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9:32 AM PT: IL-02: While Independence USA, Mike Bloomberg's political counterweight to the NRA, had spent large sums in the IL-02 Democratic primary, all of their resources were targeted solely at ex-Rep. Debbie Halvorson—until now. The Super PAC has changed gears, running a new TV spot that attacks both Halvorson and state Sen. Toi Hutchinson, both of whom have received "A" ratings from the NRA, while also endorsing state Rep. Robin Kelly, who has long worn her "F" grade from the rifle association as a badge of pride. In fact, two thirds of the ad is devoted to praising Kelly and linking her to President Obama's efforts on gun safety.

There's no word on the size of the buy yet, but Independence does not mess around: They've already spent $1.4 million on the race and have typically bought TV time in $400K lumps. (We'll keep an eye out for any further independent expenditure reports, but it's possible that this ad run is part of an existing buy.)

10:00 AM PT: While we're on the subject of money, pre-primary fundraising reports were due at the FEC on Thursday night, giving a window into each candidate's finances in the first 36 days of the year. Below is a chart summarizing all available reports:

Raised Spent Cash-on-Hand
Candidate 1/1 - 2/6 Cycle-to-Date 1/1 - 2/6 Cycle-to-Date As of Feb. 6
Toi Hutchinson $142,114 $278,106 $71,851 $78,206 $199,901
Robin Kelly $100,217 $293,225 $202,585 $204,125 $88,820
Anthony Beale $88,924 $138,824 $110,840 $116,565 $33,758
Debbie Halvorson $46,944 $72,802 $28,170 $34,561 $48,241
Joyce Washington $42,329 $42,329 $128,008 $128,008 $79,321

As you can see, Hutchinson moved into the fundraising lead during the period, leaving her with the most cash-on-hand, but those numbers alone don't tell the full picture. For one, Kelly's spent more than twice as much as Hutchinson has. For another, Kelly's raked in $90,000 in small donations thanks to Daily Kos's endorsement, and the vast majority of that sum landed in her coffers after the Feb. 6 deadline. Indeed, Kelly put out a press release on Thursday touting her total fundraising through Feb. 13: almost $418,000. Hutchinson, by contrast, has raised less than $8,000 on ActBlue—and she did not put out any statements about her fundraising success.

I still have every reason to believe this will be a dogfight right up through primary day on Feb. 26, but I suspect that Kelly is doing better in the money department. The sums may seem relatively small compared to a traditional race, but in a low turnout special election that will be decided in the primary, even modest amounts of cash can make a big difference.

10:27 AM PT: MA-Sen: MassINC is out with a new poll of the Democratic primary (for their usual client, WBUR), but unlike PPP, they find a much closer race between the two contenders. Ed Markey leads fellow Rep. Stephen Lynch by just 38-31, a big contrast to the 52-19 edge PPP had for Markey late last month. MassINC also shows better favorability numbers for Lynch (29-12 vs. 29-19 for Markey), the opposite of PPP (26-31 Lynch vs. 38-35 Markey).

It's hard to say who's right here, though the samples might offer a clue: PPP had 41 percent Democrats, 17 Republicans, and 42 independents. For MassINC, it's 36-11-53. Given that Lynch performs better with indies in MassINC's survey, it makes sense that he'd do better the more independent-heavy the sample is. But PPP actually had Markey doing better with independents, so it's very hard to square this circle. The bottom line, though, is that Markey should be acting like MassINC is right and campaigning vigorously. But almost two months into the race, he still has no website.

Meanwhile, there's still some possible movement in the GOP field, which I find remarkable given that there's virtually no time left for petition-gathering efforts. But former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan, a Bush appointee, is kinda-sorta entering the race, saying he's going to try to get the 10,000 signatures he needs using volunteers alone, even though he's been told such a thing is "impossible." (That's probably right.) Another Republican, though, is choosing the wiser course: State Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr announced on Thursday that he will not run. That still leaves Gabriel Gomez, Dan Winslow, and possibly Sean Bielat in the mix, though, in addition to Sullivan.

10:36 AM PT: IL Lege: Write these names down: state Sen. Bill Haine and state Rep. Dan Beiser. They are both Democrats who oppose marriage equality, but that's not good enough for them. They've each introduced a constitutional amendment in their respective chambers that would restrict marriage to couples of one man and one woman. Of course, these amendments will never go anywhere, seeing as Illinois is on the verge of passing legislation to allow same-sex marriage, but Haines and Beiser deserve primaries, and if that's not possible, then they deserve to be shunned.

