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9:19 AM PT: MI-Sen: It sure seemed like Debbie Dingell was building up a head of steam for a Senate run, but she apparently had a change of heart over the weekend and decided not to seek retiring Sen. Carl Levin's open seat. Dingell, a DNC committee woman and the wife of record-setting veteran Rep. John Dingell, did give a shout out to Rep. Gary Peters in her statement announcing her choice, calling him a "good candidate" and adding that "a primary would be divisive at a time that cries out for unity." Peters is at the top of Democratic wish lists and while he hasn't made up his mind about a bid for Senate yet, this may signal that he and Dingell have spoken and that he's perhaps closer to getting into the race.

9:46 AM PT: PA-Gov/Sen/07: Joe Sestak, the confounding honey badger of Pennsylvania politics, confounds us yet again. The excellent Keegan Gibson reports that Sestak, who, so far as anyone is aware, isn't actually running for anything at the moment, nevertheless managed to raise $460,000 in the first quarter of the year. The money went into Sestak's federal account, which is formally designated for a Senate race but has been renamed "Friends of Joe Sestak" from "Sestak for Senate." That means Sestak could use the funds for another Senate run in 2016 or try to win back his old House seat in the 7th District, now held by GOP Rep. Pat Meehan.

Or, under Pennsylvania law, he could transfer that money to a state-level account for, say, a gubernatorial bid, something that Rep. Allyson Schwartz just did to the tune of $3 million. Abiding by federal contribution limits allows Sestak to retain more flexibility in terms of how he uses his money, but if he does decide to run for governor, it would put him at a monetary disadvantage, since the Keystone State doesn't have a cap on contributions. Of course, Sestak could just go back to his donors and ask them to give more, and considering he pulled in half a million bucks without anyone noticing and while not even telling people what office, if any, he's running for, it doesn't seem like he has much difficulty raising money.

10:20 AM PT: LA Mayor: It seems like City Controller Wendy Greuel is going to have to change things up in a meaningful way in order to have a shot in next month's mayoral runoff. After taking first place in the primary, City Councilor Eric Garcetti has held considerable leads in all public polling since then, and the new USC/LA Times survey is no different. (The poll was conducted by Republican firm M4 Strategies and Democratic firm Benenson Strategy Group.) Garcetti has a 50-40 edge over Greuel, very similar to the 49-40 lead SurveyUSA recently gave him.

Apparently mindful of this, Greuel recently launched the first negative TV ad of the campaign, attacking Garcetti as a self-dealer. One of the claims involves an oil lease owned by Garcetti which earned him all of $1.25 a year, which seems like a bit of a stretch. Anyhow, the spot is paired with a positive ad touting endorsements from Magic Johnson and Sen. Barbara Boxer, and the two commercials are reportedly splitting a $700,000 buy. Bill Clinton's also been stumping for Greuel some more, but unlike some other recent primaries where a Big Dog endorsement seemed to have a noticeable impact, Clinton's support seems like it's getting somewhat lost in the giant-sized Los Angeles shuffle.

10:44 AM PT: CA-17: Hey! It's Ro Khanna's first noteworthy endorsement in his quixotic race to unseat fellow Democrat Mike Honda—and, naturally, it's from the biggest d-bag in California politics! I guess if Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is all you've got... well, actually, no. I wouldn't bother trying to court the unctuous slickster Newsom in the first place, and if he wanted to endorse me, I'd decline as quickly as I would a free ticket on the National Review's annual cruise. This may well be one case where beggars should be choosers.

12:24 PM PT: SC-01: Following last week's utter Mark Sanford lunacy, Public Policy Polling went back into South Carolina's 1st Congressional District and finds that things really do not look good for the former governor in the upcoming May 7 special election. Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch's narrow lead last month has expanded considerably:

Elizabeth Colbert Busch (D): 50 (47)

Mark Sanford (R): 41 (45)

Eugene Platt (G): 3 (--)

Undecided: 5 (8)
What's amazing, though, is that Sanford's approval rating hasn't dropped, though it's certainly not good: He's at 38-56, which is actually an improvement from his 34-58 mark in March. Colbert Busch, though, has also seen her numbers move up, to a remarkably strong 56-31, from 45-31 last time. So what accounts for the change in the toplines?

