TIME 2016 Election

The One-Man Las Vegas Presidential Primary

Chairman & CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp., Sheldon Adelson speaks at the Exclusive Seminar: Keynote at the 14th Annual Global Gaming Expo at the Sands Expo and Convention Center on Oct. 1, 2014 in Las Vegas.
Denise Truscello—Getty Images for Global Gaming Expo Chairman & CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp., Sheldon Adelson speaks at the Exclusive Seminar: Keynote at the 14th Annual Global Gaming Expo at the Sands Expo and Convention Center on Oct. 1, 2014 in Las Vegas.

Even longshot candidates are lining up for billionaire Sheldon Adelson's support.

Only politicians with ambition or an agenda choose to trudge through the snows of New Hampshire in the depths of winter. George Pataki has been there five times in recent months, and he isn’t playing coy about the purpose of all these visits. “I have no doubt in my mind,” Pataki said in one of several interviews touting his interest in the presidency, “that I have the ability to run this country.”

Pataki is not likely to get the chance to prove that. Eight years out of office, the former New York governor belongs to a vanishing breed of moderate northeastern Republican. He has supported gun control and abortion rights. He has little national name recognition, less money and zero campaign infrastructure in place.

Pataki publicly flirted with a White House bid in 2008 and 2012, and it’s tempting to interpret his revived interest as a financial gambit. Parlaying the publicity of a campaign into a lucrative gig has become one of the ignominious traditions of presidential politics. But Pataki is serious about running, says spokesman David Catalfamo. And while he has little chance of contending in a crowded Republican field, he does have a connection that could make him a factor.

From 2013 until the end of last year, Pataki was a paid spokesman for a Washington-based advocacy group called the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling. The organization, formed and funded by the Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson, is part of Adelson’s hefty wager that a national online-gambling ban would benefit his brick-and-mortar casinos, which include the Venetian and the Palazzo on the Vegas strip.

For Pataki, who supported many forms of legalized gambling as governor, an alliance with Adelson could prove lucrative as well. The evolution of campaign-finance laws have created a system in which a single benefactor is capable of sustaining a lean presidential campaign for long enough to grab the national spotlight. Wyoming businessman Foster Friess kept Rick Santorum afloat for long stretches in 2012, while Adelson—the single biggest donor of that campaign—forked over enough money to let Newt Gingrich spend months traveling the country to torture Mitt Romney.

Adelson has no plans to match the $150 million or more he shelled out four years ago, according to a source close to him. But is still expected to spend in support of his signature issues. A hawkish foreign policy devoted to the security of Israel remains his chief concern. But he has also lavished cash on Republican candidates and committees amid his push for a national Internet-gambling ban.

Pataki isn’t the only surprise candidate in the Adelson primary. Take Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina who is also publicly weighing a long-shot campaign for the GOP nomination. In March, Graham introduced a bill in the Senate that would effectively impose a national Internet-gambling ban. Graham will reintroduce the same measure this Congress, says communications director Kevin Bishop.

Graham calls online gambling a threat to public safety. “I think people in the criminal world and terrorist world could get a benefit from it,” he told TIME. But pushing the ban has also paid off for the South Carolina Senator, who reaped at least $31,200 in 2013 from Adelson, his wife and two daughters, according to public data compiled by the Sunlight Foundation.

The Adelson derby isn’t just for the also-rans. Last spring, a slew of top-tier GOP presidential hopefuls, including Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and Scott Walker, made pilgrimages to Las Vegas to speak at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual conference. It isn’t likely that Adelson will shower cash on a single favorite in 2016, as he did with Gingrich four years ago, but he’s willing to crack open his wallet to keep his issues at the forefront of the debate—and to make life difficult for candidates who don’t see eye to eye with him.

If support for Israel is Republican orthodoxy, gambling is more complicated. It is a rare issue that splits the GOP, pitting religious conservatives against states’-rights activists and libertarians. The prominent anti-tax conservative Grover Norquist told TIME in an interview that Congress should reject a national ban and let states decide the issue. “You don’t want the federal government coming in,” he says.

Adelson says he opposes online gaming on moral grounds. “ You would think the chairman of the world’s largest gaming company would pursue any aspect of gaming which could increase profits, right?” he wrote in an op-ed for Forbes in 2013. “Ordinarily that is true—but online gambling is ‘fool’s gold.’ Whether it is full casino gaming, poker only, or anything in between—this is a societal train wreck waiting to happen.”

That’s all a bit rich: from at least 2001 to 2007, Adelson’s company pursued the possibility of developing its own gaming website before abandoning the idea. And while it’s unclear whether Graham’s bill can pass Congress, Adelson is still changing the debate through donations to old allies and potential new ones. In 2014, he shelled out the individual limit of $2,600 to nearly every successful Senate Republican challenger, including Thom Tillis, Cory Gardner, Tom Cotton, Dan Sullivan, David Perdue and Bill Cassidy, according to CQ Moneyline.

And sometimes he wields his influence in unseen ways. Late last year, Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi circulated a letter to colleagues protesting Graham’s online gambling bill. Wicker, the new chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, argued a national ban would give the federal government regulatory powers that are reserved for the states. “We believe that a bill that encroaches on the long-standing authority of states to decide issues related to gaming is not the answer,” says the Dec. 3 letter, a copy of which was obtained by TIME.

