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9:34 AM PT: A couple of polls we'll hit more extensively later today: PPP's MT-Sen and Quinnipiac's VA-Gov.

9:35 AM PT: Special Elections: A quick recap of Tuesday night's action from Johnny:

New Hampshire HD Hillsborough-31: Pam Brown held the seat for the Democrats, defeating Republican Elizabeth Van Twuyver by a 203-167 vote margin.
Amazing raw vote totals, but not atypical for the comically oversized New Hampshire state House.

10:13 AM PT: MT-Sen: PPP's new Montana poll may actually offer the worst picture so far for any Democratic incumbent the firm has tested this cycle. What makes this so notable is that I wouldn't really have expected Max Baucus to be faring worse than Mary Landrieu, Mark Begich, and Kay Hagan, three other vulnerable Dem senators PPP has found in reasonably hale shape. But Baucus's numbers against a variety of potential opponents don't look particularly awesome:

• 47-37 vs. state Rep. Champ Edmunds

• 45-38 vs. ex-state Sen. Corey Stapleton

• 46-43 vs. state AG Tim Fox

• 44-49 vs. Rep. Steve Daines

• 42-47 vs. ex-Gov. Marc Racicot

The good news for Baucus is that Stapleton, who finished second in last year's gubernatorial primary with just 18 percent, is the only declared candidate, and Edmunds is the only other person who has even expressed interest. But don't get too excited: Both are unknown to voters (Edmunds has just a 4 percent favorability rating!). If a higher-profile opponent were to get in the race, Baucus could really be in trouble. Even brand-new freshman Rep. Steve Daines has just a 35-31 job approval score yet leads by 5, showing just how partisanized elections have become—whether you have a (D) or an (R) after your name is by far your most important characteristic.

As they've often done, PPP also decided to see how ex-Gov. Brian Schweitzer would fare, both against Baucus in a primary and in his stead in a general. I've sort of wondered why Tom Jensen keeps bothering, seeing as Schweitzer has made it extremely clear how much he despises the idea of going to Washington, but here's a new wrinkle: After this poll came out, Schweitzer linked to it to his Facebook page without comment. Could he be interested? Well, the numbers definitely look better for him, especially since he leads Baucus 54-35 in a hypothetical nomination fight, similar to what PPP's found in the past. Here's how he fares against Republicans:

• 52-37 vs. Edmunds

• 49-39 vs. Stapleton

• 49-43 vs. Fox

• 48-45 vs. Daines

• 45-46 vs. Racicot

That's certainly an improvement over Baucus's scores, which is not too surprising seeing as Schweitzer has a 56-37 favorability rating versus 45-48 job approvals for Baucus. Still, I think Schweitzer would still face a serious dogfight, and aside from that lone Facebook post, there's no real suggestion he might run. (Hell, he probably linked to PPP knowing that it would just stir shit up, because no one except Schweitzer himself has any idea what's in the guy's mind.)

Assuming we're stuck with Baucus, he has to seriously pray that no top-shelf candidates decide to jump in, though numbers like these have to make the race more tempting for Republicans. But maybe Daines isn't eager for a promotion and prefers being in the majority; hopefully Racicot is still enjoying the private sector at age 64; and with any luck, Fox's corporate overlords who installed him last year at great expense will demand he remain in his current position to carry out their dark commands. Still, hope is not a plan, and neither is prayer. If Baucus is to have a chance, it'll be because this race gets extremely ugly, and because he makes it ugly first. Hey, it's politics.

10:22 AM PT: WV-Sen, -02: Well, there goes that idea: Former Sen. Carte Goodwin, who served out the remainder of the late Sen. Robert Byrd's term as an appointee in 2010, will not run either for West Virginia's open Senate seat or for the 2nd Congressional District, which GOP Rep. Shelley Moore Capito is vacating for her own Senate bid. A lot of folks imagined (myself included) that Goodwin's brief appointment was designed to set him up for a future opportunities just like these, particularly since he's only 38. But I can't say he personally excited me for either contest, as I don't think running as a bland "business-friendly" Democrat is the way to hold back the Mountain State's red tide—I think you need to go a little bolder and more populist.

