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Obama at the Credibility Gap



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Rarely has a president faced a greater challenge in establishing his credibility for a new foreign-policy move than Barack Obama did in his nationally televised speech tonight.

A CNN poll earlier this week found that just 30 percent of voters thought Obama had presented a clear plan for fighting the Islamic State. While Obama now pledges to ask Congress to train and aid Syrian rebels who would fight the group, voters remember that he backed similar plans in Syria in 2013, when his advisers saw Syrian president Bashar Assad as the major threat.

The new Fox News poll out today has more troubling news about the state of Obama’s credibility on foreign policy. Only 34 percent of those surveyed approve of Obama’s handling of foreign policy and 59 percent think the U.S. is less respected today than when Obama took office. Among independents, a key voting group that will swing this year’s midterm election, a full 67 percent feel the U.S. is less respected. Even 35 percent of Democrats now agree the U.S. has lost respect, compared with just 20 percent who think the U.S. is more respected. 

Even worse for Obama, an increasing number of voters no longer take him seriously on foreign policy. An astonishing 55 percent of voters say they feel embarrassed that Obama hasn’t articulated a strategy to combat the Islamic State until now. Obama’s plan to combat the group using air power and surrogate forces on the ground generates some skepticism. “By nearly two-to-one, voters think it will take boots on the ground to defeat ISIS (51 percent) rather than airstrikes alone,” reports Fox News pollster Dana Blanton.

The Washington foreign-policy community is taking a wait-and-see attitude on whether Obama’s rhetorical resolve will be backed up with serious implementation. An article on Politico notes that Obama has never given a prime-time speech on Russian’s aggression in Ukraine “even though its actions against Ukraine have created bigger worries for foreign-policy experts.”

“Last year, when [Obama] came onto national television to decry the use of chemical weapons [in Syria] but announce that, well, actually, in the end, he wouldn’t be doing much of anything, he projected a sense of indecisiveness that hung over him for weeks,” the D.C. publication wrote.

So, post-speech, it’s increasingly clear that President Obama’s first challenge is to simply get the American people to take him seriously. That challenge is far bigger than it should be.

The State of the Union Portion of the Speech



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was a little jarring. I’m just grateful the president didn’t mention equal pay for equal work.

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Understanding the Enemy



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The president tonight denied that the Islamic State is “Islamic”; I’m not sure what presidents think they are achieving when they make this assertion. (Bush did it too, all the time.) The alternative would be to say, “They claim to act in the name of Islam, something peace-loving Muslims say is a perversion of their faith,” or just to say nothing about the point. I can’t imagine that a non-Muslim-American president convinces anyone when he tells the world what true Islam is.

Obama also denied that the Islamic State has “a vision,” which 1) sounds like something you might say about a political candidate you’re up against and 2) is obviously untrue. The group has way too much vision.

Web Briefing: September 18, 2014

Good Luck, Mr. President



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I thought that this was a fine speech, grading against the curve of my expectations. But my expectations were low. The problem for me, and I suspect for others, is that it’s very difficult to see him as anything other than a political creature. It’s obviously the case that he is doing this not because the facts on the ground convinced him he had to do what was necessary to protect America but because the polls and the political climate convinced him he had to plug a hole in the hull of his presidency. I really have no problem with politicians being led by the people, when the people are right. And I think they are here. But I have serious doubts that Obama has any desire to stick it out beyond the moment the American people stop paying attention. I hope I’m wrong.

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Obama’s Operation Junior Varsity Speech: Live Blog



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9:59: Final questions:

1. Since I had to stay up past my bedtime I’m entitled to ask: What was the purpose of that speech? Can anybody name a policy goal that it could have been designed to advance?  Leave aside whether it actually succeeded in furthering any goal; what did the president have in mind?

2. Who is supposed to respond to this speech? Congress wasn’t called on to do much except support our “partners” — who still don’t include Syria and may or may not include Iran. There was no major shift in policy that I could discern.

3. Obama talks about countering the Islamic State’s ideology. How, and, more important, why, is the United States supposed to be in charge of that? On what planet are any Islamists, let alone Sunnis so hardcore al-Qaeda doesn’t want them, susceptible to the moral suasions of secular America? Maybe it’s the planet where all the peaceful, moderate, freedom-loving Muslims live.

9:48: Opening reviews are not strong!

9:31: What was all that guff about America’s being prepared to “seize the future” around 9:13 or so? Is this a war speech or a general welfare speech? Is it Keynesian residue, like maybe Obama is thinking prosperity is created by a sense of shared national purpose (not that there was much of a clear national purpose outlined tonight)? I am not the only one wondering:

9:23: Food for thought:

9:19: Happy any time an Obama peroration comes in at less than 30 minutes. I believe the word “victory” was not heard once in the speech.

