TIME Newsmaker Interview

Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy Is Ready to Rumble

CT Gov. Dannel Malloy Signs Broad Gun Control Bill
Christopher Capozziello—Getty Images Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy speaks during the gun-control-law-signing event at the Connecticut Capitol on April 4, 2013, in Hartford, Conn.

"When we run as Republican-lite we lose"

Governors tend to pull their punches when it comes to criticizing their peers. Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy is playing a different game.

Attacking New Jersey Governor Chris Christie by name, taking a shot at Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s concern over terrorist attacks in Milwaukee, and mocking Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s presidential aspirations, the New England Democrat has no qualms about taking the fight to the GOP. “Such a charitable man,” Malloy said of Christie, with a proverbial tongue in his cheek. “He has spread goodwill to so many places. He’s really quite remarkable, isn’t he.”

Moments earlier, in an interview with TIME on Thursday, he muffled a laugh as he described Jindal, whose remarks he once called “the most insane statement I’ve ever heard,” as the “toughest one to beat in the Republican field.”

Seizing an opportunity in a party depleted of household names not Clinton or Obama, Malloy is rising to the occasion, positioning himself as one of the party’s top attack dogs as the 2016 cycle approaches.

But Malloy is also envisioning a larger role for himself within the party too.

Addressing the winter meeting of the Association of State Democratic Chairs on Thursday he delivered a fiery speech, imploring the party to refocus on its core values.

“When we run as Republican-lite we lose,” he said. “Let us be Democrats once again,” he added, earning a standing ovation and whooping cheers.

Malloy was one of the few Democratic success stories of 2014, expanding his margin of victory in a repeat of his 2010 grudge match with Republican Tom Foley. He holds up his support of gun-control laws and minimum-wage hikes as a model for other Democrats.

As the chair designate of the Democratic Governors’ Association, it will be Malloy’s job next year to try to pick up seats from Republicans, who now hold a near record 31 governorships.

Speaking to TIME, Malloy wasn’t shy about attacking his GOP colleagues, and expanded on his call for the Democratic Party to stop being “Republicans-lite.”

Below is a lightly edited and condensed transcript:

Republicans-lite?
My message is first of all we’ve got to elect a Democratic President. Otherwise the hard fought gains that we made under this president will be swept away. We’ve got to begin the process of changing the Congress and each election we need to pick up seats and we need to be on the offensive. What I’m hoping to do is see Democrats get elected. That’s what I’m trying to contribute to.

But you’re saying the right type of Democrat, right?
I think any Democrat is better. But I think what my message is, it’s about running as a Democrat. It’s about talking about Democratic values. I think we have to talk about Democratic values in this country again, because I think Republicans and their allies on Fox and elsewhere have done a good job of confusing people about who is actually pulling for them. You know and I know and economists know that trickle-down economics doesn’t work. But we’ve got all kinds of people in this country who are confused by what they hear on Fox everyday or elsewhere everyday and actually believe that somehow that’s going to trickle down to them even though during the last 25-30 years when trickle-down has been so often rolled out by Republicans, the middle class has not gotten bigger, wages are not up, quality of life for many of our citizens is not increasing the way that it should. So I think we need to be talking about our values vs. their values. Listen, I’ve got rich friend. I don’t mind the rich getting richer, but the poor shouldn’t be getting poorer and there should be more people moving into the middle class.

Are some Democrats in Washington not doing enough of that? Did that contribute to the defeats in 2014?
I think there are a lot of people who consciously or unconsciously, ran away from the President and the ideals of the party, and I’m not going to name names, but I think it’s important that we do what Republicans do, and view elections as a portion of the continuum, not as a stand-alone event. And every election needs to be built in part on the prior one and every new success needs to be built upon a prior success. And if we do that I think we’ll be stronger.

Looking ahead to 2016, should there be other Democrats entering the race to have this sort of dialogue?
That’s up to other people. I think people have to make their decisions about whether they want to run. I think there are a lot of Democrats who want Hillary to run and I think she would be an extremely strong candidate for the nomination and to be elected. I’m glad we don’t have 23 people running for President right now, although, as I said, I think the toughest one to beat would be Bobby Jindal. So we have to worry about him. People are either going to run for President or not, she’s going to either run for President or not, I think it looks more and more like that she’s going to, but she’ll cross that bridge when she gets to it.

Have you ever given it any thought?
No. Whenever people say you should President, I say, ‘I thought you liked me.’ Listen, I thought being mayor of Stamford was a wonderful job. Being governor of a state for a period of time is a wonderful job, and I’m not sure I’m at all attracted to Washington.

Governor Chris Christie to your south seems to be having a bit of a rough turn.
Such a charitable man. He has spread goodwill to so many places. He’s really quite remarkable, isn’t he?

