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9:47 AM PT: HI-Sen: The big news we're all waiting on today is, reportedly, Gov. Neil Abercrombie's announcement of a replacement for the late Sen. Dan Inouye. That's according to CBS News, which cites an unnamed "Democratic source" who says a decision is expected this afternoon. Of course, that would likely on Hawaii time, which is five hours behind the east coast, so we may have a while yet, assuming this report is accurate.

Oddly, the Hawaii Dems have not yet made their list of applicants public, though hopefully they will do so in the end. Some contenders have been public about their interest, though, with the latest being Rep.-elect Tulsi Gabbard, who tossed her name into the hopper on Christmas Eve. Even for those who don't get picked, applying for the job offers a chance to present yourself as Senate material and get your name in circulation for the future.

9:57 AM PT: ID-Sen: Is there more to this Mike Crapo story than meets the eye? As you may know, Idaho's Republican senior senator was arrested over the weekend in Alexandria, VA for drunk driving, despite having a reputation as a Mormon teetotaler. But what stood out to me most in this AP writeup was an observation buried in the 21st graf:

The U.S. Senate adjourned last week and wasn't expected to resume until Wednesday; it's unclear why Crapo had remained in Washington, D.C., ahead of the Christmas holiday.
Yeah, no kidding. Why was Crapo acting like one of those weird freshmen who stick around campus over winter break after everyone's gone home for the holidays? He has a wife back in Idaho Falls to return home to for Christmas (not to mention five kids, whom I assume are all mostly grown up). "Honey, I'm stuck working late" is obviously not going to cut it. So seriously, why did he stay in DC?

10:03 AM PT: FreedomWorks: Holy smokes! This FreedomWorks story is turning out to be way crazier than previously imagined:

The day after Labor Day, just as campaign season was entering its final frenzy, FreedomWorks, the Washington-based tea party organization, went into free fall.

Richard K. Armey, the group’s chairman and a former House majority leader, walked into the group’s Capitol Hill offices with his wife, Susan, and an aide holstering a handgun at his waist. The aim was to seize control of the group and expel Armey’s enemies: The gun-wielding assistant escorted FreedomWorks’ top two employees off the premises, while Armey suspended several others who broke down in sobs at the news.

The coup lasted all of six days. By Sept. 10, Armey was gone—with a promise of $8 million—and the five ousted employees were back. The force behind their return was Richard J. Stephenson, a reclusive Illinois millionaire who has exerted increasing control over one of Washington’s most influential conservative grass-roots organizations.

Stephenson, the founder of the for-profit Cancer Treatment Centers of America and a director on the FreedomWorks board, agreed to commit $400,000 per year over 20 years in exchange for Armey’s agreement to leave the group.

As my colleague Tim Lange put it, "NRA lesson: If a couple of those sobbing employees had been armed, Richard J. Stephenson would be $8 million to the black."

10:08 AM PT: MA-Sen: This is why celebrity candidate speculation is invariably one of the most annoying species of speculation known to politics: pundits love to spill endless ink over them, but they rarely run. Case in point: Ben Affleck (about whom I'd written not one word since the "John Kerry for Secretary of State" talk began) predictably says he ain't running for Senate. And for every Ashley Judd who appears to be taking the process seriously, there are ten more Tommy Lee Joneses whose candidacies only exist in the minds of bored political columnists.

10:12 AM PT: TX-04: Personally, this is the kind of record I'd have no interest in setting myself—when I'm this old, I want to be very retired—but Republican Rep. Ralph Hall just became the oldest person ever to serve in the U.S. House, at the age of 89. Hall is probably best known as a very conservative, old-school Dixiecrat who switched to the GOP in 2004. Due to his age, retirement speculation swirls up every cycle, and he's even had occasional primary challengers, including one this year. But it seems like Hall, who just won a 17th term, will hang on until he's ready to leave on his own terms.

10:23 AM PT: MS-Sen: Here's an interesting little tidbit our own Steve Singiser dug up:

82 year-old Al Gore, Sr., the sacrificial-lamb Democratic nominee from Mississippi, actually came closer to winning his Senate seat (he lost 57-41) than several supposedly first-tier candidates. Gore's 41 percent was better than Todd Akin of Missouri (39 percent), Pete Hoekstra of Michigan (38 percent), and Linda Lingle of Hawaii (37 percent). And he was only a tick or two behind Connecticut's Linda McMahon (43 percent) and Florida's Connie Mack (42 percent).
Of course, Gore's showing can be directly attributed to African American turnout in Mississippi, which has the highest black population (proportionally) of any state in the nation, at 37 percent. But thanks to extreme political polarization along racial lines, it means virtually Democrats who run statewide have a ceiling that is not much higher than their floor.

10:41 AM PT: VA-Gov: Jonathan Martin's new piece on Republican fears that their likely gubernatorial nominee, AG Ken Cuccinelli, is too conservative isn't particularly newsy, but it does contain some delightful GOP hand-wringing over next year's race. This might be the best tidbit:

Some Republicans who attended an Alexandria fundraiser for Cuccinelli earlier this month came away less than impressed, saying he rambled and sounded more like an overly earnest pundit than a candidate.

Given a question on immigration, the attorney general puzzled attendees by discussing human trafficking and repeatedly using the word “illegals.”

