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8:57 AM PT: MA-Sen: Embarrassing:

"I think if there's anyone that can take away that base, that formula from Scott Brown, that can take away the regular-guy, the working-family mantra away from Scott Brown, I think it's myself," said Mr. Lynch, who said he would be better suited than Mr. Markey to court independent voters. "I think I offer the Democratic Party an opportunity."

"Look, I had a pickup truck too," he continued, referring to the vehicle that regularly made appearances on the campaign trial with Mr. Brown. "I was an ironworker for 19 years and I know what it's like to stand in an unemployment line."

Seriously, Stephen Lynch sounds like a 2003-era Democrat saying, "If we nominate a war hero, the GOP can't attack us on foreign policy!" He seriously wants to ape Scott Brown that badly? (But LOL, he "had" a pickup truck—just not any longer.) What's so absurd about this is that, when viewed from through reductionist sort of lens, we already beat Brown by running almost his exact "opposite": a female Harvard professor who grew up in Oklahoma. Lynch's weak argument couldn't be more poorly timed.

At least Ed Markey, who spoke at the same event Thursday—a meeting of the Democratic State Committee—hit the right notes:

"The Obama agenda is going to be on the table in a referendum in June in the state of Massachusetts," Mr. Markey said, echoing a campaign theme frequently used by Ms. Warren, who often highlighted the national implications of her race against Mr. Brown. "I ask that you send a signal to the U.S.A., to Karl Rove, to the Koch Brothers."
"Vote for me, I'm just like Scott Brown," or "Vote for me, I'll stand up for progressive values"—you tell me which message will resonate most in a Democratic primary. There's also some good news: The New York Times says that Markey's first major campaign rally will be held this Saturday. The bad news: Good luck trying to find out any information about when or where it is on Markey's website.

10:35 AM PT: What a huge relief: Multiple news outlets report that Republican ex-Sen. Scott Brown will not run in the special election to replace John Kerry, who was just confirmed as Secretary of State. Brown's singular appeal and universal name recognition made him the only Republican capable of making this a competitive race from the get-go, but without him in the race, it's hard to imagine the GOP stealing a Massachusetts Senate seat once again.

Of course, Brown had plenty of good reasons not to run. He caught lightning in a bottle in the 2010 special to fill Ted Kennedy's seat, when conservatives were convinced his election would block passage of Obamacare. Not only did that turn out to be badly wrong, but there's no defining issue fueling tea party rage right now that Brown could use to replicate his unlikely first run for office.

On top of that, he got turfed by eight points last year while running against a first-time candidate in the form of Elizabeth Warren. Warren certainly benefited from increased presidential-year turnout, but new polling from PPP showed Brown under 50 percent, with most undecideds saying they'd voted for Warren just a few months earlier. Those types of numbers painted a very difficult picture for Brown, who, after all, just endured a very bruising race—though he certainly would have caused plenty of difficulty for Democrats, too. But if he wants to run for something else, many Republicans have pushed him for next year's gubernatorial contest, a potentially easier affair in which he may well engage.

For now, though, the GOP has to turn to its various Plan B's, none of whom look particularly attractive. Former state Sen. Richard Tisei may be their best bet, but he blew what appeared to be a sure thing against wounded Dem Rep. John Tierney in MA-06 last year—and it's worth pointing out that Massachusetts as a whole is considerably bluer than the 6th. There's ex-Gov. Bill Weld, who has sounded very uninterested... and also tried running for governor of New York (!) in 2006. Mitt Romney's former Lt. Gov Kerry Healey is a possibility, but she's an unknown, and anyway, would you want to run for office in the Bay State with a Romney anvil hanging around your neck?

Someone will run, though, and I wouldn't be surprised if this race winds up much closer than we'd like. Indeed, we absolute cannot get complacent and allow the mistakes our candidate made in the last special here to be repeated. It's why I've harped repeatedly on Rep. Ed Markey for failing to put up a legitimate campaign website. He may be the frontrunner, according to PPP, but he can't take anything for granted.