He’s been facing some budget issues and dealing with pension reform …
Dealing with pension reform. He’s in the process of destroying public pensions, which by the way comes out of the Republican playbook. He hasn’t told the truth about what he’s doing, but that’s what he’s doing. The level of defunding that’s taken place under his administration is remarkable and I think the state’s bond rating will pay perhaps not a permanent price, but a long-term price. He’ll saddle that problem to some unfortunate Democrat who’s going to have to come in and do the right thing. That’s the hard part about being a Democrat, you have to clean up after Republicans.

Are you concerned that momentum Republicans are showing?
Yeah, that’s why I gave a speech. That’s why I think we have to rise as Democrats. I understand that everybody’s got to make tough choices in elections, but to defund your pension system by billions and billions of dollars, which is what New Jersey has done is not the right thing to do. To take away people’s rights to collectively negotiate their contracts, that’s not the right thing to do. And neither one of those things is going to help the middle class of those states. It’s just not going to. In some states it works to bash people who are a little bit better off than you to maybe make you feel better, but it is not a proven way to raise up the middle class, to raise the size of the middle class or to raise people’s standards of living.

On gun control, do you see a path to revitalizing the national conversation around gun control?
There will be more and more events like Sandy Hook. Look at the number of children that have been killed in schools since Sandy Hook. I’ve stopped counting, it’s astronomical when you think about the killing of children or babies. This discussion is not done. People actually understand that mentally ill people should not be able to buy guns, that people with violent-felony backgrounds should not be able to buy guns. They understand that. It’s when the other side wraps it with rhetoric like ‘they want to take your gun away.’ Well, no one wants to take your gun away, unless you’re, you know, a violent felon or you’re mentally ill, or you’ve threatened someone with it. That’s not happening anywhere. This conversation’s going to play out over a long period of time, and then the states that have done something about it, like my state, we continue to see a precipitous drop in homicides, and crime falling in Connecticut at three times the national average.

Where do you stand on the legalization of marijuana?
That’s not something I’m interested in. I decriminalized marijuana. We have 6,000 fewer arrests as a result of decriminalizing it, and we passed medical marijuana and I’m comfortable with where we are. I think it would be a mistake to become involved in the sale of marijuana for income purposes. It should be a stand-alone decision, it shouldn’t be based on whether you’re going to get a little money for it.

You’re taking over as chair of the DGA next year, what are you hoping to accomplish?
There are not a lot of Democratic governors, and we need to go our and fight the fight and take some of those states back and lay the groundwork for taking others back four years from now. I’ve always played a leadership role in any organization I’ve been apart of and I certainly have been the beneficiary of other governors, so I want to pay that back. I think this is important work. I think what Republicans pulled off in state legislatures following the census and their wins in 2010 has been very hurtful to the country. We have too few districts in the country that are in play, and as a result the Congress of the United States doesn’t do what it was intended to do, and that is to actually represent the majority will of the people. They’ve in other words, been gerrymandered.

Do you plan to step up your role in the party?
Obviously I’m here, and I was asked to speak, and there weren’t a whole lot of wins, so they’ve asked me to participate. And yes I’m going to play a role in trying to get more people elected as Democrats to the Houses and Senates and Assemblies, and more governors, and I’m on the lookout for good candidates for governor in the 2016 cycle. Some of those are pretty well set and some of those are going to be pretty wide open.

Have you started the recruitment process?
We are engaged in the recruitment process. That begins with talking to people who are expressing interest and making sure that people understand what it is to be a candidate in a statewide election. You have a lot of folks who want to run who’ve never run statewide and it’s not an easy thing to do. Part of our job is to make sure people understand and are sufficiently committed to doing that.

What are your thoughts on the Republican governors who have warned about the threat of ISIS as their party is embroiled in a shutdown fight over the Department of Homeland Security?
Those Republican governors should talk to the Republican members of Congress who are threatening to defund the agency that they are otherwise relying on. You know, it’s a wonderful thing, Republicans have both sides of their mouth and they’re able to use them well. The governor complains that there is a threat of ISIS in Milwaukee, but the Republican members of the Congress vote against funding the agency that’s charged with protecting us from it because they have a disagreement with the President over the ability of the people who were brought to this country as children and who have graduated from our school systems, to stay in this country. When they only speak English. That’s what this fight’s about. Republicans — they want to have both sides of the immigration issue, they want to have both sides of the job issue, they want to have both sides of the healthcare issue, and it’s incumbent on some of us not to let them get away with it.

TIME 2016 Election

Jeb Bush Hopes to Win the General Election by Losing the Weight

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush Keynote
David Paul Morris—Bloomberg/Getty Images Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida, speaks during a keynote session at the National Automobile Dealer Association conference in San Francisco, Calif. on Jan. 23, 2015.