The push was dropped, an aide to Wicker says, when it became clear the bill wouldn’t pass. But it also had the potential to strain relations with Adelson, who gave $13.2 million—more than any other GOP-aligned donor according to Politico—to help the party snag the Senate majority in 2014.

Pataki thinks he may have the background to whet Adelson’s appetite. The former three-term governor was running Albany during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and is “ardently opposed to the President’s leading from behind strategy on foreign policy,” says spokesman Catalfamo. And Adelson isn’t the only potential benefactor with whom he rubs elbows. “He’s very friendly and has long relationship with a lot of folks who are billionaires,” says Catalfamo, including the billionaire Koch brothers and various Wall Street titans.

“People don’t remember who I am,” Pataki presidential told the conservative website Newsmax this month, “but we can remind them.” He certainly has a friend with the money to help.

With reporting by Zeke J. Miller

TIME 2016 Election

Jeb Bush Pitches Conservatism for the Middle Class

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at a Economic Club of Detroit meeting in Detroit on Feb. 4, 2015.
Paul Sancya—AP Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at a Economic Club of Detroit meeting in Detroit on Feb. 4, 2015.

The former governor road-tests a message of upward mobility ahead of 2016

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush offered a glimpse Wednesday of the economic message at the core of his likely presidential bid, using the maiden policy speech of his unofficial 2016 campaign to sketch out how conservative policies can restore the prospect of upward mobility for the struggling American middle class.

“Far too many Americans live on the edge of economic ruin. And many more feel like they’re stuck in place, working longer and harder, even as they’re losing ground,” Bush said in Detroit. “Tens of millions of Americans no longer see a clear path to rise above their challenges. The opportunity gap is the defining issue of our time.

“I will offer a new vision. A plan of action that is different than what we have been hearing in Washington, D.C.,” Bush said. “It is a vision rooted in conservative principles and tethered to our shared belief in opportunity and the unknown possibilities of a nation given the freedom to act, to create, to dream and to rise.”

MORE: Measles Vaccinations Roil Republican Presidential Race

The address marks a new phase of campaign preparations for Bush, an early front-runner for the Republican nomination. Since announcing in mid-December that he would explore the possibility of a run for the White House, Bush has focused aggressively on locking up institutional support among the party’s elite donors and operatives. And while he has enjoyed swift success courting party bigwigs in private, the breadth of his public appeal is a question mark eight years after he left the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee.

Unlike the rest of the still gelling Republican field, Bush has eschewed candidate cattle calls in early primary states like Iowa. So his appearance here Wednesday, before more than 500 people at the Detroit Economic Club, was the first major showcase of the themes that would underpin his campaign. Standing at the front of a full ballroom nestled against the Detroit River, Bush laid out the broad strokes of a policy agenda that he argued would promote economic growth, lift the middle class and trim the size of the federal government while shifting power to the states.

“In the coming months, I intend to detail how we can get there,” he said, “with a mix of smart policies and reforms to tap our resources and capacity to innovate, whether in energy, manufacturing, health care or technology.”

Income inequality has become one of the 2016 race’s signature issues for both parties, and several of Bush’s competitors have made the theme a pillar of their pitches to voters. But the decision to road-test the message of economic mobility in the Democratic stronghold of Detroit was a signal that Bush intends to compete in the urban areas the GOP has largely ceded in recent decades as a lost cause. The Motor City has been battered in recent years by depopulation, bad governance and the cratering auto industry. “Look around this city,” Bush said. “In its history is a warning to all of us.”

“I know some in the media think conservatives don’t care about the cities. But they’re wrong,” Bush said. “We believe that every American in every community has a right to pursue happiness. They have a right to rise. So I say let’s go where our ideas can matter most. Where the failures of liberal government policies are the most obvious. Let’s deliver real conservative success.

“And you know what will happen?” he added. “We’ll create a whole lot of new conservatives.”

MORE: Mitt Romney Abandons 2016 Presidential Race

That word conservative was on his lips a lot during a 22-minute speech and a subsequent question-and-answer session. The label looms large over Bush’s efforts to reintroduce himself to voters as the Republican primary field takes shape. Though he compiled a staunchly conservative record as governor, Bush’s support for immigration reform and the Common Core education standards — both anathema to swaths of the party’s hard-right grassroots — have led conservative critics and many pundits to argue he is too moderate for a party that has drifted right in the years since he left office.

Bush mixed in jabs at liberal mismanagement and took a whack at the”reckless” cronyism of Washington. He also took a series of shots at President Obama, including criticism of his recent proposal to tax 529 college-savings plans. But the optimistic speech — “this is the greatest time to be alive as Americans,” Bush said — was aimed at center-right and swing voters rather than the fervent conservatives who are a fixture of the GOP nominating process.

A senior adviser said Bush would not pander in an attempt to appeal to narrow segments of the base, nor pull punches on issues, like his belief in immigration reform, where his views are controversial within the party. During the question-and-answer session, Bush laid out his thinking on immigration reform in greater detail than most of the rest of his prepared speech, and drew a round of applause.

He made a tentative pledge to rise above the fray when the primary campaign season turns combative. “As the old order has been disrupted, it’s been replaced by a little more of a Wild West process,” he said, adding that he hoped he had the discipline not to “get into the food fights.”

The former governor also offered a preview of his thinking about how his family’s political legacy would figure into the campaign. “My dad is the greatest man alive,” Bush said, “and I love my brother.”

