Archive for June, 2015

IMF Under Scrutiny As Greece Edges Closer To The Brink

Greece crisisOne thing is certain, nobody in the International Monetary Fund in Washington has any doubt: Greece is going to default Tuesday, delivering a new blow to the global crisis bank’s credibility.

As the enormity of what lies ahead began to dawn on 29 June, an equally unprecedented war of words broke out between the European Union and the Greek government, with EU leaders rounding on Greece’s Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras.

They effectively branded him a reckless and feckless liar over his sudden announcement of a referendum on 5 June over the terms of an EU bailout that may no longer even be on offer.

The European Commission’s President, Jean-Claude Juncker, led the charge, accusing Mr Tsipras of betrayal and egotism. He was followed by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said the 18 other members of the eurozone had already made “generous” concessions to Greece, and could make no further compromises.

The question for Sunday’s referendum will refer to the latest bailout proposals by Greece’s creditors – the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Mr Tsipras tweeted that a “No” vote would strengthen his negotiating hand, but Mr Juncker attempted to frame the question as one about Europe itself as he appealed for Greeks to cast a “Yes” vote.

Although Mr Juncker condemned Mr Tsipras, he offered consoling words for the Greek people, who, he suggested, had been misled. “Greece is a member of the European family and I want this family to stand together.”

Just weeks ago, the IMF Fund refused to accept the idea that Athens, which has received some 32 billion euros from the IMF to rescue its economy since 2010, would be unable to make the 1.5-billion-euro ($1.7 billion) payment.

At the beginning of June, Managing Director Christine Lagarde insisted she had the assurance of Greek leader Alexis Tsipras.

“The prime minister said ‘do not worry,'” she said confidently. A Fund spokesman reiterated that confidence again last week.

But Tsipras’s announcement of a referendum on an adjusted bailout plan which he urged his people to reject, made clear that the country is not going to reach a deal with official creditors in time to finance any new debt payment.

How “is it possible the creditors are waiting for the IMF payment while our banks are being suffocated?” Tsipras asked.

Greece will be the first country to default on the IMF since Zimbabwe in 2001, and in terms of standards of living, the wealthiest.

The IMF will undoubtedly wait to the final minute before declaring Athens “in arrears,” but then the country will be immediately cut off from further IMF aid, including disbursements planned on the existing bailout program.

The IMF has less at stake than Greece in that event, but still stands to lose, experts said.

“A default by Greece, even if a short-lived one, would stain the reputation of the IMF and make it less likely future IMF programs would trigger private (capital) inflows into troubled countries,” said a former Fund official.

It is not the first time that the IMF, traditionally called on by economically troubled governments to help when they run short of liquidity, faces the breakdown of a bailout program.

And it has already confessed errors in prescribing austerity as a cure when that ended up stifling economic growth.

The institution has been criticized from outside as well as inside. Some member states have objected to the way rules have been bent to keep supporting Greece.

They note that the Fund can only lend to a country if its debts are judged sustainable, and Greece’s clearly are not. A default by Athens will only aggravate that open wound.

Non-payment would signal in a way that is clear to the person in the street worldwide that IMF engagement with the euro and Greece has gone very badly wrong. What happens with Greece could also impact the IMF’s likewise high-risk loan program for Ukraine.

In March, Kiev obtained a new lifeline from the IMF amid huge questions over whether its debt load is sustainable.

The fund has more to guard than its image: it needs to protect the hundreds of billions of dollars provided it by its 188 members.

It has been able to, without much controversy, write off loans made to certain countries, mainly those in the most dire circumstances.

That includes Haiti, whose $268 million in debt was forgiven after the devastating 2010 earthquake, and $100 million written off for the West African countries hardest hit by Ebola last year.

But the Greek case is different. The size of the loans is many times larger and the losses would impact the IMF’s financial integrity.

The Fund needs Greece to keep going and eventually pay up, but “has few cards left to play,” Prasad said.

“It’s in no one’s interest to escalate the implications of this missed payment,” said Domenico Lombardi, a former board member of the IMF.

“They’re going to play that down in the hope that this is not going to jeopardize the start of future negotiations.”

Lagarde clearly understands that.

Greek PM Alexis Tsipras has urged voters to reject creditors’ demands in a snap referendum on Greece’s debt crisis due on Sunday.

Mr Tsipras said a clear vote against austerity would help Greece negotiate a better settlement to the crisis. Otherwise, he warned, he would not stay in office to oversee more cuts.



