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10:26 AM PT (David Jarman): VA-Gov: Here's the bad news: the newest poll of the Virginia gubernatorial race shows Dem Terry McAuliffe hanging on by his fingernails to the lead over GOPer Ken Cuccinelli, in what -- given the Virginia legislature's sudden detour into banana-republic territory -- has become the must-win race of the off-year. McAuliffe's up 31-30 (with 33% undecided). If the 3-way race comes to pass, it's still a tight race: a 27-27 tie between T-Mac and Kook, with 9% for Bill Bolling. Here's the good news, though: the poll is from Christopher Newport University, who poll infrequently and who, when they do, seem like they'd have trouble hitting a barn door with a shotgun. Their previous most recent poll, from February of 2012, had Mitt Romney leading Barack Obama 46-43 and George Allen leading Tim Kaine 42-40.

10:40 AM PT (David Jarman): ME-Sen: Public Policy Polling's first look (pdf) at the 2014 Maine Senate race finds that, no surprise, Democrats have a tough row to hoe here so long as three-term incumbent Susan Collins in the GOP nominee. Collins has one of the most balanced, across-the-boards approval profiles possible: she's at 66/24 approvals among Republicans, 64/24 among indies, and 60/25 among Democrats. Predictably, Collins has big leads, even against the state's top-tier Democrats:

• 54-36 vs. Rep. Mike Michaud

• 58-33 vs. Rep. Chellie Pingree

There's a big 'but,' however... even though Collins is well above water among Republicans, voters describing themselves as "very conservative" would like to replace her, by a 75-22 margin, and she leads a generic "more conservative" GOP challenger in a hypothetical primary only 49-46. Tom Jensen points out that Lisa Murkowski started out the 2010 cycle with an even better approval among GOPers (77/13), and think back to how that primary turned out.

So, with that possibility in mind, they also tested Republican ex-SoS, and 2012 Senate race loser, Charlie Summers against the same Dems. (There's been absolutely no mention of Summers being interested in such a race, and he's not even from the flamethrowing school of Republicanism would ignite the "very conservative" segment of the party, but if nothing else, he's probably the best the GOP bench has to offer these days.) The results suggest that the GOP's hold on the Maine Senate seat pretty much goes away at the same time that Collins does:

• 32-57 vs. Rep. Mike Michaud

• 39-50 vs. Rep. Chellie Pingree

10:52 AM PT (David Jarman): MA-Gov: The path just keeps getting clearer for Democratic state Treasurer Steve Grossman to join that illustrious club that includes John Hancock, Sam Adams, Elbridge Gerry, Calvin Coolidge, and Mitt Romney. With Lt. Gov. Tim Murray having declined last week, now Grossman's other biggest potential rival for the gubernatorial nomination, AG Martha Coakley, has also seemed to rule out a bid, saying that she's focused on re-election as Attorney General in 2014. While Coakley, of course, was the proximate cause of the Scott Brown debacle, she quickly rehabilitated her image and was easily re-elected as AG in 2010, and it seems like she'd rather stick with that instead of rolling the dice on a more difficult race.

11:02 AM PT (David Jarman): OH-Gov: Former Ohio Attorney General and Treasurer Richard Cordray has been one of the top Dem names mentioned to run for Governor in 2014, at least since ex-Gov. Ted Strickland said that he wouldn't seek a rematch with Republican Gov. John Kasich. However, Cordray has been director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and it's been announced that he'll be renominated for that role (he was put in place through a recess appointment, over GOP objections). This seems to bode against a Cordray gubernatorial run; given how much trouble it's been getting Cordray into the CFPB in the first place, he probably wouldn't be re-upping, and gearing up for a confirmation fight, now when he'd have to start gearing up for a gubernatorial run almost immediately after that.

11:14 AM PT (David Jarman): NY-11: This seems like it'd be a good get... or does it? Democratic ex-Rep. Mike McMahon, who was swept in in the 2008 wave and swept out in 2010 wave, is publicly mulling a rematch with Republican Rep. Michael Grimm. The Staten Island-based 11th is one of the few districts in the nation that went from voting for John McCain in 2008 to Barack Obama in 2012, and has since been deemed by the DCCC as one of their top pickup opportunities; maybe that shift has piqued McMahon's interest.

