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8:19 AM PT: FL Redistricting: The Florida Supreme Court, as expected, issued its ruling on the validity of the state's new legislative maps today; the court had to conduct a mandatory review thanks to the new Fair Districts amendments to the state constitution, which forbid lawmakers from drawing districts which favor incumbency and political considerations. The high court upheld the House lines but struck down the Senate plan on a variety of different grounds; if you have a lot of time to kill, you can read the court's remarkably thorough 200-plus page opinion (PDF).

In a nutshell, the court seemed to have three main objections: (1) that a number of districts were insufficiently compact under the Fair Districts amendments; (2) that even though the map did not cause any dilution or retrogression of minority voting rights, the legislature failed to conduct a functional analysis as to retrogression which would have allowed it to properly balance minority voting protections with the FDA; and (3) that the Senate adopted a numbering scheme that manipulates Florida's staggered terms to allow incumbents to serve 10 years (rather than the normal maximum of eight), something which violates the FDA's prohibition on favoring incumbents.

So now the legislature must reconvene for a special session to draw a new Senate map. If it fails to do so, then the state supreme court will draw a plan of its own. And also note that while the House map passed muster with the court, federal litigation over the plan is still possible. It'll also be interesting to see how this opinion affects pending litigation in state court over the new congressional map, since this decision is the first (and only) ruling interpreting the FDA. Point being: There's a lot of wrangling still left to go.

8:41 AM PT: SC-LG: Almost exactly a year ago, South Carolina's first-term Lt. Gov., Republican Ken Ard, was charged with 92 counts of violating campaign finance rules by the state Ethics Commission. Ard used campaign cash for personal use and failed to properly disclose his spending; among other things, he spend campaign money to attend the SEC championship football game in Atlanta in 2010, and he also bought his wife a gown to wear to the state's inaugural ball. Following the commission's investigation which found Ard guilty and fined him $60K, the case was turned over to the state AG, who convened a grand jury to hear further evidence. Evidently, with further charges looming, it got to be too much for Ard, so he just resigned, effective Friday.

There's also an interesting succession question which Taegan Goddard highlights. Republican Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, who is next in line to be LG, apparently doesn't want to give up his powerful legislative post. One possibility is that McConnell might resign his current leadership post and allow the Senate to appoint a new president who would take Ard's place (the LG is a mostly ceremonial position), then run for his leadership spot again.

9:34 AM PT: CA-26: Moorpark Councilman David Pollock is dropping out of this open-seat race in the Oxnard/Thousand Oaks area. Pollock cited worries that a split Democratic field could cause problems in the state's top-two primary, where the two candidates who get the most votes regardless of party advance to November. Pollock actually makes a good point here: Until he dropped out, there were four Democrats running, along with one Republican, state Sen. Tony Strickland, and one Republican-turned-independent, Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks. That canny move by Parks (she only recently dropped her party affiliation) could potentially allow her and Strickland to make the top two if the Democratic vote is sufficiently fractured.

So now we're down to three Dems: Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, Oxnard Harbor District Commissioner Jess Herrera, and businessman David Cruz Thayne. Brownley is the real heavyweight here, while Thayne (like Pollock) hadn't really raised much. But Brownley only got into the race recently (after Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett unexpectedly bailed) and hasn't filed any fundraising reports (nor has Herrera). Brownley should be able to consolidate the Democratic vote, but Thayne and Herrera say they aren't going anywhere. Both say they've received pressure to drop out, and Thayne in fact released emails from a couple of local party officials pushing him to do just that—missives which so far seem to have had the opposite of their intended effect.

And this, in a nutshell, is why I hate the top-two primary system. Parties should be able to choose their own nominees without interference, and any setup which encourages fewer candidates to run (lest they fear damaging their party's prospects in the general election) is a bad thing.

9:39 AM PT: CA-30: Endorsements from sitting House members in California have been few and far between for Rep. Brad Sherman; almost all of the state's very large Democratic delegation has gone for his primary rival, fellow Rep. Howard Berman. But Sherman's scored one of the few remaining undecideds, Rep. Loretta Sanchez. He also picked up the backing of former state Controller Steve Westly, as well as a couple of local unions (a branch of the IBEW and a branch of the Letter Carriers).

9:45 AM PT: FL-22: So there may be yet another Democratic entrant in the open 22nd District: businessman Mark Bell. And by "businessman" I mean, CEO of the company which publishes Penthouse and runs the Adult FriendFinder website.