Being the son and brother of Presidents is an “interesting challenge,” Bush said, noting that if he decides to run, “I would have to deal this, and turn this fact into an opportunity, to share who I am, to connect on a human level.”

TIME justice

Koch Brother Teams Up With Liberals on Criminal Justice Reform

Charles Koch
Bo Rader—Wichita Eagle/MCT via Getty Images Charles Koch, head of Koch Industries, on Feb 27, 2007.

The push for prison reform gets momentum from a conservative power player

Just days after word emerged that the billionaire Koch brothers will spend nearly a billion dollars to elect conservatives in the 2016 elections, Charles Koch sent a top adviser to Washington to urge Republicans to work with Democrats on a key issue: criminal-justice reform.

Justice reform is not a cause for which the Kochs are normally in the news. The billionaire brothers are known for their lavish giving to conservative candidates and causes, for which they are celebrated on the right and reviled by the left. But for more than a decade, the Kochs have quietly pumped several million dollars into efforts to fix a criminal-justice system that many on both sides of the aisle believe is broken.

Last month, Charles Koch co-authored an op-ed for Politico decrying the “overcriminalization of America.” Now the Kochs are teaming up with some unlikely allies on the left in hopes of rectifying the problem. And their presence in the emerging bipartisan coalition for justice reform underscores the issue’s rare—perhaps unique—status as a cause that has united liberals and conservatives in an era of bitter partisanship.

“There’s just so much movement here,” Mark Holden, senior vice president and general counsel at Koch Industries, tells TIME. “It’s sweeping in a lot of unusual, non-traditional allies, and I think it’s a good thing.”

Holden was standing on Wednesday under the glittering chandeliers and Corinthian columns of a caucus room in the Russell Senate building, where he had just wrapped up a prison-reform discussion organized by The Constitution Project. The event offered the rare tableau where a bipartisan group of activists gathered in Washington to agree on policy, rather than fling accusations.

The motley panel included liberal and conservative senators and congressmen, activists and commentators, who warmly complimented one another’s leadership. Holden was seated next to Van Jones, a former Obama environmental adviser who once accused the Kochs of running a “plantation.” The oddball pair seemed bemused at the strange alliance. “Dogs and cats sleeping together,” Holden joked.

It’s easy to see why the issue attracts both sides. The U.S. has the highest rate of incarceration of any industrialized country in the world (second overall, behind the tiny Seychelles). It has 2.2 million total inmates—more than any other nation, and an increase of 500% over the past three decades. There are some 4,500 federal criminal laws on the books. More than half of the federal prison population consists of nonviolent drug offenders.

“Conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans alike, have come to the conclusion that the system that has developed over the course of the last few decades in this country isn’t working,” said David Keene, a longtime conservative activist. “We’ve come to the conclusion that we have to work together.”

Activists on the left have long been vocal opponents of the justice system’s failings, which disproportionately affect minority groups and the poor. But their right-leaning counterparts have also fought hard to combat the pipeline to prison, for reasons ranging from the big-government bloat to the waste of taxpayer dollars to the dehumanizing conditions that strip individual liberties.

“Most people assume that conservatives are motivated to reform by economics,” says Pat Nolan, the director of the Center for Criminal Justice Reform at the American Conservation Union Foundation. “My experience is not that. It’s the moral issues…There’s no form of government domination greater than imprisonment.”

Holden has been interested in criminal justice since his days working as a jail guard in his hometown of Worcester, Mass. He was in high school and college at the time, and some of the inmates were former classmates. He witnessed the ways the system can suck people in. “These were the kids who were always in trouble,” Holden recalls. “I’ve always kind of been around these issues.”

The Kochs’ commitment in criminal-justice reform dates to the mid-1990s, when the company became embroiled in a court case related to alleged environmental crimes at a a refinery in Corpus Christi, Tex. In 2001, a subsidiary of the company pleaded guilty to concealing environmental violations at the refinery; a multitude of other charges were dropped, but the company paid a $20 million fine to settle the matter. The owners believed they had been victimized by overzealous prosecutors and unclear statutes. “Our view was if we, a large company with many resources, were treated this way, what’s happening to the average American?” Holden says.

The Kochs began donating money to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) to combat prosecutorial abuses. “Once we got involved,” says Holden, “we couldn’t stop.” Since 2004, the Kochs have made annual donations (in the “significant six figures,” according to Holden) to the NACDL. The money is designed to address a broad range of justice issues, from mandatory minimums for drug crimes to the right to competent representation and sentencing disparities for the disadvantaged.

Last month, Holden and Koch laid out a five-point reform plan to change the criminal justice system. It includes ensuring that indigent defendants receive adequate legal counsel, reducing criminal liabilities for inadvertent violations, and restoring rights to youthful and non-violent offenders to help them re-enter the job market after their release. Such beliefs have led the Kochs to team up with liberal organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union to combat issues like harsh sentencing and Sixth Amendment rights. “It’s very, very rare where we have a moment that the stars have aligned in this way,” said Jones.

Progress looks possible at the federal level. Several justice-reform bills have been introduced in Congress. They’re often the product of strange partnerships: one Senate effort, which would adjust mandatory sentencing guidelines, was sponsored by Dick Durbin of Illinois, a leading liberal, and Utah Senator Mike Lee, a Tea Party darling. Another sweeping Senate bill, introduced by Kentucky Republican Rand Paul and New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker, would seal and expunge juvenile records for nonviolent offenders and restrict the use of solitary confinement. But so far the legislation has languished.