Still, it seems like his timing is way off: the time to do it would have been 2012, when he'd benefit from presidential-level turnout and when memories of him would be fresher. In 2014, he'll be two more years further down the memory hole, and running in the kind of off-year that got him turned out in the first place. (Plus, he waffled around for a long time on a 2012 run before declining, leaving Dems with a weak candidate in the form of Mark Murphy; throw in his 'no' vote on the Affordable Care Act, and he may have burned a few too many bridges on the Democratic side of the ledger.)

11:28 AM PT (David Jarman): IL-02: We're finally starting to get some polling data, courtesy of leaked internals, to bring some clarity to the incredibly-muddled Democratic primary field in the special election on Chicago's South Side to replace ex-Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. Interestingly, the narrow leader in both polls is the lone white candidate, ex-Rep. Debbie Halvorson, who threads the needle thanks to the re-mapped district's further excursion into the suburbs; she's able to consolidate enough of the expanded white vote to eke out a lead while the district's African-American majority gets split a half-dozen ways. So, the question is whether Halvorson can continue to hold on, or if one of the black candidates can get black voters from outside his or her district to coalesce behind him/her.

The first poll is from Normington Petts, on behalf of state Sen. Toi Hutchinson; it has Halvorson at 16, Hutchinson at 12, ex-state Rep. Robin Kelly at 8, state Sen. Napoleon Harris at 7, disgraced ex-Rep. Mel Reynolds at 7, and alderman Anthony Beale at 5. (The poll also included an informed ballot section where, after informing respondents about the candidates' occupation and race, Hutchinson moved into the lead.) The second poll, from GBA Strategies for Robin Kelly, finds Halvorson at 25, with a closer battle for second place: Hutchinson at 16 and Kelly at 15. Beale is at 10, with Harris and Reynolds in the mid-single-digits.

11:50 AM PT (David Jarman): CA-31: The 31st is no doubt one of the Democrats' best House pickup opportunities in 2014; the San Bernardino-area CD is the bluest district held by a Republican, at 57% Obama, and the main reason Gary Miller is still there is because of the chaotic Top 2 primary, which saw Miller and another Republican (state Sen. Bob Dutton) advance thanks to a 4-way split among Democrats. The Democrat who had been generally expected to advance in 2012, though, was Redlands mayor Pete Aguilar; we've heard lots of DCCC-related touting of Aguilar for a rematch, and now we're getting some confirmation from Aguilar himself that he's at least "interested" in another try.

Of course, you've gotta wonder how skilled a politician Aguilar is if he couldn't consolidate enough of the Dem vote to crest 25% in the primary, but the way the numbers broke down in that primary may be enough of a freak occurrence that he may not be the one to blame. (Another Dem possibility that comes to mind is ex-Rep. Joe Baca, who used to represent a majority of this district under the 00s map; if he wanted a way back into Congress, after his embarrassing primary loss in CA-35, this would be the path.)

12:05 PM PT (David Jarman): ME-Gov: It's early, but it's official: left-of-center independent Eliot Cutler, who finished second in the 3-way Maine gubernatorial election of 2012 that saw right-winger Paul LePage squeak through, has filed his candidacy papers with the state for another try. Cutler says recent polling helped convince him to get in; perhaps he's referring to this week's PPP poll... which had LePage narrowly winning 3-way races in pretty much a repeat of 2010's election. So what's Cutler seeing in that poll that's encouraging? Cutler still easily bested LePage in a 2-way race, so maybe, with his early show of force, he's hoping, like a mini-Angus King, to get Dems to lay down their arms and either run a Cynthia Dill-style sacrificial lamb or else openly endorse him -- given that the other alternative appears to be re-electing the odious LePage.

12:13 PM PT (David Jarman): CT-05: Here's a time-tested way to wipe out potential political threats to you... make 'em an offer they can't refuse. Namely, an offer of a nice safe judgeship. Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear is the current reigning master of that tactical approach, but it looks like Connecticut's Democratic Gov., Dan Malloy, is trying it out too. Republican state Sen. Andrew Roraback is reportedly on the short list for new superior court appointments. Roraback lost only narrowly to Elizabeth Esty in the open seat CT-05 race last year, and Roraback made his criticisms of Malloy a major issue in that race; potentially, the moderate Roraback could have even been a credible CT-Gov candidate in 2014. At any rate, looks like he'll soon be out of the GOP talent pool.

