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States Change Primary Dates and Rules

North Carolina has moved its primary date from a tentative March 1 to a definitive March 15. This puts all the state's 2016 primaries on the same date now. It also allows the North Carolina state Republican Party to opt for a winner-take-all primary instead of splitting the delegates proportionally. Before March 15, RNC rules require proportional allocation but starting March 15 it is up to the state party.

In Colorado, the Republican state party has changed the rules of its March 1 caucuses. Under the old rules, delegates were bound to vote for specific candidates at the state convention, even if the candidate had already dropped out. Under the new rules, caucusgoers will choose people to go the state convention, but they will be free to vote for anyone they want. Although this gives the delegates more freedom, it also means that the candidates are less likely to campaign in Colorado since they can't lock down delegates so easily. (V)

Democrats Get Nearly All the Senate Candidates They Wanted

Both the DSCC and NRSC work hard to recruit the best candidates they can find to challenge incumbent senators or fight for open seats. The DSCC pitched a near perfect game this year getting the candidate it wanted in all races except one. The NRSC has not done nearly as well. Here is a brief rundown of the Senate races where DSCC Chairman Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) got the person he wanted (and one where he didn't).

Arizona. The Democratic candidate who will challenge Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) will be Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ). While Arizona is a red state, McCain has a lot of enemies in Arizona and will be 80 on election day. Kirkpatrick is the Democrats best shot in years at beating McCain.

Florida. With Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) running for President, his Senate seat will be an open race. The DSCC wanted and got Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL) to run. Barack Obama won Florida twice, so in a presidential year, the Democrats have a good chance to take the seat. Murphy will first have to defeat firebrand Alan Grayson, however, in the Democratic primary.

Illinois. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), an Iraq war veteran and double amputee, was the DSCC's first choice. She is leading Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) in the polls already. In very blue Illinois, she is the clear favorite.

Indiana. Indiana is a red state, and whatever Republican emerges from the three-way contest that is currently underway on that side of the aisle will be the favorite. Nonetheless, the DSCC got the most viable Democrat in the state—former Rep. Baron Hill— to come out of political retirement and make a run for the seat.

Missouri. Missouri leans Republican, but the Democrats' first choice, 34-year-old Iraq War veteran and Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, has a shot at beating Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO). The charismatic Kander is the youngest statewide official in the country.

Nevada. Before Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) announced his retirement, he arranged to have his preferred successor, former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, run for his seat. She will face Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV), one of the few first-choice candidates the NRSC got. Since this is an open seat, it is a presidential year, and Nevada is light blue, Cortez Masto is probably a slight favorite.

New Hampshire. With this week's announcement that she won't run for reelection as governor but for the Senate instead, Gov. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) has raised the Democrats' hopes of taking back the Senate. Hassan will face freshman (freshwoman? freshperson?) Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH). New Hampshire is a bluish state in presidential election years and Hassan has already won statewide election twice.

Ohio. The DSCC managed to recruit former governor Ted Strickland to run against freshman Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH). Strickland is well known in the state, not only from his time as governor, but also from his six terms in the House. Portman is well liked in Ohio, but Obama won Ohio twice, so it could be close.

Pennsylvania. Although it took some urging, the DSCC finally got a former aide to Gov. Tom Wolf, Katie McGinty, to challenge former representative Joe Sestak (D) in a primary. The DSCC does not like Sestak's campaign style and is going to help McGinty in the primary. Then they will go after Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), who is much too conservative for Pennsylvania and only won in 2010 due to the low Democratic turnout.

The one state where the DSCC did not get its top pick is North Carolina, where former senator Kay Hagan declined to challenge Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC).

In addition, three Democratic senators were talked out of running for governor of their respective states, namely Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-WV). Replacing any of them would have been tough. (V)

Fiorina took 4 Years to Pay Off Campaign Debt

Carly Fiorina ran unsuccessfully for a U.S. Senate seat in 2010. She was crushed by Barbara Boxer. During that campaign she ran up debts of $500,000 to her pollster and other vendors. After the election, she decided not to pay off her debts, even though she has a personal fortune of nearly $60 million. Finally, in January 2015, she paid off her 2010 debts, presumably because by then she had decided to run for President and knew that stiffing the people who had helped her in 2010 could easily become a campaign issue this time. A likely consequence of taking 4 years to pay her bills is that this time, her vendors are not likely to extend much credit to her. In the very unlikely event that she becomes the Republican nominee, this will undoubtedly be a big issue, especially since she did remember to reimburse herself for the $1.3 million she loaned to her campaign (V).

Freedom Caucus Growing More Unified

FiscalNote has a very interesting—and rather disheartening—examination of voting patterns in the house. Using some advanced (but still understandable) math, analysts have been able to demonstrate that the semi-mysterious and very conservative Freedom Caucus is growing more effective at working together to stymie not only the Democrats, but also more centrist Republicans. The trend, which is represented both graphically and verbally in the story, has become much more pronounced in the current Congress, and has no parallel on the Democratic side of the aisle. The author observes that new leadership in the House is unlikely to change the equation. What he doesn't say is that there's nothing else that is likely to change the equation, either. The Freedom Caucusers, by virtue of gerrymandering or simple demographics, represent very conservative districts where voters are undoubtedly delighted by their obstructionist tactics. Neither Republican leadership nor frustrated voters in other districts can do much to punish them or remove them from office. As such, expect the gridlock and low approval ratings that have become characteristic of the House of Representatives to continue for the foreseeable future. (Z)

Clinton's First Ad Focuses on Benghazi

Hillary Clinton's campaign staff has produced and released their first national commercial, which is set to begin airing Tuesday. Not surprisingly, the ad focuses on aspiring Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy's seeming admission that the Benghazi hearings were politically motivated. Hillary and her advisors think they have a chance to drive a stake through the heart of Benghazi, and they are striking while the iron is hot. (Z)

One Issue Where Hillary Clinton is to the Left of Bernie Sanders

Most people, whether they are supporters of Bernie Sanders (I-VT) or not, assume that he takes the opposite position of the Republican Party on nearly all political issues. They are right about this in most cases, but one notable exception is gun control. Sanders hails from a state where citizens love both the Bill of Rights and hunting, and so he has often been hesitant to support gun control legislation. He is more centrist on the issue than one might otherwise guess.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has consistently been anti-gun. Yesterday, she unveiled a fairly ambitious plan to address some controversial elements of the gun trade, most notably the ease with which guns are bought and sold at gun shows. Acknowledging that it is nearly impossible to get gun control legislation through Congress, the Clinton plan would primarily be achieved through executive orders. Would this be legal? That is a question for the Supreme Court, who would undoubtedly be asked to consider the issue very rapidly.

Many of the liberal Democrats who support Bernie Sanders care a great deal about gun control, particularly in the wake of the shootings at Oregon, Sandy Hook, etc. This issue could very well be an Achilles heel that ultimately causes him to bleed some support as his views and voting history on the issue become better known. (Z)

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