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Laura Washington: No predicting the strange trip of a presidential race

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Stranger things have happened. Indeed, stranger things are happening.  The 2016 presidential contest is strange, long and definitely a trip.

Donald Trump has doubled down on his mega-brand and hijacked the Republican Party. The celebrity billionaire has trash talked his way into first place in the polls, and shows no sign of giving ground.

I never saw him coming. Now the 16 other GOP aspirants are scrambling to get out of his shadow. Yes, Trump is addicted to attention and knows how to get it. But I had pegged him dead and buried politically after his xenophobic insistence that President Barack Obama produce a birth certificate to prove he is an American.

OPINION

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Now, I realize that, for some voters, persecuting people of color, from presidents to immigrants, is de rigueur.

When former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced his long-anticipated run in June, he was widely viewed as the GOP’s establishment candidate and presumptive nominee.

No more. His hyper-focus on fundraising, public misstatements and a desultory debate performance have him hanging by a sliver. Among likely Iowa Republican Caucus goers, Bush is now firmly in 7th place, tied with Senators Marco Rubio and Ron Paul, shows a CNN/ORC International poll released Aug. 12.

Carly Fiorina, the only woman in the GOP pack, spent months attacking former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO, is uniquely positioned to take down another female candidate in a way the men cannot.

Then, it turns out, Fiorina’s best “trump card” is The Donald. Trump says he “loves” women, but Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly outed him as a misogynist in the Aug. 6 Republican debate. That gave Fiorina the perfect opening to step up her game.

Last week, Fiorina turned the tables on both Trump and Clinton, telling the New York Times: “I know Hillary Clinton wants to paint the entire Republican Party with the broad brush of Donald Trump’s comments, but it’s not clear to me that Donald Trump is a Republican.” Bam.

Fiorina is rising in the polls. Her gender and fierce debating skills will keep on the heat and make her well-positioned for a vice-presidential nod next year.

Now, the doctor is in. Dr. Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon, is the only prominent African American in the race.That gets you only so far in the Republican Party.

But Carson delivered the most memorable line in the debate, when he cited his singular experience, declaring he is “the only one to take out half of a brain, although you would think if you go to Washington, that someone had beat me to it.” Bam.

The low-key political novice posted the highest “favorability rating” from Republican voters in Iowa, with 69 percent viewing him favorably, according to a survey released Aug. 12 by Public Policy Polling. Who knew?

There is surely more strangeness to come. On the Democratic side, who knew a proud socialist like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders would be wowing crowds in early primary states around the nation?

Who knew that Clinton’s “inevitability” would appear so in doubt that Vice-President Joe Biden is seriously considering a late-breaking challenge?

The race ventured from the strange to the fantastical with talk that Al Gore, a former vice-president and once-Democratic presidential nominee, may also be mulling a run.

Now, there’s a “happy ending.”

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