Jeb Bush’s campaign to slim down the federal government appears to begin with himself.

At a fundraiser in Florida today, the former Florida governor admitted that he’s on the paleo diet, a new diet based on the idea that you should eat like early humans did before the invention of farming and animal husbandry. That means avoiding refined sugar, breads and beans and focusing more on eating meat and non-starchy vegetables.

“I’m really appreciative of the support that you’ve given me and I hope that you pray for my family, pray for me,” Bush joked. “Continue to pray that I stick on this paleo diet where my pants fall down. Perpetually starving to death apparently is the source of losing weight.”

Bush has joined a long line of recent presidential candidates who’ve lost weight while hoping to win a campaign.

• Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee took up running and weightlifting and began eating less before the 2008 Republican primary, then later wrote a book, “Quit Digging Your Grave With a Knife and Fork.”

• New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose struggle with weight led some helpful voters to send him 77 diet books, underwent gastric-band surgery in 2013 to help shed some pounds.

• Texas Sen. Ted Cruz hasn’t spoken publicly about any weight-loss regimens (other than a joke about Obama), but the Beltway publication Politico noted that he’s “looking trim these days.”

• Even 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who was hardly overweight, was known to pull the skin off his fried chicken when eating out on the campaign trail.

The candidates aren’t just being vain. Running for president is a physically grueling experience and being in better shape can help. But no one put it better than former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who considered a run in 2012.

“If you see me losing 40 pounds, that means I’m either running or have cancer,” he said.

By that measure, Jeb Bush just officially declared his candidacy.

TIME vaccines

Watch the Science Cop Take on Chris Christie’s Vaccine Talk

Christie isn't a doctor, so why is he dishing out advice on vaccines?

Chris Christie called for “balance” this week between public health and parents’ right to choose when it comes to vaccinating their children, going against the prevailing science.

Christie’s office was quick to walk back his comments and say “with a disease like measles there is no question kids should be vaccinated.” But TIME’s Science Cop Jeffrey Kluger explains why statements like this, and the ongoing decision by many to forego vaccinations, are harming America’s children.

TIME 2016 Election

Christie’s London Trip Goes Awry

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie Meets U.K. Chancellor Of The Exchequer George Osborne
Simon Dawson—Bloomberg/Getty Images British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, right, follows Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, center, and his wife Mary Pat Christie, out of 11 Downing Street following their meeting in London, U.K., on Feb. 3, 2015.

LONDON—Reporters were told to expect brief remarks for the press from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie Tuesday when he emerged from meeting with British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. And as he emerged from 11 Downing Street—the Chancellor’s official residence—Christie stayed true to his word, but just barely. “We had a lot of fun,” he said, before joining his wife in a waiting car and driving away.

This capped off a bumpy three-day visit to the United Kingdom for Christie, as a perfunctory visit to a stalwart American ally in advance of a presidential run went awry. The “trade mission” featured all the staples of a pre-campaign visit, including meetings with senior government officials and tours designed to complement his agenda at home. Christie also attended a Premier League soccer match, met with Prime Minister David Cameron at 10 Downing Street and visited a pharmaceutical company that makes vaccines in Cambridge.

But a question from a reporter Monday morning on vaccinations after the Cambridge roundtable, in light of an outbreak of measles in the United States, sent the carefully planned trip off the rails.

“I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well so that’s the balance that the government has to decide,” Christie said, adding that his own children have been vaccinated. But the line created a furor among Democrats and even some Republicans, who linked his remarks to the views of so-called “vaccine truthers” who believe, despite scientific consensus to the contrary, that vaccines are linked to autism.

A Christie aide tried to clean up the remark in an email to reporters. “The Governor believes vaccines are an important public health protection and with a disease like measles there is no question kids should be vaccinated,” a spokesman said.

Christie’s full remarks show him in line with the broader political thinking on the issues of vaccinations—where mandates vary by state and are usually tied to enrollment in schools or daycare. “I can just tell people from our perspective, Mary Pat and I have had our children vaccinated and we think it’s an important part of making sure we protect their health and the public health,” Christie said. But on an overseas trip, every politicians’ words are parsed with talmudic vigor.

The trip was funded by Choose New Jersey, a state economic development group founded by Christie early in his tenure to recruit businesses to his state, which has also paid for his recent trips to Mexico and Canada, and a 2012 visit to Israel. These politically tinged excursions have helped Christie burnish his foreign policy credentials, even as they have raised questions about transparency.

Overshadowed by the vaccine brouhaha was Christie breaking with established protocol to criticize President Obama on foreign soil. “I think the President has shown over and over again that he’s not the most effective negotiator, whether you’re talking about the Iranian nuclear talks or whether you’re talking about his recent foray into Cuba,” Christie said in response to a question about trade, the Star-Ledger reported. “The president has not proven himself to be the most adept negotiator, in my opinion, on behalf of American interests.”

