Tag Archives: Independents

Gorgeous ‘Manchester by the Sea’ is a shattering masterwork

No one shows the landscape of human grief and trauma quite like Kenneth Lonergan.

It sometimes seems like the playwright turned director of both “You Can Count On Me” and “Margaret” knows us better than we know ourselves. His movies look and feel like life — it’s no wonder our souls can only handle one every few years. 

“Manchester by the Sea,” Kenneth Lonergan’s third feature which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Saturday to a massive standing ovation, is truly a masterpiece.

In its simplest form, “Manchester by the Sea” is about family, tragedy and aftermath. Casey Affleck plays Lee Chandler, a custodian in Boston for some scummy apartment buildings. He lives alone in an unadorned room. He fixes toilets as silently and as stoically as one can. He turns down frequent advances with a simple “that’s all right.” And he gets into bar fights of his own making.

Then his brother (played by Kyle Chandler) dies and he must return to his hometown to take care of his teenage nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), forcing him to explore the reasons he had to leave years ago.

There is no easy way to sum up what the film is about. Part of its impact is how Lonergan allows the story to reveal itself to the audience as he elegantly weaves together past and present, building tension to a devastating crescendo midway through. To even describe who the other actors play would be too much, but, suffice it to say that both Michelle Williams and Gretchen Mol are pivotal.

And while it might be a drama to its core, it is neither dreary nor self-indulgent. It’s also packed with wit and humor as well.

“It’s about the relationship between very sad, terrible losses and the connections to other people that make them painful and can also get you through them — or at least keep you afloat,” Lonergan said prior to the Festival. “You have a very damaged man and a very good-natured, cheerful, energetic, determined kid who are thrown together in a town where one doesn’t want to be and the other doesn’t want to leave.”

After the film premiered, Affleck told a sobbing audience that the experience has made him a better actor.

Hedges, who had a small role in “Moonrise Kingdom” said, too, that the raw emotion of so many of the scenes are “often more fulfilling and therapeutic than destructive.”

The script has been in the works for years. Matt Damon, who produced, said that he and John Krasinski had come to Lonergan with an idea years ago. First Damon was to direct with Krasinski starring, then Damon was going to star with Lonergan directing. But Damon’s schedule was just too full.

“I didn’t want to get in the way of a great movie being way,” Damon said. “I said to Kenny I don’t want to give this role up to anybody but Casey Affleck.”

Damon and Affleck had done a play with Lonergan in London over a decade ago, and Damon was also in “Margaret.”

While it is comically early in 2016, it’s hard to imagine that “Manchester by the Sea” won’t be considered one of the year’s best, if not the absolute best, by this time next year.

“People find ways to live with real tragedy, but some people don’t,” Lonergan said. “I thought maybe they deserve to have a movie made about them too.”

This season’s hottest films, from big to small

The Blockbusters


Opens Nov. 6, wide release

The latest James Bond film — and, possibly, the last for Daniel Craig — brings back the villainous organization Spectre, previously vanquished by a combination of Sean Connery and complex copyright litigation (don’t ask). Post-Casino Royale reboot, the organization is masterminding a global conspiracy that threatens MI6 and Bond will have to stop its scheme by defeating an enemy tied to his past (Christoph Waltz).

‘The Hunger Games:
Mockingjay – Part 2’

Opens Nov. 20, wide release

The biggest fantasy franchise since Harry Potter takes its last shot this November, bringing Jennifer Lawrence’s time as Katniss Everdeen to an end. Finishing the story begun in the series’ third film last year, Katniss will lead a full-scale revolution, storming the Capitol to assassinate the leader of her corrupt dystopia (Donald Sutherland).

‘Star Wars: Episode VII –
The Force Awakens’

Opens Dec. 18, wide release

They’ve promised us that this time, the new trilogy won’t suck. Set decades after the overthrow of the Empire in a galaxy still ravaged by war, old allies (Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill) will encounter both new heroes (John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac) and new adversaries (Adam Driver, Andy Serkis, Gwendoline Christie).

The Contenders


Currently screening, wide release

All 5-year-old Jack knows is “Room,” the small space where he’s lived since he was born and his mother’s lived since she was kidnapped seven years earlier. This haunting tale of a mother’s struggle to keep herself and her son alive (adapted by its original novelist Emma Donoghue) is a shoe-in for nominations, both as a whole and for Brie Larson, the rising star who anchors the film. It’s also sure to be a disturbing yet moving experience.