That's particularly true for the Democratic primary coming up on April 30, where conservative Rep. Stephen Lynch just entered the race. Lynch's campaign will be fueled by his tight union connections, but no one doubts that Markey is the only progressive running. PPP also had Markey up big in the primary, but again, we can afford no laurel-resting. Markey needs to really hit the ground running here, lock up liberal support, win the primary, and intimidate the GOP into realizing they shouldn't bother trying to compete.

The general election is June 25, and for progressives, this news changes nothing: It's still all hands on deck.

11:45 AM PT: Passings: Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch died on Friday morning at the age of 88. While I was pretty young when he was mayor and don't have strong memories of his time in Gracie Mansion (he left office in 1989, losing a primary to David Dinkins after serving three terms), he presided over the first wave of the city's comeback from the lows it hit in the 1970s and always maintained a "larger than life" profile while also famously polling passerby "How'm I doing?"

In his later years, particularly following 9/11, Koch became more conservative, especially with regard to Israel, and even endorsed George W. Bush for re-election. I think local columnist Juan Gonzalez summed it up accurately in saying that Koch left behind a "controversial" legacy but "indelibly marked" this city—it probably would not be the same place without him. For a more complete look at his life and career, though, I would recommend the New York Times's obituary.

12:21 PM PT: RI-Sen: Heh. Did you know that Rhode Island has another Senate race coming up next year? Hah, did you even know Rhode Island had one last year? Well, they sure did, and Dem Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse walloped virtual Some Dude Barry Hinckley without breaking a sweat, 65 to 35. And the upcoming contest is going to be even more of a joke, according to PPP. That's because Sen. Jack Reed starts off with an awesome 62-32 job approval rating, and leads a whole bunch of Republicans by no fewer than 29 points. Here's how he does, if you're dying to know:

• 63-34 vs. 2012 RI-01 candidate Brendan Doherty

• 60-30 vs. Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian

• 63-29 vs. Cranston Mayor Allan Fung

• 66-25 vs. ex-Gov Don Carcieri (ouch!)

• 75-10 vs. former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling (LOL!)

The Schilling matchup is truly hilarious: Tom Jensen calls it "the most lopsided general election Senate poll result we've ever found in the history of PPP." In case you haven't followed Schilling's post-baseball career, he's so hated because of the mess he created with his video game company, 38 Studios, which he moved from Massachusetts to Rhode Island after securing $75 million in loans from a quasi-public state agency. Despite the hefty support, the company abruptly went belly up in mid-2012, leading to a series of investigations, Schilling getting shellacked in the press, and now a 9-74 favorability rating. These poll numbers are so comically bad, I think you have to call them "afraid to leave the house" numbers!

Anyhow, to the extent any of the first three Republicans on this list bother to seek a promotion, it'll be in the governor's race. You can mark RI-Sen as Safe D for 2014.

1:07 PM PT (David Jarman): Polltopia: Well, at least Gallup's managed to get themselves to the first step, which is admitting you've got a problem. (Actually, they're still in partial denial, starting out their mea culpa by saying that it's not so bad that they missed the final presidential result by 5 points, since there were "some fundamental issues with this election that affected many polls.") At any rate, they've announced they're going to re-evaluate all aspects of their polling operations to try and regain what's left of their credibility. Contacting cellphone users is at the top of their list, but since using a large cellphone sample was one of the few things they were doing right in '12, there are several items further down the list they should be looking at more ("the likely voter screening process" and "basic representation of demographic categories").

1:14 PM PT: IL-02: Year-end FEC reports for all federal candidates were due on Thursday, January 31—and that includes both candidates who ran in races last year, as well as those already running in this cycle. So that gives us our first look at the fundraising picture in the IL-02 special Democratic primary, and the money frontrunner may surprise you:

Candidate Raised Dates Cash-on-Hand
Robin Kelly $200,008 12/1 to 12/31 $198,468
Toi Hutchinson $135,992 11/27 to 12/31 $129,637
Anthony Beale $49,900 12/08 to 12/31 $44,175
Debbie Halvorson $25,900 10/1 to 12/31 $44,467

While Halvorson has had small leads in the two internal polls we've seen, and while a good chunk of the establishment seems to be backing Hutchinson (Halvorson's former chief-of-staff, in case you weren't aware), it's Kelly who is out in front. And while Kelly was able to hit that nice round $200K mark with a bit of personal money, it wasn't all that much (about $9K). Meanwhile, Halvorson only has as much cash-on-hand as she does thanks to a $25,000 personal loan. Without that, she'd even trail Chicago Alderman Anthony Beale, the "fourth wheel" in the race.