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Ben Carson Storms to Western Conservative Summit Straw Poll Victory

Ben CarsonBen Carson, the famed surgeon turned presidential candidate, rode his outsider message to victory on Sunday at the Western Conservative Summit straw poll sponsored by the Washington Examiner, edging out former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Taken together, the results point to the resonance of the anti-Washington message among conservative audiences, as all three candidates argued in different ways that they would shake up the DC status quo.

Carson garnered 26 percent of the 871 votes cast; Fiorina got 23 percent; Walker was at 22 percent; and Ted Cruz, at 11 percent, was the only other candidate to make it into double-digits (he didn’t speak at the conference, though his father gave a rousing talk on his behalf).

The results were especially disappointing for Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, who both spoke at the conference. The attendees were heavily socially conservative, generally Huckabee and Santorum’s core supporters. But Santorum was only at two percent of the vote and Huckabee got just one percent and actually earned fewer raw votes than Donald Trump, who was also at 2 percent.

Rick Perry, who also addressed the crowd on Saturday, also attained just 2 percent.

Though Jeb Bush didn’t speak at the conference, it was noteworthy that the man who is considered a frontrunner received just four votes (as in, four people, not four percent).

“I think its too early to get behind any one candidate but its not too early to rule out candidates who represent the same old same old in politics,” said one attendee who declined to provide her last name. “People who are big money who will impose their will on people. Jeb Bush needs to be rejected by the Republican party. Fool me once shame on you, fool me thrice, it’s all done. Each time Bush has been elected it’s thwarted everything we stand for as Republicans.”

Carson has consistently done well in front of conservative audiences and boasts an impressive grassroots network on social media. Saturday night, he roamed around the stage, speaking softly and conversationally about a variety of topics that all reinforced that he was coming from outside the typical political system.

“The professional politicians say you can’t do it because you’re not a politician,” he said. “I say I can do it because I’m not a politician.”

The crowd ate it up.

Those who remembered Fiorina’s failed 2010 U.S. Senate campaign were skeptical when she announced she was running for president. But she’s continually impressed conservative audiences with her aggressive attacks on Hillary Clinton, polished delivery, and argument that her experience in private business would bring much needed change to the political system.

Walker has also done consistently well before conservative audiences when discussing his experience beating unions and other special interest groups to implement conservative reforms in Wisconsin.

“From what I’ve seen so far, Scott Walker is the only candidate with the skills to lead,” said Ladonna Lee, one attendee from Colorado. “In Wisconsin he helped the economy a lot, he helped workers. He’s the only one who really understands the Constitution.”

The poll also asked about Democratic candidates, and former Virginia Senator Jim Webb was the top choice of the crowd.

Here are the full raw vote totals.

For Republicans:

Carson 224

Florina 201

Walker 192

Cruz 100

Rand Paul 34

Marco Rubio 24

Rick Perry 20

Rick Santorum 16

Donald Trump 15

Mike Huckabee 13

Bobby Jindal 9

Bill Armstrong 6 (President of Colorado Christian University)

Bush 4

Kasich 4

Christie 3

Graham 3

Romney 3

Pataki 0

For Democrats:

Webb 83

Clinton 48

Sanders 42

Biden 39

Warren 21

Omalley 17

Chafee 16

Obama 15

Reid 8

Pelosi 5

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ISIS Driven From Kobani By Peshmerga Forces


ISISIslamic State fighters who launched a surprise attack on a Syrian border town massacred more than 200 civilians, including women and children, before they were killed or driven out by Kurdish forces, activists said on Saturday.

Kurdish activist Mustafa Bali, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Kurdish official Idris Naasan put at 40-50 the number of elite IS fighters killed in the two days of fighting since the militants sneaked into the town of Kobani before dawn on Thursday.

Clashes, however, continued to the south and west of the predominantly Kurdish town on the Turkish border on Saturday, they said, although the fighting in the south quietened down by nightfall.

Naasan said 23 of the city’s Kurdish defenders were killed in the fighting, but the Observatory put the number at 16. The discrepancy could not immediately be reconciled, but conflicting casualty figures are common in the aftermath of major fighting.

“Kobani has been completely cleared of Daesh, and Kurdish forces are now combing the town looking for fighters who may have gone into hiding,” Bali, using the Arabic acronym for the IS said via telephone from Kobani. The official Syrian news agency, SANA, also reported that Kobani has been cleared of IS fighters.