Still, Goodwin at least would have started out with a good measure of credibility, and Democrats still don't have anyone notable running to replace retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller (or for Capito's seat). I personally think any West Virginia Democrats who prefer to bide their time are fooling themselves: With each passing year, it'll become harder and harder for Dems to win in the state, especially on the federal level. Indeed, the window may have already closed, but who wants to wait a few more cycles to find out for sure? Get in while you still can.

11:19 AM PT: VA-Gov: Quinnipiac's new Virginia gubernatorial poll is pretty stand-pat, which is exactly what you'd expect given that the race hasn't really been engaged yet. In a two-way matchup, former DNC chair Terry McAuliffe ties Republican state AG Ken Cuccinelli at 38 apiece, virtually unchanged from T-Mac's 40-39 edge last month. And in a hypothetical three-way race, with GOP Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling running as in independent, he takes 13 percent while McAuliffe edges Kooch 34-31; in January, it was 34-34-13.

The real mystery still seems to be why so many polls have shown Bolling apparently hurting McAuliffe just as much as Cuccinelli, when you'd imagine that, as a lifelong Republican, Bolling would take away more votes from his fellow party member than from a Democrat. But I think I have a possible answer. Bolling, as it happens, is almost entirely unknown. Indeed, his favorability rating is a mere 18-10, meaning that over 70 percent of Virginia voters don't even have an opinion about the guy.

So when Quinnipiac asks about him in their head-to-heads, he's described merely as "Bill Bolling running as an independent," and I'm willing to bet that the limited support he garners is due at least as much to that ersatz "independent" label the pollster has to slap on him. In a real race, I suspect that if it suited the well-funded McAuliffe, he'd make sure to remind voters of Bolling's true party affiliation. In any event, Bolling is still a month away from a decision (according to his own timeline), and the more salient fact is that no poll shows him with anything resembling a legitimate path to victory. Will he con himself into thinking otherwise? Tune in on March 15.

12:15 PM PT: Maps: Last week, we linked to a fun map from artist and urban planner Neil Freeman, who refashioned the United States into fifty states of equal population size. Freeman's stated "goal" (bear in mind that this was an art project, not a serious proposal) was to rectify the fact that small states are given disproportionate power in the electoral college. But the New Republic's Nate Cohn actually crunched the numbers (as best he could) and determined that Freeman's map would have actually made things worse, not better, for democracy, since Mitt Romney would have actually prevailed in the electoral college despite losing the popular vote by four percent.

But why? The answer has a lot to do with a key reason Democrats have such a hard time capturing the House of Representatives: Democratic voters are more heavily packed into urban areas, and Freeman's map tries to preserve the integrity of cities rather than splitting them across multiple states. Indeed, you can see how visually pleasing and "compact" Freeman's states are; for Dems to have a shot (either at the House or in this fantasy presidential scenario), we need to split up urban voters, not group them together. Cohn goes into detail:

But Democrats win cities by a larger margin than Republicans win rural areas, so any map that divides states or districts along lines of urbanization will work to the relative advantage of Republicans. For instance, Obama would have won the city-state of New York with more than 80 percent of the vote, and more than 70 percent in the states of Chicago, Los Angeles, and what Freeman has named "Yerba Buena"—the San Francisco Bay Area, naturally. Romney, in contrast, wouldn’t have won a single state with more than 70 percent of the vote. [...]

In effect, candidates "waste" votes by winning more than 50 percent of the vote in a state. In the new equally populated states, the same wasted-vote bias that discourages regional candidates works strongly to the disadvantage of Democrats, who would instead waste votes in the city-states. The results of Freeman's experiment are a reminder that the Democratic advantage in the Electoral College is a product of luck—only a few quick changes would give the GOP an edge.

None of this is a knock on Freeman—his map provoked a ton of interesting discussion, and it's delightful to think about such things. But I'd love to see him try a more "gerrymandered" version as well, that directly takes political considerations into account.

12:31 PM PT: VA-10: Looks like turncoat Artur Davis will have to wait a bit longer to get his crack at fellow (LOL) Republican Frank Wolf's seat. Kyle Trygstad reports that the veteran Wolf looks set to run for yet another term, though his chief of staff somewhat cagily says only that his boss has "filed the necessary paperwork to run for re-election." Obviously plenty of pols have "filed the necessary paperwork" only to bail later, though, so Wolf, who is 74 and serving his 17th term, still bears watching, though for now, everyone else will have to wait, including ol' Artur.