Well, it seems like Democratic enthusiasm is way up, and Republican enthusiasm is way down. This district voted for Mitt Romney by a 58-40 margin in 2012, and in PPP's first poll, respondents said they had supported Romney by a figure very close to that spread, 56-40. Now that gap is down to a remarkable 50-45, which either means PPP wound up with a too-blue sample or, simply, that Democrats are now pumped for this race and Republicans are less eager to answer their phones when a pollster calls. If anyone could inspire that kind of phenomenon, it's Mark Sanford.

To catch you up on what's transpired lately, were it not for the tragedies in Boston and Texas, Sanford probably would have been the top news story last week. It began Tuesday night, when the AP reported that Sanford's ex-wife, Jenny Sanford, had filed a legal complaint alleging that her former husband had violated the terms of their divorce agreement and trespassed at her home. The next day, Sanford denied nothing and instead offered up a cockamamie explanation that revolved around not wanting his 14-year-old son to have to watch the Super Bowl alone.

By that point, though, the proverbial damage had already been done, in a fashion only the incomparable Mark Sanford could manage. By Wednesday afternoon, the National Republican Congressional Committee announced, on the record, that it was cutting Sanford off and wouldn't support his special election bid. (In a district this conservative, it's remarkable that Sanford would even need help in the first place.) Other right-wing groups like the Club for Growth quickly followed suit. Republican frustration with their own nominee has to be at record levels, but once again, it's a self-inflicted wound.

As the GOP was rushing out, though, Democrats rushed in. The House Majority PAC jumped first, throwing down the first $107,000 installment of a reported half-million dollar buy on a TV ad attacking Sanford over his ethical misdeeds, including his notorious 2009 hike on the Appalachian Trail. A day later, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee came in with $208,000 on a spot hitting the same themes, albeit much more darkly.

Now the progressive veterans organization VoteVets has also gotten into the act, with a $30,000 spot featuring a retired National Guard colonel who lacerates Sanford for his disappearing act. Says the officer, who did a tour of duty in Afghanistan when he was 58 years old and now lives in the district, "If I had abandoned my post, I could be court-martialed." It's a very searing way to frame the issue.

But of course, it's the trespassing making news right now, and that's obviously hurting Sanford. According to PPP, 51 percent of respondents harbor "serious" or "somewhat serious" doubts about his "fitness for public office," versus 44 percent who do not. This issue mostly divides along party lines, with Republicans largely unconcerned—but not entirely. It helps explain why Colbert Busch is pulling the support of 19 percent of self-identified Republicans while only 7 percent of Democrats say they're backing Sanford.

And apparently believing that when you're explaining, you're winning, Sanford has reduced himself to taking out a full-page ad in the Charleston Post and Courier featuring an incredibly lengthy account of his encounter with his wife at her home on Super Bowl Sunday as well as a deeply boring response to the various Democratic attack ads described above. He manages to compare his situation to the Alamo and even asks people to call him on his cell phone "if you have any further questions"! Sad doesn't begin to cover it.

Remember, though, that this is still extremely red turf: Only three Democrats sit in seats more Republican than this. So if Colbert Busch were to win, it would still be a remarkable upset—and an extremely tough district to hold in 2014. But you always have to play to win, and right now, Democrats have a shot, thanks to one man. Mark Sanford has proven once again what a singular force he is in American politics. With him, anything is possible.

1:38 PM PT: P.S. Heh: Count South Carolina's Republican congressional delegation on the list of those trying to jet away from Sanford at mach three. To a man, they all refused to discuss him when approached by reporters last week. And this week, both senators and all five GOP congressmen were scheduled to headline a fundraiser for Sanford in DC, but The Hill reports that the event has been cancelled. I'll be very curious to see Sanford's FEC report this Thursday, since he may well be having serious money problems at this point.