The more than 200 civilians killed in the last two days include some who perished in IS suicide bombings, including one at the border crossing with Turkey, but they were mostly shot dead in cold blood, some in their own homes, the activists said. They were revenge killings and others were caught in the cross-fire as gun battles raged in the town’s streets or were randomly targeted by IS snipers on rooftops.

Bali, Abdurrahman and Naasan all said the number of Kobani civilians and IS fighters killed was likely to rise as rescue teams continue to search neighborhoods where the fighting took place.

Massacring civilians is not an uncommon practice by the Islamic State group, whose men have slaughtered thousands in Syria and neighboring Iraq over the last year, when its fighters blitzed through large swathes of territory and declared a caliphate that spans both nations.

The Islamic State group often posts on social media networks gruesome images of its fighters executing captives as part of psychological warfare tactics designed to intimidate and inspire desertions among their enemies. Last week, it posted one of its most gruesome video clips, showing the execution of 16 men it claimed to have been spies. Five of the men were drowned in a cage, four were burned inside a car and seven were blown up by explosives.

The killing of so many civilians in Kobani, according to Abdurrahman, was premeditated and meant by the Islamic State to avenge their recent defeats at the hands of Kurdish forces.

The Western-backed Kurdish forces have emerged as a formidable foe of the extremist group, rolling them back in the north and northeast parts of Syria, where the Kurds are the dominant community, as well as in northern Iraq, where they have also made significant gains against the IS.

Kobani has become a symbol of Kurdish resistance after it endured a months-long siege by the Islamic State group before Kurdish forces, backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, broke through and drove the militants out in January.

Thursday’s surprise attack on the town and a simultaneous one targeting the remote northeastern town of Hassakeh came two days after the Islamic State group called for a wave of violence during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a time of fasting and piety that is now in its second week.

“You Muslims, take the initiative and rush to jihad, rise up you mujahideen everywhere, push forward and make Ramadan a month of calamities for the nonbelievers,” IS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani said in an audio message released Tuesday.

In what also appears to be a response to that call, terror attacks took place Friday across three continents: shootings in a Tunisian beach resort that left 39 people dead, an explosion and a beheading in a U.S.-owned chemical warehouse in southeast France and a suicide bombing by an Islamic State affiliate at a Shiite mosque in Kuwait that killed at least 27 worshippers.

The attacks also came after the group suffered a series of setbacks over the past two weeks, including the loss earlier this week of the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad one of the group’s main points for bringing in foreign fighters and supplies.

Fighting is continuing in Hassakeh for the third successive day, with government and Kurdish forces separately fighting IS militants who have seized several neighborhoods in the mostly Kurdish town, according to the Observatory. Forces loyal to embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad have brought in reinforcements from the town of Deir el-Zour to the south while the Syrian air force pounded IS positions inside the town.

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Greece will hold referendum on bailout plan

Greece referendumGreek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called a referendum on austerity demands from foreign creditors on Saturday, rejecting an “ultimatum” from lenders and putting a deal that could determine Greece’s future in Europe to a risky popular vote.

The surprise call marked the most dramatic twist yet in five-month negotiations between Greece and its lenders, plunging the cash-strapped nation into uncharted waters and risking a default and capital controls as hopes for an aid agreement faded.

After a week of acrimonious talks in Brussels, Tsipras dismissed lenders’ proposals as “blackmail” before flying to Athens to huddle with ministers. After midnight, he appeared on television to announce plans for a referendum on July 5.

“Our responsibility is for the future of our country. This responsibility obliges us to respond to the ultimatum through the sovereign will of the Greek people,” Tsipras said in a televised address to the nation.

The 40-year-old prime minister said he would respect the outcome of the vote. But he argued the lenders demands “clearly violate European social rules and fundamental rights”, would asphyxiate Greece’s flailing economy and aimed at the “humiliation of the entire Greek people”.

Government ministers emerging from the cabinet meeting said they were confident Greeks would vote no and reject the bailout demands, leaving open the question as to whether the country had other options beside leaving the euro in such an event.

The referendum call also throws the country’s tottering banking system into focus, though a deputy minister said there were no plans to impose capital controls and banks would open as normal on Monday.

“The risk of Grexit has increased considerably, from previously 20 percent to at least 50 percent,” Wolfgango Piccoli of Teneo Intelligence said in a research note. “Avoiding capital controls next week will be very difficult, if not impossible.”