10:52 AM PT: IA-Sen: I'd be pretty shocked if any big-name Iowa Dems jumped into the open seat Senate race at this point, seeing as Team Blue's already got their number one choice, Rep. Bruce Braley, and the establishment's been all too happy to rally around him. (Isn't it nice being in the party where you don't have to deal with lunatic primary challenges?) So anyway, that's a long-winded way of me saying that I'm not at all surprised that former Gov. Tom Vilsack has declined to run. In addition, Vilsack is now the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and had recently told the president he'd stay on the job. With this decision, there really aren't any other prominent folks out there who might throw a wrench into Braley's plans, so it looks like full steam ahead.

11:15 AM PT: GA-06: This would be awesome: The Rothenberg Political Report, relying on nameless sources, says that ex-Rep. Bob Barr is once again thinking about a comeback bid. Barr is the infamous Clinton impeachment manager who was ousted from Congress in 2002 after Democrats (my, how times have changed) targeted him in redistricting. Barr then went on to leave the GOP, run for president on the Libertarian line, and turn into a gadfly critic of his former party on issues of privacy.

But after a long romp in the wilderness, Barr contemplated a return last cycle in the 14th Congressional District. The only problem is that the seat is currently occupied by fellow Republican Tom Graves, and the Club for Growth warned Barr in very stern terms that he'd better drop any ideas of a primary challenger. With Georgia's open Senate seat, though, some House seats are sure to open up (and indeed, Paul Broun's 10th District already has).

But Graves, who has been in office for just a couple of years, doesn't seem likely to seek a promotion, and Broun's district is in the wrong part of the state. One possibility, though, might be the 6th; Rep. Tom Price has given a number of indications that he'd like to run for Senate. It may not be the best geographic fit for Barr, but it's the most likely Republican seat in the Atlanta suburbs to come open this cycle. So here's hoping for some Bob Barr-flavored fun!

11:25 AM PT: NYC Mayor: The New York City mayoral race, as I've remarked before, has been remarkably slow to catch fire. Hell, the nominal frontrunner, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, hasn't even formally declared her candidacy. As such, there's been little motion in the polls, so it's unsurprising to see Quinn once again come out on top in a hypothetical primary matchup, this time from Marist. Quinn earns 37 percent of the vote, versus 13 for 2009 nominee Bill Thompson, 12 for Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, and 9 for city Comptroller John Liu—in other words, nothing doing.

Meanwhile, the most important number on the GOP side is 172. That's the number of registered Republicans Marist was able to scrounge up for its primary sample, which is well below the commonly accepted minimums for a poll. In this case, I honestly don't blame them, though, because hell, it is tough to find Republicans in this town! As far as the general election is concerned, GOP "leading light" Joe Lhota, the former head of the MTA, can barely crack 20 percent, even against the unlikeliest of Dem candidates (Sal Albanese, a former city councilor who hasn't served in office since the late 90).

4:09 PM PT: Independence USA confirms that it will indeed spend more money to air its new ad, on top of the cash they've already laid out.

5:14 PM PT: NJ-Sen: Well, this would be awesome: In the wake of Sen. Frank Lautenberg's retirement announcement, Rep. Rush Holt says he's considering a Senate bid himself, though he cautioned that "an expression of interest should not be taken as a campaign announcement." I suspect Holt is talking to key supporters and polling the race right now, as, undoubtedly, are a whole host of other Jersey pols. Holt, though, is a progressive with real integrity and would likely have greater independence from the machines which run much of Garden State politics. He's also a bona fide nerd: His backers have printed up bumper stickers that read "My congressman is a rocket scientist and he also defeated IBM's Jeopardy-playing computer Watson a couple of years ago, proving that Holt is indeed the last, best hope of mankind.

While we're on the topic (of the Senate race, not the coming robot apocalypse), Rep. Frank Pallone also confirms he's looking at the contest too, but that's hardly a shocker, since many reports predating the Lautenberg news indicated he was preparing a bid in case the seat opened up. Fortunately, a third Democratic member of the House, Rob Andrews, has declined; given how many bridges he burned in his disastrous 2008 attempt to unseat Lautenberg, I can't imagine he'd have had much more success this time. (By the way, want to know what a goon Andrews is? As a couple of DKE commenters have pointed out, he's the only Democrat in Congress who signed Grover Norquist's anti-tax pledge, though of course he's tried to take it back subsequently. I'll bet he was rooting for Watson, too.)

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