Franklin Graham: Trump Might be Candidate of Choice

ABC/Ida Mae Astut(WASHINGTON) -- The Rev. Franklin Graham, whose family has served as spiritual advisers to numerous prominent political figures, told ABC News' This Week anchor Christiane Amanpour that businessman Donald Trump might be his candidate of choice in 2012 and that he does not think former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin will run for president.

"Donald Trump, when I first saw that he was getting in, I thought, well, this has got to be a joke," said Graham. "But the more you listen to him, the more you say to yourself, you know, maybe this guy's right."

"So, he might be your candidate of choice?" Amanpour asked.

"Sure, yes," Graham responded.

Trump has received growing support from conservatives since his name entered the arena as a 2012 Republican contender and currently ranks at the top of polls along with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Amanpour also inquired about Graham's feelings toward Romney. Graham replied, "No question he is a very capable person, he's proven himself." Despite the indications of approval, Graham did not outright back Romney.

In December 2010, Graham and Sarah Palin travelled together to Haiti to assist with relief efforts after the country's devastating earthquake. Amanpour asked Graham about his thoughts on a possible Palin presidential campaign.

"I think she likes speaking on the issues and I agree with many of the issues that she brings up," Graham told Amanpour, "but I believe -- I don't see her as running for president."

Graham gave the opening prayer at George W. Bush's first inauguration ceremony in 2001 and praised the Republican presidential hopeful, Sen. John McCain, in the 2008 election.

Amanpour's interview with the Rev. Franklin Graham will air Sunday on ABC's This Week.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Gary Johnson: 'From Obscurity to Prominence' in New Hampshire

Matthew Simmons/WireImage(WASHINGTON) -- Former Gov. Gary Johnson jumped into the 2012 presidential race this week, bringing his libertarian leanings -- and his much-noted support for legalizing marijuana -- into a still-fluid Republican field.

On ABC’s Top Line Friday, Johnson, R-N.M., told us that he’ll be concentrating his campaign on “Live Free or Die” New Hampshire, in the hopes of vaulting into prominence.

“You can't deny that I am the underdog,” Johnson said from WMUR-TV studios in the Granite State.

New Hampshire, he said, is “a state where you got to go out and meet everybody. And you've got to cuss and discuss and debate the issues, which is a terrific environment. And I'm going to be engaged in that environment here, and possibly go from obscurity to a prominence when it comes to the issues of the day.”

As for policy matters, Johnson isn’t shy to discuss areas where he may break with GOP dogma.

“I support gay unions. I think the government ought to get out of the marriage business. And then for me as governor of New Mexico, everything was a cost-benefit analysis. There weren't any sacred cows -- everything was a cost-benefit analysis. What are we spending money on and what are we getting for the money that we're spending? So in that sense, the drug war is absolutely a failure.”

He also said Republicans should be more aggressive than they’ve been in cutting federal spending. They should take on entitlement programs, too; Medicare and Medicaid could be slashed by 43 percent and turned into grant programs for the states to distribute.

“I think we should balance the federal budget tomorrow,” Johnson said. “I'm optimistic. I think Americans are optimistic. We went to the moon, we can balance the federal budget. We can fix this…. We're not addressing the problems that we face, and that starts with Medicaid, Medicare, reforming Social Security and Defense. And I mean cutting those areas.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News


Stepping On The Gas: Are Prices at the Pump Sinking Obama's Poll Numbers? 

Pete Souza/The White House(LOS ANGELES) -- At a fundraiser Thursday night in Los Angeles -- a city synonymous with America's car culture -- President Obama played pollster-in-chief, speculating publicly that one of the drivers of his slumping approval numbers are sky-high gas prices.

“My poll numbers go up and down depending on the latest crisis and right now gas prices are weighing heavily on people,” Obama acknowledged at his sixth fundraising event in two days.

And, he’s right. An ABC News/Washington Post poll released this week showed President Obama’s job approval rating dropping by seven percentage points since January and his personal popularity at a career low.

The White House knows a combination of factors is to blame, but it’s not hard to connect the dots. Our poll found that 71 percent of Americans say that the rising price of gasoline -- now averaging $4 a gallon and getting more expensive by the day -- is causing them financial hardship (“serious” hardship for more than four in 10).