Soon after the address in the early hours of the morning, lines of up to 10 people were seen forming to withdraw cash from automated teller machines in some parts of Athens. Small groups of anti-establishment protesters threw petrol bombs and stones at police in an Athens neighbourhood where protests are common.

The Euro zone had offered to release billions in frozen aid if Greece accepted and implemented pension and tax reforms that are anathema to its leftist government, elected in January on a promise to end austerity.

Without the bailout funds, Athens is due to default on 1.6 billion euros in repayments to the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday, pushing Greece closer to being forced out of the euro, causing chaos for its economy and financial markets.

A default would not necessarily lead to Athens leaving the 19-nation single currency area, but is expected to pave the way for it, worrying European leaders who fear it would undermine the principle that membership is irrevocable.

Greece’s parliament convenes on Saturday at noon local time to approve the referendum plan, just before euro zone finance ministers are due to meet in Brussels to discuss an aid offer from European and IMF to Greece.

One European official said the ministers would discuss a “Plan B” on preparing to limit the damage from a Greek default to Greek banks and other euro zone countries and markets if Athens rejected their offer.

Tsipras said he would ask for an extension of the bailout ending June 30 by a few days to accommodate the referendum.

He also spoke with European Central Bank President Mario Draghi to discuss the referendum, and senior government officials were due to meet the ECB chief later on Saturday.

With Greece’s stricken banking sector dependent on central bank funds to remain afloat, the ECB will play a vital role in keeping the system on its feet over the next few days.

Opposition parties attacked the government, saying the Tsipras’s hardline stance had brought Greece to its knees.

“Tsipras brought the country to a total deadlock. Between an unacceptable agreement and a euro exit,” former conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said. The referendum question was effectively a “yes” or “no” to Europe, he said.

This is not the first time that Greece has flirted with a referendum in recent years. Former Prime Minister George Papandreou sought one in 2011 as he struggled to impose painful cuts demands by lenders, but was ousted over the call and his administration replaced by a government of technocrats.

The latest drama came after weeks of phone calls, face-to-face-discussions and several rounds of meetings among European leaders to sort out Greece’s troubles. In the latest round, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande met Tsipras on the sidelines of an EU summit to coax him to accept an offer to fill Athens’ empty coffers until November in return for painful reforms.

But after months of fruitless wrangling, the patience of European partners with the leftwing government in Athens had grown thin and officials had indicated that there was little more room to manoeuvre.

Merkel said she and Hollande had urged him in a 45-minute private meeting to accept the creditors’ “generous” offer.

“We have taken a step towards Greece,” she said. “Now it is up to the Greek side to take a similar step.”

Both she and Hollande said Saturday’s meeting of euro zone finance ministers would be the decisive moment for a deal since time was running out to secure German parliamentary approval in time to release funds needed to avert a Greek default.

The creditors laid out terms in a document handed to Greece on Thursday. It said Athens could have 15.5 billion euros in EU and IMF funding in four instalments to see it through to the end of November, including 1.8 billion euros by Tuesday as soon as the Greek parliament approved the plan.

The total is barely more than what Greece needs to service its debts over the next six months and contains no new money. Further funding would require a third bailout programme, which is politically impossible for the moment in Athens and Berlin.

The lenders also made a gesture towards Tsipras’ demands for debt relief by offering to reaffirm a 2012 pledge to consider stretching out loan maturities, lowering interest rates and extending an interest payment moratorium on euro zone loans to Greece, a senior EU official said.

But the demands come at the price of pension cutbacks, new reductions in public sector salaries, an increase in taxes on food, eateries and tourism, and elimination of tax breaks on tourist islands. That has sparked protests in Greece, where one in four people are out of work.


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Supreme Court Bails Out Obamacare Again

Supreme Court To Issue Landmark Rulings On Obamacare, Same Sex Marriage

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court saved the controversial health care law that will define President Barack Obama’s administration for generations to come.

The ruling holds that the Affordable Care Act authorized federal tax credits for eligible Americans living not only in states with their own exchanges but also in the 34 states with federal marketplaces. It staved off a major political showdown and a mad scramble in states that would have needed to act to prevent millions from losing health care coverage.