9:15: “We owe our American friends our lives,” is how Obama quotes unnamed persons rescued from the mountain top in Iraq a few weeks back. That operation went smoothly, but unfortunately an evacuation doesn’t gain you anything.

9:12: Air power only, “partners’” forces on the ground. Worked in Yemen and Somalia?

9:07: From Ramesh:

9:04: ISIL is “not Islamic” and “certainly not a state.” True or false?

9:03: “Degrade” and “destroy” in the opening statement.

President Obama won’t be the only one kicking it like it’s 2003 tonight. Stay here for National Review Online’s ye olde live blog — but updated with modern conveniences, like live embedded video of the performance, that didn’t exist back in those days of coal-burning laptops. Don’t be shy about piping up in the comments or out there on social media, where you can “pin” us with “tweets” in your “professional network.”

Will’s Take: ‘Astonishing’ Obama Doesn’t Want Congressional Support for His Actions Against ISIS



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On Wednesday’s Special Report, George Will said it is astonishing that President Obama does not want support from Congress as a precondition for his action against the Islamic State in Syria. “One year ago the president said, “I cannot act in Syria without Congress because I am the president of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy.” Now, he says, ”Not important”,” Will said. “There seems to be a distinction of constitutional dimensions between going to war in the air, not requiring Congress, going to war on the ground, requiring Congress.”

Will went on to say there is no way to read the text of the Constitution in a manner that gives the president the power to wage war against a country “that he [the president] thinks might someday pose a hypothetical danger to this country.” Leaving aside the constitutional questions, Will said, he would think Obama should want company on his plan because it deals with an inherently difficult problem.    

Geraghty Skeptical of Obama’s Tough Talk on ISIS: ‘We’ve Been Here Before’



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Check out Jim’s latest on the threat of Islamic terrorism in America, “How Worried Should We Be?”

Krauthammer’s Take: Original Afghanistan Campaign Should Be Model for Defeating ISIS



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On Wednesday’s Special Report, Charles Krauthammer said President Obama will highlight past American actions he authorized in Yemen and Somalia as the model for addressing the Islamic State within Syria in his speech. Krauthammer said this would be a contradiction of everything the American people were hearing during the past week. “If he (President Obama) thinks that Yemen and Somalia are comparable to ISIS, I mean he’s living on the moon,” Krauthammer said. “The real comparison here is to the original Afghan campaign.”

Krauthammer said the original Afghan campaign that destroyed the Taliban in 100 days a serious campaign, and said the question about Obama’s seriousness remains. He went on to explain how the alliance of nations organized by the Obama administration pales in comparison to the coalition President George W. Bush had organized as commander-in-chief. 

Timpf: ‘Everyone Is an Idiot’ at School That Forced Girl to Wear ‘Shame Suit’ for Breaking Dress Code



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Obama’s Strategy for ISIS Hasn’t Gone Great in Somalia or Yemen



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Tonight, in his highly anticipated speech announcing a strategy to address the Islamic State and the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq, President Obama will compare his plans to what the United States has been doing in Somalia and Yemen to address al-Qaeda affiliates and violent jihadi groups in those places over the past several years. (See the excerpts here.)

How does that bode for the president’s strategy? Not terribly, but not that well.

On the upside, the U.S. has been involved in Yemen and Somalia for years now at relatively low financial cost (on the scale of hundreds of millions or single-digit billions) and with zero American soldiers or civilians lost. And there have been real victories: The U.S. has repeatedly killed top leaders of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is based in Yemen, and al-Shabaab, which is based in Somalia. Indeed, just last week, a U.S. drone killed one of the co-founders of al-Shabaab, Ahmed Godane, who had helped turn the organization into one with a more transnational Islamist ideology and closer ties to al-Qaeda. Drone strikes have been one leg of the U.S. counterterrorism stool in Somalia and Yemen — the other two have been limited involvement by U.S. intelligence and special forces operators (in Somalia, at least) and financial, logistical, and intelligence support for local governments, mostly in counterterrorism and security capabilities. (The U.S. also has supported a multinational peacekeeping force in Somalia.)

So the strategy in those two places has come at a low cost. Here’s the downside: The returns have been low, too.

We’ve killed a whole lot of terrorists, but haven’t destroyed or even significantly degraded terrorist capabilities of the key groups in either country, and both countries are almost as unstable as they were, say, five years ago. Al-Shabaab has carried out two highly effective attacks against Western-affiliated targets in East Africa, though it hasn’t shown any ability to hit the U.S. homeland, since we got more heavily involved there; al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was, before the Syria situation arose, considered the al-Qaeda affiliate with perhaps the best operational ability to hit the United States, and helped out terrorists like the Christmas Day bomber’s attempt to blow up a U.S. airliner in 2009. 