And polling analyst Gary Langer points out that the overall view that the economy is worsening has increased by 21 points, particularly in the West, where gas prices are highest and where Obama has focused his campaign-style swing this week.

A New York Times-CBS News poll out Friday echoes the ABC-Post numbers. The Times notes, “Americans are more pessimistic about the nation’s economic outlook and overall direction than they have been at any time since President Obama’s first two months in office.”

At a town-hall style meeting Thursday in Reno, Nev., where the price of fuel has risen to a three-year high, Obama pledged that he would go after gasoline price gougers, announcing a new task force to “root out any cases of fraud of manipulation” of oil markets.

And speaking of short-term political gain, Obama unleashed a line in Reno Thursday that is likely to become a familiar refrain during the presidential campaign so long as prices at the pump remain high and Republicans try to use the issue against him.

“Every time gas prices go up like this, like clockwork, suddenly politicians look around and they discover high gas prices. And they’re shocked, and they get in front of TV and they say, ‘we've got a three-point plan to bring gas down to two bucks a gallon,'” Obama said. “And then when gas prices go down, nothing ever happens, and we’re back into the same old patterns, and we don’t have a comprehensive energy strategy for the future.”

To be sure, the past month has been a pretty daunting for the president: Rising fuel prices, unrest in the Middle East and North Africa and the wrangling over a government shutdown. The question now is whether Obama's standing will improve once these problems fade or whether opinions about his handling of these issues are starting to harden -- making it more difficult for him to alter public perceptions even if things do get better.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Born Again: Religion and the Race for the White House

AbleStock/PolkaDot/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Call them "born again" undecideds: Republicans exploring bids for the presidency in 2012 have ramped up their religious fervor and sharpened answers to questions about faith in an effort to court social conservative voters in key early primary states.

"I believe in God. I am Christian. I think the Bible is certainly, it is 'the' book," real estate mogul Donald Trump told the Christian Broadcasting Network last week after catapulting to second place in a poll of unofficial GOP presidential contenders.

But as voters begin to scrutinize the lives of a wide-open field of unofficial GOP presidential contenders, several personal histories might raise red flags in some religious circles.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's transition from the Catholic Church to evangelical Protestantism in the 1990s after marrying his wife, Mary -- a move he explains in his book "Courage to Stand" as an effort to "merge my faith and my church life" -- could hurt his appeal among some Catholic primary voters, several Catholic political activists said.

Meanwhile, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich might have curried favor among Catholics with his high-profile conversion to the church two years ago, leaving his Baptist roots behind. Some observers believe the shift, which came as he also sought public forgiveness for his marital infidelity, could also help him among Christians in general by demonstrating that he has been spiritually reborn.

Trump has also been put on the spot by Christian evangelicals for his two failed marriages. "I'm a very hard worker, and I've always said it's very difficult for a woman to be married to me because I work all the time," he told CBN's David Brody when asked to explain why they failed.

And then there's former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's Mormonism, which stunted his bid in 2008, and could remain a touchy subject with religious conservative voters in 2012.

Religious leaders in Iowa and South Carolina, where evangelicals wield significant influence in caucuses and primaries, praised the leading likely candidates for their testimonies of faith and orthodox positions on issues such abortion and same-sex marriage. But when it comes down to picking a nominee, they say, they're really looking for genuine religiosity, which may be a problem for some Republican hopefuls who've stumbled along the road to Damascus.

The biggest hurdles may be faced by the two potential Mormon candidates -- Romney and outgoing U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman. Thirty-five percent of Americans from across the political spectrum said in 2007 ABC News-Washington Post poll that they'd be less likely to support a presidential candidate who's a Mormon.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Mike Huckabee Resents Glenn Beck's 'Nazi' Insinuation

Rick Gershon/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- It takes a lot to rile the normally affable Mike Huckabee, but outspoken talk host Glenn Beck has managed to upset the former Arkansas governor.

Since Huckabee has expressed support for first lady Michelle Obama's anti-obesity initiative, Beck called him a "progressive" this week, which Beck has previously used in the same breath as the words "cancer" and "Nazi."

Huckabee fired back Thursday on his political action committee website, asking, "What did I do that apparently caused him to link me to a fatal disease and a form of government that murdered millions of innocent Jews?"

