak and McGinty in September “It must have felt like the end of the world.”

Endorsements roll in for PA Supreme Court race

six judge mugsBY MELISSA DANIELS  mdaniels@tribweb.com

Endorsements are rolling in for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court race – and they’re lining up pretty much where you’d expect them to.

This week, the statewide steering committee for the AFSCME Council 13 union endorsed all three Democratic candidates – Judges Christine Donohue, Kevin Dougherty and David Wecht.

Also this week, ChamberPAC, the political arm for the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, endorsed all three Republican candidates: Judges Anne Covey, Michael George and Judy Olson.

Just as the partisan endorsements are to be expected, so is their financial support. In this realm, the union has more cash on hand to throw around: according to state campaign finance reports, the ChamberPAC had about $28,000 in cycle four, which closed on Sept. 14. AFSCME had more than $300,000 on hand in mid-June, with the cycle 4 report not yet posted on the Department of State website.  In mid-June, the Chamber closed its books with about $22,000.

That discrepancy should not be overplayed, though – it highlights instead an important difference in how endorsement funding tends to flow to candidates.

The chamber doesn’t have the same financial structure as the union PAC, which is fortified with member dollars; rather, the chamber endorsement signals to its many business followers, their individual PACs, and their C-level executives  where to send their money.

And don’t forget: there’s an Independent candidate on the ballot, Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Paul Panepinto, who was first on the airwaves with a general election ad, but who thus far apparently is devoid of endorsements.

GOP Debate: Fiorina shows the guys how it’s done

Fiorina TrumpBY SALENA ZITO  szito@tribweb.com

“Tonight, on a stage crowded with strong men, they were led by a woman,” said Bruce Haynes, a Washington based media expert at Purple Strategies – and he is right.

Carly Fiorina won this debate, said Haynes, and Marco Rubio was second: “Together they demonstrated the combination of depth and passion that Republicans will need to take back the White House in 2016.”

Haynes said for voters who are want a fighter, an outsider and a leader, she checks all the boxes. And she has the greatest gift you can have in marketing – she’s different.

Tonight proved to Republicans that if Fiorina can take on a room full of tough men, she can surely hold her own with Hillary Clinton.

“I think Carly Fiorina vaulted to the first tier of candidates and is about to take a polling rocket ride,” said Haynes. “The next question she’ll have to answer is can she sustain her orbit?”

Marco Rubio had a great night as well. He reminded voters of all the qualities that he has that terrify the Clinton camp: youth, depth, strength, energy, his natural diversity and the power of his personal story.

Haynes said the other big story of the night was the disappearing act of Donald Trump.

“The debate format clearly showed he is lacking not only in decorum, but depth,” said Haynes.  “Other than on the issue of immigration, he was either reactive or unheard.  Tonight the curtain was pulled back, and we saw the Wizard of Oz for what he was: a shallow salesman who was all sizzle but no substance.

“This debate also may have spelled the beginning of the end for Scott Walker,” said Haynes.  “His debate was a microcosm of his entire campaign.  He started early with high hopes, by taking on Trump and scoring early points.  But by the end of the debate, we were asking the same question we are asking tonight about his campaign?  Where did he go?”

Others fell into the “Where did he go?” camp as well.

Legendary South Carolina GOP strategist Chip Felkel summed it up bluntly, “Ted Cruz and Scott Walker did little to help themselves, and Huckabee really did not get a lot of time, and when he did he made little impact.”

“Walker is the ‘me, too’ candidate. Ted Cruz truly tries too hard – too, too hard – on every single issue. He and Paul simply know they are smarter than the others,” said Felkel.

Ben Carson does not really seem to have as much command of many of the issues, said Felkel: “He is clearly a really smart man, a gifted medical professional, but his demeanor – great in an operating room – does not serve him well in this environment. He had a huge opportunity going into tonight, and he missed it.”

Felkel gives Fiorina an A-

“Carly had a super night, but at times she went long.  She will get a boost out of this, for a lot of reasons,” said Felkel. “Her dealing with Trump – where she scored big points – showed command of issues, and she more than held her own.”

Felkel said he thought John Kasich was “earnest and impressive at times, but did not get as much air time as he needed to make a big move.”

“If you are not totally anti-establishment, he scored points,” said Felkel, “and while some like his comment about succeeding in DC and Ohio, that reinforces he has been around for a while.  He is about solving problems, and he enunciated that well.  His close was good.”

Felkel scores Kasich at a solid B

“Rubio had some very solid moments on a number of areas: his defense of Spanish, his story about his grandfather, and showed a command on foreign policy,” said Felkel, rating Rubio a B+

Chris Christie, he said, “had some great moments, fought back, but I think he got lost in all the noise. He did a good job in his intro and in his close though, making the point this is about the people and not the candidates themselves.  I’d give him a solid B.”

Felkel said Trump showed chinks in armor tonight: “His hubris was, as expected, on full display. He started kinder, but could not contain himself. He throws punches, but when they’re thrown back, he pokes you in the eye – or worse.

“He really dishes it but can’t take it,” said Felkel. “He seems to get away with offering no real solutions or specifics, and I think, maybe, that is starting to wear thin.”

Felkel said he thought Jeb Bush “really did hold his own and did very well on several fronts. He showed a command of issues, fought back like many have wanted him to do – especially with his wife and family. He actually was pretty effective when he got agitated. He went a tad long, as he does, but he seemed very solid.”

Felkel rated Bush a B+

HIGHLIGHTS:

“I never attacked him on his looks,” Trump said of Rand Paul. “And believe me, there’s plenty of subject matter there.”

Unlike the first debate Paul didn’t rise to the insults.

Trump quickly disappeared for over a half-hour, as the other 10 candidates bantered in more meaningful back-and-forth on abortion and foreign policy and accomplishment.

Near the end of the first hour, looks were brought up again when CNN moderator Jake Tapper asked former businesswomen and tech executive Carly Fiorina for a response to Trump having said in a Rolling Stone article people won’t vote for her because of her looks… then backing off the statement, claiming he had been referring to her “persona.”

“I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said,” Carly responded, to a hearty response.

“I think she’s got a beautiful face, and I think she’s a beautiful woman,” Trump quickly replied, to crickets.

Fiorina went on to have a string of stand-out lines, her most passionate were evoking scenes from undercover videos as she pleaded for congressional Republicans to confront President Obama on stripping federal funding from Planned Parenthood: “This is about the character of our country,” she said.

BIGGEST TAKEAWAY:

The insurgent candidacies of Trump and Carson are likely waning – both men have likely hit their high water mark, the evidence was apparent on the stage, on social media and within the audience.