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Picked Off: Jeb grabs top spot in 2016 Power Index

Role of candidates' wives in campaigns


Buzz Cut:

• Picked Off: Jeb grabs top spot in 2016 Power Index

• Huge haul for Hillary PAC

• Obama shows no cracks for compromise in opening budget offer

• Power Play: Energy fights take center stage

• Um, Dad…

It wasn’t a goal-line interception, but it was a game changer. Just one week in to our Fox News First Power Index and we already have a major overhaul after frontrunner Mitt Romney’s unexpected departure. (Though his conditional statement to supporters left enough doubt to still be “on the radar” until he makes a more Shermanesque statement.) Not only did the frontrunner self-deport, but several second- and third-tier competitors showed surprising strength to make substantial strides. We would expect to see the field unsettled a year out from the first nominating contest, but as you’ll see below, the tumult is likely far from over

[The Fox News First 2016 Power Index is a subjective ranking of the current strength of the 10 top 2016 GOP contenders. Democrats currently only have one credible candidate. If that changes, we’ll rank them too.]

1) JEB BUSH [+1]
The end of Romney’s three-week flirtation is a good-news/bad-news scenario for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. He’s the undisputed frontrunner now since there is no near rival for the support – financial and electoral – of the still dominant Republican establishment. But that comes with frontrunner-level scrutiny. Romney’s departure is far better for Bush than spending the next six months fighting a $200 million duel of the rich dudes that would have left the establishment pick poorer and more ill-suited to woo the base in the closing weeks. On the other hand, it would have been better for Bush if Romney had extended his waters testing just a bit longer. Romney’s arrival ruined Bush’s plan for a slow rollout after his soft launch before Christmas. But after kicking the race into high gear, Romney absorbed much of the scrutiny and pressure that will now fall to Bush.  

[Key question: Can Bush build out his staff soon enough to meet new demands without introducing chaos?]

Most notable in the much-discussed new poll from the Des Moines Register is that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker leads whether Romney is in the mix or not. It’s thin, and the pack is tightly clumped, but Walker’s surge in support following the rollout of his national campaign is an encouraging sign for the relative unknown. In a mid-January CBS News poll, 64 percent of Republicans nationally said they didn’t know enough about Walker to formulate an opinion about his candidacy. If you’re looking for a candidate who has room to grow, Walker is it. The downside now is that prior positions, especially on immigration, will become fodder for attacks from others looking to crack into the top tier. And as the attacks come, Walker will struggle to remain an acceptable alternative for both moderates and conservatives. The longer he can wait to pick a side, the better.

[Key question: Does Walker have the short-term fundraising heft to hold the ground he’s gained?]

3) RAND PAUL [Unchanged]
With moves like his Super Bowl social media blitz, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul shows why he’s the anti-establishment candidate to beat this cycle. The latest Fox News poll shows Paul above the rest of the pack, and he certainly has room to grow among conservative voters. Paul’s greatest strength so far has been to avoid his father’s fate of being a punching bag for traditional conservatives by staying on the attack against rivals’ ideological apostasies. His greatest weakness, however, remains foreign policy, where his non-interventionism remains a huge liability among traditional conservatives, especially during anxious times.

[Key question: Who are the mainstream conservatives (other than fellow Kentuckian Mitch McConnell) who will publicly back Paul? A candidate so unorthodox will need famous names to vouch for him.]

Joining Scott Walker in the sweet spot between the establishment elite and the conservative masses is Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Rubio’s hawkish takes on foreign policy impress the money men, but his down-the line conservatism and biography gives him appeal with the GOP base. Rubio is also impressing the political class with his tenacity. While many Mandarins had written him off several times, Rubio keeps charging forward. And for anyone doubting whether his candidacy is for real, check out the dates for his upcoming book tour, via Team Marco: Feb. 13, West Des Moines, Iowa; Feb. 18, Las Vegas; Feb. 19, Greenville, S.C.; and Feb. 23, Manchester, N.H. Doesn’t sound like a guy running for governor.    

[Key question: With a major immigration fight brewing, how will Rubio deal with the baggage of his prior support for a “comprehensive” immigration plan without alienating too many establishmentarians?]