By Tuesday, Christie was in full damage-control mode. Reporters on the trip had been told to expect two question-and-answer sessions with the governor, the first after attending a “conversation about drug rehabilitation and treatment with action on addiction,” and the second later in the day. Both were scrubbed.

https://twitter.com/MatthewArco/status/562576136467533825

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Some foreign travel has long been a prerequisite for presidential candidates, especially governors who lack the average senators’ familiarity with foreign policy issues. But it is frequently not without its pitfalls. In the summer of 2012, Mitt Romney’s overseas trip made him a mockery abroad after he questioned London’s preparedness to host the Olympic Games, and scores of negative headlines at home after an aide shouted an expletive at reporters trying to question him in Poland.

TIME 2016 Election

Hillary Clinton Enters Vaccinations Debate to Rebuke Likely 2016 Rivals

2014 Robert F. Kennedy Ripple Of Hope Award
Taylor Hill—Getty Images Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at the 2014 Robert F. Kennedy Ripple of Hope Gala at New York Hilton on Dec. 16, 2014, in New York City

"The science is clear," Clinton tweeted

Former U.S. Secretary of State and likely Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton re-emerged on the political scene Monday evening to critique several likely rivals.

In a tweet, Clinton dismissed those who believe that vaccinations are linked to autism, hours after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul suggested that parents be granted some element of control over what inoculations their children receive. Her public comments follow a period of relative quiet from Clintonland as she gears up for an all-but-certain presidential campaign in 2016.

On Monday morning, Christie said parents should have “some measure of choice” over how their children are vaccinated, when asked about an outbreak of measles in the U.S. His office later backtracked, saying the dad of four believes “with a disease like measles there is no question kids should be vaccinated. At the same time different states require different degrees of vaccination, which is why he was calling for balance in which ones government should mandate.”

In a contentious interview with CNBC on Monday afternoon, Paul said he didn’t see why his position that most vaccines should be voluntary would be controversial. “For most of our history, they have been voluntary. So I don’t think I’m arguing for anything out of the ordinary,” he said.

“I have heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines,” Paul added, repeating claims that have extremely dubious scientific grounds.

Clinton’s statement follows something of a change of heart from 2008 when she filled out a survey from a group known as the Autism Action Network, saying, “I am committed to make investments to find the causes of autism, including possible environmental causes like vaccines.”

TIME 2016 Election

Watch 5 Elevator Pitches from 2016 GOP Contenders

Cruz, Paul, Christie, Walker and Fiorina make their best argument in less than a minute

The Republican politicians who hope to be the party’s presidential nominee in 2016 have some very different theories about why they would be best.

Not all of them have perfected the message they’ll take to next year’s primaries. But some of them have given a good preview of their best elevator pitch and they have very different arguments on what it takes to win.

Below are five one-minute excerpts of speeches by contenders for the GOP presidential nomination.

Sen. Ted Cruz

The setting: The 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual event for grassroots organizers

What he said: “When you don’t stand for principle, Democrats celebrate.”

The argument: The Texas Senator argued that Republicans lost recent elections when their candidates “stood for nothing” and that the party should pick a strongly conservative candidate to draw a contrast with Democrats.

Sen. Rand Paul

The setting: The 2014 CPAC convention

What he said: “It isn’t good enough to pick the lesser of two evils. We must elect men and women of principle.”

The argument: The Kentucky Senator made a similar argument to Cruz, but the difference is that he is pitching a libertarian strand of thought to draw a contrast with politicians of both parties.

Gov. Chris Christie

The setting: The 2012 Republican National Convention

What he said: “It’s possible to work together, achieve principled compromise and get results. The people have no patience for any other way.”

The argument: Though he was talking about then-nominee Mitt Romney, the New Jersey Governor’s argument that voters are looking for politicians who can cross the aisle also fits his own potential candidacy.

Gov. Scott Walker

The setting: The Iowa Freedom Summit, a gathering of grassroots conservatives

What he said: “”If you’re not afraid to go big and go bold, you can actually get results. And if you get the job done, the voters will actually stand up with you.”

The argument: The Wisconsin Governor’s message is a blend of Cruz and Christie. He calling for politicians to stand on principle, but also making the case that results matter.

Carly Fiorina

The setting: The Iowa Freedom Summit

What she said: “Our founders actually never envisioned a professional political class. They envisioned that … leaders would emerge from agriculture or commerce and would serve their nation.”

The argument: The former Hewlett-Packard CEO argued that voters weren’t seeking politicians who compromise or don’t, but rather the clean break that an outsider would bring.