“Five years ago, after nearly a century of talk, decades of trying, a year of bipartisan debate, we finally declared that in America, health care is not a privilege for a few but a right for all,” Obama said from the White House. “The Affordable Care Act is here to stay”

In a moment of high drama, Chief Justice John Roberts sent a bolt of tension through the Court when he soberly announced that he would issue the majority opinion in the case. About two-thirds of the way through his reading, it became clear that he again would be responsible for rescuing Obamacare.

“Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them,” Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. “If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter.”

He was joined by Justice Anthony Kennedy who is often the Court’s swing vote and the four liberal justices. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the dissent, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

When he finished, Roberts announced that Scalia would read a dissent.

“Indeed,” the veteran justice replied, sparking laughter in the Court and offering a preview of the stinging repudiation of the majority opinion he was about to unfurl.

Seated right next to the Chief Justice, Scalia proceeded to eviscerate his reasoning. He reeled off a string of unflattering descriptions about the ruling, calling it “wonderfully convenient,” complaining about “interpretative jiggery-pokery” and arguing it was not the Court’s job to make up for the sloppy drafting of the law by Congress.

Roberts heard the dissent throughout without giving a visible reaction until Scalia quipped that the law should be called SCOTUScare, causing the Chief Justice to chuckle and sending laughter through the public galleries.

Challengers to the law argued that the federal government should not be allowed to continue doling out subsidies to individuals living in states without their own health insurance exchanges and a ruling in their favor would have cut off subsidies to 6.4 million Americans, absent a congressional fix or state action.

The ruling is a huge victory for President Barack Obama, who nearly saw four words in the Affordable Care Act throw his signature achievement into chaos.

The income-based subsidies are crucial to the law’s success, helping to make health insurance more affordable and ultimately reducing the number of uninsured Americans, and shutting off the subsidy spigot to individuals in the 34 states that rely on exchanges run by the federal government would have upended the law.

Congress would have had to amend the Affordable Care Act to fix its language that subsidies would be available only to those who purchase insurance on exchanges “established by the state” a politically treacherous and likely untenable action in a Republican Congress. Alternatively, governors in the 34 states without their own exchanges, most of them Republicans, would have had to establish their own exchanges another tough ask.

Roberts, writing for the majority, said while the contentious phrase was ambiguous, its meaning in context of the law as a whole was clear.

“The context and structure of the Act compel us to depart from what would otherwise be the most natural reading of the pertinent statutory phrase,” Roberts wrote.

The conservative Chief Justice was once again an unlikely hero in saving Obama’s signature legislative achievement. He took heat from conservatives in 2012 when he first saved the law from a major constitutional challenge in a decision that stunned pundits and politicos across the ideological spectrum.


“I disagree with the Court’s ruling and believe they have once again erred in trying to correct the mistakes made by President Obama and Congress in forcing Obamacare on the American people,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. “I remain committed to repealing this bad law and replacing it with my consumer-centered plan that puts patients and families back in control of their health care decisions.”

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said he was “disappointed” by the ruling.”

“But this decision is not the end of the fight against Obamacare,” he said. “As President of the United States, I would make fixing our broken health care system one of my top priorities.”

Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton took to Twitter to praise the decision.

“Yes!” she tweeted. “SCOTUS affirms what we know is true in our hearts & under the law: Health insurance should be affordable & available to all.”

Just 16 states and the District of Columbia have set up their own health insurance marketplaces, which left millions of residents in the 34 states that rely on exchanges run by the federal government vulnerable to the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Challengers had argued that the words “established by the State” clearly barred the government from doling out subsidies in the 34 states without their own healthcare marketplaces.

They said that Congress limited the subsidies in order to encourage the states to set up their own exchanges and when that failed on a large scale, the IRS tried to “fix” the law.

“If the rule of law means anything, it is that text is not infinitely malleable, and that agencies must follow the law as written, not revise it to ‘better achieve’ what they assume to have been Congress’s purposes,” wrote Michael Carvin, an attorney for the challengers.

But it was Solicitor Generald Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. who won over the justices, arguing that Congress always intended the subsidies be available to everyone regardless of the actions of their state leaders.

Verrilli warned in court briefs that if the challengers prevailed, the states with federally-run exchanges “would face the very death spirals the Act was structured to avoid and insurance coverage for millions of their residents would be extinguished.”

Lower courts had split on the issue. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia invalidated the IRS rule while the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Obama administration.




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ISIS Go On Offensive In Northern Syria

KobaniIslamic State fighters launched simultaneous attacks against the Syrian army and Kurdish militia overnight, moving back on the offensive after losing ground in recent days to Kurdish-led forces in the Islamist group’s stronghold of Raqqa province.