The Kochs have the power to change that. Their clout on the right could help sway more conservatives to support criminal justice efforts. Most of the likely 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls have supported some kind of criminal-justice reforms. Given the Kochs’ commitment to the issue, candidates might be wise to make issues like curbing the prison population a larger campaign theme.

Holden says the Kochs won’t make criminal justice a political litmus test, in the way that they have focused attention on issues like health-care reform or environmental regulations. At the same time, “to the extent that there are candidates that are working on these issues we care about,” Holden says, “we’re probably going to want to support candidates who are in favor of helping people, helping the disadvantaged with their policies.”

Compared to their spending on elections, the money the Kochs are funneling toward justice reform is modest. Their network plans to fork out nearly $900 million in advance of the 2016 election, according to reports—nearly as much as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney corralled in 2016 to support their campaigns. And Holden says there are no plans at the moment to increase the financial support for justice reform or form a new nonprofit devoted to the issue, although he wouldn’t rule it out. “It depends on what the opportunities are. If we see coalitions building and real change coming, and it’s consistent with our values and beliefs,” Holden says, “we’ll be all over it. We don’t necessarily start out saying we’re going to spend this much this year.”

And the momentum is building. “It’s not a left-right issue,” Holden says. “It’s all about what’s right for the country. There’s so much that everyone fights about, and there’s a commonality here.”

TIME 2016 Election

The Invisible Presidential Campaign Kicks Off in Earnest

Iowa Freedom Summit Features GOP Presidential  Hopefuls
Scott Olson—Getty Images Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks to guests at the Iowa Freedom Summit on Jan. 24, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa.

Presidential candidates-to-be, and a passel of well-known clingers on, converged in Iowa this weekend with all the flash and fun the nation has come to expect of the Grand Old Party.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina managed substantive introductions, alongside businessman Donald Trump, who declared there is “nobody like Trump,” and Sarah Palin, who struggled with diction and metaphor, offering phrases like “We don’t sit on our thumbs this next time when one of our own is being crucified.”

The real action, however, lay elsewhere, off the stage and out of sight, in an invisible primary taking place behind closed doors in states not known for their place in the nominating calendar. Candidates have been crisscrossing the nation and working the phones, dialing for dollars and loyalty in a contest that may prove far more consequential than speech that can be given before any crowd at this point.

The goal is not to win votes, but to win the support of Republicans like Bobbie Kilberg, who hosted an off-the-record event in Virginia for Christie last week with 96 corporate technology leaders. In recent months, she has taken not one, but two calls from Mitt Romney informing her of her thinking, as he edges toward another campaign. And having worked for the administrations of both Presidents Bush, she feels a special affinity for former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, whose son, George P. Bush, she recently supported in his race for Texas land commissioner.

“I have three wonderful friends in this race,” said Kilberg, who runs the Northern Virginia Technology Council, but supports candidates only in a personal capacity. “My expectation is that all three of them will run.”

But the physics of political fundraising does not allow for her fealty to be equally divided for long. Connecters like Kilberg now face enormous pressure to decide on a single candidate to benefit from their vast Rolodexes. “I think there is enough donor bandwidth for all three of them in the center right lane,” Kilberg explains of the three candidates. “The finite group are the bundlers.”

Securing the 2012 nomination cost Romney $76.6 million, raised in increments up to the legal limit of $2,500. His super PAC, Restore Our Future, which could accept unlimited contributions, added nearly $50 million to the tally.

Operatives affiliated with multiple campaigns say candidates will need at least $50 million to win the nomination this time around, but predict more of the spending will tilt toward the outside groups.

Bush, Romney and Christie are especially squeezed by the fundraising pressures, as their candidacies are set to rely heavily on their predicted ability to match Hillary Clinton’s formidable potential. The early start to the race — candidates are traveling the country earlier and more frequently than ever on the Republican side — adds strain across the board. Complicating matters further are changes to the nominating calendar with fewer debate opportunities and a compressed timeline that favor well-funded candidates once voters get to the polls.

Kilberg and her husband Bill, a prominent Washington lawyer, helped bundle together more than $100,000 in checks of less than $2,000 in 2004 for George W. Bush. In 2012, she helped lead Mitt Romney’s fundraising in Virginia, bringing in a reported $322,000 at just one event at her home. The Tuesday event Kilberg had with Christie and northern Virginia technology executives was not a fundraiser, she said, but a get-to-know-you session.

At almost the same time the event was happening, Bush was meeting in the offices of Dirk Van Dongen, a Republican fundraiser who runs the National Association of Wholesalers. Dongen, a Washington fundraiser for another White House aspirant, Marco Rubio, plans to support Jeb Bush this time, if he runs.

The Bush events were not fundraisers either, though forms were distributed inviting donors to begin bundling for Bush’s new political action committee, Right to Rise. The main purpose, as with the Virginia events, was to win over the networkers who traditionally hold the purse strings of presidential politics. According to people who attended, Bush spoke broadly about his views of the country and the best way to approach the presidential race. He said a winning candidate would have to connect with middle-class anxiety by walking in the shoes of regular people, said one attendee.

“The contrast was obvious,” the attendee said, explaining how Bush appeared to be contrasting himself with Romney’s 2012 campaign. “That’s 100 degrees from the 47% comment.”