TIME 2016 Election

Christie Walks Back Measles Vaccine Comments

Chris Christie
Patrick Semansky—AP New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks with reporters as he leaves an inaugural ceremony for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan in Annapolis, Md. on Jan. 21, 2015.

Republican 2016 hopeful splits with Obama but then backtracks

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Monday that the government should “balance” parent choice and public health when it comes to measles vaccinations, in comments that broke with President Barack Obama—and prevailing science on the issue. His office quickly walked back the comments and said Christie believes “there is no question kids should be vaccinated.”

The initial comment from the 2016 Republican presidential contender came during remarks to reporters in England, the Washington Post reports, and follows news that a measles outbreak in the United States has infected more than 100 people in 14 states.

“Mary Pat and I have had our children vaccinated and we think that it’s an important part of being sure we protect their health and the public health,” Christie said. “I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well, so that’s the balance that the government has to decide.”

MORE: Meet the Latest Driver of the Anti-Vaccine Clown Car

Christie’s office later sought to clarify his remarks and sent reporters a full transcript showing that Christie made a point not to side with vaccination skeptics when asked if he thinks the shots are dangerous.

“I didn’t say that,” Christie said, according to the transcript. “I said different disease types can be more lethal so that the concern would be measuring whatever the perceived danger is by vaccine and we’ve had plenty of that over a period of time versus what the risk to public health is and you have to have that balance and that’s exactly what I mean by what I said.”

“The Governor believes vaccines are an important public health protection and with a disease like measles there is no question kids should be vaccinated,” Christie’s office said. “At the same time different states require different degrees of vaccination, which is why he was calling for balance in which ones government should mandate.”

Anti-vaccination activists say the shots can lead to autism and other conditions, but the overwhelming scientific consensus says that’s not the case. Christie’s statement came the day after Obama called on parents to vaccinate their children.

“The science is, you know, pretty indisputable,” Obama told NBC News. “We’ve looked at this again and again. There is every reason to get vaccinated, but there aren’t reasons to not.”

Christie struck a notably different public health stance at the height of the Ebola fears in the U.S., forcibly quarantining a nurse who had returned from treating patients in Africa despite her testing negative for the virus—and also against the advice of public health experts.

Christie is traveling to England on a trade mission that is largely seen as an attempt to boost his foreign policy credentials ahead of a likely 2016 run.

TIME 2016 Election

Lindsey Graham Forces Foreign Policy On 2016 GOP Field

Senator Lindsey Graham
Samuel Corum—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Senator Lindsey Graham speaks at a press conference in Washington on January 13, 2015.

The talk on the trail these days is focused on Main Street. But that could change.

At the moment his staff hit publish on a new pre-presidential campaign website, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham had distinguished himself from the rest of the already unwieldy Republican 2016 field. “Security Through Strength,” was the name of his new group, with a military-style combat unit shield as its logo.

Foreign policy would be Graham’s focus, and his tack would be unmistakable: He would be the candidate who could update Ronald Reagan’s Cold War vision of “Peace Through Strength” for the ongoing battle against radical Islam. Visitors had to read a couple hundred words of filler before any mention of domestic policy appeared. “Graham is also a leader in cutting spending,” the copy reads. Also, as if it were an afterthought.

As a political strategy, this was a bold move, given that most of his challengers have been focused their rhetorical fire on the cause du jour, the economic frustrations of the struggling American middle class. But then presidential campaigns rarely end where they begin, as Graham’s biggest backer, Arizona Sen. John McCain learned well in his 2008 race. That contest began squarely in McCain’s wheelhouse, as a foreign policy debate over the Iraq War. But it ended with an economic crises that McCain was not equipped to handle. “The issue of economics is not something I’ve understood as well as I should,” he was on record admitting in 2007.

There is a real potential for 2016 to follow the same pattern in reverse. Domestically, the economy remains stuck in neutral for most Americans, but gas prices are dropping, the labor market is firming, and the ground may be set for incomes begin to rise again. Overseas, however, the world is as tumultuous as it has been in a decade, with terrorist attacks in Europe, a virtual proxy war bubbling up between NATO and Russia in Ukraine, tense nuclear negotiations with Iran and Sunni radicals redrawing national boundaries in the Middle East.

In this environment, Graham stands relatively alone in clearly presenting a foreign policy vision. “I don’t think we’re anywhere close to the point where we need to be,” former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton told TIME. Bolton is contemplating a run for president to keep foreign policy in the national conversation. “Having two paragraphs in a stump speech should not be confused with having a foreign policy,” he said.

Some would-be candidates have talked about foreign policy more than others. On Sunday evening at a panel hosted by a group affiliated with the Koch brothers, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who sits on the Foreign Relations committee, had as much criticism for the governors as he had for ideological rival Sen. Rand Paul, who has presented a more modest vision of U.S. power abroad. “Taking a trip to some foreign city for two days does not make you Henry Kissinger,” Rubio said, in apparent reference to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who was at the Koch event and is planning a trip to the United Kingdom next month.