12:38 PM PT: NJ-Gov: Thanks to the quirky fact that New Jersey is just one of two states that holds gubernatorial elections in the year right after every presidential race, their contests get more attention—and are the subject of more polling—than they probably otherwise would be. That's particularly true this year, where GOP Gov. Chris Christie has just been rolling in the polls ever since Hurricane Sandy, and Quinnipiac's newest is no exception. Not only does he crush Democrat Barbara Buono as always, but his job approval rating hasn't even budged from its sky-high perch in the four months since Sandy devastated the state.

12:51 PM PT: GA-Gov: Georgia's now-open Senate seat has attracted a ton of attention, of course, but don't forget that first-term GOP Gov. Nathan Deal is also up for re-election. Actually, it's okay if you want to forget it, since Deal likely won't face much of a challenge despite his weak standing in the polls. The always-thorough PPP has the rundown:

Only 36% of voters approve of him to 41% who disapprove. That's nearly identical to the 37/40 spread we found for him in early December. Nevertheless Deal looks like a favorite for reelection. He would lead Jason Carter 46/38 and John Barrow and Kasim Reed 48/38 in hypothetical match ups. This may be a situation where Deal's unpopularity would let a strong Democratic candidate make the race competitive, but it would be hard for a challenger to actually get to 50%.
Sorta makes you wonder how ex-Gov. Roy Barnes would fare in a rematch with Deal.

1:07 PM PT: LCV: The League of Conservation Voters, one of the more active outside groups on the left in recent election cycles, has released a new set of environmental scorecards for every member of the House and Senate going all the way back to 1971 and running through 2012. (I'm presuming there just haven't been enough votes yet to rank the freshmen of the 113th Congress.) It's all put together in a well-done interactive site, so if you'd like to see where your elected officials stand on important votes related to the environment, check it out.

1:26 PM PT: WATN?: Ex-Rep. Kathy Hochul, who lost a squeaker last year in a district that a federal court improperly made more Republican, was just hired by M&T Bank to serve as a lobbyist. Typically, accepting a lobbying gig is the end of the electoral line for former elected officials, but in this case, Hochul is remaining in Buffalo, where M&T is headquartered. So while I don't think she'd try a comeback against GOP Rep. Chris Collins given how unjustly her old district was manhandled, by staying close to home, Hochul at least leaves open the door.

1:40 PM PT (David Jarman): Ideology: National Journal is out with its traditional annual report on the most conservative and liberal members of Congress based on last year's votes; the full numbers for both chambers will be released on Thursday, but they've released teasers on the superlative members. (NJ scores are, of course, no substitute for the more-rigorous DW-NOMINATE scores, but they're fine as something of a Beltway conversation piece.) The most liberal Senator is a tie between New Mexico's Tom Udall and Connecticut's Richard Blumenthal; the most conservative Senator is also one of the most obscure: Idaho's Jim Risch. The most conservative Representative is now an ex-member: Missouri's Todd Akin, now unemployed after his failed Senate bid. And there's a titanic 14-way pileup among Dems for the title of most liberal Rep (that list contains no surprises, with usual suspects like Donna Edwards, Mike Honda, and Barbara Lee).

1:45 PM PT: PA-Gov: Ex-Rep. Joe Sestak, memorably dubbed the Honey Badger of Pennsylvania politics, is 61 years old, so I figure we'll have to endure "Will he run?" stories for another 10 or 15 years or so. That's because Honey Badger don't care—he don't care about communicating his intentions in any reasonable way, or giving his fellow Democrats time enough to make their own plans. Indeed, Sestak drove his party nuts last year by refusing to say whether he'd seek his old seat back in Congress, and we honestly only found out for sure that he wouldn't run when the filing deadline passed.

And now Pennsylvania Dems have to endure this same shtick all over again, because Sestak is being ridiculously coy about whether he wants to run for governor. Asked directly by the Delaware County Daily Times, Sestak weirdly said that his current teaching duties are "permitting me to ensure my decision is right as I have long drives to think, and youth in class to invigorate me," then added that "I want to serve again, and want to do it right." Apparently, Sestak thinks he's running for Zen Master. Hopefully, Rep. Allyson Schwartz, who reportedly is likely to make a bid of her own, will just forge ahead and simply won't care about the Honey Badger. After all, that's what he'd do.