1:55 PM PT: MA-Sen: Western New England University's new Massachusetts Senate special election poll is a bit odd. For one, it was in the field for a remarkably long eight days—and the second half of the poll was conducted after the Boston Marathon bombings, when all candidates suspending their campaigns and I suspect most Bay Staters had other things on their minds. The other strange thing is that despite the lengthy field period, the sample sizes are incredibly small: just 270 for the Democratic primary and an unacceptably crummy 128 for the Republican contest.

The number of Democratic respondents is really below acceptable minimums, but for what it's worth, Rep. Ed Markey edges Rep. Stephen Lynch 44-34, continuing his unbroken series of leads in all public polling released to date. Lynch performs better in the general election (something we've also seen before in one or two surveys), cruising by margins in the 30s, whereas Markey leads in the mid-to-high teens. If Lynch wants to make some kind of electability argument, he's almost run out of time (election day is April 30), but in any event, Markey's over 50 percent, so it wouldn't be an especially strong one.

As for the GOP side, I can't really bring myself to mention polling data from such an abysmally tiny sample, but I will say that they somewhat resemble an early April internal from businessman Gabriel Gomez, which portrays him and former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan as the leading candidates, with state Rep. Dan Winslow trailing. They all fare similarly in the general elections matchups mentioned above, though.

2:14 PM PT: SD-Sen: At long last, ex-Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin has decided to speak on the record about her intentions regarding South Dakota's open seat Senate race. Herseth Sandlin says she's been having "serious conversations" about running with family members and supporters and plans to decide "in the next few weeks," in the phrasing of the Argus Leader. She doesn't sound super jazzed about the prospect, though, saying she loves her job as general counsel for Raven Industries, a local high-tech manufacturing firm, and that she's also "loving my family life in Sioux Falls"—something that a return trip to DC would seriously impinge on. But one reads tea leaves at one's own peril.

The other top Democrat who may be looking at the race, U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, has declined to comment because his current role as a civil servant precludes him from engaging in partisan political activity. If he were to make the jump, he'd presumably have to resign as U.S.A.

3:19 PM PT: NRCC: On Monday, the NRCC rolled out the first batch of 2014 inductees into its "Patriot Program," their counterpart to the DCCC's "Frontline Program" aimed at shoring up vulnerable incumbents. Ten of their 11 picks are freshmen or sophomores (CO-06's Mike Coffman is the only exception), and almost all of them had tough races last cycle (they averaged 52 percent) or can expect tough races this cycle. The most surprising inclusions are Mike Fitzpatrick (PA-08), who handily defeated a good challenger last year, and Bob Gibbs (OH-07), whose once-touted opponent failed to catch fire. PA-08 at least is a swingy district, though, while OH-07 went for Romney by 10. Gibbs, though, may get a serious challenge from ex-Rep. John Boccieri.

The absences are more notable. Gary Miller (CA-31) has the distinction of serving the bluest seat in the nation held by a Republican. He also refused to say whether he was running for re-election when asked a few weeks ago, so perhaps he's already dead man walking (out the door). Dan Benishek (MI-01) was targeted heavily last year as well but also is not on the list. These rosters can change at any time, of course, and it's not like the NRCC is obligated to add someone to the rolls if they're vulnerable and need help, so at best, it's just a partial look at the seats Republicans are concerned about defending.

3:25 PM PT: GA-11: State Sen. Barry Loudermilk is the newest entrant into the GOP primary for the seat left open by Rep. Phil Gingrey, who is seeking a promotion to the Senate. Jim Galloway describes Loudermilk as a "constitutionalist... in the mold of Paul Broun," which means that if you like your Republican caucus as crazy as possible, root for him. The other declared candidates in this dark red district so far are state Rep. Edward Lindsey and ex-Rep. Bob Barr.