Opens Nov. 6, wide release

The Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal can be tracked back to charges against five priests in Boston and journalists at The Boston Globe who weren’t content to let that be the end of the story. Led by a star-studded cast (Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Lieve Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci), Spotlight has perhaps the strongest Oscar buzz so far.

‘The Danish Girl’

Opens Nov. 27, wide release

Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables follow-up couldn’t be more different. The Danish Girl tracks Lili Elbe (Eddie Redmayne), one of the first-known recipients of sex reassignment surgery, and her wife Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander) as they navigate Lili’s transition. The film’s casting has come under some scrutiny — with many criticizing the choice of Redmayne, a cisgender man, to play a trans woman — but its story is undeniably groundbreaking. 

The Indies

‘Beasts of No Nation’

Currently screening, Netflix and limited release

Cary Fukunaga is clearly winning the break-up with True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto. His follow-up, about a young boy who becomes a child soldier in West Africa, is receiving lots of early buzz despite a boycott from the country’s theater chains due to its simultaneous release on Netflix and in theaters. It’s their loss. Limiting it to small, intimate houses — potentially including your own — will increase the impact of this sobering, stunning film.

‘James White’

Opens Nov. 13, limited release

Perhaps the most truly independent film of these three, James White offers us Girls’ Christopher Abbott as the aimless, troubled 20-something of the film’s title. Over a scant, tight 85 minutes, we watch as he’s forced to either grow up or face the consequences, as his cancer-stricken mother (Cynthia Nixon) faces her final days.


Opens Nov. 20, limited release; Dec. 18, wide release

Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara form a powerful duo in Carol, as an older, married woman and a young photographer/department store clerk in the 1950s who are romantically drawn to each other. With the two of them leading the way, the film was expected to be powerful, but it’s received a festival response well in excess of what even its artistic team expected.

At South by Southwest: | Must-see acts in Austin

Preparing for the South by Southwest music festival is like shopping without a budget: there are just too many options.

The annual SXSW is jam-packed with thousands of performers and events – ranging from official showcases by Pandora and Spotify to unofficial ones, such as Raptor House and Roc Nation’s weekend event that featured Spike Lee, Nick Jonas and Big Sean – kicking off the music portion of SXSW, which officially begins on March 17.

The Associated Press breaks down six must-see acts in Austin, Texas.


Who’s bringing their mom to SXSW? Madisen Ward.

The singer is part of a duo with the woman who gave birth to him and they’re called Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear.

The Kansas City-based group, whose sound is a mix of folk and roots, perform sitting still next to each other playing instruments, while Madisen Ward takes lead with vocals and Ruth Ward softly steps in (like a gentle mother).

They will release their debut album, “Skelton Crew,” on May 19. It was recorded in Nashville and produced by Jim Abbiss, who worked on Adele’s colossal “21” album and was the main producer behind her 2008 debut, “19.”

Online: http://www.madisenwardandthemamabear.com/


Before Stromae performs at the famed Madison Square Garden this fall, you can see him in a smaller setting at SXSW.

The Belgian singer-producer, a major success in Europe, is steadily growing in America, thanks to his blend of hip-hop, electronic and rhythmic sounds.

The slick, fashion-forward performer has also gotten a boost thanks to new friends: Kanye West collaborated with him on the remix of his hit, “Alors On Danse,” and Stromae also appeared on the on “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1” soundtrack, alongside Lorde, Pusha T, Q-Tip and HAIM on the track, “Meltdown.”

Online: http://www.republicrecords.com/artists/stromae/


Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear aren’t the only family group heading to SXSW.

Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds is led by fiery vocalist Arleigh Kincheloe, while her brother, Jackson Kincheloe, plays harmonica.

The band, who have been on the New York concert scene for years, performs tightly onstage – dressed alike – while Kincheloe belts soulful vocals like a veteran.

They will play seven times during SXSW and their new album, “The Weather Below,” will be released on May 19.

The Dirty Birds also includes Sasha Brown (guitar), Josh Myers (bass), Phil Rodriguez (trumpet) Brian Graham (saxophones), and Dan Boyden (drums).

Online: http://www.sistersparrow.com/news/


Add the bearded-Jack Garratt to the list of British performers taking over music.

The multi-instrumentalist, who grew up in Little Chalfont, a village in Buckinghamshire, produces his own music – even though heavyweights like Rick Rubin have been watching the 23-year-old.

