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Local Republicans weigh in on GOP presidential candidates

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With Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s entry this week, there are 16 declared candidates for the Republican presidential nomination.

Local GOP officials say it’s not too early to start paying attention to what they’re bringing to the table.

“The dynamic of the whole Republican field is playing up the strengths of the party,” said Layla Shipman, who chairs the Floyd County Republican Party and is a member of the state party’s executive committee.

“We have minorities, women, all kinds of beliefs … it shows we’re a very diverse party with a big tent.”

Mike Morton, a founder of the Rome Tea Party, said he doesn’t know yet who he’ll vote for, but

he’s keeping an eye on “about 12 candidates” worthy of consideration.

Likewise, David Gulden­schuh, another Floyd GOP leader, said he’s a long way from deciding. But he’s paying special attention to Dr. Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has yet to declare.

“Carson and Fiorina are non-politicians and they are able to speak to the people at a completely different level,” Guldenschuh said. “I think people are weary of Washington, so there’s a trust factor that is a little bit higher.”

Shipman said to expect ebbs and flows during the run-up to the 2016 primaries.

“At any given time, any candidate could be a frontrunner,” she said. “Donald Trump is polling high now, but a lot of it depends on name recognition. He’s getting a lot of publicity. He’s a celebrity.”

  • Donald Trump

As Morton said, “After you talk about Donald Trump, you can talk about some others.”

The billionaire businessman may be irritatingly brash to some, Morton said, but his calls for action on illegal immigration and Common Core — along with his support of the military and defense — are striking a chord.

“When you listen to what he is saying, he is speaking with the voice of mainstream, conservative America,” Morton said.

Guldenschuh won’t go that far, but he said he hopes the Republican establishment doesn’t try to shut Trump down.

“Not to say I agree with everything he says, but I think he brings an interesting dynamic,” Guldenschuh said. “I like to see us welcome all debate, to move forward with it in a healthy way.”

  • Florida Gov. Jeb Bush

The brother of President George W. Bush and son of President George H.W. Bush appears to be the establishment choice at this point. Guldenschuh said he thinks Jeb Bush is making headway in dispelling the idea he’s part of a political dynasty.

“George H.W. had his own set of ideas, as did George W.,” Guldenschuh said. “Jeb brings his own values and strengths to the race.”

Morton, however, said he doesn’t think being the anointed establishment candidate is a strength.

“He comes across as the antithesis of what the conservative base is looking for. I think he will fade into the sunset,” Morton said.

  • Florida Sen. Marco Rubio

Shipman said Rubio, a first-generation American of Hispanic descent, is gaining steam — and generating interest from new Latino voters who have not traditionally voted Republican.

“His strength is that he shows the American dream is alive,” she said. “He started from humble beginnings and now he’s running for president.”

  • Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

Shipman said governors like Walker bring executive experience to the mix. They already understand how government works and how to get things done.

Walker could be considered one of the de facto leaders of the conservatives, according to Morton.

“He hasn’t been out on the firing line much, yet, but he’s one to watch,” Morton said.

Guldenschuh also said he wants to learn more about Walker. He said the Wisconsin governor is polling well in Ohio, which is a key state for a Republican victory.

  • Texas Sen. Ted Cruz

Shipman said Cruz is another first-generation American who is firing up new voters. When his father, Rafael Cruz, spoke in Rome in April, he drew more than 100 enthusiastic supporters.

“The battles that (Ted Cruz) has fought have been ones strongly akin to the conservative ideal and ideology,” Morton said. “And his father was speaking the same language.”

  • Dr. Ben Carson

The retired neurosurgeon and conservative activist drew mentions from both Shipman and Guldenschuh as a potentially strong candidate. Morton said Carson may not be as steadfast on some issues, such as gun rights, “as some people would like,” but his message is admirable.

“He’s a brilliant man, a man who is at peace with himself and who strongly, clearly, understands the needs of this nation to return to the basic founding values of our country,” Morton said.

  • Business executive Carly Fiorina

Morton speaks highly of Fiorina’s real-world business sense and what it could mean for the economy — although he acknowledges she’s got a long way to go in the polls.

“She says she won’t be a candidate for vice president, but if I were a candidate for president, I would definitely think about her,” he said.

Shipman said Fiorina brings a totally different perspective to the race.

“She’s a female with a business background who is doing really well. I’m interested in learning about her,” Shipman said. “That’s another dynamic we throw in to the debate.”

Other candidates are trying to gain — or regain — traction in the polls:

  • Rick Perry, former Texas governor
  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
  • Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal
  • Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor
  • Rick Santorum, former Pennsylvania senator
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina
  • George Pataki, former governor of New York
  • Jim Gilmore, former governor of Virginia
  • Bob Ehrlich, former governor of Maryland

Guldenschuh said Ohio Gov. John Kasich also is poised to jump into the race.

“He comes from the state that is the most important to win, a swing state. No Republican has won the presidency without carrying Ohio,” Guldenschuh said.

He noted that Kasich has been supportive of the Convention of States movement to enact a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget — a project Guldenschuh has been active in nationally.