Welcome back to Hotline Sort. Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) announced Thursday that he will retire in May, and his decision could shake up several races in the Silver State. Meanwhile, Senate races in Florida and New Mexico look like they are about to get more crowded and President Obama gets treated to a musical number out west. Here's today's rundown:
9) Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) is calling on Texans to pray for rain amid wildfires in the state. Perry: "It seems right and fitting that the people of Texas should join together in prayer to humbly seek an end to this devastating drought and these dangerous wildfires."
8) Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has been a strong proponent of U.S. military intervention in Libya, arrived Friday in Benghazi. McCain said he planned to meet with the rebel National Transition Council, the de-facto government in the eastern half of the country, and members of the rebel military.
7) A week after Dr. Robert Paul, son of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), said he was considering a Senate bid in Texas, he's now all but ruling it out, saying "I'm never going to say I won't ever run for office, but I think running for Senate probably is not going to happen this time."
6) "We paid our dues. Where's our change?" That was the refrain from a group of singing protesters at an Obama fundraiser Thursday in San Francisco. The group was protesting the government's treatment of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier who allegedly leaked classified documents to WikiLeaks.
5) Obama's approval rating is slightly lower in a new CBS News/New York Times poll released late Thursday
, with just 46 percent approving of the job he is doing. Moreover, his approval rating on key issues like the economy and the situation in Libya has fallen to under 40 percent. Americans' approval of Congress is also approaching new lows in both CBS News/New York Times and Gallup polling
, and the CBS poll shows congressional Republicans actually score worse on handling of the budget deficit than Obama.
Another key stat -- 47 percent plurality of Americans approve of the most controversial aspect of Paul Ryan's budget plan, changing Medicare from a program that pays doctors and hospitals directly for treating older people to one in which the government helps such patients pay for private plans. When asked whether it was necessary to reduce spending on Medicare to cut the deficit, 48 percent said they'd be wiling, while 45 percent said they'd be unwilling to sacrifice funds to that program.
4) Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee
and real estate mogul Donald Trump
are tied for the lead at 16 percent in a new Gallup poll
of Republicans nationwide, with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney
close behind at 13 percent. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin
is fourth at 10 percent; she is the only other candidate to garner double-digit support. National polls at this point are of little use, and Romney remains the nominal front-runner. But it is notable that he is hardly catching fire, running even or behind candidates whose likelihood of running ranges from questionable to remote.
3) Former Florida House Majority Leader Adam Hasner
(R) has filed a statement of candidacy
for the Senate race. Hasner had previously formed an exploratory committee and has already leveled criticism at former Sen. George LeMieux
(R), who is running. State Senate President Mike Haridopolos
(R) is also in the race. Hasner and recently landed the endorsement of RedState's Erick Erickson
2) In New Mexico, we could see three 2012 primaries that will feature prominent Hispanic and Anglo candidates. New Mexico Auditor Hector Balderas
(D) plans to announce that he is running for retiring-Sen. Jeff Bingaman
's (D) seat sometime next week, according to two Democratic sources familiar with his decision. Balderas has already filed statement of candidacy papers, as first reported
by Bloomberg's Greg Giroux
In 2006, Balderas was elected auditor at 33, and became the youngest Hispanic statewide elected official in the country. He'll join Rep. Martin Heinrich
(D) in the Democratic contest. Heinrich, meanwhile, picked up the endorsement of AFSCME Thursday. At a recent briefing, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chair Patty Murray
touted Heinrich's candidacy, but stopped short of endorsing him in the race.
Meanwhile, former Lt. Gov. Diane Denish
(D) and former Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chávez
(D) are considering running for Heinrich's 1st District seat, NMPolitics.com reports
. And Lt. Gov. John Sanchez
(R) may challenge former Rep. Heather Wilson
in the Senate GOP primary.
1) Ensign on Thursday announced he will resign
in early May. "While I stand behind my firm belief that I have not violated any law, rule, or standard of conduct of the Senate, and I have fought to prove this publicly, I will not continue to subject my family, my constituents, or the Senate to any further rounds of investigation, depositions, drawn out proceedings, or especially public hearings," he said.
The political implications in Nevada will have a trickle down effect
: Rep. Dean Heller
(R) appears likely to be appointed to serve the rest of Ensign's term, which would trigger a special election in his district later this year. Nevada is already shaping up to be a presidential battleground in 2012, and with the prospect of a House special election in the nearer term, we could get an early look at how both parties' larger messages will be received next year.