(Note: Each candidate filed with the FEC on a different date, so I've included the timeframe their new reports cover in the "Dates" column.)

1:15 PM PT (David Jarman): House: This new piece from Rhodes Cook at Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball doesn't break new ground on how the one-two punch of spatial polarization and gerrymandering has consolidated GOP control of the House, but it does have a cool map at the end that elegantly underscores the magnitude of the problem. There's only one state that Mitt Romney won where the Dems took the majority of House seats (Arizona... and perhaps it's no coincidence that it's one of the few states that uses an independent redistricting commission), while there are seven states where Barack Obama won but the Republicans took the majority of House seats: Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Colorado. (And of course it's no coincidence that those are mostly the same states where the GOP was floating the Electoral College-rigging scheme.)

1:27 PM PT (David Jarman): Ideology: Gallup is out with its annual ranking of all 50 states according to how they shake out on the conservative-moderate-liberal spectrum (the WaPo has a handy heat map of the results at the link). The totem pole doesn't exactly match the list of how the states stacked up in the presidential election: on the one hand, states where even the Democrats self-identify as conservative (Alabama, Mississippi) are, in fact, most "conservative" even if they aren't the absolute reddest at the presidential level. And conversely, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Oregon are states that show up as more liberal than their presidential results would warrant, probably partly because Dems are more likely to be "liberal" than "moderate" but more significantly because fewer of their Republicans identify as "conservative." Another interesting outlier is Alaska, red at the presidential level (though unmistakably trending in the Dems' way) but a state with the highest percentage of self-identified "moderates."

1:36 PM PT: SC-Sen, -Gov: I guess Lindsey Graham can breathe a sigh of relief... if he cares to. State Sen. Tom Davis was about the highest-profile name mentioned as a possible GOP primary challenge to Graham, who has often made lists of "wobbly Republican senators whom conservatives would like to beat with a stick." But a stick may be all they're left with, since Davis says he won't run against Graham (or Gov. Nikki Haley, either). He probably would have had a seriously uphill battle anyway, seeing as he barely registered in a hypothetical matchup PPP tested in December (David trailed Graham 67-17).

2:02 PM PT: NJ-Gov: It begins: New Jersey Democrats are starting to endorse Chris Christie for re-election, figuring his lead in the polls is so dominant that they'd better get on his good side while it still matters. The first to do so are the mayor and town council members of Harrison, a small burg in the northern part of the state near Newark. I'll bet they won't be the last. (Sort of reminds me of Rudy Giuliani's re-election campaign in 1997, where a similar dynamic obtained.)

2:23 PM PT: CT-Gov: State Senate Minority Leader John McKinney is the latest Republican to express interest in taking on Gov. Dan Malloy next year. He says he's "seriously considering" a gubernatorial bid but won't decide until May or June. (The state's legislative session ends June 5.)

2:33 PM PT: OH-Gov: Hrm:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and 42 of his Republican colleagues sent a letter to President Obama Friday vowing to block the confirmation of former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray.

"We will continue to oppose the consideration of any nominee, regardless of party affiliation, to be the CFPB director until key structural changes are made to ensure accountability and transparency at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau," the letter read. [...]

The White House said they will continue to fight for Cordray's confirmation, but will not support the Republican changes to the agency.

Two Democratic operatives close to Cordray told 10TV this week that if not confirmed, he will return to Ohio to run for governor in 2014.

Well, that sure sounds like a cloture-proof minority (thanks for caving on filibuster reform, Harry Reid!), so I don't know how Cordray can get appointed over that kind of opposition. But perhaps the possibility of a gubernatorial bid—this is the most explicit anyone has been about Cordray potentially running—is actually something of a threat. That is, if GOP Gov. John Kasich, who once served in the House and is pretty well-connected, still has friends in the Senate, they might let Cordray through (perhaps with some pro forma concessions from the White House) so that he doesn't actually run for governor. Wheels within wheels, my friends....