Garratt will release third EP, “Synesthesiac,” on April 13 and a full-length album in the fall. His sound blends the singer-songwriter vibe with alternative rock and R&B, and his songs range from eerie to danceable.

Online: http://www.jackgarrattmusic.com/


Who can get away with mashing up the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Big Poppa” and “Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye?

New songbird Andra Day.

The San Diego-based performer, who also blends Amy Winehouse and Lauryn Hill in another YouTube post racking thousands of views, is top-notch vocalist: Her voice, scratchy at times, sounds good over any beat.

At first glance, she may look like Rihanna, but her sound is unique.

Online: http://andraday.com/home


The Bros. Landreth just released their debut album and they are already winning awards.

The Canadian duo won roots and traditional album of the year: group at the Juno Awards last weekend for “Let It Lie.”

The brothers – Joey and David – recorded the album in a straw bale house in southern Manitoba.

The Bros. Landreth will continue to stretch to new heights with nine performances during SXSW, which wraps its musical portion on Sunday.

Online: http://www.thebroslandreth.com/

Libertarians file complaint with Wisconsin over exclusion from debate

Wisconsin’s Libertarian Party has filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board alleging that the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association is violating state campaign finance law with its proposed broadcast debate for gubernatorial candidates.

Andy Craig, a candidate for secretary of state on the Libertarian slate, filed the complaint in cooperation with Robert Burke, the Libertarian candidate for governor.

The broadcasters association traditionally sponsors televised debates in statewide elections, and has done so since the late 1990s.

The complaint from the Libertarians alleges that the group’s threshold for inclusion in 2014 is “deliberately designed to ensure a two-party debate in a four-candidate race.” A candidate must be at 10 percent or higher in polls and must have raised at least $250,000 in campaign contributions.

Robert Burke opted to run a no-donation campaign for governor under the banner “Give to the poor, not politics.”

The complaint says the debate criteria is unfair to third-party or independent candidates who usually receive a much higher number of votes per-dollar-spent than do traditional major party campaigns.

Libertarian Ed Thompson, for example, received more than 10 percent of the vote in his bid for governor in 2002 and spent about $50,000. He also placed first in two Wisconsin counties, although he was excluded from the WBA debate.

The complaint with GAB specifically alleges that the WBA is engaging in an illegal in-kind contribution to the gubernatorial campaigns of Republican Scott Walker and Democrat Mary Burke, who are the only candidates bringing in the kind of money to participate in the debate. 

“Only a broadcast debate which extends an invitation to all general election candidates for governor can satisfy the legal requirement that the extremely valuable and expensive broadcasting time and debate sponsorship, and the corporate resources which go into them, not be used to promote the election or defeat of any candidate. This is what distinguishes a debate, which would be legal for corporations to fund and promote as an educational service to voters, from an electioneering advertisement” said Craig.

The Libertarian Party is Wisconsin’s third-largest political party. Twelve Libertarian candidates are running this year in the state, including five for statewide offices.

Summer cinema sans superheroes

More exotic creatures thrive in the shadows of summer blockbusters. Here are 10 of the most anticipated indie films due this summer, nary a caped superhero or city-crushing monster among them.

1. The Rover (June 13): David Michod’s follow-up to his Aussie crime drama Animal Kingdom qualifies as a must-see because of the rare quality of his feature film debut. This one, which will premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, stars Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson and is set in a near-future Australia where the world economy has collapsed and bandits roam the Outback.

2. Boyhood (July 11): Richard Linklater spent 12 years making this wholly unique film. It charts a fictional family over that time (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette play divorced parents) and, remarkably, shows the maturation of 6-year-old Ellar Coltrane (playing their son) from boy to man.

3. The Immigrant (May 16): Tales of immigrants arriving through Ellis Island are a well-trod genre, but James Gray’s 1920s drama is distinct in its portrait of the American Dream as both myth and reality. With Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix.

4. Life Itself (July 11): Teve James (Hoop Dreams) presents a documentary and ode to the late film critic Roger Ebert.

5. Begin Again (July 4): Much like John Carney’s Once, this is a naturalistic, street-level drama about musicians. Keira Knightley stars as a British singer-songwriter discovered in New York by a down-on-his-luck music executive (Mark Ruffalo).