3:34 PM PT: HI-Sen: An unnamed DSCC official, "speaking on background," tells the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that the campaign committee is "supporting" recently appointed Sen. Brian Schatz in his bid to win the final two years of the late Sen. Dan Inouye's term in 2014. The news comes on the heels of an inconclusive report a few days earlier in the Washington Post that said that Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who was passed over for the position Schatz won, had talked with the DSCC about a possible challenge in the Democratic primary. The WaPo piece, however, didn't describe the outcome of the meeting.

Presumably, the DS would prefer not to have to worry about spending money to prop up Schatz, so this kind of statement looks like a public warning shot to Hanabusa—though you have to wonder why it was necessary to take it to the papers. (Was the message not adequately conveyed or received in their apparent pow-wow?) If the DSCC succeeds in deterring Hanabusa, that may push her toward a run against Gov. Neil Abercrombie instead, since the DGA isn't typically in the business of helping incumbents survive primaries. Or Hanabusa might just take the path of least resistance and seek re-election.

3:49 PM PT: LA-06: Roll Call is calling their newest feature "The Field," but you could also just dub it "The Great Mentioner," since their intention is to run through lists of potential candidates in interesting Senate and House races. First up is Louisiana's 6th Congressional District, which GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy has just left open on account of his newly launched Senate bid. This is an extremely red seat (66-32 Romney), so you can expect all the action to be on the Republican side. Kyle Trygstad identifies several state legislators who could make a bid: state Sen. Dan Claitor, and state Reps. Erich Ponti, Hunter Greene, and Steve Carter.

But the most intriguing name is ex-Rep. Jeff Landry. Landry seems to be focusing on his new super PAC these days, so a run for office seems less likely. But it could be a good way for Cassidy to get him out of his hair, since Landry had chiefly been eyeing a Senate bid before creating his new PAC that's intended to support uber-conservative House candidates. Landry doesn't live in the 6th, but he did represent about 21 percent of it during his single term in office (before redistricting), so that might give him a bit of a base to start off with.

3:55 PM PT: CA-03: For whatever it's worth, term-limited GOP state Rep. Dan Logue, who said back in January that he was considering a bid against Rep. John Garamendi, now says he's formed a proverbial exploratory committee.

4:07 PM PT: MI-Gov: There's a ton of undecideds in EPIC-MRA's new Michigan poll, but this definitely isn't where GOP Gov. Rick Snyder wants to find himself. Ex-Rep. Mark Schauer has a bare 39-38 lead over the incumbent, while another Democrat, ex-Rep. Bart Stupak, trails by the same margin. Those numbers are pretty similar to the 40-36 edge for Schauer that PPP found in early March. (Stupak only started expressing interest more recently, so he wasn't tested back then.) Interestingly, Schauer performs just a touch better than the conservative Stupak, despite the latter being better known.

4:39 PM PT: Fundraising: March fundraising reports are now available for all six of the major party committees:

Committee Mar. Receipts Mar. Spent Cash-on-Hand CoH Change Debt
DCCC $10,213,197 $8,922,776 $8,873,004 $1,290,421 $4,500,000
NRCC $8,085,101 $4,383,335 $8,108,294 $3,701,766 $8,250,000
DSCC $5,200,000 $8,400,000 $3,300,000
NRSC $3,200,000 $5,300,000 $2,200,000 $9,500,000
DNC $5,696,640 $3,850,304 $5,893,715 $1,846,335 $22,564,236
RNC $6,356,674 $5,187,851 $8,671,852 $1,168,823 $0
Total Dem $21,109,836 $12,773,080 $23,166,718 $6,436,756 $27,064,236
Total GOP $17,641,776 $9,571,186 $22,080,146 $7,070,589 $17,750,000

House and Senate Democrats continued to stick it to their Republican counterparts, with the DCCC raising a record $22.6 million in the first quarter. Meanwhile, the NRSC put up their worst quarter in 10 years (though they did pick up four Senate seats that cycle). The DCCC also paid down a large chunk of its debt, which stood at nearly $11 million just a month ago. Despite that, they were still able to increase their cash stockpile.


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