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Leading Off:

VA-Gov: I don't think it works that way—on two levels. Republican AG and gubernatorial nominee by default Ken Cuccinelli is refusing to sign Grover Norquist's infamous anti-tax pledge, but here's the rub. First off, he's signed it in the past, and Norquist is pretty adamant that once a signer, always a signer, so he's definitely not off the hook. Indeed, Grover says he's "saddened" because he thinks Cuccinelli is "making a tactical decision that makes it less likely he'll win." (Apologies for the Newsmax link, but I read it so that you don't have to!)

Secondly, does the Kooch, who is as true believer as they come, really think he can tack to the center now? Apparently so. The National Journal's Beth Reinhard reports that in a Thursday speech to CPAC (the top gathering of conservative activists in the nation), Cuccinelli "only sparingly deliver[ed] red meat" and avoided all mention of GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell's new sorta-tax-hiking transportation bill that he'd previously railed against. To put this in context, it would be a little bit like Al Gore coming to Netroots Nation and failing to discuss climate change.

Notably, this latest attempt at a makeover comes right after Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling announced he wouldn't run for governor as an independent, so the timing is interesting. Did the business community, whom Cuccinelli has spooked with his incendiary rhetoric and 16th century views, broker some kind of deal as a condition of Bolling standing down? Tempting as that is to imagine, I doubt anyone's that powerful, or clever. Rather, I'll bet that Cuccinelli simply imagines he must move to the middle now that it's a two-way race between him and Democrat Terry McAuliffe.

But as I wrote the last time he tried this, it looks incredibly phony and also risks dampening his base's enthusiasm. Of course, what other choice does he have? Playing entirely to the movement conservatives, as he's done in the past, might be good enough for, say, 47 percent of the vote. But can Cuccinelli really keep his most zealous supporters in the fold while also squeezing out a few more centrist votes despite his naked expediency? I think he's going to have a very hard time doing that.

Senate:

AR-Sen: Hey, I'm fine with this: Freshman Rep. Tom Cotton, who somehow seems to be the favored choice of Arkansas's GOP establishment to run for Senate, told the crowd at CPAC that he won't even start thinking about a possible bid "for many months." Amusingly, Cotton points to now-Sen. John Boozman's late entry in 2010 as a justification for his hesitancy, so if he wants to con himself into thinking 2014 = 2010 and Mark Pryor = Blanche Lincoln, by all means.

KY-Sen: While some Democrats continue to fret about the difficulties an Ashley Judd Senate candidacy would present, the problem looks a lot broader than just Judd. Indeed, the problem is Kentucky itself, and its relation to federal elections in general.

Like other states across the Appalachian arc, Kentucky's remained pretty open to elected Democrats at the state level. However, it has a terrible track record of electing them to the Senate. In fact, the Bluegrass State is tied for the 11th-longest drought in electing a Democratic Senator (though that's nothing compared to Kansas). Kentucky has slowly but consistently been drifting further right of the national median in recent presidential elections over the decades; Bill Clinton won the state twice and even Generic Northeastern Liberal Mike Dukakis performed close to "par" in Kentucky, beating his performance in New Jersey and Delaware.

But to put it in starker visual terms, here's how Democratic presidential performance looks as an animated map over time:

Note that this map—generated using Open Heat Map—is based on relative distance from the national average (which you probably know better as "PVI") rather than actual Dem percentage so that it tracks more smoothly. So, for instance, Dukakis didn't win as many Kentucky counties as the map makes it look like, though he did better (relatively speaking) than his successors, compared to national performance. One reason that Dems haven't gotten totally wiped out here, though, is that the alarming-looking red explosion at the western and eastern ends is happening in counties with very small populations. Notice that the counties where almost one-third of the state's people live (Jefferson and Fayette) have gradually turned a slightly darker shade of light blue. (David Jarman)

MA-Sen: Another union for Rep. Ed Markey: The 85,000-strong Massachusetts branch of the SEIU has given him their endorsement in the Democratic primary. Interestingly, part of SEIU's endorsement process involved members filling out scorecards comparing Markey and his rival, Rep. Stephen Lynch, after the two took questions at a candidate forum organized by the union last weekend. Unsurprisingly, all three Republican candidates declined to attend.

Gubernatorial:

PA-Gov: There's one guy who isn't finding it very hard to staaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay in Allentown: Mayor Ed Pawlowski, who says he is "focused" on his present job, in response to questions about whether he might run for governor. Interestingly, Pawlowski had the second-best performance among Democrats against Gov. Tom Corbett in Quinnipiac's newest poll, despite an almost complete lack of name recognition. That may have just been a bit of noise, though, as Quinnipiac used a much smaller sample than usual. Still, Pawlowski's statement isn't exactly definitive, though if he were to change his mind, he'd want to do so soon.