Though I also enjoyed this:
Virginia GOP Chairman Pat Mullins insisted at the state party’s “Advance” that Republicans still have a winning formula.

“Virginia’s a conservative state, and when we stick up for our beliefs, and our values, and our principles … we win elections,” said Mullins, according to The Washington Post. “When we choose to run like Democrats, we lose elections because we haven’t given anybody a choice.”

Back to Cuccinelli, though, this piece helps confirm his reputation as a true believer. With his only opposition for the Republican nod now out of the way (the more moderate Bill Bolling), Cuccinelli is free to tack to the center and reintroduce himself as a general election candidate. But he's refusing to do so, which suggests that either he can't or won't. If polls next year continue to show a tight race with probable Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe, then I could easily envision a very painful attempt by national Republicans to force a transformation by Cuccinelli—or, perhaps, some Richard Mourdock-esque defiance. Either way = delicious cat fud.

10:53 AM PT: MI-11: This National Review interview with incoming GOP Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (their reporter spent a whole day with him in his hometown) is a lot more entertaining than I'd have expected. I won't try to summarize it (it can't be), but I will excerpt this one graf from the end that particularly amused me:

He's at peace with the uncharitable sobriquet his detractors coined for him. "If somebody calls you crazy, you're on to something," he says. "It's not a bad thing. Consider it a compliment. So I guess that's why it didn't really bother me when people were saying, 'That guy's kooky because he has reindeer.' No, they're kooky because they don't have 'em."
Oh yes, we're the crazy ones! Can't wait for that Republican primary.

10:59 AM PT: Spending: Roll Call's Kyle Trygstad catalogs the five most expensive Senate and House races of 2012, looking at candidate spending as well as outside expenditures. On the Senate front, the priciest was MA-Sen at $85 million overall, which is somewhat amazing considering that the pledge signed by both candidates kept third-party money at a minimum (under $7 mil). For the House, FL-18 ranks at the top with $29 million, but there's an asterisk next to that race, thanks to outgoing GOP Rep. Allen West's use of churn-and-burn direct-mail fundraising, which brings in a ton of money but also costs a ton of money. Click through for the complete list for both chambers.

11:35 AM PT (David Jarman): Demographics: The Pew Research Center takes a closer look at African-American voting performance in recent elections, and finds some remarkable numbers via exit polling that challenge perceptions about minorities and voting apathy: blacks actually overperformed their percentage share of the population in 2012. In other words, they make up 12% of the voter-eligible population, but comprised 13% of the actual voters. In fact, African-American turnout rates were as close as ever to parity with white turnout rates: 65.2% for blacks in 2012 (up from 60.3% in 2008), 66.1% for whites in 2012 (down from 67.2% in 2012). The question, of course, is how of this is Barack Obama-specific, and whether that trend can be continued with whoever the presidential nominee is in 2016.

11:44 AM PT: Thanks to Minnesota Mike in comments, here's the full list of applicants to the Hawaii Democratic Party for consideration for the short list for Inouye's seat. There are 14 in all, including all the names you'd expect (Case, Gabbard, Schatz, Oshiro), plus a bunch of state legislators and some dudes.

11:52 AM PT (David Jarman): Polltopia: The cellphone problem just seems to be accelerating for the nation's pollsters: the latest report on phone access from the Center for Disease Control (the go-to authority for figures about that) finds that the percentages of adults living in households with only wireless phones moved up to 34% in the first half of 2012, up from 32% in the second half of 2011. (As we saw this year, though, getting the cellphone mix right isn't anywhere near as important as making the correct assumptions about the composition of the electorate and weighting accordingly, as we saw with landline-only PPP's successful track record and a spectacular fail by Gallup, who, in the closing weeks of the election, were using samples of nearly 50% cellphone users.)

Mark Blumenthal's long new retrospective of how all the pollsters did cumulatively is worth reading from top to bottom, but one of the most interesting parts that he focuses on is how well YouGov did (a chart illustrates not just how close they came in the end, but also how well they tracked averages throughout the cycle) and how their method might give pollsters a technological way forward. They're an Internet-based pollster, but who draw on a randomly-sampled panel compiled a year ago (where party ID is a fixed variable based on when the panel is first created, avoiding the problem of how self-reported party ID tends to fluctuate based on how swing voters presently feel about what's happening in the election).

12:12 PM PT: Redistricting: ProPublica takes an extremely lengthy look at how Republicans made much more extensive use of dark money in ensuring the outcomes they wanted through redistricting, particularly in terms of their efforts to win back state legislatures. There's a ton of detail at the link, but the most notable detail may be that tobacco giants Reynolds and Altria (f/k/a Phillip Morris) each donated over $1 million to REDMAP, the RSLC's main vehicle for influencing redistricting. In all, REDMAP took in $30 million in 2010, compared to just $10 million for its Democratic counterpart. Obviously 2010's red wave played the biggest role, but that kind of cash disparity certainly didn't help.

1:27 PM PT: FYI:

Hawaii Democrats recommend U.S. Rep. Hanabusa, Lt. Gov. Schatz, and DLNR deputy director Kiaaina to replace the late U.S. Sen. Inouye.
@starpolitics via web

3:46 PM PT: Abercrombie will announce his decision at 7pm ET. You can watch a livestream here.

4:12 PM PT: It's Schatz.

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