5) TED CRUZ [Unchanged]

Ted Cruz is charging ahead with an ever-growing operation. And he owes his early success in seeking the Republican nomination to his role as the firebrand of the Senate. But, is it “live by the filibuster, die by the filibuster” for the Texan? While the coming fights over immigration, spending and key Obama appointments will certainly give Cruz the opportunity to grab headlines, it will also set him up to be the villain in the establishment press narrative. If Cruz wants to be the conservative conscience of the Republican Sixteeners, he is well on his way. If he wants to be a man with a chance for the nomination, he will have to surprise people in the months to come.

[Key question: How hard will Senate leaders go on Cruz in the months to come, since team McConnell can make life fairly miserable for those trying to run for president and serve in Congress.

The rest of the top 10 - 6) Rick Perry [+2]; 7) Chris Christie [unchanged]; 8) Ben Carson [+2]; 9) Mike Huckabee [unchanged]; 10) Rick Santorum [-1]

On the Radar - Mitt Romney, John Kasich, Bobby Jindal, Mike Pence

[What would you say? - Give us your take on the GOP field and we will share the best and brightest with the whole class. Send your thoughts to FOXNEWSFIRST@FOXNEWS.COM]

WSJ: “Ready for Hillary, a super PAC formed in 2013 to raise money for a presidential campaign by Hillary Clinton, raised nearly $9 million in 2014, more than twice as much as the previous year and more than the groups affiliated with most Republicans known to be considering a 2016 presidential bid. The Ready for Hillary group is not directly affiliated with Mrs. Clinton, but is collecting names and email addresses of her supporters that it will make available to her campaign should she decide to run. It has ramped up its fundraising operation in the last year, hosting events featuring top officials from the administration of former President Bill Clinton. Its national finance council, which requires members to give or raise $25,000 each, now has more than 894 members, according to a spokesman for the group. And though the group would be barred from coordinating with Mrs. Clinton’s campaign should she decide to run, its fundraising success indicates the pull Mrs. Clinton’s name would have among donors.”

Warren backers party, kick Hillary - The New Republic: “Elizabeth Warren [D-Mass.] wants you to know that she really isn’t planning to run for president…Her supporters are not convinced. In a promotional video for Run Warren Run, a group dedicated to getting Warren on the 2016 presidential ballot, the senator is shown being asked the same question, but the scene cuts before she can answer the usual no. This Sunday, just hours before the Super Bowl, more than 20 people trickled into a windowless basement room of Washington, D.C.’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. Like more than 200 other meetings that convened across the country through Run Warren Run, the group strategized how to convince the Massachusetts senator to say yes.”

Groundhog Day (along with streusel-topped apple pie) is one of the many fine gifts to American culture from the Rhineland and Alsatian Germans who settled much of southern Pennsylvania in the 18th century. But 25 years ago, the Pennsylvania Dutch celebration was consigned mostly to elementary school classrooms and wacky weather forecasts. That changed in 1993 with the film of the same name. “Groundhog Day” is about a Pittsburgh weatherman assigned to cover the granddaddy of all the groundhog gatherings in Punxsutawney, Pa. only to find himself forced to relive Feb. 2 over and over and over…  Because of the unlikely success of the film, the holiday’s name has become shorthand for repetitive displeasure. Same groundhog, different day. But as Jonah Goldberg wrote a decade ago, the film long ago moved beyond pop culture status and into the syllabi of theology classes, the pulpits of preachers and the lessons of rabbis. The central spiritual lesson of the move – that we are called in all that we do to be true to the people who God made us to be – is a core Judeo-Christian value. In Christianity, joyful fidelity to Godly purpose is cast alongside love and mercy as an essential gift of faith. That the movie shows romantic love as a catalyst for spiritual growth, rather than a destroyer of it, has made the film all the more popular with believers. Not bad for “a thousand people freezing their butts off waiting to worship a rat.”