Similarly, Mitt Romney has made clear that foreign policy will be a central theme of his third run, should he choose to continue with the race. “The President’s dismissal of real global threats in his State of the Union address was naive at best and deceptive at worst,” Romney said Wednesday, in a speech before students in Mississippi.

But other Republicans, especially the deep bench of governors with White House ambitions, have yet to find their footing. Instead of offering a vision, they have been focused on schooling themselves in the arts of international trade craft.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been receiving briefings by a team including Bob Zoellick, the former president of the World Bank and U.S. Trade Representative, and Brian Hook, a former assistant secretary of state and Romney campaign advisor. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been soliciting briefings from foreign and domestic policy experts for more than a year to study up for a second campaign. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has co-authored a hawkish foreign policy white paper last year with former Sen. Jim Talent. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who launched his political organization this week, is expected to start receiving policy briefings in the next several weeks, with Marc Thiessen, the American Enterprise Institute scholar—and co-author of Walker’s book—expected to play a key role.

The former Florida Governor, Jeb Bush, supported his brother’s foreign policy while in office, but has rarely spoken out on more recent threats. Last month he called for strengthening, rather than weakening, the U.S. embargo on Cuba, for instance. It is not clear whether he has started formal briefings, but he has been reaching out to an array of experts in recent weeks, according to a person familiar with the calls.

Some Senate aides have pointed out that the state leaders could find themselves at a steep disadvantage in the general election. “We need someone who can credibly push back against Hillary Clinton’s failed record,” said an aide to one Senator eyeing the White House. “And the governors can’t do that.”

But governors may also have an advantage, not having their foreign policy so clearly defined before they run. Paul has been largely defined as an isolationist, while Rubio and Graham are affiliated with neo-conservatives, and Ted Cruz is has taken a hawkish line on many issues but favors budget cuts to defense programs.

“We don’t know very much of the foreign policy viewpoints of Jeb, Christie, and Walker,” said a veteran Republican policy aide to presidential candidates. “They have an opportunity to formulate and articulate the worldview that makes the most sense given time and space.”

That strategy works better if no one is forcing foreign policy questions into the debate at this early point in the cycle. In other words, a good day for Lindsey Graham, who enjoys easy access to the national press off the Senate floor, may be a bad one for many of his rivals in the months to come.

TIME Campaign Finance

How National Kingmakers Flooded State Elections With Cash

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gives the annual State of the State address on Jan. 13, 2015 in Trenton, New Jersey.
Andrew Burton—Getty Images New Jersey Governor Chris Christie during his State of the State address on Jan. 13, 2015 in Trenton, New Jersey.

The top 50 contributors spent more than $440 million in 2014 races.

If money is influence, the Republican Governors Association wielded more of it than anyone else last year in state elections nationwide.

The group, led in 2014 by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, gave roughly $69 million to candidates, political parties and independent groups — more than double its Democratic counterpart — as it tried to elect Republicans to the top office in as many states as possible. The group gave more than any other donor to state-level elections last year — from races for governor to legislator to supreme court justice.

The association applied an effective strategy that’s becoming more common: giving money using multiple paths to circumvent limits on campaign contributions to candidates and parties, a Center for Public Integrity analysis has found.

In addition to the money it spent directly on TV ads and other campaign efforts, the group gave about $14 million to candidates including Illinois’ new Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. It also gave more than $3 million to state parties, including those in Texas and Maine.

The bulk of the checks it wrote, however, totaling about $50 million, went to other political groups that in turn spent the money on state races.

Its efforts largely paid off. Republicans gained four governorships in 2014 and only lost two, leaving them holding the reins in 31 states.

The group “was designed to supplement what candidates could do on their own in the states,” said Dick Thornburgh, a former Pennsylvania governor who turned the association into a powerhouse in the mid-1980s. “Obviously, it’s grown beyond that.”

Its competitor, the Democratic Governors Association, gave $32 million and ranked second among the sugar daddies of 2014, according to the Center for Public Integrity’s analysis. The group only picked up one new governor’s mansion, with Pennsylvania’s Tom Wolf defeating incumbent Republican Tom Corbett. (Alaska’s Republican incumbent was beaten by an independent, Bill Walker.)

Together, the two governors’ groups and other national political organizations gave significantly more than political parties, unions, multimillionaires or corporations that also contributed heavily to influence state-level campaigns. The donations went beyond races for governor. The funds made their way into lower-ballot contests such as attorney general, state supreme court justice and state legislator.

The national groups also cropped up on the lists of the biggest donors in most states, outgiving homegrown political players in a sign that all politics may now be national.