And there’s some reason to believe we’re going to have an even tougher time in Iraq than in Somalia and Yemen: Both have alternately corrupt or almost powerless and insecure governments, but both governments are more or less friendly to the West and committed to the same kind of War on Terror that the U.S. is. In Iraq, the national government, for the foreseeable future, is going to have a sectarian, pro-Shia mission, too, and seek support of various kinds from Shia militias and the Iranian government. There are plenty of problems with our partners in Yemen and Somalia, but we don’t face that kind of issue. On the flip side, Iraq is a vastly richer country than Yemen and Somalia, so if we do get a good government there, it might be more effective than the Somali or Yemeni governments have been in fighting terrorists. 

There are plenty more wrinkles, but the president’s strategy is not a grand one, nor a proven one.

Excerpts From President Obama’s ISIS Speech



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On Wednesday evening the White House released two separate paragraphs from President Obama’s impending address to the nation regarding the U.S. strategy to defeat the Islamic State:

So tonight, with a new Iraqi government in place, and following consultations with allies abroad and Congress at home, I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat. Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy.

But I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. This counter-terrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground. This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.

The president will speak to the Eastern time nation at 9 p.m. Eastern time.

Top Nunn Campaign Ally’s Group Being Investigated for Voter-Registration Fraud



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An advocacy group run by a key member of Georgia Democratic Senate candidate Michelle Nunn’s campaign is currently under investigation for allegedly forging voter-registration applications.

Georgia secretary of state Brian Kemp’s office subpoenaed documents from the New Georgia Project after finding “significant illegal activities” regarding voter applications submitted by the group. The state government has “received numerous complaints about voter applications submitted by the New Georgia Project,” including forged applications and signatures, as well as false information, Kemp told WSB-TV.

The probe thrusts the New Georgia Project and its founder and CEO, Georgia state-house minority leader Stacey Abrams, into the fray of a competitive race between Nunn and her Republican opponent, businessman David Perdue.

Although the New Georgia Project describes itself as “a non-partisan effort to register and civically engage the rising electorate in our state,” Abrams has emphasized efforts to increase voter registration and turnout specifically in the context of Nunn’s bid for the red state’s open Senate seat.

“With Michelle’s race, there will be a concerted effort to register and mobilize and turn out voters,” she told the Roll Call in April.

Abrams’s involvement in the Nunn campaign was mentioned in leaked documents previously revealed by National Review Online. At one point, Abrams was included as a part of the Nunn policy team’s “kitchen cabinet,” which would meet with the team once a week. Later, her name appears on a list of “anchors” to help lead fundraising efforts among women donors.

Abrams herself donated $500 to Nunn’s campaign, and her group Friends of Stacey Abrams donated another $1,000. Nunn herself gave $1,250 to Abrams’s campaign since 2006.

“The fact that an organization led by a well-known Nunn supporter would attempt to illegally register voters is unacceptable and reminiscent of the Obama-political machine’s ACORN scandal,” Perdue’s campaign said in a statement. “There is nothing more fundamental to our democratic process than maintaining the integrity of our elections and any attempt to tamper with them is deplorable.”

Abrams said the investigation “saddens” her and that the New Georgia Project will work with authorities. The Nunn campaign did not respond to calls for comment by National Review Online.

Increasing voter registration and turnout among Democratic supporters is more or less essential to Nunn’s being competitive in Georgia, a state usually favorable to Republicans. Earlier this week, Nunn welcomed first lady Michelle Obama to Atlanta for a voter-registration rally.

Recent polls have shown Perdue with a lead over Nunn, but many analysts still consider the race to be quite close.

Jay Carney Blames Obama’s ‘No Strategy’ Remark On His Political Inexperience



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Former White House press secretary Jay Carney — now a political commentator at CNN — claimed that President Obama’s stunning admission last month that “we don’t have a strategy yet” on the Islamic State was due to his limited political experience on the national stage.

Carney spoke with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in his first appearance on CNN Wednesday. The anchor asked the former White House flack “how much of a mistake was it when the president said he really didn’t have a strategy for dealing with ISIS in Syria?”

“You know Wolf, when I heard that I’m sure folks who I left behind when I left the White House grimaced a little bit,” Carney replied, claiming the president “quite clearly” meant to say that the strategy “was being developed.”