2:46 PM PT: Here is the actual text of Scott Brown's statement. No mention of the governor's race, of course.

2:50 PM PT: Count 2010 GOP nominee Charlie Baker out, though: He says he won't run but wants Weld to do so. (Whatever.) So is former state Treasurer Joe Malone, who went right for the Shermanesque statement. It sounds like the NRSC is reduced to meeting with a "businessman," one Gabriel Gomez. Okay.

3:00 PM PT: IA-01: Wait, another one? Democratic state Rep. Patrick Murphy—who mercifully goes by "Pat"—says he's "definitely interested" in running for Rep. Bruce Braley's House seat if Braley runs for Senate. That would make him Patrick Murphy 3.0: PM 2.0 represents Florida's 18th, of course, and PM 1.0 is the former Pennsylvania congressman who came up with this versioning system in the first place.

3:26 PM PT: The Hotline's Alex Brown also suggests three more Dem names: state Rep. Tyler Olson, state Senate President Pam Jochum, and state Sen. Liz Mathis, whom you may remember from a hotly-contested special election in 2011 where control of the Senate was at stake.

3:38 PM PT: NY-19: This sounds like a potentially fascinating get for Democrats: Based on an unnamed source, Capital Tonight reports that "investor and political activist" Sean Eldridge is preparing a bid against GOP Rep. Chris Gibson. Eldridge's husband is Chris Hughes, a Facebook co-founder, so he definitely has access to a lot of money. (Wikipedia says the couple's net worth is $500 million.) Remarkably, Eldridge himself rates a Wikipedia page, even though he's just 26 years old.

In any event, Gibson has done well carving out an "I'm not one of those crazy Republicans" profile for himself, but at 52 percent Obama, Democrats simply have to contest this seat in order to ever have a hope of retaking the House. Gibson faced a fairly stiff challenge from attorney Julian Schreibman last year, winning by a fairly narrow 53-47 edge, so he's definitely beatable. On top of that, the lower Hudson Valley has already demonstrated a willingness to elect a prominent gay political figure, given that Sean Maloney defeated Nan Hayworth one seat to the south in NY-18 in November. Could be another exciting candidacy in the region for a dude named Sean!

3:56 PM PT: AK-Sen: Republican pollster Harper Polling is out with a couple of new Senate polls, one in Alaska, the other in Iowa. They find Gov. Sean Parnell leading a hypothetical GOP primary with 32 percent, with former half-term Gov. Sarah Palin at 27, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell at 14, and 2010 Republican Senate nominee (LOL) Joe Miller at 12. Only Treadwell and Miller are likely to run, though, so these numbers are useless. (Does Sarah Palin even still live in Alaska? Is she still alive?)

Meanwhile, here's how Dem Sen. Mark Begich fares against this gruesome foursome:

• 52-29 vs. Miller

• 47-40 vs. Palin

• 44-34 vs. Treadwell

• 40-46 vs. Parnell

I don't know whether to buy any of these numbers—after all, Harper is still reporting to the hundredths of a percent. (Sort of reminds me of a giant-sized dude I knew in law school who once observed that "really short people know their height to five significant digits.") But I do buy that Joe Miller would be the Alaska GOP's most damaged candidate, so we must all light candles and pray for his success in the primary, okay?

4:05 PM PT: IA-Sen: Harper's other survey also tested both the Republican primary and general election matchups. They tried a few kitchen-sinkish alternatives, but probably the most interesting is that Rep. Steve King outpaces fellow Rep. Tom Latham by a considerable margin in a one-on-one matchup, 46-29. (King leads in the other configurations as well, but by smaller amounts.) Meanwhile, Dem Rep. Bruce Braley beats King 39-34, while Latham leads 36-33. Meh—sure, the crazy King fares worse, as you'd expect, but there are just too many undecideds. Plus, Harper is still doing that ridiculous thing where the ask if you are "very conservative" or "somewhat conservative" on their ideology question, but just "liberal" with no gradations. These guys need to get their act together.

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