House:

AZ-09: Freshman Democrat Kyrsten Sinema is about to get her first challenger: Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Wendy Rogers, who plans to launch her campaign on Sunday. Rogers came in second in last year's rather strange GOP primary, a race which saw the four leading candidates each take between 18 and 22 percent. Given that ridiculously split field, Rogers likely won't be the only person to make a second attempt, and I wouldn't be surprised if we saw some new faces as well.

Rogers herself didn't exactly light the world on fire last time, either, with just $230K in fundraising, and in the cycle before, she lost a race for state senate (interestingly, to one of the guys Sinema beat in her own primary, David Schapira). Given her narrow win and the swingy nature of this district, though, Sinema will definitely have a real contest on her hands next year.

GA-11: Ever since we learned last month from the Rothenberg Political Report that ex-Rep. (and notorious House impeachment manager) Bob Barr was yet again plotting a comeback, we've been anxiously wondering where he'd stage a bid. Now we may have the answer: Barr will reportedly run for fellow Republican Phil Gingrey's seat, though of course, there's a bit of a catch. Gingrey's been making preparations for a Senate bid but he hasn't actually pulled the trigger. Should he change his mind and stay put, would Barr primary him? No matter what happens, though, I'm looking forward to a Barr candidacy, simply because I think his own party must despise him almost as much as Democrats with long memories do. Fun times ahead!

PA-13: Before I even clicked on the link, I said to myself, "So we have our first actual candidate in PA-13," which happens to be Keegan Gibson's exact same lede as well. Gibson has the goods on Democrat Valerie Arkoosh, who filed paperwork to create a campaign committee with the FEC. (Unsurprisingly, Greg Giroux first spotted the filing.) Arkoosh, a physician, is pretty well-connected and may be able to seed her campaign with some personal money. But just as notable is the fact that her husband, Jeffrey Harbison, is Rep. Allyson Schwartz's campaign treasurer. As Gibson notes, Harbison has to be aware of Schwartz's plans, and his wife wouldn't run for her seat in Congress if Schwartz weren't expecting to run for governor.

TN-04: I guess no one ever told these guys that "circle, circle, dot, dot" is not actually an effective vaccine against cooties transmission: A whole host of Republican members of Congress are, believe it or not, holding a DC fundraiser next month for none other than Scott DesJarlais, whose political woes long ago reached epic proportions. So I have to wonder what John Kline, who sits in the swingy MN-02, is thinking. Does he like how DesJarlais had repeated affairs with his patients while he was practicing medicine? Or is he a fan of the way DesJarlais tried to pressure one of his mistresses to have an abortion? The same goes for Georgia Rep. Tom Price, who is weighing a bid for Senate, because whatever taint DesJarlais's contaminated with is highly viral.

P.S. In response to the original story, Kline's office feebly tried to claim that "he was never scheduled to attend the March 19 fundraiser, and does not plan to attend." But you can see his name listed as a host at the very top of the actual invitation. Sorry, dude, but everyone knows you can't give yourself a cootie shot after you've been infected.

WV-03: Republican state Del. Rick Snuffer, who held Rep. Nick Rahall to a closer-than-expected 8-point win last year, tells Roll Call's Abby Livingston he's "very interested" in a third attempt next year. (Rahall stomped Snuffer by 30 points in 2004, which offers a good illustration of how West Virginia's been trending over the past decade.) Of course, Rahall could still run for Senate, in which case Snuffer would be running for an open seat. Either way, though, I'd expect him to have company in a GOP primary. Indeed, Livingston mentions one other possible name, state Sen. Bill Cole.

Grab Bag:

Census: The Census Bureau is out with a slew of new population estimates for 2012, at the metropolitan and county levels. You can definitely see the effects of the current extraction boom in oil and gas patches of the country: The Midland, Texas area saw the most growth, percentage-wise, over the last year for metropolitan regions, while Williston and Dickinson (both in North Dakota) were the fastest-growing micropolitan areas. The county with the largest raw increase was Harris Co., Texas, just edging out the much-larger Los Angeles Co. Dallas and Houston had the biggest raw increases among metro areas, again followed by L.A.

One other trend to be gleaned from the new data dump is the decline in many of the nation's rural counties (at least the non-energy-sector ones): 1,135 of the nation's 3,143 counties are now experiencing "natural decrease," where deaths outnumber births and in-migration becomes necessary to avoid losing population. At the state level, Maine now joins West Virginia as the second state to slip into "natural decrease." And as a nation, the U.S. only grew 0.75% last year, the smallest gain since 1937, in the middle of the Great Depression. (David Jarman)

Originally posted to Daily Kos Elections on Fri Mar 15, 2013 at 05:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Virginia Kos and Daily Kos.

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