“You know, what you get with Barack Obama is somebody who was not a national politician even ten years ago, and he vaulted onto the stage” he explained. “And it’s been part of his appeal.”

“So he’s not always — when he’s speaking honestly — going to say it the way communicators who advise him would have him say it,” Carney continued. “And I’m sure that’s not the first instance where he wished he had said it differently, because that became a sideshow to the more substantive issues here.”

Seychelles Snail—One of Global Warming’s First Victims—Found Alive and Well



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Those advocating speedy solutions to the threat of global warming might take a hint from a recent discovery . . . and slow down. Via the Associated Press:

The Aldabra banded snail, declared extinct seven years ago, was rediscovered on Aug. 23 in the Indian Ocean island nation of Seychelles. The mollusk, which is endemic to the Aldabra coral atoll — a UNESCO World Heritage Site — had not been seen on the islands since 1997, said the Seychelles Islands Foundation. . . .

A research team from the Seychelles Islands Foundation found seven of the purple-and-pink striped snails on Aldabra atoll’s Malabar Island

The snail’s apparent demise was linked to declining rainfall on Aldabra, and was widely considered to be among the first species whose extinction could be directly tied to global warming, said biologist Justin Gerlach, a scientific coordinator for the Nature Protection Trust of Seychelles.

The Aldabra banded snail, in all its glory:

Even for Rich Kids, Marriage Matters (II)



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Last year, Matthew Yglesias argued that divorce is of little consequence for rich kids, based on his “anecdotal experience growing up in affluent circles in Manhattan.” As I argued in Family Studies at the time, he was clearly unaware of the evidence on this score, which shows that even privileged children of divorce are “markedly more likely to fail to graduate from college, to have a child outside of wedlock, and to lose the socioeconomic status of their childhood than their peers raised in an intact, married family.” 

Now, we have more evidence that divorce hurts kids, including rich kids. A new Georgetown University study finds that children’s behavioral problems spike in the wake of divorce. What’s more: Children from upper-income families are especially likely to have more problems with behaviors like disobedience and aggression.

The report’s lead author had this to say to Newsweek:

The negative effects of parental divorce and separation seem to be the worst for the most advantaged. So being wealthy doesn’t seem to protect you from the disruption of divorce and separation,” said Rebecca M. Ryan, lead researcher of the study and an assistant professor of psychology at Georgetown University. “In fact, it’s the opposite.

All this may be because rich kids typically suffer a bigger (relative) material shock when their parents break up, or because divorce is much less common in affluent circles, and therefore more likely to be stigmatized. In any case, this study strongly suggests that Matthew Yglesias’s anecdotal experience growing up in Manhattan doesn’t tell us much about the fallout of divorce for children across the country.

W. Bradford Wilcox is a senior fellow at the Institute for Family Studies and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Michael Moore: Obama’s ‘a Huge Disappointment’



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Left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore savaged President Obama in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, calling him “a huge disappointment” and claiming he’ll be remembered only as the nation’s first black president and nothing else.

Moore sat down for a video interview at the Toronto Film Festival on Tuesday to discuss the 25th anniversary of Roger and Me, Moore’s documentary about Detroit’s General Motors that launched his career.

When the interviewer asked whether Moore agreed with President Obama’s 2012 assertion that he’d “saved Detroit” by bailing out General Motors and Chrysler, the filmmaker recoiled. “Detroit, at this point, would stand a better chance if they were an Iraqi or Syrian city, in terms of getting some sort of help,” he said.

“When the history is written of this era, this is how you’ll be remembered: He was the first black president,” he continued, directly addressing the president. “Okay, not a bad accomplishment. But that’s it. That’s it, Mr. Obama.”

“One hundred years from now, ‘He was the first black American that got elected president’ — and that’s it,” Moore said. “Eight years of your life, and that’s what people are going to remember. Boy, I got a feeling — knowing you — that you probably wish you were remembered for a few other things, a few other things you could’ve done.”

Rogan: ‘Big Test Tonight Will Be Whether the President Offers Some Specifics’ On ISIS Strategy



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Check out Tom’s latest on President Obama’s approach to the Islamic State, “The Complexity of Coalitions.”

University Apologizes for Mascot Wiping Butt with GOP Campaign Material



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The University of St. Thomas ​has apologized after a catfight between mascot Tommie the Tomcat and the campus College Republicans following the large costumed feline’s antics regarding a local Republican candidate.

The College Republicans were manning a table on the St. Paul–Minneapolis campus with fellow student and local state house candidate Andrew Brown on Tuesday when Tommie wandered up to the table. The large costumed cat grabbed a piece of Brown’s material, and proceeded to wipe his rear with it before going on his merry way.