Romney, meanwhile, has been reactivating his own donor base, having chosen a donor event in New York early in the month to formally announce his decision to begin pursuing a third presidential campaign. The former private-equity executive has been working the phones since then, telling donors he is serious about considering another bid.

Senator Marco Rubio, meanwhile, held his annual retreat for his top donors in Miami over the weekend, a move designed to keep his loyalists close while he considers his options. He later joined fellow Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul on stage in Palm Springs at the winter meeting of the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a spending vehicle for the billionaire GOP megadonor Koch brothers and their allies. Also in attendance, after a well-received appearance in Iowa, was Walker, who was making the first stop on a multi-day West Coast fundraising swing for his new fundraising committee, which will be announced as soon as Monday.

While Republican voters have more than a year to decide on the candidate they want to take on Democrats in 2016, the donors clock is ticking. Quarterly fundraising totals, which will come out early this summer and again in the fall, will help shape the race, determining which candidates have the money to mount serious contests, with the grassroots organizing ability and television firepower to withstand the early contests.

“It’s really what we would call in the business a pre-sell,” says a senior Republican strategist about Bush’s visit to Washington this week. “They’ll come back in the next 60 days and do some big fundraising, and they’ll hope to get a lot of those same people to be on their committee.”

For those keeping score, the results of such appeals will be the ones that count, not the applause of activist crowds. In this democratic process, the voices of the people only matter after the first waves of money have been counted.

TIME justice

Obama’s Police Task Force Faces Uphill Battle

Barack Obama Policing Task Force Charles Ramsey Laurie Robinson
Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images US President Barack Obama speaks after a meeting on building trust in communities following Ferguson unrest, with Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey (L) and George Mason University professor of Criminology, Law and Society Laurie Robinson, who were appointed by Obama to chair a task force on policing, at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington on Dec. 1, 2014.

Can a panel launched after Ferguson actually bring real change?

In the politician’s arsenal, a task force is a dull yet indispensable weapon: a way to address a problem that isn’t easy to solve.

Over the course of his presidency, Barack Obama has created panels to study issues ranging from climate change to gun control to childhood obesity. Task forces are the place where hard-working people go to produce important work that winds up moldering on a shelf.

Obama is determined to avoid this fate for his new White House panel on 21st century policing. “This is not going to be an endless report that ends up collecting dust,” the President pledged when he formed the task force in December after grand juries in New York and Ferguson, Mo., declined to charge two white police officers in the deaths of unarmed black men. The 11-member group is tasked with identifying concrete ways to mend the ruptured relationship between police and the communities they serve. It must present a draft report to Obama on March 2, recommending methods to strengthen public trust while reducing crime.

Ron Davis, executive director of the task force and the director of the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), says he is “extremely confident” the committee will live up to its promise. Davis told a panel held by the U.S. Conference of Mayors Thursday that the task force, which will hold a series of listening sessions, panel discussions and open forums over the next few weeks, had an opportunity to “redefine policing in a democratic society.”

The mandate to do so comes from the top. Attorney General Eric Holder has seized police reform as a legacy issue. At Tuesday’s State of the Union address, Obama said he believes there is broad consensus to repair the rift between police forces and minority communities.

“We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York. But surely we can understand a father who fears his son can’t walk home without being harassed,” the President said. “Surely we can understand the wife who won’t rest until the police officer she married walks through the front door at the end of his shift. Surely we can agree it’s a good thing that for the first time in 40 years, the crime rate and the incarceration rate have come down together, and use that as a starting point for Democrats and Republicans, community leaders and law enforcement, to reform America’s criminal justice system so that it protects and serves us all.”

But channeling modest consensus into real change is a tall order—one made trickier by a grim drumbeat of bad feelings and worse news. The killing of two New York City police officers in late December sparked an ugly public dispute between the nation’s largest police force and its liberal mayor and may have led to a huge plummet in arrests. On Wednesday, new reports indicated federal authorities investigating the Aug. 9 death of Michael Brown have concluded there is insufficient evidence to charge Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting. A broader Department of Justice probe into the practices of the entire Ferguson police force is ongoing.

“I’m realistic about what a task force is actually capable of,” says a person with knowledge of the task force proceedings, who asked for anonymity to speak candidly about the committee’s challenges. “The task force can be very useful, but we are now in a place politically where actually creating legislation out of things will be an uphill battle.”

There are small signs of progress. In December, Congress passed a law requiring police departments to report the death of a person in police custody to the Justice Department. Obama has asked for $263 million in funding for new body cameras and training for police departments. He also ordered a review of a federal program that supplies millions of dollars of military equipment to municipal police departments.

Several prominent Republicans, including Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, have called for the party to address criminal-justice policies that harm minority communities. Billionaire industrialist Charles Koch, a top conservative donor, is redoubling his efforts to enact criminal-justice reforms. The growing number of elected Republicans calling for justice reform has brightened the prospect of legislative action.

On Thursday the Conference of Mayors released a report to help local law enforcement and politicians address the issue. “There’s a growing gulf of mistrust between police and communities they serve,” says Kevin Johnson, the mayor of Sacramento, Calif., and the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The report outlined six areas of focus, from building trust between cops and communities to addressing racial and economic disparities. Karen Freeman-Wilson, the mayor of Gary, Ind., and the chair of the mayoral working group that produced the report, argued the groundswell of anger in the aftermath of Ferguson offered a chance to address long-simmering tensions. “With every tragedy comes opportunity,” she says.