12:25 PM PT (David Jarman): CA-Gov: Getting a Republican elected statewide in California is a longshot, and seems to be getting a little more longer of a shot each year, but it looks like the GOP may be able to dredge up a decent-sounding candidate for the unenviable task of taking on Jerry Brown (or whatever Dem succeeds him, if the mercurial and 70-something Brown decides to stop after one term). Neel Kashkari has floated his name as a possibility; he's a 39-year-old investment banker from Orange County whose name may be familiar, after his brief role as interim assistant Treasury Secretary for Financial Stability in the waning moments of the Bush administration. Presumably, he has some self-funding capacity, though probably not of Meg Whitman-type magnitudes (and even that, of course, wasn't enough).

In touting himself, though, Kashkari, by comparative implication, completely derided the state Republican party:

"I'm not the typical California Republican. I'm the son of immigrants," Kashkari told the Wall Street Journal. "I come from modest upbringing. I have a successful track record. I'm an optimist. And I think something can be done if people work together."
Factor in that he'll be running in a primary against Minutemen-linked Assemblyman Tim Donnelly and that he's one of the very architects of the teabaggers' greatest bogeymen -- TARP -- and the battle lines for a GOP primary are starkly drawn. The question is whether there are enough realists left in California's GOP to let Kashkari through a primary.

12:32 PM PT (David Jarman): Virginia redistricting: Here's an encouraging sign out of Virginia: the state House, which is fully under Republican control, doesn't seem comfortable with the legislative redistricting bill that was sneaked through the state Senate (which is ostensibly a 20-20 tie between Democrats and Republicans, but they did it on a day when a Dem was absent). There's no word on whether it specifically doesn't have the votes to pass the House, but the article states that taking up the bill has been delayed, as some Republicans are concerned that it'll destroy whatever remains of the legislature's comity and thus wreck Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell's transportation and education packages.

12:48 PM PT (David Jarman): WV-Sen: The institutional tea party (i.e. the Beltway astroturfers, not the actual tri-corner-hat-wearing boots on the ground) has been casting about for a primary challenger against moderate-esque Rep. Shelley Moore Capito in the Republican Senate primary, and it's looking less clear than ever where that person will come from. The one Republican of consequence whose name has been floated as a possibility -- the state's other Republican Rep., WV-01's David McKinley -- is saying that although he's flattered, "in the end, I think I will be supporting Shelley."

The most odd thing about the McKinley boomlet is that there's no real evidence he's any more or less conservative than Capito; aggregators place both of them well to the left of the GOP caucus's midpoint. In fact, last cycle's DW/Nominate scores put Capito at #209 and McKinley at #213. McKinley spends a fair amount of the article complaining that he wants "to see the most conservative candidate" and that he and Capito "don't always vote alike," but the reality is that they do almost always vote alike. The one big time they split paths, it was on the Ryan budget -- and McKinley wasn't a "no" vote from the Paulist right but because he was concerned about Medicare cuts. McKinley does go on to say that "People called because they saw I had a pretty conservative business focus on energy," so the real upshot may be that he's even deeper in Big Coal's pocket than Capito.

12:59 PM PT (David Jarman): WV-02: With all the churn we had in 2012, it doesn't seem like there will be a lot of open seats in the House in 2014, but this is one of the juiciest ones: West Virginia's 2nd, being vacated by Republican Shelley Moore Capito for her Senate run. There's been plenty of speculation on who might run (including ex-interim Sen. Carte Goodwin on the Dem side, and newly-elected AG Patrick Morrisey on the GOP side, because heaven knows he's miserable now in his first month on the job), but we've got our first official announcement: it's Republican ex-state Del. Larry Faircloth. He's been representing Berkeley County (the Washington DC market part of the state, in the panhandle's tip) in the state House for a whopping 12 terms, and just lost the 2012 state Auditor's race, though he points out that he won all 17 of WV-02's counties in that race.