Minnesota College Republicans chairwoman Angie ​Hask tweeted about the incident shortly after:

Hask said the six students on the Tommie Mascot Team are supposed to “foster school spirit in a positive and professional manner,” according to their website, and Hasek called on the university to apologize for the mascot’s “distasteful” shenanigans.

“[He] is supposed to represent the community of St. Thomas, so we were pretty appalled,” she told City Pages.

The university eventually apologized for Tommie “inappropriate” action of “us[ing the campaign material] like a piece of toilet paper to wipe his bottom,” and said the student in the costume will be disciplined.

Here’s hoping Tommie and the campus CRs can get back to when they were on better, more amiable terms:

The Media Coverage of the Corrupt Chevron Trial Was Corrupt Too



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One of the more troubling aspects of the fraud effort concocted against Chevron is how, early on, media big wigs made it a cause célèbre, and how prestigious attention proved critical to the fleecing scheme (until it collapsed). The big “get” that legitimized the ensuing media pile-in (by Newsweek, Bloomberg, the BBC, the New York Times, and 60 Minutes, to name a few) was the 2007 Vanity Fair essay by William Langewiesche, which at great length accused Chevron (and its corporate predecessor, Texaco) of creating a “toxic waste dump” in the jungles of Ecuador in the 1970s and 80s.

The Fifth Estate had spoken: Bringing the oil giant to its knees and turning it into an ATM for leftists was now sanctioned.

But as Chevron fought back in a successful RICO action against lefty lawyer Steven Donziger, and uncovered a massive multi-billion-dollar shakedown operation (with a cast including hedge firms and soon-to-be-devastated lobbying firms), the initial media reports increasingly came across as shallow, contrived, ideological, and featuring little editorial due diligence or fact-checking.

Indeed, court documents from the RICO trial have “exposed some very unsettling secrets about the way the journalistic sausage is made at the elite house organs of the chattering classes.” At least that’s how Miami Herald columnist Glenn Garvin sees it in a powerful piece — “When Journalism Is Too Good To Be True” — published last week about Vanity Fair’s Langewiesche. Garvin writes:

Four years into the lawsuit, Donziger scored a public-relations coup when he convinced the magazine Vanity Fair to do a long story about the case. (Department of Extraordinary Coincidences: Donziger’s wife at the time worked in corporate communications at Condé Nast, the magazine’s publisher.)

Vanity Fair assigned the story to one of its best writers, the award-winning William Langewiesche. The piece he produced was extraordinarily sympathetic to the lawsuit, so much so that Donziger himself proclaimed it “the kind of paradigm-shifting, breakthrough article that I think is going to change the entire case from here until it ends in a way that is favorable to us.”

And no wonder! The emails between Donziger and Langewiesche in early 2007, as the story was being prepared, show Langewiesche as Donziger’s camp follower at the best of times, his sock-puppet at the worst.

Garvin goes on to report that Langewiesche worked with Donziger to prepare questions to ask Chevron, for advice on dodging requests from Chevron officials for a face-to-face meeting, to review his story before it was published, and much more. (You can read Langewiesche’s response to Garvin’s column here.)

That the liberal media is biased ain’t news. Still, what we are seeing in this bald move from bias to active and coordinated participation with fraud operations should unsettle anyone. If Chevron (albeit at great expense) has done itself a service in fighting back against fraud, it has also done everyone a collateral service by exposing the highbrow media’s overt cooperation with the Left.

Kansas Is Up for Grabs: Independent Liberal Tied with Pat Roberts



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A new SurveyUSA poll shows independent candidate Greg Orman leading Kansas Republican senator Pat Roberts by one point, 37 to 36 percent. After Democratic candidate Chad Taylor announced he would withdraw from the race, Orman surged 17 percent in the new poll compared with SurveyUSA’s previous survey, completed August 23.

Taylor will likely still be on the ballot (he’s reportedly filed a petition with the Kansas Supreme Court to have his name removed) even though he has said he’ll stop campaigning and drop out of the race. SurveyUSA included him in the poll, and he drew 10 percent of the vote.

Before Taylor ended his campaign in an apparent attempt to unite Roberts opponents around Orman, a wealthy businessman who’s partly funding his own campaign, Roberts was consistently ahead in the polls.

Orman has been registered as a Republican, Democrat, and an independent, according to the Wichita Eagle, and has not committed to caucusing with either Republicans or Democrats. If he wins, the Eagle reported Orman has said he will caucus with whichever side wins the majority, although he appears to have the support of national Democrats. If neither party wins a majority, he reportedly will work with the side he deems most dedicated to a “problem-solving, nonpartisan agenda.”

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