10:04 AM PT: MD-06: State Sen. Rob Garagiola is going on the attack, digging out a damaging admission from the SEC filings of CapitolSource, the company founded by his chief rival in the Democratic primary, John Delaney. CapitolSource's most recent 10-K (an annual report detailing company operations that all publicly-traded firms must file) includes this nugget:

We are under audit for our 2006 through 2008 taxable years and, if the Internal Revenue Service determined that we violated REIT requirements and failed to qualify as a REIT or otherwise under reported tax liabilities during those years that we operated as a REIT, it could adversely impact our results of operations.
Garagiola also brings up a 2006 Forbes article which labeled Delaney a "loan shark" (right there in the headline) and lead off by noting that he's "pretty good at avoiding taxes." Perhaps, it would seem, a little too good.

Delaney, for his part, is trying to drown out Garagiola's hits with a new round of paid media. Quite tellingly, his new TV spot starts off by mentioning "Rob Garagiola's untrue negative attacks," but rather than rebut them, he just cites his recent endorsement by Bill Clinton. You know, usually when you deliberately try to change the subject, you wanna be a bit more subtle about it. Delaney's new radio ads are similar, though they also throw in some attacks on Garagiola for good measure.

10:30 AM PT: IL Fundraising: Pre-primary FEC reports were due on Thursday night, covering the period from Jan. 1 through Feb. 29. You can find all the numbers at the link. A quick rundown of some of the key races:

IL-02 (D): Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. is completely swamping ex-Rep. Debbie Halvorson on all fronts.

IL-08 (D): Tammy Duckworth more than doubled up Raja Krishnamoorthi over the last two months, but Raja narrowly edged Duckworth both in spending and remaining cash-on-hand.

IL-10 (D): Ilya Sheyman outraised Brad Schneider $237K to $131K, but Schneider spent almost double. Sheyman has a small cash edge.

IL-12 (R): Jason Plummer, the supposed frontrunner, raised just $37K, not much more than Rodger Cook's $31K.

IL-13 (D): Matt Goetten raised $70K to David Gill's $56K, but Gill spent slightly more. However, Goetten has more than three times the cash left.

IL-16 (R): Rep. Don Manzullo outraised Rep. Adam Kinzinger $261K to $243K. Kinzinger spent considerably more, but Manzullo has a slight cash lead.

11:29 AM PT: IL-02: Hoo boy. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. absolutely unloads on his primary opponent, ex-Rep. Debbie Halvorson, in this new spot which features a mother whose son died from gun violence lambasting Halvorson for her record on gun control when she served in Congress. I think it packs quite a punch:

Even though what polling we've seen (even Halvorson's own) has been quite favorable to Jackson, I wonder if things are closer than they appear. Jackson's been on the air with several other spots as well, include one TV ad which dings Halvorson for her lack of leadership during the healthcare fight, and a radio commercial which accuses her of voting with Republicans "88 times" (and features a woman howling that Halvorson is "crazy"). Halvorson has a couple of ads out of her own, both positive, but given her soft fundraising, I'd have to imagine Jackson's been able to pay for more airtime in the expensive Chicago media market.

11:37 AM PT (David Jarman): WA-01: After seeming to shut the door on Wednesday on a hypothetical run in some other state (after his loss in Tuesday's Democratic primary to Marcy Kaptur in OH-09), today that door is back open for Dennis Kucinich. Or maybe it isn't, depending on what story you're reading. A CBS News story frames him as looking around, saying "there's new possibilities that are being born at this moment" and, when explicitly asked about Washington state, "we'll see what the next few days and months bring." That's the sexier headline that's getting all the attention; nobody seems to be paying attention to the Washington Post story where he says Thursday that it's "very unlikely" he'll jump into another contest elsewher. At any rate, we've got some clarification from the Ohio Secretary of State's office that might encourage Kucinich to try again; he doesn't have to resign his current seat to pursue a run elsewhere, since the residency requirement applies to the moment when you're elected.

11:40 AM PT: IL-13: Physician David Gill is out with an internal from PPP, showing him up 30-18 over Greene County State's Attorney Matt Goetten in the Democratic primary, which is just over a week away. Of course, there are still a ton of undecideds, and unusually for PPP, this poll was in the field for just a single day.

