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Ground Game

For real political drama, look to Chris Christie and Rand Paul

If you’re looking for some real political drama, pay attention to Chris Christie and Rand Paul
If you’re looking for some real political drama, pay attention to Chris Christie and Rand PaulAP/File photos

Ground Game is the Boston Globe’s daily e-mail briefing on the presidential primary. Get analysis like this from James Pindell every weekday morning in your inbox by signing up here.

On Tuesday Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton continued to be their party’s front-runners for president — as well as the most-analyzed candidates in the field. For Trump, it was another day when everyone discussed his “immigration plan.” For Clinton, it was another day where she couldn’t reboot the story on her private email server.

But if you’re looking for some real political drama, pay attention to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and US Senator Rand Paul. It’s not great cable news fodder, but the next few weeks for them are much more critical than whatever Trump or Clinton say at their next press conference.

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Let’s start with Christie. For him, the next three weeks will be make-or-break time. While people have focused on the rise of Carly Fiorina, they seem to forget that getting on CNN’s top debate stage next month is a zero-sum game. If Fiorina is added to the top 10 candidates on the main stage, then someone has to be bumped out. Right now, polls show that would probably be Christie.

In the lead up to the Fox debate Christie, Ohio Governor John Kasich, and Texas Governor Rick Perry competed for the final two spots (Christie got the 9th spot, and Kasich got the 10th). Perry went to the happy hour debate, and since then, his fundraising dried up and he can’t pay his campaign staff.

In the latest Real Clear Politics average of national polling, Christie ranks 11th behind former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who dropped to 10th place. The latest national poll of the GOP primary, released by CNN on Tuesday, showed Christie had just 3 percent of support.

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What makes Christie interesting is that, unlike Huckabee, he actually has money to do something about it. His SuperPAC has already spend $1.1 million on television ads in New Hampshire.

Christie’s other saving grace? CNN has said they will use the average of polls starting July 3 (Fox News just used an average of the five most-recent credible national polls). Christie will benefit from higher numbers in the flurry of polling before the Fox News debate, while Fiorina could be hurt by her lower numbers before that debate.

But compared to Paul, at least Christie gets a choice. Paul’s fate is left up to 350 unruly members of the Republican Party of Kentucky this Saturday.

In 2016, Paul is up for re-election to the Senate. Under state law, he cannot appear on the same ballot running for two offices, like US Senate and president. He’s tried to convince his state party to hold a presidential caucus instead.

Statewide caucuses are expensive, but Paul said he would foot the bill — although state Republicans are starting to have some doubts. Paul even sent a note around to Kentucky committee members saying that he already transferred a down payment of $250,000 to the state GOP, roughly half of the estimated cost.

Except, when Lexington Herald Leader reporter Sam Youngman talked to the state GOP chair, he said that Paul didn’t actually do that.

Another wrinkle: this is not simply a matter of Paul getting a majority of the 350 state Republican Party to go along with him when they meet Saturday. Just one-third of those present have to vote to table the idea (and stick with the state-run primary).

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If the caucus idea is either voted down or tabled, Paul must decide whether or not to continue a run for president or to seek re-election.


James Pindell can be reached at James.Pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell. Follow @BostonGlobe’s 2016 team: @JamesPindell, @Akjohnson1922, @JOSreports, @MViser, @AnnieLinskey, @TracyJan, @GlobeRowland, @GlobeKranish, @ShiraCenter, and @FeliceBelman.


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