Washington (CNN)End of the year strategy challenges and adjustments for a handful of presidential campaigns filled our final Sunday trip around the Inside Politics table, including a new Bernie Sanders effort to boost his African-American support.
Terrorism, foreign policy shake up 2016 race
Ted Cruz is on the move in Iowa, thanks largely to his growing support among the state's influential evangelicals.
The question now: Can Cruz keep building and when will his GOP opponents decide they need to take after the Texas senator more forcefully?
Jonathan Martin of The New York Times traveled to Iowa this past week for a firsthand look.
"There's very, very clear evidence he is consolidating the conservative vote in that state," said Martin, who reported that many Cruz supporters now were evangelical backers of Rick Santorum four years ago.
"The question now is less than two months until Iowa, will Ted Cruz's opponents start spending money against him using his name. I think it is a matter of when, not if."
Ben Carson was the butt of a lot of jokes this past week after he sounded as if he was saying "hummus" not "Hamas" when discussing the terror group during a speech in Washington.
If it were a onetime gaffe, maybe it would be quickly forgotten. But Carson has seen his standing drop in recent weeks, and that drop comes at a time terrorism and other global issues are front and center in the campaign.
The Atlantic's Molly Ball explored the question of what Carson needs to do to stop the slide.
"There have been questions about the Ben Carson candidacy -- whether it's a serious candidacy or a combination scam and book tour," Ball said. "In the coming weeks we will find out ... what steps he takes to remedy this. Whether he is in it to win it."
Marco Rubio often suggests he would be the best GOP candidate to run against Hillary Clinton in part because he could draw a clear generational line: The Florida senator is 44; Secretary Clinton is 68.
And the Clinton campaign takes Rubio seriously.
But, just back from New Hampshire, CNN's Jeff Zeleny said Rubio's path to success could be facing a serious test from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
"We are seeing an issues set focused on ISIS and terrorism that could be good news for Chris Christie and bad news, potentially, for Marco Rubio," Zeleny said, adding it was a clear theme from his trip. "The Clinton campaign has been focusing on Marco Rubio as someone who may be the nominee. They may have to change focus."
One glaring problem for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is that Hillary Clinton has far deeper support among African-Americans -- a vital piece of the Democratic coalition.
Some of it is just history: Clinton's outreach to African-Americans dates back to her time as first lady in Arkansas, when her husband was governor. Sanders represents Vermont, which has a tiny minority population.
But Sanders has been trying of late to build new relationships -- and CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson reports he will soon visit Baltimore to consult with local pastors, including Jamal Bryant, pastor of the Empowerment Temple AME Church.
"Bernie Sanders will be there touring Freddie Gray's neighborhood," Henderson said. "It will be interesting to see what he gets out of this tour and how it changes not only his rhetoric but his policy prescriptions."
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is hoping for a miracle, but beginning to think about how me might influence the GOP presidential race if his candidacy doesn't catch fire.
Graham is barely a blip in the polls, nationally or in key states.
In recent conversations, he has suggested New Hampshire is his make-or-break state -- and tells friends if he doesn't rocket into the top tier by the time the first primary is held then he will quickly exit the race.
If that happens, Graham tells associates he would look to quickly endorse before his state's primary. A month or two ago, Jeb Bush would have been an all but certain choice, but those who have spoken to Graham of late say that is now no sure bet.
It isn't that Graham would be a South Carolina kingmaker -- he is struggling in his home state as well. But his backing wouldn't hurt, so maybe his rivals would be smart to make sure Graham is on their Christmas card list.