1:54 PM PT: AR-Sen: Big Dog Alert—and how! Bill Clinton never seems to get tired of busting his ass on behalf of his fellow Democrats (something other POTUSes could perhaps emulate more), and he's kicking off the 2014 cycle with a bang. Clinton is returning to his home state of Arkansas, where he'll help second-term Sen. Mark Pryor formally launch his re-election campaign, complete with fundraiser, on March 16. It sounds like it might be more of a low (or medium) dollar event, since it's taking place at the convention center in Little Rock and Pryor says "we're hoping to have a big crowd—standing room only." Regardless, should be a rockin' time with the Explainer-in-Chief back on his home turf.

2:02 PM PT: LA-Sen: Biden Alert! The President of Vice is headed down to New Orleans on Saturday, where he'll headline a fundraiser for third-term Sen. Mary Landrieu. Tickets range from $250 to $2,500. Get there early!

2:27 PM PT: AZ-Gov: Former Arizona Board of Regents Chairman Fred Duval has filed paperwork to run for governor in 2014, saying "it will take every day of two years" to be successful. (Yes, that's exactly right. There's never any time to waste.) Suzanne Adams in the Kingman Daily Miner offers a pretty good profile of Duval, 58, but here are some key biographical tidbits:

DuVal is no stranger to politics. He served under former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt and in the Clinton Administration. Gov. Janet Napolitano also tapped him to serve on the Arizona Board of Regents and the Arizona Commerce and Economic Development Commission.

He is currently the vice president of Clean Energy Fuels, a company that provides natural gas for vehicles.

Duval was mentioned as a possible Senate candidate last cycle, and his name began circulating for this race almost immediately after election day, but I believe this would be his first run for office.

2:35 PM PT: NJ-Sen: Well, that about seals it. The brewing Democratic primary between Sen. Frank Lautenberg and Newark Mayor Cory Booker has already become my least favorite race of the cycle. Check out this blech:

"He's got a lot of work to do—a lot of work that should have been done and hasn't been done," Lautenberg told National Journal.

Lautenberg described Newark as a "city in desperate need of attention," adding that "maybe if the mayor can solidify the fact that he wants to improve Newark by being there, things would be different. But he's free to do as he wants to do."

Given his weak standing in public polls, I'm guessing Lautenberg realizes he needs to go negative on Booker in order to recover. And it's not as though Booker's been some model citizen, either. But this is just what we need: an ugly primary fight over a safe Democratic Senate seat, when our majority is up for grabs. Ugh.

2:43 PM PT: Minnesota: Last year, Minnesota voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage by a 53-47 margin. Unsurprisingly, PPP's new poll now finds a small plurality in favor of gay marriage, 47-45. And Tom Jensen makes a good point: "Although that's a narrow margin, the rapid movement in public opinion in favor of gay marriage over the last few years suggests that 22 months from now it would probably pass by a broader margin." Unfortunately, the matter is unlikely to come up for a vote. As BeloitDem explained:

The fundamentals would seem to be good here: We just turned back an attempted constitutional ban, have a supportive governor, and just took over the legislature. However, a lot of the Democrats are from areas that voted for the ban and all referendums are legislatively referred, so passage will be hard. There's a good chance we can get civil unions, though.
Hopefully legislators will soon grow more courageous.

3:13 PM PT: MA-Sen: Two more Democratic establishment figures just endorsed Rep. Ed Markey for Senate on Thursday: Attorney General Martha Coakley and state Treasurer Steve Grossman joined the big pile of big names already supporting Markey. Here's a problem, though: Markey announced a month ago, but his campaign website is still nothing more than a splash page. Given how quick and easy it is to set up a full-fledged site these days with modern tools, that's not acceptable.

3:30 PM PT: CO-Gov: GOP Secretary of State Scott Gessler had been mentioned as a possible gubernatorial candidate, but in a new interview, he's quite clear about his plans for 2014: He'll seek re-election to his current post rather than take on first-term Dem Gov. John Hickenlooper. In fact, Gessler refused to even criticize Hick, who has somehow managed to retain his quirky bipartisan appeal two years into the job.

The Hotline's Scott Bland notes that one thing will be different for the incumbent going forward: Now that Democrats have retaken both houses of the legislature, Hickenlooper may have to deal with various sorts of legislation that never came before him when the GOP still controlled the state House. Hopefully he can continue to manage affairs with aplomb, as he has to date.

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