In all, the top 50 political givers spread more than $440 million to the people and groups pushing candidates for state office, the Center for Public Integrity found. The list is thick with billionaires such as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, unions such as the American Federation of Teachers and corporations such as telecom titan AT&T Inc.

They also were more successful in backing winners than most donors, becoming the de facto kingmakers of state politics.

“It’s an amazing amount of power concentrated in a handful of organizations,” said Ed Bender, executive director of the National Institute on Money in State Politics that collected some of the data used for the analysis. “If people want to understand why government is dysfunctional, you don’t have to look much farther than this list.”

The Citizens United effect

To identify the kingmakers, the Center for Public Integrity looked at donations given to 2014 state candidates and political parties during 2013 and 2014, as tracked by the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Reporters also collected state and federal contribution records for 140 independent organizations that aired political TV ads during 2014 state elections.

Related: Meet the Top 50 Donors Who Influenced State Elections

The analysis does not include funders of groups that don’t disclose their donors to any state or federal agencies — so-called “dark money” groups. And it does not total overall contributions, because some donors received money from other donors on the list. [More details on the methodology.]

The findings paint a picture of independent groups playing a bigger role in financing state-level elections than even political parties or the candidates’ campaigns, one effect of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The 2010 ruling allowed many groups to accept and spend unlimited amounts of money from corporations, unions and wealthy patrons to influence elections as long as they did not coordinate with the candidates. Thus, they could bypass limits on giving to a candidate or political party and leapfrog ahead.

The top 50 donors identified by the Center for Public Integrity gave more than 40 percent of their contributions to independent political groups, surpassing what they gave to either candidates or political parties.

The strategy allows donors to multiply their influence, said Larry Noble, former general counsel of the FEC who now works as an attorney at the Campaign Legal Center.

“You give the maximum to the candidates, but then you want to give more,” he said. “You give to the party committee that’s also going to support the candidate. You give to outside groups that are also going to support the candidate.”

The mega-donors thus control more of the political messages that determine which issues are central to the campaign — roles previously played by candidates and political parties. And in exchange, they may expect the newly elected officials to dance with the ones that brought them.

Behind the curtain

National political groups have their own heavy-hitting donors. But because the groups function as the middlemen of political giving, voters often don’t know the original source of the cash behind a politician’s election.

The Republican Governors Association, for one, served as a conduit for billionaires and corporations looking to influence governors’ races.

The five largest contributors behind the group’s gargantuan giving power all appear separately on the Center for Public Integrity’s top 50 donor list: Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson; billionaire David Koch, who runs the Kansas-based Koch Industries with his brother; electricity giant Duke Energy; investment firm ETC Capital, whose founder, Manoj Bhargava, also founded the company behind the 5-Hour Energy drink; and billionaire hedge-fund manager Paul Singer, according to IRS records from 2013 and 2014.

Meanwhile, four of the five largest contributors to the counterpart Democratic Governors Association were also familiar names from the top 50 list: Michael Bloomberg and branches of three labor unions — the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the National Education Association and the Service Employees International Union.

The Republican and Democratic governors’ associations employ another common strategy that both amplifies and obfuscates their giving: contributing to “an outside group with a good-sounding name” to make support of a candidate look more diverse and to help attract different constituencies, Noble said.

For example, state records collected by the Center for Public Integrity show that the Democratic Governors Association gave more than $6 million to a group called Making Colorado Great, while the Republican Governors Association gave nearly $5.5 million to Grow Connecticut. The Colorado and Connecticut organizations then spent millions airing TV ads in their states’ respective gubernatorial contests.

“It’s name branding,” Noble said. “If you were a teacher and you see an ad from a teachers union, you’re going to give it a lot more credibility than an ad from the DGA.”

Diverse giving becomes trendy

All but a handful of the top 50 mega-donors used more than one avenue to spread their gifts. And most gave money to influence races in more than one state.

Billionaire hedge-fund manager Kenneth Griffin, for example, gave more than $4.6 million before the election to the campaign committee of Rauner, the Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate, according to data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

Worth about $5.5 billion, according to Forbes, Griffin and his soon-to-be ex-wife Anne also gave at least $2.2 million to independent political groups that backed state candidates, such as the Republican Governors Association, and more than $500,000 to state GOP parties in Illinois and Florida.

A representative for Griffin declined to comment.

Some of the top donors also gave widely. Sixteen of the top 50 contributors gave to 50 or more state-level candidates running in 2014.

Getting what they paid for

Nearly 85 percent of the candidates backed directly by the top 50 donors won their elections in 2014, a far better success rate than the typical political contributor, who backed winners only 52 percent of the time.

Duke Energy, for example, had a 94 percent success rate after supporting 381 different candidates.