The report is full of sensible ideas, but short on concrete detail. And some of its specific suggestions drew immediate opposition. David Berger, the mayor of Lima, Ohio, bristled at the recommendation that police departments hand over responsibility for investigating officer-involved deaths to an independent official as a way to “increase public confidence.” Berger noted that Lima did just that in 2008, when police in that city shot a young mother to death and wounded her infant child after arriving at her home to arrest a companion on suspicion of drug dealing. The decision, he says, left the city unable to provide basic information about a case roiling the community, compounding the “dramatic trauma” caused by the incident.

Davis said he couldn’t comment on the recommendations of the task force until its work wraps up in early March. Brittany Packnett, a St. Louis educator who was appointed to serve on the task force for her work organizing the Ferguson protests, said in an interview that she was optimistic about the panel and would focus on ensuring the street protests that followed Brown’s death led to concrete action. “I just don’t see us making progress if disruptive change and systemic change don’t go hand in hand,” she says. “I am trying to make sure the connection is fruitful.”

TIME 2016 Election

Steyer Won’t Run for California Senate Seat

Tom Steyer is on the TIME 100
Harry E. Walker/MCT via Getty Images Steyer is one of several TIME 100 honorees fighting for the planet

The Democrats' top donor takes a pass on the race to succeed Barbara Boxer

Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer announced Thursday that he won’t run for the California Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Barbara Boxer.

“Given the imperative of electing a Democratic president — along with my passion for our state — I believe my work right now should not be in our nation’s capitol but here at home in California, and in states around the country where we can make a difference,” Steyer wrote in an op-ed published in the Huffington Post.

The decision will cheer Democrats. The former hedge-fund manager emerged as the party’s counterweight to the billionaire Koch Brothers in the 2014 midterms, spending some $75 million through his political-action committee, NextGen Climate. His flirtation with a Senate bid spooked party operatives, who feared Steyer could plow his fortune into self-funding his own campaign rather than those of other Democrats.

Privately, many Democrats have been urging Steyer not to run, arguing his efforts and money would be better spent outside a deep-blue state where the party has several strong candidates capable of holding the seat.

“This was a very hard decision,” Steyer said. “The U.S. Senate offers a unique opportunity to serve, but I also know that we will have excellent candidates. I applaud and respect those running, and am confident that Californians will choose a representative who will serve them well.”

California Attorney General Kamala Harris declared her candidacy last week after Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he would not seek the seat as he prepares to run for governor in 2018. Harris has already secured endorsements from progressive Democrats such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has expressed interest in the seat, but has not made a decision yet.

Republicans, meanwhile, are struggling to identify a candidate willing to mount a longshot campaign in such an expensive state. California’s jungle primary system pits the top two finishers against each other in the general election regardless of party.

Steyer said he would “redouble my efforts working with partners and fellow citizens to push for change. The road we take may be less traveled and less well-marked, but I am very determined. The journey is far from over — in fact, it has just begun.”

TIME White House

How Twitter Changed the State of the Union

President Harry S. Truman delivering the State of the Union address in 1948.
Frank Scherschel—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images President Harry S. Truman delivering the State of the Union address in 1948.

In the age of Facebook and Twitter, the strategy for the marquee address has shifted

The theatrics are tradition, so the speech may seem the same. On Tuesday night, Barack Obama will saunter down the center aisle of the House chamber, take the rostrum and deliver the annual State of the Union address. There will be robed justices in the front pews, a laundry list of policy proposals, a few tales about the heroic acts of ordinary Americans. On television, the ritual still summons all the pageantry the presidency can muster.

But what’s the true state of the State of the Union? Not quite as strong as the speech once was. The rise of social media, the proliferation of mobile devices and an audience whose attention is divided between multiple screens have sapped some of its power.

The State of the Union is still the singular example of the presidential bully pulpit. But the White House knows the clout of the speech has diminished. The 2014 State of the Union drew 33.3 million television viewers, nearly 20 million less than the audience that tuned into Obama’s first address in 2009. Many of them undoubtedly had one eye on Obama and the other on Facebook or Twitter, where live commentary can influence impressions of a performance. Still others watched it online later.

As a result, Obama’s team has tailored their State of the Union strategy to fit the shrinking power of a prime-time event in the age of social media. Last year the administration implored its supporters to watch the speech on a White House website. For this “enhanced experience,” Obama’s oratory was supplemented by a battery of charts, graphs and data points, which viewers could share with their social networks. For the White House, which has seized upon new methods to circumvent the press, it was a way to mute the blathering cable pundits and deliver an unfiltered message.

This year brings new wrinkles. A coveted post-speech interview in the Oval Office was given to three YouTube stars, who solicited questions from the president’s supporters. And in an acknowledgement that a single speech won’t carry the message, the White House has been dropping “spoilers” throughout January.

Instead of unveiling a raft of new policies on Tuesday, Obama traveled to Michigan to tout the manufacturing sector’s revival, talked the housing market’s rebound in Arizona and plugged his plan to make community college free in Tennessee. The White House built a microsite to showcase many of the policies the president will propose Tuesday, on topics as diverse as broadband Internet and thawing relations with Cuba.

