-- The barbs in New York's 26th District have continued to intensify, but even as Republicans keep pointing to the presence of a third-party candidate as the reason for the tight contest, it's still Medicare that's driving the race. While it may not be the ultimate deciding issue in Tuesday's vote, the fact the Democrat Kathy Hochul has successfully made it the near-centerpiece of her campaign and has turned each debate back to the Ryan budget, is a victory in itself for Democrats. It's now part of the national conversation, and even if Hochul comes close in such a red district, which she likely will, they now have ready made talking points and even a crucible-tested message in a GOP area. -- Another place that will be watching the NY-26 race closely - Nevada's 2nd District. Thursday's surprise court ruling is definitely good news for the GOP, but the events over the past month in Western New York have scarred them in special elections. Sure, letting party insiders pick their nominees ensures you get the candidate you want, but it also drives disgruntled candidates to run on a third party line - we're looking at you Sharron Angle. -- Should anyone really be surprised that a Republican was able to squeeze into the CA-36 runoff? After all, it's a seat where George W. Bush got 40 percent of the vote in 2004, and even Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., won 34 percent under the worst conditions. That's a solid base of GOP voters, so with multiple credible Democratic candidates running (and with many area Democrats inconsistent voters), it's not surprising that GOP candidates won nearly 41 percent of the combined vote in last Tuesday's special. That said, it would still be an upset of mammoth proportions if Republican Craig Huey was somehow able to prevail on July 12. -- Keep your enemies close and your friends further away. The past few weeks have been all about close relationships that went sour - most notably, of course, former Sen. John Ensign's friendship with his former aide, Doug Hampton, which ended less-than-happily for both of them. Meanwhile, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., could both be called into court next week to testify in the corruption trial of their party-mate and former governor, Rod Blagojevich. Slightly overlooked this week, was Sen. Tom Coburn's, R-Okla., relationship with Ensign, his housemate. Coburn was mentioned, and potentially criminally implicated in the Ethics Committee report released last week. Though Coburn has denied it, Ensign's former Chief of Staff said he worked to negotiate a multi-million dollar deal with Hampton to get Hampton to move to California, and make the scandal go away. The deal never went through and Coburn is refusing to talk about it. Whether Coburn will face any repercussions for his involvement remains to be seen, but it will likely be a while before Coburn goes out on a limb for a friend-in-need again. -- In a surprise outcome, Democrat Alvin Brown was elected as Mayor of Jacksonville this week. The two major state parties poured money and support into the ostensibly nonpartisan race, with Bill Clinton putting together robocalls for Brown and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., stumping for Hogan. Hogan was supposed to be a shoo-in. However, the policy positions held by the two candidates were almost identical. In a surprise twist, many wealthy Republican donors threw their weight behind Brown. Some observers say that Hogan was seen as too 'Tea Party,' and that Brown's stronger focus on public education could have tipped the scales in his favor. -- Priorities USA, a Democratic supporting group founded by former White House aides Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney launched their first ad of the 2012 presidential race to be aired in South Carolina this weekend. The ad features Mitt Romney, Gingrich, and South Carolina's Republican Governor Nikki Haley commenting on Ryan's budget plan, underscoring a divide within the GOP on the issue. The ad coincides with Romney's visit to South Carolina and it will test whether Democrats can use the same strategy that helped the GOP in 2010 with groups like American Crossroads. -- GOP leadership is trying to capitalize on anti-union sentiment, rallying its base against NLRB oversight of Boeing's relocation from Washington state to South Carolina. From the Midwest to the Northeast, unions have had to capitulate on wages, health care, and collective bargaining rights. Conservative leaders view this as an opportunity to characterize NLRB and Obama as beholden to a bloated, ineffectual labor machine.
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