Goetten, meanwhile, is out with his first TV ad, an unimpressive spot with weak production values. But what stands out most is his startling lack of energy in the parts where he speaks. He sounds like a groggy college student struggling through a 9am class—or, to put it more bluntly, like he really just doesn't seem to want this thing. I've also got to wonder about Goetten's chops more generally; the other day, in an almost David Weprin-esque move, he refused to take a stand on the assault on women's reproductive healthcare freedoms, saying: "I’m hesitant to talk about anything that is not going to create jobs and save the middle class in Central Illinois." Facepalm.

12:11 PM PT: IL-02: This is kind of fucking amazing! The main narrator in that Jesse Jackson, Jr. radio ad I mentioned above is none other than California Rep. Maxine Waters—and the woman who howls that Debbie Halvorson is "crazy" is Florida Rep. Corrine Brown! (You can hear that part around 40 seconds in.) Major tip of the cap to sapelcovits for the hilarious find.

12:13 PM PT: AL-06: The Campaign for Primary Accountability is actually out with a second ad hammering GOP Rep. Spencher Bachus, which you can watch at the link. That's on top of

12:32 PM PT: Polltopia: This guy definitely doesn't have an agenda, does he?

12:56 PM PT: ME-Sen: Given the treatment he's already getting at the hands of national Republicans, it's hard to see independent Angus King keep up the charade that he might caucus with the GOP for a whole lot longer. NRSC chair John Cornyn says that his organization will support the Republican nominee, not King, while DSCC chief Patty Murray and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are decided non-committal. On top of this, the RNC put out a web video that tries to accuse Democrats of "betraying their principles" by holding the door open to possibly supporting King. You could view it as a means of sabotaging King by goading him to display even more "independence" by distancing himself from Democrats, or as an attempt to sow dissent among rank-and-file Maine Dems over the prospect that national party leaders have "forced" the indie King on them.

Either way, Republicans aren't rolling out the welcome mat. And as James Allen ably documents, King's publicly-stated policy preferences lean decided leftward: pro-financial industry regulation, pro-alternative energy, pro-auto bailout. King might fancy himself above party politics, but when it comes time to actually engage in policy-making, he's kidding himself if he thinks he might have a home in the GOP.

1:27 PM PT: WI-Sen: Great catch by The Hotline's Sean Sullivan, who digs out a few grafs from an AP piece that shows how Republican rich guy Eric Hovde's Senate campaign rollout turned into a big bag of fail:

In his campaign launch at a manufacturing company north of Madison, Hovde lashed out at the federal stimulus program and bank bailout program known as TARP, saying the government was "addicted to spending."

"They were bailed out with our money, our taxpayer money, without any consequences," he said.

But U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission records show that Hovde's company invested in at least 33 banks that received $29 billion in TARP money.

When asked about it, Hovde differentiated between owning banks that received federal bailouts and investing in them.

Totally different! Especially on the campaign trail, where nuanced distinctions have ample time to be carefully aired and considered.

1:28 PM PT: CA-21: Eliminating all ambiguity, Fresno City councilman Blong Xiong is officially joining the Democratic field in the open 21st CD.

1:45 PM PT: AZ-06: Arizona's 6th is a very red district, and all of our attention so far has focused on the member-vs.-member battle between GOP Reps. David Schweikert and Ben Quayle. But now a Democrat has entered the race, college professor Matt Jette, who actually ran for governor in 2010—as a Republican. But Jette's platform, which included opposition to the state's notorious new immigration law known as SB 1070, was decidedly moderate... which probably explains why he scored all of 3%. However, despite this Some Dude-ish profile, Jette has already managed to score an endorsement from former state AG Terry Goddard, who was the Democratic gubernatorial nominee last cycle.

1:52 PM PT: CA-25: Pretty clever use of $300, I've gotta say. Democratic podiatrist Lee Rogers, running an uphill battle against GOP veteran Buck McKeon in this challenging district, totally pwned his opponent by putting in the winning bid for a lunch with McKeon at a recent fundraising auction for charity. Rogers now gets to invite three guests; he says he'll bring reporters, though he does not anticipate a "debate." Amusingly, Rogers was actually the only bidder for the meal, which is a pretty funny commentary on McKeon's popularity.