“The awareness that the State of the Union doesn’t count for what it used to produces innovation,” says Jeff Shesol, a presidential speechwriter in the Clinton administration. “The White House is putting less weight on the speech as the centerpiece of their strategy.”

Obama’s top aides say they were forced to adapt by the din of the churning news cycle. “The environment is so cluttered that if you don’t spread out your initiatives and unveil them in channels where people already are, like Facebook or Upworthy, then they’re just going to get lost in the discussion,” Dan Pfeiffer, Obama’s senior adviser, told the Associated Press. “The nature of the experience is different.”

If the media strategy has changed, the process of crafting the speech remains as arduous as before. The task of drafting it begins as early as Thanksgiving, and the speech often goes through more than 20 drafts. Various wonks and advisers from across the government weigh in on structure, language and theme, while the writers struggle to alchemize a laundry list of priorities into lucid prose. Once the text is nearly settled, the president will practice the speech multiple times in the days leading up to the address. During these run-throughs, aides will mark the lines they want to blast out over social media during and after the address.

But if social media has reshaped the rollout strategies, the pillars of a sharp State of the Union speech are the same. You need a clear platform, a theme that carries the argument, and the ability to convert arcane policy into sparkling rhetoric. The principles of good writing, from memorable metaphors to economy of language, are timeless.

“Technology changes, but the power of words doesn’t,” says Peter Wehner, a presidential speechwriter under George W. Bush. “Look back to Lincoln. His best lines would fit on Twitter.”

TIME 2016 Election

Democrats Scramble for California Senate Seat

Tom Steyer Kamala Harris
AP/Getty Images Left: Tom Steyer; Right: Kamala Harris

One rising star is in, another is out, and a billionaire donor is weighing a bid of his own

The retirement of California Senator Barbara Boxer has touched off a furious scramble among Democrats jostling to replace her, with one rising star jumping into the race and several other veteran candidates publicly weighing whether to run.

Kamala Harris, California’s attorney general, laid down an early marker in the pricey, high-stakes contest by announcing Tuesday that she will run for the seat being vacated by Boxer, who said last week that she won’t run for a fifth term in the Senate in 2016.

“I will be a fighter for middle-class families who are feeling the pinch of stagnant wages and diminishing opportunity,” Harris said in a message launching her campaign. “I will be a fighter for our children who deserve a world-class education, and for students burdened by predatory lenders and skyrocketing tuition. And I will fight relentlessly to protect our coast, our immigrant communities and our seniors.”

The top law-enforcement official in the nation’s most populous state, Harris, 50, is considered among the Democratic Party’s rising stars. In normal contests, the entry of a glittering recruit into the race might prompt party kingpins to coalesce around her candidacy. But this is California, the country’s leading liberal redoubt, a state whose sluggish political turnover has yielded a long list of seasoned politicians patiently waiting for their shot. Harris may be the front-runner, but she won’t coast to the Senate without a challenge.

It won’t come from Gavin Newsom, however. The state’s lieutenant governor said this week that he will pass on a campaign to succeed Boxer; instead he may mount a bid to succeed Golden State Governor Jerry Brown in 2018. Newsom’s decision spared California Democrats a collision between two of the state’s top politicians, whose bases of support and spheres of influence overlap.

Several other Democratic veterans are publicly mulling a campaign. One is former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, whose ties in the Hispanic community and links to party donors — forged partly through a stint at the helm of the Democratic National Committee — would make him a contender for the seat. California Representative Loretta Sanchez, who has served in Congress since 1997, has also said that she is seriously considering a run.

“With strong candidates like Kamala Harris, Democrats remain confident that we’ll hold this seat and continue Barbara Boxer’s long history of fighting for California,” says Justin Barasky, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “The DSCC will continue to monitor the California Senate race closely.”

The billion-dollar question hanging over the contest is whether one of the nation’s leading donors decides to mount a campaign himself. Tom Steyer, the retired hedge-fund magnate, has emerged in recent years as the Democratic Party’s most generous donor. In 2014, he shelled out some $74 million to candidates, mostly through a political-action committee dedicated to bringing the issue of climate change to the political forefront. Now Steyer is thinking about whether the next campaign he backs should be his own.

“Holding office is a sacred trust in our society, and I am honored that so many colleagues and friends have encouraged me to consider entering this race,” Steyer wrote in an essay for the Huffington Post. “Washington needs to be shaken up, and we need climate champions who will fight for the next generation. California Democrats are blessed to have a deep bench of talent, and I will decide soon based on what I think is the best way to continue the hard work we’ve already started together to prevent climate disaster and preserve American prosperity.”

The post can be read as a sign that Steyer is preparing to jump in. In recent days, he has met with advisers, polled voters and snatched up campaign website domains, according to reports. But it is also a vigorous defense of his political-action committee, NextGen Climate, which lost the majority of the races it contested last fall and which Steyer told TIME in November he would continue to build.

Steyer’s money and influence would make him an instant force in the race, but it would offer no guarantee of success. A series of California business tycoons, from Meg Whitman to Michael Huffington, have self-funded lavish campaigns only to learn their largesse has limits at the polls. And despite the appreciation his generosity his bought, many Democrats are surely hoping he won’t run. In 2014, Steyer was the largest individual donor in the U.S. If he writes those checks to himself instead, it would be a blow to candidates across the country. An ally of Steyer declined to comment on his decision-making process.