6. Magic in the Moonlight (July 25): Woody Allen’s annual offering is a comedy set on the French Riviera in the ’20s starring Colin Firth and Emma Stone. It promises a romantic lightness, but how will audiences respond to Allen following the renewed allegation of sexual abuse?

7. Tracks (May 23): Mia Wasikowska stars as Robyn Davidson, who in 1977 trekked across 1,700 miles of Australia to reach the Indian Ocean. Adam Driver (Girls) stars as the National Geographic photographer who trails her.

8. A Most Wanted Man (July 25): Anton Corbijn’s adaptation of John le Carre’s novel is one of two posthumous releases for Philip Seymour Hoffman. The late actor also stars in God’s Pocket (May 9), the directing debut of John Slattery (Mad Men).

9. Wish I Was Here (July 18): Zach Braff took a lot of criticism for his use of Kickstarter to help fund his second directorial effort following 2004’s Garden State. Braff also stars as a struggling actor who homeschools his kids.

10. They Came Together (June 27): David Wain and Michael Showalter deconstruct the romantic comedy with a cast led by Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler.

Bloomberg: Unquestioned impact, debated legacy

When Michael Bloomberg took the oath as mayor of New York City nearly a dozen years ago, he was a political neophyte faced with a city still smoldering from a terrorist attack that crippled its economy, wounded its psyche and left a ragged scar across lower Manhattan.

Bloomberg is now poised to leave office Dec. 31 having dramatically reshaped the city, from its government to its skyline. He steered it through a series of crises, both natural and man-made, and his innovative public health policies appear to have added years to residents’ lives. The city has never been safer or cleaner, a teeming metropolis transformed into a must-see attraction for more than 50 million tourists a year.

But Bloomberg’s approach to governing as the billionaire businessman he is, employing hard data and the free market to drive much of the city’s renaissance, sometimes left him without an ability to connect with those who felt left behind. Income inequality grew during his years in office. The number of homeless has soared.  And some ethnic and religious minorities complain that a steep drop in crime has come at the expense of their civil liberties.

As Bloomberg’s three terms trickle down to their final days, he leaves as a singular figure with an unquestioned impact but as one whose legacy is still being debated. Polls show his policies are far more popular than the man.

“He is a public-spirited and visionary man of great wealth who took advantage of the failure of politics as usual to deal with extraordinary circumstances,” said Kenneth Sherrill, a retired political science professor at Hunter College. “He largely succeeded doing what he pleased and he didn’t damn well care what you thought of it.”

Despite that power, it was improbable that Bloomberg became mayor at all.

He made his fortune — now estimated at $31 billion — from the global financial data and media company that bears his name and had switched his political party from Democrat to Republican to run for mayor. He was down more than 15 percentage points in the polls on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

Lame duck Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s popularity soared after the terror attacks, and his endorsement of Bloomberg, combined with panic among voters about the city’s safety and fiscal future, propelled the businessman to a narrow win.

He took immediate action to stabilize the city’s economy, including raising taxes, which sent his popularity tumbling. The economy stabilized and a tone was set for Bloomberg going forward, a former adviser said.

“He believed you get the data, and you do what you believe is right,” said Bill Cunningham, the mayor’s former communications director. “It was really like an experiment. Will people like someone who does what they believe in and not based on polls?”

Though diminutive in stature, Bloomberg thought big. The same ambition and innovation that fueled his business was applied to the public sector, and no idea was deemed too bold to try.

Smoking was banned in all bars and restaurants, the first in a series of health innovations that helped change policies nationwide. A hotline, 311, was created to provide real-time information to residents. He wrested control of the city’s school system, placing it under City Hall, though his education record remains decidedly mixed.

He pushed for the city to host the 2012 Olympics and, failing to land them, commissioned new billion-dollar stadiums for the Yankees and Mets and returned professional sports to the borough of Brooklyn with the Nets basketball team. Changes in the zoning laws and the falling crime rates sent gentrifiers scurrying into the far reaches of Queens and especially Brooklyn, breathing new life into formerly downtrodden neighborhoods but displacing some resentful longtime residents.

“He’s done a good job protecting the city,” said Medwin Rodrigues, a security guard from Brooklyn. “You can’t please all the people, but he’s done a good job.”

His public health plans, which banned trans fats and tried to do the same for large sodas, have been credited with helping to increase New Yorkers’ life expectancy by three years since 2002, though they drew criticism for creating a “nanny state.”