While not a fan of many of President Obama's policies, Huckabee, who famously dropped 100 pounds when he was governor, said he respected the first lady's efforts to tackle a major health crisis affecting millions.

Huckabee accused Beck of misrepresenting that respect "either out of ignorance or out of a deliberate attempt to distort [his comments] to create yet another 'boogeyman' hiding in the closet that he and only he can see."

But Huckabee wasn't done chiding his fellow Fox News host, who is ending his association with the network later this year.

Said Huckabee, "Why Beck has decided to aim his overloaded guns on me is beyond me.  But he ought to clean his gun and point it more carefully lest it blow up in his face like it did this time."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Is Paul Ryan's Medicare Plan Like Obama's?

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama has dubbed Rep. Paul Ryan's 2012 budget "fairly radical."  The Republican congressman from Wisconsin has claimed the president's Affordable Care Act "is accelerating our country toward bankruptcy."

Underneath the rhetoric, however, Ryan's plan to reform Medicare -- a central part of his 2012 proposal -- bears some glaring similarities to President Obama's plan.

It calls for setting up exchanges for older Americans similar to those proposed in the Democrats' health care plan that were widely panned by Republicans, even rejected by state leaders, such as Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin.

Under Ryan's plan, new Medicare beneficiaries in 2022 could select from a list of guaranteed coverage options, and the government would provide money to subsidize the cost of that plan.

The setup is similar to the exchanges that are a key component of the new health care law.  Under that law, small businesses and those without existing coverage could shop for coverage on exchanges, which would, in the words of the White House, serve as a "one-stop shop" to compare and find health insurance options.

Both Democrats, when pushing the Affordable Care Act, and Republicans, in promoting Ryan's plan, used the same argument -- that their plans would allow beneficiaries to choose coverage the same way members of Congress do.  The exchanges would allow people to choose from government-approved, precertified plans, and the system would be adjusted according to risks and wealth.

Ryan's plan also pools risk among seniors, drawing on the same fundamental philosophy behind the high-risk pools created under the new health care law.

Republicans, however, argue that while they might operate the same, the similarities stop there.  There is a difference between offering exchanges to a select group, such as senior citizens, versus a larger swath of the population, they argue.

Experts say the key difference is that in Medicare exchanges set up under the Ryan plan, the contribution toward private insurance is defined, but there are few or no specifications regarding specific benefits that would be offered over time.

The pools also differ in that the high-risk pools under the Democrats' health care plan are set up short-term until broader principles are established, while Ryan's plan calls for a more long-term proposition on Medicare risk pools.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Poll: Not Much Excitement over GOP Presidential Candidates YORK) -- It doesn't take a pollster to figure out that nearly every Republican voter is pumped up at the prospect of kicking President Obama out of office next year.

What they're not as psyched about is putting up a candidate to face the incumbent, according to a New York Times/CBS survey.

The poll, released Thursday, finds that 56 percent of Republicans don't "feel enthusiastic" about any of their White House hopefuls.  Even more distressing if you're a GOP supporter is that none of the possible candidates achieved double digits on the enthusiasm scale.

Though former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney led the way, only nine percent of Republicans said they felt excited about his candidacy.  Eight percent were excited about former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and seven percent were aroused by the possibility of a Donald Trump candidacy.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin trailed the leaders with six percent and five percent, respectively.

It's believed that once the field starts to come into focus, attitudes, and the excitement level, will change.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Big Names Come Out to Raise Big Cash for Obama in Los Angeles

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images(LOS ANGELES) -- President Obama hit up some big names in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles Thursday to pick up millions of dollars for his re-election bid in 2012.

Obama swooped into three fundraisers in four hours, including two dinners and a large rally at Sony Studios in Culver City, California.

The first of the two intimate dinners took place in the Sony Studio commissary and included Motown's Barry Gordy, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaragosa and actor Dennis Haysbert -- best known for playing the president on the television hit series 24 or, alternatively, the Allstate pitchman.

Then later at Tavern restaurant in the exclusive Brentwood section of L.A., actors George Clooney, Will Ferrell and Tom Hanks, director Steven Spielberg and industry executive Jeffery Katzenberg listened as Obama thanked them for sticking with him in 2008 and said he was counting on them for support in his re-election bid in 2012.

