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9:59 AM PT: MA-Sen: I guess the games can finally begin: On Friday afternoon, Barack Obama will reportedly nominate Sen. John Kerry as Secretary of State, to replace Hillary Clinton. If he's confirmed by the Senate, then Gov. Deval Patrick will appoint a temporary replacement; a special election to fill Kerry's seat will take place later this year. The seat will then be up for grabs once more in 2014, for the final two years of Kerry's term, and then again in 2016 for the next full six-year term.

Speculation about potential appointments and special election candidates has already run rampant, but let's see if Kerry actually gets the job. Given what already happened to Susan Rice and what's happening now to Chuck Hagel—and just given what the modern Republican Party looks like—I'd say his confirmation is no sure thing. Of course, the GOP may decide not to put up a fight simply to give soon-to-be-ex-Sen. Scott Brown a crack at winning back a Senate seat. We'll soon see.

10:25 AM PT: Babka: In case you missed it, Jeff just posted the results of the Daily Kos Elections 2012 predictions contest. Congratulations to our winner, StephenCLE, who nailed 36 of 40 races, narrowly beating out two others on the tiebreaker question to earn the babka! Click through to see how you did!

10:33 AM PT: NJ-Sen: While Cory Booker rather transparently tried to make it seem like he wasn't hoping to shove Frank Lautenberg out the door with his announcement on Thursday that he's "exploring" a run for Senate, and while Lautenberg's camp responded with equanimity at first, it looks like that brief moment of détente may already be fraying. On Twitter, Lautenberg joined those hammering NRA chief Wayne LaPierre for his widely-panned public statement on Friday, while Booker reacted by saying: "Can't agree with much NRA head is saying right now BUT yes, I agree lets improve fed background checks for those mentally unfit to buy guns." That prompted Lautenberg to fire back: "Nothing they spew should be validated." Be curious to see where this all goes.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, entirely predictably, is backing Lautenberg for re-election, explaining: "I always support incumbent senators." Of course, he's saying that publicly; who knows what, if any, behind-the-scenes maneuvering is going on.

11:08 AM PT: Census: The Census Bureau is out with their new state-by-state 2012 population estimates, the second such update we've gotten since the full-blown 2010 census which was used to reapportion the House of Representatives. Here's a Google Doc of the main chart with each state's population figures; I've appended the 2011-12 growth rate in the far-right column. (You can also explore the bureau's complete datasets, as well as all sorts of maps.) The fastest increase over the last year belongs to North Dakota, at 2.17 percent, thanks to the booming oil industry in the western part of the state, with Washington, DC, interestingly enough, very close behind. (Here's a good news report on what North Dakota's growth has looked like.) At the other end, Vermont and Rhode Island were the only two states that saw population decreases.

Meanwhile, Real Clear Politics' Sean Trende decided to have some fun with these new numbers, extrapolating out recent growth rates using a few different models to see how reapportionment might play out in 2020. For those who follow demographic trends, the winners and losers are pretty predictable, though notably, looking just at 2010 to 2012 growth, New York would not lose a seat (whereas it would under Trende's other scenarios). Of course, as Trende acknowledges, it's awful early to predict what will happen at the next census, but he notes that by 2003, we already had a decent sense of what 2010 would look like, so these projections can offer some meaning.

11:17 AM PT: NC-Gov: This is a little outside our normal scope, since it's more governmental than electoral, but it's amazing enough that it merits a mention here: North Carolina's new Republican governor-elect, Pat McCrory, has just named wealthy conservative activist Art Pope as his "top budget-writer." To analogize, this would be like President Romney naming David Koch as his OMB director—Pope is simply a homebrew Koch bro focused largely on poisoning North Carolina rather than the nation as a whole. When we talk about elections having consequences, hoo boy—this is exactly what we mean.

11:31 AM PT: WATN?: Hah hah! Just as predicted! Soon-to-be-ex-Rep. Chip Cravaack is getting set to bail on his nominal home state of Minnesota following his lost last month to Democrat Rick Nolan and head off for the mountains of New Hampshire. During the campaign, Cravaack's commitment to the Land of 10,000 Lakes was repeatedly questioned because his wife, who works in Boston, decamped for the northeast, taking their two children. Assuming Cravaack joins them, which sounds likely, that means he definitely won't seek a rematch against Nolan in 2014.

11:42 AM PT: SC-01: This would be too much fun: According to unnamed sources, South Carolina's The State reports ex-Gov. Mark Sanford is "90 percent certain to run" in the 1st District special election that will be necessitated by Rep. Tim Scott's elevation to the Senate following Jim DeMint's expected resignation next month. Even more amazing is the possibility that Sanford's ex-wife Jenny could also run in the Republican primary, and as unlikely as that is, it would be so amazing that I might actually have to expend a little mental energy rooting for it. One interesting side-note: Sanford still has $100K left over in a federal campaign account from the last time he ran for re-election to Congress, over a decade ago. And I'd really love to see him win, since he's exactly the kind of dystopian wrecker who would make life absolutely miserable for John Boehner. Bring it on!

