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Rubio vs. Rand vs. Ryan: The race for conservative mantle in 2016

Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are both strong contenders for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, and for both of them, there will be a premium on not letting the other guy get to their right.

So far, it's been a tight battle. According to a trio of new vote ratings released this week, Rubio and Paul are neck and neck when it comes to who has been more conservative. And both, notably, have been among the most conservative senators -- much more conservative, as it happens, than another potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate and conservative favorite, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

Below is a chart comparing Rubio, Paul and Ryan in three key 2012 vote ratings released this week by the National Journal, the American Conservative Union and Americans for Prosperity.

The reason Paul ranks lower than Rubio in AFP's rankings appears to be because he opposed Ryan's budget when it came up for a vote in the Senate. While Paul joined basically all Democrats and a few moderate Republicans who thought the budget cut too much, he was actually opposing the budget because it didn't cut enough.

So a case could be made that he was actually more conservative than his AFP rating suggests.

The reason Rubio ranks lower in the National Journal rankings is largely because of social issues, on which Rubio scores a 70 and Paul scores a 90. Both rank among the most conservative senators on both fiscal and foreign policy issues.

The two of them are also neck and neck on Heritage Action's ongoing scorecard, with both of them tied for the second-highest score among current senators (96).

Make no mistake: Rubio, Paul and their advisers are keenly aware of how the other guy is voting on any given issue. Paul's people think Rubio has been trending more conservative in order to keep pace with Paul, while Rubio's people emphasize that he has been among the most conservative senators in the chamber over his first two years and remains in good stead with the tea party, which helped him (and Paul) win election in 2010.

Such is the nature of Republican primaries these days. Basically every Republican is afraid of being the next target of the tea party because he or she hasn't been a down-the-line conservative. And any potential 2016 presidential candidate needs to be careful not to venture into RINO (Republican In Name Only) territory -- particularly when the other guy is staying pure.

Because of this, it will be very interesting to see on which issues Rubio and Paul align with and depart from each other on over the next two-plus years -- starting with immigration reform, on which Rubio has taken a leading role.

How they vote will say a lot about the race that lies ahead.

Gutierrez to leave Citigroup to focus on immigration: Former commerce secretary Carlos Gutierrez will leave his job at Citigroup to devote his full attention to helping Republicans pass immigration reform, The Fix has learned.

Gutierrez will announce his resignation today and begin working full time on his job as chairman of the Republicans for Immigration Reform super PAC.

"The upcoming immigration reform debate will be one of the most important public policy discussions America engages in this century," Gutierrez said in a statement to The Fix. "Our country must get it right. In this spirit and with this understanding, I've decided to dedicate my full time and energy to Republicans for Immigration Reform and this critical legislative effort."

Republicans for Immigration Reform was launched recently to support Republicans who work toward a comprehensive bill. Those Republicans could find themselves targeted in primaries for supporting a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

The Post's Suzy Khimm profiled Gutierrez and the new effort a couple weeks back.


Vice President Biden says there is "a moral price price to be paid for inaction" on gun control. Meanwhile, NRA head David Keene says "there will be votes."

The NRA is up with a new ad hitting Biden over his comments urging people who feel threatened to "buy a shotgun" instead of an assault weapon.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) becomes the third Republican to announce his support for Chuck Hagel's nomination as Defense Secretary.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) just might run for reelection in 2016.

The NRA's political action committee raised $1.1 million in January.

A pro-gay marriage group will remove video of Laura Bush from its ads, per her request.

Reps. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) and Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) have endorsed state Sen. Larry Grooms (R) for the 1st congressional district special election.

Rep. Ed Markey's (D-Mass.) comparison between the Citizens United Supreme Court case and the Dred Scott decision that upheld slavery rubbed some African-American leaders the wrong way.

Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.) says he's thinking about challenging Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.).

Sen. Tim Johnson's (D-S.D.) son, U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, is being urged to run for his seat, even though the elder Johnson hasn't announced his reelection/retirement plans yet.

Republican women in Congress are getting more moderate.


"Governors Fall Away in G.O.P. Fight Against More Medicaid" -- Abby Goodnough and Robert Pear

"Democrats' Economic Narrative Still Trumps GOP's" -- Stuart Rothenberg, Roll Call


Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.

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The Democrats debate Thursday. Get caught up on the race.
What to expect tonight
Tonight's debate is likely to focus on the concerns of African American and Latino voters. Clinton has focused in recent days on issues like gun control, criminal-sentencing reform, and the state of drinking water in Flint, Mich. Sanders has been aggressively moving to appeal to the same voters, combining his core message about economic unfairness with his own calls to reform the criminal-justice system.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
62% 33%
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the polls as he faces rivals Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz heading into the S.C. GOP primary on Feb. 20.
Clinton in New Hampshire: 2008 vs. 2015
Hillary Clinton did about as well in N.H. this year as she did in 2008, percentage-wise. In the state's main counties, Clinton performed on average only about two percentage points worse than she did eight years ago (according to vote totals as of Wednesday morning) -- and in five of the 10 counties, she did as well or better.
Upcoming debates
Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands

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