Got a TIP from the RIGHT or LEFT? Email FoxNewsFirst@FOXNEWS.COM

Real Clear Politics Averages
Obama Job Approval: Approve – 46.2 percent//Disapprove – 49.2 percent
Direction of Country: Right Direction – 34.6 percent//Wrong Track – 57 percent 

Fox News: “President Obama will [today] give Congress his $4 trillion spending plan for fiscal 2016 that includes a request for billions of dollars in much-needed public works projects, an idea that has bipartisan support but little backing for the proposed tax increases to fund such efforts. Obama will propose a six-year, $478 billion public-works program for highway, bridge and transit upgrades, with half of it to be financed with a one-time, 14 percent tax on U.S. companies’ overseas profits…Under current law, those profits are subject only to federal taxes if they are returned, or repatriated, to the U.S., where they face a top rate of 35 percent. Many companies avoid U.S. taxes on those earnings by simply leaving them overseas…Members of the GOP-controlled Congress and other fiscal conservatives have dismissed the overall plan since elements of it were announced several weeks ago, part of a White House strategy to win support prior to the president's State of the Union address, in which more details were released, and a campaign-style tour in several states ahead of Monday’s release.”

What the president meant to say… - President Obama sipped a beer made by the White House kitchen staff during a pre-Super Bowl interview with NBC News, and boasted that he was the “first president since George Washington to make some booze in the White House.” While the first president was certainly a brewer and distiller, he never lived in the White House. The third president, Thomas Jefferson, was the first occupant of the executive mansion.

Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines joins Power Play host Chris Stirewalt to discuss the push to move forward on the Keystone XL Pipeline and how to halt President Obama’s immigration actions. WATCH HERE.

Obama wants states to cut emissions faster - Reuters: “President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2016 budget proposes $7.4 billion to fund clean energy technologies and a $4 billion fund to encourage U.S. states to make faster and deeper cuts to emissions from power plants, officials told Reuters. Obama's budget, which will be published later on Monday, also calls for the permanent extension of the Production Tax Credit, used by the wind industry, and the Investment Tax Credit, used by the solar industry, the officials said. Obama has made fighting climate change a top priority in his final two years in office. The White House sees it as critical to his legacy. The investment in clean energy technologies would cover programs primarily at the Department of Energy and Department of Defense, the officials said. The $7.4 billion figure is an increase from the $6.9 billion proposed in Obama's fiscal 2015 budget and over the $6.5 billion enacted by Congress for this year.”

Hotter energy debates soon to follow - National Journal: “After a month that saw more than 40 roll-call votes on energy issues, the Senate is geared up to do it all again, just a little slower. The final vote on the Keystone XL oil pipeline bill capped a long-awaited open debate on energy, with votes on issues ranging from the reality of climate change to renewable-energy tax incentives. It was, both sides said, a chance to knock off some rust and get into topics that hadn't seen votes on the Senate floor in years. But ultimately, most issues were dispatched after two minutes of floor debate and roll-call votes on a pipeline bill fraught with controversy and politics and doomed with a veto threat from the start. Not exactly the kind of meaty debate most members had been clamoring for…Now, lawmakers say they're at least open to reviving issues such as offshore drilling and renewable-energy credits in the traditional deliberative Senate style.”

Fox News: “The Republican-led House is set to begin February with a vote to repeal ObamaCare, making clear that trying to dismantle the health-care law remains a top priority. The scheduled vote next week was announced in a new memo from House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy [R-Calif.] to fellow GOP House members in which he said the effort to repeal the legislation will give them an opportunity to tell voters that health care decisions ‘should be made by patients and their doctors, not by Washington.’…The House has already voted this year to redefine full-time work under the law, an attempt to keep businesses from hiring part-time workers to avoid having to offer insurance. And chamber leaders also want to repeal the law’s tax on medical-device makers, which they say is hurting businesses and has bipartisan support…Congressional Republicans have acknowledged that a Supreme Court case on ObamaCare tax subsidies for customers will impact their strategy. If the subsidies are rules unconstitutional, the law could unravel on its own, say some observers. The ruling is expected by June.”
After failing to get a “Good to Go” pass, a Washington state father was left with a rather hefty toll bill from his son. As KING reports, the son who started working at his first job which required him to travel the 520 bridge every day never got the pass, Tom Rose says his son was struggling financially and thought he’d get a bill for the tolls later, saying “He thought he was picking the lesser of two evils. He could save up and pay for them later.” It was only when his son tried to sell his vehicle that the pair learned how costly that decision really was with $1,360 in tolls and $16,000 in penalties. They claim to have never received any notices while the department of transportation said bills were sent out. The department said they could go before an administrative judge to handle the case but it wouldn’t do them any good. The billing for “Good to Go” has been so inconsistent that a group of lawyer filed class action suit claiming violation of due process.

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News.  Want FOX News First in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.