In a separate offensive, rebel groups attacked Syrian government-held areas of Deraa city in the south, one of the areas where insurgents have dealt President Bashar al-Assad’s forces significant blows in recent months, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

Backed by U.S.-led air strikes, the Kurdish YPG militia has driven deep into Raqqa province in the last two weeks, capturing key positions from the jihadists including Tel Abyad at the border with Turkey.

In an apparent bid to seize back the initiative, Islamic State wrested positions from the Syrian army in an assault on the northeastern city of Hasaka, while also launching an attack on the Kurdish-held town of Kobani at the Turkish border, the Observatory said.

Syrian state TV reported heavy clashes between Islamic State fighters and the Syrian army and allied militia in the al-Nashwa district of Hasaka, which is divided into separate zones of government and Kurdish control.

The Islamic State offensive against Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab, started with a car bomb attack in an area near the border crossing with Turkey, the Observatory said. Islamic State fighters were battling Kurdish forces in the town itself.

An official in the Kurdish YPG said Islamic State fighters were attacking the town from three sides. The Observatory said dozens of people were killed or wounded in the bombing and subsequent fighting.

Kurdish forces, helped by U.S. and allied air support, retook control of Kobani at the end of January after a four-month siege by Islamic State.

In southern Syria, rebel groups attacked government-held areas of Deraa city overnight, and heavy fighting and army air strikes were reported in the area, the Observatory said.

Insurgents have made significant gains against the Syrian military and allied militia in the south in recent months, capturing positions including a military base, a border crossing with Jordan, and a town.

The southern rebels, who include the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and groups that do not share its jihadist ideology, have long said they aim to expel Syrian government forces from Deraa city itself.

Syrian state TV said the army had repelled attacks against a number of military positions in the south of the country.


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Trump Storms Into Second Place in New Hampshire Presidential Poll

Donald TrumpNewly declared Presidential candidate Businessman Donald Trump has proven the political elite and commentators wrong with an encouraging second place in a poll of likely Republican primary voters in New Hampshire. The never-bashful Trump posted links to stories touting the poll results on Twitter and to his campaign website, though he has repeatedly made it clear that he is far more accustomed to finishing first.

Fifty-three people out of 500 potential voters in New Hampshire who participated in the poll, or 10.6 percent, said they would vote for Trump for president, while 72 people, or 14.4 percent, went for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has not yet officially declared his candidacy but is expected to do so in the coming weeks, came in third place, with 42 votes, among the 19 candidates vetted by pollsters from Suffolk University in Boston.

However, nearly half of voters polled – 48.6 percent said they harbor an unfavorable opinion of Trump. In fact, every other Republican scored higher than Trump in favorability – even potential candidate New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who seemed a promising early contender but has fallen out of favour even among Republicans in his home state for scandals and his brash style. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio at 7%, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson at 6% and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at 5%. No other candidates earned more than 5% in the Suffolk survey.

When asked for their second choice candidate, 14% of likely GOP voters named Bush, 13% selected Rubio, 10% picked Walker, 7% said Trump and 6% said businesswoman Carly Fiorina.

Trump’s popularity may be partly due to the freshness of his entry into the race. The poll was conducted right after he announced his presidency at Trump Tower in New York in a widely covered off-the-cuff speech. The announcement set him apart from his peers in more ways than one: through braggadocio about his purported $10 billion personal wealth and bold policy proposals, such as building a giant wall to secure the Mexican border. Trump also criticized Bush for his support of the Common Core curriculum and called the former governor “weak on immigration.”

Trump’s newfound popularity as reflected in the small New Hampshire poll does not necessarily reflect his viability as a candidate nationwide. His comments on immigration in particular are not likely to sit well with Hispanic voters, who accounted for about 10 percent of voters in the 2012 election and heavily voted Democrat, according to the Pew Research Center. The New Hampshire poll primarily reflected the views of older white Republican voters: about 62 percent of participants were at least 45 years old and 91 percent were white.

Trump took aim at Democrats in general and President Obama specifically at a GOP event in Linthicum Tuesday. “The American dream is dead but I’m going to bring it back bigger and better than ever,” Trump told the crowd at the 25th annual Red, White and Blue Dinner

The event, a fundraiser for the Maryland Republican Party pulled in more money than many previous dinners. State party Executive Director Joe Cluster said he expected to take in about $100,000.

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