“He shouldn’t have been here 12 years,” said Zachery Miller, a cook from the Bronx. “He became a dictator. Who is he to tell me what I can drink?”

Cranes dotted the ever-expanding skyline, as one massive development project after another was built. He green-lit scores of public arts projects, including the saffron fabric gates put up in 2005 by installation artist Christo that dotted Central Park and became a tourist bonanza.

“He understood that the economic engine of New York was changing, and it was going to be international: tourism, real estate, economic investment by the world’s rich,” said Wendy Schiller, political science professor at Brown University. “It’s a must-visit place, like London or Paris.”

Though fiscally conservative, he was a social liberal and one of the leading forces behind New York state’s move to legalize same-sex marriage. And while not known as an eloquent speaker, he delivered a powerful speech on religious freedoms that defended the right of a mosque to be built near ground zero where the World Trade Center’s twin towers stood until Sept. 11, 2001.

His own fortune was also a political game changer, as he used it — sometimes anonymously — to reward allies, silence foes and support needy institutions.

Projecting an air of competence and control, Bloomberg elevated the position of New York mayor further on the world stage, becoming a leader on immigration, climate change and especially gun control, a crusade he has vowed to continue after he leaves office.

Largely apolitical, Bloomberg stayed out of petty partisan fights until the recession of 2008 prompted him to push to overturn a rule that limited mayors to serve just two terms. He first succeeded in overturning the city charter and then won narrowly at the ballot box in 2009, but his reputation with a large swath of the city never recovered.

His sometimes-angry defense of the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk tactic, which allows police to stop anyone deemed suspicious, has also hurt. Though crime has fallen to record lows and the city has avoided another terrorist attack, blacks and Hispanics say they have been unfairly targeted by the tactic. Civil liberties groups also criticized the NYPD’s Muslim surveillance program, which was revealed by The Associated Press.

The rising gap between the very rich and the very poor became a central theme of city Public Advocate Bill de Blasio’s successful mayoral campaign, which was widely viewed as a repudiation of Bloomberg’s time in office.

“He’s not a people person, and he’s not perceived as a regular New Yorker because of his wealth,” said Norman Siegel, a civil rights lawyer and frequent Bloomberg critic. “He’s arrogant and not compassionate. With him, it’s always, ‘We know what’s best for you.’”

Bloomberg fought with the labor unions, frequently griped at reporters and often displayed little patience for those with whom he disagreed. But he tried, at times, to connect with New Yorkers, sometimes riding the subway and speaking with grace at the funerals of fallen city workers.

The 71-year-old Bloomberg, who declined repeated requests to be interviewed for this story, has said he will never again seek public office. He has vowed to not criticize de Blasio but made it clear he thinks the incoming mayor is inheriting a strong city.

“We still face great challenges and we always will,” Bloomberg said in a speech last week. “But I think it’s fair to say that we have never been better positioned to meet those challenges.”

Iowa Republicans seek to reclaim GOP from evangelicals, tea party loyalists

Fed up and ready to get off the sidelines, veteran Iowa Republicans are working to wrest control of the state GOP from the evangelicals, tea partyers and libertarians they blame for alienating longtime party loyalists.

Led by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, these Republicans want to grow the state party – one that ideological crusaders have shaped over the past few years – by bringing back into the fold pragmatic-minded voters while attracting more women and younger voters.

These Republicans say success would be Branstad winning re-election next fall and paving the way for a national GOP comeback in the 2016 presidential election by choosing a mainstream Republican in the leadoff presidential caucuses.

“What we need is someone who knows how to get things done, accomplish things,” Branstad told the Associated Press recently. “My goal is to strengthen the party and to try to encourage people, new people, to participate and to show that I think the future for the party can be bright if we are welcoming – and if we really work.”

The power struggle shaping up here has begun playing out across the nation. Some national Republican luminaries are blaming tea party figures like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for demanding ideological purity, inciting the partial government shutdown and damaging perceptions of the party across the country.

In Iowa, it took the party two months to sell all the tickets to its annual fall fundraiser featuring Cruz, who led the failed effort to defund President Barack Obama’s health care law. The event usually sells out quickly, and Branstad allies point to the sluggish pace as evidence that local GOP leaders are unhappy – and ready for a change.

Others dispute that, and accuse Branstad’s backers of trying to weaken the party’s conservative base.