“You all got involved when the prospect of electing Barack Hussein Obama was slim.  None of you asked for my birth certificate.  It was a complete leap of faith,” he told about 100 folks at the restaurant, referencing the perpetual questioning of Obama’s place of birth, newly-revived by Donald Trump.

At the Sony dinner, the president told a different group that “We’ve made incredible progress over the last two and a half years, but we’ve got so much more work to do...this is going to be just as hard, if not harder, than 2008 and I’m going to need all of you just as engaged, just as motivated, and taking as much ownership over the campaign as you did then,” he said.

At the large rally for younger donors, a group dubbed Gen44, singers Jamie Foxx and Jason Mraz and actress Rashida Jones warmed up the 2,000 plus audience in Sony’s Studio 30.

Obama launched into what are now becoming familiar themes in his stump speech: the progress made coming back from recession and the challenges ahead, such as comprehensive immigration reform, revamping energy policy, reducing the deficit and implementing "shared sacrifice."  That sacrifice includes ending the Bush tax cuts that benefit the wealthiest two percent of earners and closing “loopholes and tricks” in the tax code.

Democratic party sources said the tickets for all three events started at $100 and ranged up to the maximum legal limit of $35,800.

All of the money raised goes to the Obama Victory Fund.  Though officials declined to disclose a final tally, estimates suggest millions of dollars were raised from about 2,700 donors.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Gary Johnson Announces 2012 GOP Presidential Bid: ‘I’m A Fix-It Man’

Comstock Images/Thinkstock(CONCORD, N.H.) -- With many potential GOP candidates taking pains to keep themselves out of the presidential race -- at least for now -- here’s one who’s all in: former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson.

Skipping the presidential exploratory phase, Johnson announced in New Hampshire on Thursday that was launching a long-shot White House bid because, as he put it, the country is “a mess.”

“Today’s mess didn’t just happen,” Johnson said. “We elected it -- one senator, member of Congress and president at a time. Our leaders in Washington, D.C., have ‘led’ America to record unemployment, a devalued currency, banking scandals, the mortgage crisis, drug crisis, economic crisis, loss of our nation’s industrial might -- and a long list of other reminders our nation is way off course.”

Johnson, who served as governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003 and whose viewpoints (at least some of them) are unorthodox for a Republican, made the announcement on the steps of the New Hampshire State House in Concord.

The former governor may be best known for his support for legalizing marijuana. He also opposes continuing America’s military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I can’t think of a more conservative issue than marijuana,” Johnson said in an interview on MSNBC on Thursday. “Half of what we spend on law enforcement is drug related. What are we getting for that?”

Johnson said that what the country needs now is a “President Veto” -- “someone who will say ‘no’ to insane spending and stop the madness that has become Washington.” He added that none of the other potential 2012 Republican candidates fit the bill.

Johnson’s campaign team announced that the newly-minted presidential candidate will spend three days in New Hampshire meeting voters, visiting local businesses and he’ll fit in some hiking and skiing time in the Granite State’s scenic White Mountains too.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Nevada Sen. John Ensign to Resign Amid Ethics Investigation

Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., will announce Friday that he plans to resign from the Senate in May, according to a statement released by his Senate office.

Ensign announced earlier this year he would not seek re-election for a third term in 2012. His extramarital affair with the wife of his former top aide was the source of both criminal and ethics investigation. Last December, the Department of Justice dropped its investigation related to payments he made to his former staffer. He is, however, still a subject of a Senate Ethics Committee investigation. Ensign's statement Thursday night makes clear that investigation was ongoing and that the committee recently hired an outside counsel. There is a lot of speculation that the timing of his immediate retirement, first reported by Nevada reporter John Ralston, is related to this investigation.

“While I stand behind my firm belief that I have not violated any law, rule, or standard of conduct of the Senate, and I have fought to prove this publicly, I will not continue to subject my family, my constituents, or the Senate to any further rounds of investigation, depositions, drawn out proceedings, or especially public hearings.  For my family and me, this continued personal cost is simply too great," said Ensign in the paper statement.

There is also speculation that Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval will appoint Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., for the remainder of Ensign’s term. Heller would have to stand for election in November of 2012. There would also have to be a special election to replace Heller.

There are already at least two Democrats actively running for the Senate seat.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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