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- "As of Saturday, about 117,000 ballots had been cast in" the FL-13 Special -- "more than half of the votes likely to be cast -- and Republicans are gaining steam in the closing days. The GOP advantage in votes cast more than doubled over the last week to about 4,500 votes. But for all the talk about an energized," anti-President Obama "Republican base in this off-year special election, the key to victory on Tuesday ... is swing voters and independents." (Tampa Bay Times)
- "The Tampa Bay peninsula will serve as the first real test of 2014 voter moods on Tuesday in a down-to-the-wire congressional race that each side is using to hone its messages for November. Republicans, returning to their 2010 and 2012 model, are trying to turn" former state CFO Alex Sink (D) "into a clone of ... Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi ... focusing heavily on Obama's health-care law. Democrats, for the first time since the law's bungled rollout last fall, are fighting back with a defense of the law that accuses" former lobbyist David Jolly (R) "of wanting to repeal the Affordable Care Act and 'take us back' to the era when preexisting conditions could lead to a denial of health insurance." (Washington Post)
- In AK SEN, Sen. Mark Begich (D) "will release his first television ad Monday, an attack on the conservative Koch brothers' group Americans for Prosperity for the ads it's been running against Begich this year." (Politico)
- In MT SEN, former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger (D) "filed Friday to run ... deciding to stay in a race from which he earlier had considered withdrawing. Bohlinger ... said he wants to give Montana voters a choice and not cede that choice to 'Washington power brokers.'" (Helena Independent Record)
- In PA GOV, businessman Tom Wolf (D) "got a broad and early show of Western Pennsylvania support Saturday as an array of the region's elected and party officials gathered to endorse him." (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
- In FL GOV, "the state of" Florida Gov. Rick Scott's (R) "poll numbers is ... sorry," according to six formerly private surveys conducted by business interests and the state GOP. "'There's no way to sugarcoat this: It's awful,' sad a top Florida Republican." (Miami Herald)
- In WI GOV, Gov. Scott Walker (R) released his first TV ad, which "'fact checks' claims in" former Trek Executive Mary Burke's (D) first TV ad, "and says it mischaracterizes his record on unemployment." (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
- In NC-03, Americans for Prosperity launched a 60-second radio ad thanking Rep. Walter Jones (R) "for pushing back against the federal health care law." (Raleigh News & Observer)
- Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) won the Conservative Political Action Conference presidential straw poll for the second year in a row, finishing with 31% of the vote, compared to 11% for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), 9% for retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, 8% for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), 7% for both former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) and Walker, and 6% for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). (release)
- Iowa Republican Party Chairman A.J. Spiker "will resign later this month, signalling a new direction for the faction-embattled party. ... The reason he's leaving is to become political adviser to RAND PAC, the political action committee for" Paul. (Des Moines Register)
- According to a Chicago Tribune/WGN-TV poll of IL GOV Republican primary LVs, conducted March 1-5 by Market Shares Corporation, businessman Bruce Rauner (R) leads state Sen. Kirk Dillard (R) 36-23%, with 18% for state Sen./2010 nominee Bill Brady and 9% for Treasurer Dan Rutherford. In the previous poll, counducted Feb. 5-8, Rauner led with 40%, compared to 20% for Bradley, 13% for Rutherford and 11% for Dillard. (Chicago Tribune)
- A new Hickman Analytics, Inc. (D) poll of AR SEN LVs, conducted Feb. 17-20 for a nonpartisan client, finds Sen. Mark Pryor (D) leading Rep. Tom Cotton (R) 40-37% in the general election. When third-party candidates are not included as options, Pryor and Cotton are tied at 46%. (Politico)
- In IA GOV, a new Des Moines Register poll of LVs, conducted Feb. 23-26 by Selzer & Co., shows Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) leading state Sen. Jack Hatch (D) 44-29% in a general election matchup. In the previous poll, conducted Dec. 8-11, Branstad led Hatch 52-29%. (Des Moines Register)
- According to a new Anzalone Liszt Grove Research (D) poll of FL-02 LVs, conducted March 2-6 for attorney Gwen Graham's (D) campaign, Rep. Steve Southerland (R) leads Graham 42-40% in a general election matchup. (release)
Hotline editors weigh in on the stories that drive the day
• Last weekend marked a growing divide between two of the leading tea party champions, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. Cruz sharply criticized Paul's foreign policy views on "This Week," and the Senate Conservatives Fund released a CPAC-competing straw poll showing Cruz toppling Paul. It's a sign that not all tea partiers are alike. As Dan Balz pointed out this weekend, deeply conservative voters are split between the more evangelical wing (who prefer Cruz) and secular voters (who prefer Paul). -- Josh Kraushaar