1:58 PM PT: MA-Sen: So it looks like the agreement between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown to enforce penalties for any outside spending on the race is going to have some teeth to it. An obscure group ran a handful of web ads touting Brown, so now Brown has to donate half the value of the ads (presently unknown) to a charity of Warren's choosing. (Warren selected the Autism Consortium.) Given that Brown quickly and proudly announced his commitment to honor his pledge, the cynic in me has to wonder if this wasn't some kind of setup: An organization no one cares about spends what is probably the bare minimum possible, allowing Brown to publicly pat himself on the back both for keeping his word and donating to a worthy charity. This is politics. I could believe it.

2:07 PM PT: MN-08: This is no surprise, considering how poorly she fared at the precinct caucuses last month, but ex-state Sen. Tarryl Clark says she won't participate in the party convention process and will instead forge ahead to the August primary. Frankly, I think Minnesota's convention system—where candidates spend gobs of time pumping local activists for their support and often pledge not to participate in an honest-to-goodness primary before actual voters if they fail to get the party's official backing—is a ridiculous, anti-Democratic waste of time. And bear in mind that Mark Dayton, who has been a real savior in the governor's mansion, eschewed the convention as well. Thank heavens, because I doubt Margaret Anderson Kelliher, the party-endorsed candidate, would have been able to pull off Dayton's ultra-narrow win in the general.

2:09 PM PT: MN-Sen: Republican state Rep. Kurt Bills, who had been flirting with a possible third-party bid for Senate, has decided to get into the race but is sticking with his party label, albeit in a decidedly Paulist vein. He joins a remarkably weak pack of fellow GOPers all praying that Republican Jesus will somehow intervene from up on high and allow them to unseat popular Dem Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

2:19 PM PT: MS-02: Former Greenville mayor Heather McTeer, challenging Rep. Bennie Thompson in the Democratic primary, has gone up with a TV ad in the waning days of the campaign (election day is Tuesday). She hasn't raised much money (this is a very poor district), and the production values are... well, it's mostly a series of still photos. Via Twitter, she acknowledges that the buy "isn't massive" but says "it's extremely aggressive."

2:25 PM PT: MT-Gov: State Sen. Larry Jent, just days before filing closes, has decided to drop out of the race for governor, leaving AG Steve Bullock (who had always been the undisputed front-runner) as the only Democratic candidate in the race. Jent's departure could conceivably hurt Bullock on the fundraising front, as candidates for state races in Montana can only raise money for the primary if there actually is a contested primary—but reading between the lines, it sounds like Bullock's people will find a willing Some Dude to stick on the ballot by Monday's deadline.

Also, relatedly, earlier this week, Bullock tapped Brig. Jen. John Walsh as his running-mate. Walsh was the adjutant general of the Montana National Guard, resigning his post just days ago so that he could run for office. Sounds like pretty much exactly the profile you want in a state like this.

2:34 PM PT: ND-AL: GOP Rep. Rick Berg, who got a ton of crap for ripping off former Virginia state House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong with his first ad, has replaced it with a new spot. While terribly cheesy, I actually thought the narration and pacing of that "Mom" ad wasn't bad, but this new commercial has really lousy production values. It features a bunch of stiff-looking people telling the camera that Rick Berg "knows the North Dakota way." Is that sort of like Superman's credo, only single-state-specific?

2:40 PM PT: SC Redistricting: Major bummer: The three-judge panel hearing a challenge to South Carolina's new congressional map just issued a decision in favor of defendants. The court ruled that the map did not, as plaintiffs had argued, dilute minority voting rights. Dick Harpootlian, the main attorney on the case, says he'll review the ruling before deciding whether to appeal. Any appeal would go directly to the Supreme Court, though, so given how unfriendly a majority of the justices have been to claims like these, taking the case up there might be a fruitless endeavor.

3:12 PM PT: TX-23: It looks like Ciro Rodriguez wasn't scared off by state Rep. Pete Gallego's show of force a few days ago, seeing as he's gone ahead and filed to run in the Democratic primary in the 23rd District. Gallego, you may recall, shot out a huge list of 140 endorsements earlier in the week, clearly designed to ward off Ciro, who is attempting his third congressional comeback (he's 1-for-2). Ciro's bounced around races all cycle, though, first declaring for the 23rd (his old seat) last May, then jumping over to the 35th when the first batch of court-drawn interim maps were published in December, and now finally coming back to the 23rd at the filing deadline.

But all that said, it looks very much like Gallego, who's been running since September, is the stronger candidate here against GOP freshman Quico Canseco, so I'd expect him to prevail in the primary.

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