1:50 PM PT: TX-Gov: With Democrats' two top choices for next year's gubernatorial race declining to run (state Sen. Wendy Davis and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro), Ben Sherman at Burnt Orange Report takes a look at some other potential candidates, including state Sen. Kirk Watson and state Reps. Mike Villarreal and Rafael Anchia.

1:56 PM PT: LA-Gov: Hey, everyone. We have our first candidate for Louisiana governor... in 2015. The seat will be open then (Gov. Bobby Jindal is term-limited), so it's not entirely crazy to announce this far out, but it is a little unusual given how late candidates often declare in Louisiana. Anyhow, in a radio interview on Wednesday morning, state Rep. John Bel Edwards, who serves as caucus chair of the House Democrats, said that he plans to run, even though he knows such a bid will not "be easy." I will give him points for this: "Edwards said he had not intended to formally announce his candidacy Wednesday but wanted to answer honestly when asked about his potential ambitions." More candor like that from politicians interested in higher office would be quite welcome.

2:03 PM PT (David Jarman): Demographics: Props to Gallup for doing something useful for once, filling in a gap that the Census Bureau won't. They've issued poll results from all 50 states on what percentage of residents identify as LGBT. (The closest the Census comes is asking if you share a household of somebody of the same sex, which is only partially helpful.)

With the exception of the District of Columbia, by far the highest at 10.0%, every state falls into a narrow band between 5.1% and 1.7%, clustered around the national average at 3.5%. Hawaii, Vermont, and Oregon top the list, Mississippi, Montana, and North Dakota are at the bottom. (Note that those are all smallish states that also have particularly permissive or traditional reputations. Large states, even ones with notably gay-friendly cities, all tend to revert toward the mean, by virtue of their size and diversity. This is one topic where it'd be much more interesting to have a finer-grained sort, like counties or CDs... a problem, again, where we'll need the Census to step up and enter the 21st century.)

2:17 PM PT: WATN?: That's it for ex-Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., who pleaded guilty on Wednesday to charges that he improperly used some $750,000 in campaign funds for personal purposes. Jackson, who resigned last year shortly after winning re-election, could face up to five years in prison and will be sentenced in June. His wife,  former Chicago Alderman Sandi Jackson, also pleaded guilty to a related charge of tax fraud and could be sentenced to three years behind bars.

2:35 PM PT: NE-Sen, -Gov: In a new radio interview, Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler wouldn't rule out a run for either of Nebraska's top-shelf open seat races (governor and senator), but he doesn't sound particularly likely to do either, saying "It would be very difficult to make a change at this moment." Beutler would one of the most attractive candidates Democrats could field in either contest, but he's 68 years old and undoubtedly mindful of how hard it is for a Dem to get elected statewide.

Another guy who knows the same thing, ex-Sen. Bob Kerrey, is also in the same camp as far as the Senate seat goes—saying he's "considerably less likely" to run—but I thought he'd already taken a pass. Not that it really matters, though, since it's almost impossible to see how Kerrey could win after his 16-point drubbing in last year's failed comeback bid. Checking in with one more Dem, state Sen. Steve Lathrop, he says he hasn't considered the Senate race but is still looking at the gubernatorial contest.

Meanwhile, on the GOP side, former state Treasurer Shane Obsborn tells Roll Call he is "undoubtedly interested" in a possible Senate bid, but like many other Republicans, it seems like he's waiting to see what outgoing Gov. Dave Heineman does. (A Heineman spokesman says he's "taking a very serious look" at the race.)

If we're lucky, though, we could watch Republicans help themselves to a heaping serving of cat fud. The Senate Conservatives Fund is already signalling their displeasure with Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, who has indicated his own interest in the race. No one is ever extreme enough for these maniacs, who sent out an email attacking Fortenberry for his votes "to increase the debt limit, raise income taxes and congressional pay, and ban incandescent light bulbs." Light bulbs! This is what the future of the Republican Party hinges on. Just awesome.

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