For corporations, in particular, political giving is a way to ensure a seat at the table once a lawmaker is elected, said Loyola Law School Professor Justin Levitt. Giving across the aisle improves their odds of having an ally in office come January.

“They’ll give to the incumbent and also the challenger just in case the challenger wins,” Levitt said. “They’ll give more to leadership positions because leadership positions are gateways to access for committees, for legislation, for broader regulation.”

Mass media giant Comcast picked winners in 93 percent of the more than 1,000 candidates it backed. It gave nearly $1.7 million directly to candidates, spreading it widely in 36 states.

“The contributions that the company makes are because we operate in a highly regulated industry,” said Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice, adding that most candidates backed are incumbents. “The decisions that are made by legislatures control our business.”

In addition to its national giving, the Philadelphia-based Comcast gave heavily in its home state. Top recipients were Gov. Tom Corbett and running mate Jim Cawley, both Republicans, who together raked in $107,000 from the state’s top broadband provider but lost re-election. Hedging its bet, Comcast also gave $1,000 to Wolf, who won the governorship from Corbett.

Duke Energy, another company regulated by states, divvied up more than $500,000 among the hundreds of candidates it backed, many of whom ran for office in North Carolina, where the company is headquartered.

Additionally, the electric utility donated more than $210,000 to the Republican Party of Florida, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Duke Energy may have been trying to boost its support in the Sunshine State, where it has faced massive criticism for charging customer fees for nuclear plants that do not — and may never — provide power. Florida’s governor and legislature are responsible for naming the members of the commission that regulates the utility and allows such fees.

“We do not make contribution decisions on single issues,” Duke Energy spokesman Chad Eaton said. “Our employee-led PAC considers an array of issues before any decisions are made.”

In general, he said, Duke Energy donates to candidates who demonstrate “support for public policy issues that are important to our business, customers and communities” in the six states where it provides electricity.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, meanwhile, gave nearly $2.7 million to 568 candidates in 34 states and had a 64 percent win rate. It contributed more than half million dollars to Democrat Pat Quinn’s failed bid to retain the Illinois governorship, but saw more success with the $410,000 it gave to Wolf’s successful run for governor in Pennsylvania. In both states, the Republican opposition had supported scaling back public pensions or preventing unions from deducting union dues directly from members’ paychecks.

Money does not always guarantee a win, of course, and a lack of funds doesn’t necessarily foretell a loss.

In Maryland’s governor’s race, former Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, a Democrat, outraised Republican Larry Hogan several times over yet lost in one of the biggest upsets of election night. Brown was hurt by low popularity ratings that no giant war chest could fix, according to Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. And because Hogan accepted public funds for his campaign, he was limited on how much money he could spend yet also freed up to spend time on the campaign trail, not the fundraising one.

And some of the top benefactors saw little return on their campaign investments.

Billionaire physicist Charles Munger Jr., son of the Berkshire Hathaway executive of the same name, gave nearly $300,000 to 45 Republican candidates in 2014. Only 13 won for a 29 percent success rate.

The nation’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association, also fared poorly when backing candidates directly — only three of their 13 candidates won.

Allies in office

Most of the more than 6,300 state officials elected in November began work this month, shaping and creating policy across the country in 50 governors’ mansions and 99 legislative chambers — 11 of which flipped from Democratic to Republican control in the 2014 election.

For some big donors, that means the candidates they backed can now fight for their causes in state office. Or they might just be more willing to take a phone call from a benefactor who has a legislative wish list.

Noble said candidates typically know which donors they have to thank for their success — even when patrons filter their donations through independent groups.

And now, for some top givers, the real campaigning is about to begin.

Rauner, the newly sworn-in Republican governor, for one, is already gearing up for battles with the veto-proof Democratic-controlled legislature in Illinois as he pushes his stated goals of plugging the state’s budget deficit and strengthening ethics laws. He isn’t just counting on good will or smooth talking to win over potentially reluctant legislators. He’s counting on cold, hard cash to help make the case.

Rauner and two top donors, Griffin and shipping supply magnate Richard Uihlein, poured $20 million into the governor’s campaign committee in the final two days of 2014, which Rauner reportedly plans to use to back other candidates who support his policies.

Rauner’s new war chest will enable the new governor to be in a state of “perpetual campaign” — to air commercials aimed at persuading state legislators or to donate to other lawmakers’ re-election campaigns in exchange for support of Rauner’s agenda, said Christopher Mooney, director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois, Springfield.

In the past, a governor might have promised state legislators financial backing for development projects in their districts or helped them acquire contracts or new jobs.

“Instead of building somebody a playground in the school, he’ll be able to donate money to their campaign,” Mooney said.

And if they don’t do want he wants? “He’ll be able to fund an opponent,” he said.

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