“It’s really unfortunate that a small few who are loud are trying to speak for the grassroots,” said Tamara Scott, a Republican National Committee woman and outspoken Christian conservative who speaks highly of Cruz.

For decades, pro-business, economic conservatives like Branstad controlled the Iowa GOP. In the 1980s, the evangelical wing injected new energy. But those Republicans also rallied behind presidential candidates who ultimately lost the party’s nomination, raising questions of whether Iowa Republicans were reflective of the GOP nationally.

In 2000, George W. Bush broke the mold, knitting business and Christian conservatives together to win the caucuses en route to the White House.

But big budget deficits under Bush turned off centrists, and the war in Iraq roused supporters for former Texas Rep. Ron Paul. That left evangelicals and Paul-type libertarians – many who would also later identify with the tea party – the most engaged Republicans in Iowa. They flexed their power in 2008, choosing as their caucus winner Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, whose dominant Christian conservative profile further alienated mainstream Republicans.

By 2010, the Iowa GOP was so weak that it recruited the long-retired former governor, Branstad, to run again. This pragmatic, not ideological, Republican beat a well-known social conservative in a tough primary before unseating the unpopular Democratic incumbent. Branstad backers viewed his victory as the start of a complete reclaiming of the party.

Then came the 2012 Iowa caucus debacle.

The state GOP initially declared Mitt Romney the winner. Three weeks later, the party drew ridicule when it said former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum – a social conservative – had actually received the most votes.

Meanwhile, insurgent tea party conservatives and Paul supporters from his two failed presidential campaigns worked at the precinct level to seize the state GOP committee and chairmanship. They succeeded.

A.J. Spiker, a Paul backer, became the state party chairman. Since then, he’s faced criticism from activists for weak fundraising. Records show that the party was raising more than $40,000 a month four years ago and now is raising less than $30,000 per month. Spiker dismisses the criticisms and the Branstad effort as nothing more than typical squabbling.

“We are in a period of some disagreement within the party. But I think that is happening nationally,” Spiker said.

Branstad’s allies have had enough. They hope to drive disaffected Republicans back into the party’s grassroots, starting with the midterm caucuses in January where party activists will choose delegates who will decide the GOP’s direction heading into 2016.

“If the establishment wants to take over, they have to show up,” said Doug Gross, a longtime Branstad adviser. “And frankly we haven’t.”

The effort doesn’t stop with the caucuses.

Branstad is publicly neutral in the U.S. Senate primary here, but Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds is publicly backing Joni Ernst – a state senator from rural southwest Iowa – in a crowded field.

Reynolds says her endorsement is “not just in name only,” and plans to campaign and raise money for Ernst. in hopes that the six-candidate Senate field’s only woman could help the party attract more women voters next fall, and to the 2016 caucuses.

Oskaloosa lawyer Diane Crookham Johnson is among those Republicans Branstad wants back.

The state party’s chief fundraiser in 2000, Johnson supports abortion rights, but dropped out of party leadership after growing frustrated with what she saw as increasing rigidity on social issues.

But Johnson has been contacted by Ernst and rival Mark Jacobs, and likes what she’s starting to hear.

“They want to know where I’m at,” she said “And that’s a good sign.”

For first time, Gallup Poll finds clear support of marriage equality

For the first time in Gallup Poll’s history, a clear majority of Americans now approve of gay marriage. The venerable pollster attributes the surprising shift in public opinion to a change in thinking among independents and Democrats during the past year.

Gallup was unable to determine what role, if any, last year’s repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy had in changing Americans’ minds on the subject. Two-thirds of Americans have supported that change since 2005.

The new Gallup Poll released this morning finds that 53 percent of Americans say same-sex marriage should be recognized in law as equally valid with traditional male-female marriages.

That number represents a leap in support of 9 percent in the past year and is the largest jump since Gallup began tracking the issue in 1996. Then only 27 percent supported same-sex marriage and two-thirds opposed it.

Support for same-sex marriages had hovered in the low 40s since about 2004, until the latest figures, showing 59 percent of independents and 69 percent of Democrats support the concept. Only 28 percent of Republicans do so, however, a number that was unchanged since 2010.

The poll found support for gay marriage highest among the youngest (70 percent among those 18 to 34), declining to 53 percent among those 35 to 54 years old and only 39 percent among those over 55, although that segment’s support has increased six points in the past 12 months.

Support for gay marriage is higher among Catholics than Protestants, among the unmarried and among those who attend church less frequently.