12:01 PM PT: IL-Gov: Can someone tell me why this story has started making news all over again? Back in November, former Obama chief of staff Bill Daley said he was considering a run in the Democratic primary against Gov. Pat Quinn... and now he's again saying the same thing but has managed to wring a whole new round of news coverage despite their being no new news. Ordinarily, I might chalk it up to it being a slow time of year, but with the fiscal cliff and Newtown tragedy, I don't think you can say it is. Anyhow, Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead, too.

12:26 PM PT: KY-Sen: Is Mitch McConnell playing with fire? On Thursday I wondered why he'd release internal poll numbers showing himself up just 47-43 over actress Ashley Judd, after his own campaign squealed like mad about identical results from PPP just a week earlier. I mean, those are crummy numbers no matter who comes up with them, so why put them out there? Well, Josh Kraushaar speculates that McConnell is trying to rope-a-dope Judd into the race, saying that unnamed "McConnell insiders" privately are "rooting Judd on, convinced her liberal views would make her a sitting duck in such a conservative state."

Okay, I guess I could believe it, as far as it goes. But there's a huge problem with this theory: If you're trying to con someone into running against you—picking you opponent, Harry Reid-style—you can't alert them to the con! Yet that's exactly what these supposed insiders have done, by chatting up Kraushaar and then by releasing some additional results following negative message testing (Judd "lives in Scotland" and believes the "era of the coal plant is over," etc.) that give McConnell a 56-36 edge instead.

You don't put out data like that to sucker someone in—you put out data like that to frighten someone off! So either the McConnell campaign has no idea what it's doing (which figures, since this is probably what they teach at Republican Campaign Manager School), or they think they're playing some kind of deep game by trying to mess with Judd's mind. But this certainly ain't no rope-a-dope as Ali would have recognized it.

12:37 PM PT: Now that Kerry's officially been nominated, the Great Mentioner can spin up into an even more manic gear than before. Fortunately, the Cook Political Report's Jennifer Duffy has already done a very good job of rounding up the main names that have been circulating:

On the Democratic side, there are two Kennedys mentioned: Ted Kennedy, Jr., son of the late Senator, and Vicki Kennedy, the Senator's widow. Ted Kennedy, Jr. is thought to be more interested in the seat than Vicki Kennedy is. His challenge is that he currently lives in Connecticut where he owns a health care consulting firm. Other potential candidates include: U.S. Reps. Michael Capuano, Stephen Lynch, and Ed Markey; Attorney General and 2010 special election nominee Martha Coakley; state Treasurer Steve Grossman; U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz; Newton Mayor Setti Warren; state Sen. Benjamin Downing; City Year co-founder and 2010 special election primary candidate Alan Khazei, attorney and 2012 Senate candidate Marisa DeFranco; and activist Bob Massie. Former Rep. Marty Meehan has said that he will not be a candidate. [...]

On the Republican side, soon-to-be-former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown leads the list of potential nominees. Brown famously won the 2010 special election to replace Sen. Kennedy, but lost the general election is November to Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren, 46 percent to 53 percent. Other names mentioned include: Charles Baker, the former CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and 2010 gubernatorial nominee; former state Sen. Richard Tisei, the party's nominee for Lieutenant Governor in 2010 and in the 6th congressional district in 2012; former Gov. and 1996 Senate nominee Bill Weld; and state Rep. Daniel Winslow.

Then there's also the matter of the temporary appointment. Gov. Deval Patrick previously said he expects to tap a placeholder who won't run in the special election, saying "it's hard for me to imagine how you could serve in the Senate for a four-month period and also run a statewide campaign in a four-month period and do both of them well." One possibility: retiring Rep. Barney Frank, who says he wouldn't rule out a brief stint as senator if Patrick were to tap him. But we'll undoubtedly be hearing plenty more speculation on this front in the coming weeks.

12:42 PM PT: RI-Gov: Strike another name off the list for the GOP: Businessman Barry Hinckley, who got pounded by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse last month, says he has no interest in running for governor in 2014.

12:48 PM PT: AR-Gov: That was quick: A day after a report came out suggesting that Democrats might try to recruit outgoing Rep. Mike Ross to run for governor despite his repeated statements that he won't, Ross is saying... that he won't. Some unnamed Dems apparently hoped to get Ross back in the game after frontrunner Dustin McDaniel revealed he'd had an affair. But McDaniel, the state AG, is staying put, and so is Ross.

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