The contest, expected to be the year’s most expensive, also feature a local wrinkle. In 2012, California jettisoned the traditional party primary system in favor of an open contest in which the top two vote getters, regardless of party, advance to the general election. If two strong Democratic candidates opt to run in the primary, they could face each other once again in the general election — during which the state’s Republicans and independents would play a major role in picking the winner.

TIME 2016 Election

The Hidden Strategy Behind Mitt Romney’s 2016 Campaign Tease

GOP Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney Campaigns In Michigan
Bill Pugliano—Getty Images Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign stop at Lansing Community College on May 8, 2012 in Lansing, Mi.

Former aides say new hints that he may run again are about stirring the waters, not winning the nomination

Is Mitt Romney for real?

Members of Romney’s inner circle remain skeptical that the two-time Republican presidential contender will make a third bid for the White House, even after he told top Republican donors Friday that he was weighing another try for the Oval Office in 2016.

“Tell your friends,” Romney told about 30 Republican donors at a closed-door New York City gathering organized by New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, according to a person familiar with Romney’s remarks. The meeting, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, came after nearly a year of hints dropped by Romney’s donors and allies, who have been practically begging the former Massachusetts governor to launch another run for the White House.

But top advisers to Romney still discount the chance of him mounting a campaign. For starters, he has done little to convince even close allies that he is serious about it.

Other major candidates have begun hiring staff, courting activists and taking other concrete steps toward assembling a campaign. Romney has not.

“Say what you want about the 2012 campaign, but it was a professional operation. This feels like it’s being winged,” says a senior Republican strategist who has worked closely with Romney on the timing of the leak. “They’re winging it right now.”

After two failed bids for the White House, it is far from clear that Romney, never a favorite of conservatives, even has a feasible path to the GOP nomination in a more competitive field.

And many close allies don’t believe he’d perform much better in a general election should he get lucky again.

The former Massachusetts governor proved to be a deeply flawed candidate in 2012. Wooden on the stump, he was unable to deflect attacks about the vast wealth he amassed during his business career. Romney alienated Hispanics, performed poorly with women and turned off vast swaths of the electorate with his disparaging remarks about the 47% of Americans who expected handouts. Many Republicans also believe nominating Romney would eliminate the opportunity to draw favorable contrasts with Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s wealth and age.

Romney himself has dismissed the prospect of another campaign as a lost cause. In Mitt, a behind-the-scenes documentary, he says so plainly. “I have looked, by the way, at what happens to anybody in this country who loses as the nominee of their party,” Romney tells his family in the film. “They become a loser for life, all right? That’s it. It’s over.”

Last summer, he put the odds of another campaign at one in a million. “Oh, no, no, no. No, no, no, no, no. No, no, no,” he told the New York Times earlier in 2014.

So why would Romney donors say he’s considering a campaign that he has taken no steps toward preparing for, and which by his own calculation has little chance at succeeding?

The primary motivation for Romney’s supposed change of heart, one close aide says, was the support of his donors. “He’s more open to it,” says one close adviser, “based on all the encouragement he’s received.”

During his 2012 campaign, Romney forged close relationships with a national network of financiers, who helped him raise more than $1 billion. As a former venture capitalist and private-equity executive, Romney is well practiced in the care and feeding of top donors, who were treated to parties on primary nights and invited to summits at a five-star Park City ski lodge.

Since his defeat, Romney has worked to maintain these relationships, hosting similar retreats in Park City in 2013 and 2014, with another already on the books for June. He staged events to introduce Republicans candidates to his donor network, elevating the former nominee to the role of party power broker. Last year he hit the fundraising circuit for down-ballot Republicans.

Former Romney advisers say that nearly all of the leaks that Romney is mulling a 2016 campaign come from this donor network, not the political aides he would rely on to execute one.

Now many of those same money men are being aggressively courted by one of the only other Republican powerful enough to loosen Romney’s grip on the party’s purse strings. Jeb Bush’s December announcement that he will “actively explore” a 2016 run has upended an already crowded GOP primary field, including the chase for the small circle of wealthy Republicans whose deep pockets and broad networks can lift a candidate to the nomination. The former Florida governor, quickly set to courting Romney’s donors, holding fundraising events this week in New York, Boston and Greenwich, Conn. Romney’s entrance into the field would set up a clash between two center-right politicos competing for a finite number of elite donors and staff.

At the same time, Bush began recruiting Romney’s political team. This week he announced the formation of a political action committee to help Republicans around the country, as well as a super PAC, formed by former Romney super PAC co-founder Charles Spies, to boost his own political fortunes.

Bush and Romney are not close. Romney aides noted Friday that Bush waited until well after the Florida primary to endorse the nominee in 2012, and his recent criticism of Romney’s performance during the race rankled loyalists. “The message here to Jeb is ‘slow your roll,'” says one senior Romney veteran. “There are donors who are very protective of Mitt and don’t like to see him treated this way.”

One Republican consultant suggests that posturing over a possible campaign was a way to signal that he wouldn’t cede automatically donors or staff to Bush. “Money for some is more important than policy,” says the consultant.

This is why veteran operatives of the Romney campaigns consider the revived rumors of a 2016 campaign overblown. They have long scoffed at the notion he’d run again. They believe their former boss would be an excellent president. They say Romney agrees. At the same time, they don’t expect a campaign to materialize.

“You take that deeply held belief and a bunch of people telling him to do it,” a Romney adviser says, “and you have this tizzy.”

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