• In Alaska, Democrats are taking a page out of the anti-Romney playbook, defending Begich by attacking the Koch brothers for shutting down a local oil refinery. It's a sign of how successful the Priorities USA ads attacking Romney's business record were in 2012 -- enough so that Begich is betting the attacks will work even against a third-party advocate. -- Josh Kraushaar
• When the smoke from the massive FL-13 ad war clears tomorrow, the House special election will be decided based on what happens on the ground on Election Day. Jolly's party has opened up a 4-point lead over Democrats in early ballot returns, but that's far from enough -- especially considering Sink's push for cross-party support. More people have already voted here than in many other recent special House elections, but plenty more will pour into the polls -- many of them nudged by GOTV efforts -- on Tuesday. -- Scott Bland
• The Miami Herald published the selected results of six GOP internal polls over the weekend, and the results, in the words of one top Republican, are "awful" for Rick Scott. Scott trails Charlie Crist by seven to 10 points statewide and by huge margins in the state's two biggest counties, while Crist holds a narrow lead in Republican-held Senate and House districts and in the GOP stronghold of North Florida. The moral of the story is that if Sink's numbers had been this favorable in 2010 she would have won, and Crist looks destined for different fate. -- Karyn Bruggeman
HAIR OF THE DOG
FRESH BREWED BUZZ
- "I'm a big fan of Rand Paul. He and I are good friends. But I don't agree with him on foreign policy. I think U.S. leadership is critical in the world. And I agree with him that we should be very reluctant to deploy military force abroad. But I think there is a vital role, just as Ronald Reagan did. ... The United States has a responsibility to defend our values." -- Cruz, on ABC's "This Week" (ABC News)
- "For more than 40 years, Iowa voters have played a vital role in picking the nation's president, culling the field of hopefuls and helping launch a fortunate handful all the way to the White House. ... Now, a swelling chorus of critics is mounting a fresh challenge to Iowa's privileged role, targeting especially the August straw poll held the year before the election, which traditionally established the Republican Party front-runner. Increasingly, critics say, the informal balloting has proved a meaningless and costly diversion of time and money. Some GOP strategists are urging candidates to think hard before coming to Iowa at all." (Los Angeles Times)
- "I think we are going to crush them everywhere. I don't think they are going to have a single nominee anywhere in the country." -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, referring to the conservative outside groups working against him and other Republican incumbents (New York Times)
- "A majority of Senate Democrats on Monday will launch an overnight 'talkathon' until approximately 9:00 a.m. Tuesday to draw attention to climate change. The overnight effort, organized by" Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) "is part of the recently launched Senate Climate Action Task Force headed by" Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). (USA Today)
- "After months of buildup, the Kansas Supreme Court handed down a mixed decision Friday that ordered more money for poor schools, but dodged a larger question about overall education funding. The high court ruled that cuts in education funding since 2010 led to an unconstitutionally imbalanced playing field between rich and poor schools." (Kansas City Star)
- "Ana Alliegro, the gal pal of" former Rep. David Rivera (R-FL), "was arrested and informally extradited Friday from Nicaragua to Miami, where a federal grand jury charged her in a four-count indictment for her alleged role in a campaign-finance scheme tied to the one-time congressman." (Miami Herald)
- White House Deputy Chief of Staff Alyssa Mastromonaco "recently told the president that she would leave his staff in early May ... to focus on her own life. With her departure ... Obama will be left without anyone from the small family of advisers he started with in a basement Senate office less than a decade ago." (New York Times)
- Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) "won't face any charges over a fight with his estranged wife. ... Officials ... said that probable cause didn't exist to support the allegation by Grayson's wife that he had pushed her against the front door of their home. Grayson had denied the allegation." (AP)
- Former Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) "and key allies are suddenly sending signals he intends to jump into" NH SEN. ... [A] number of GOP sources in New Hampshire report receiving calls in recent days from Brown or his top allies, and there's word from GOP operatives that there are conversations about building a Senate campaign staff." (CNN)
- Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) "is bringing on" Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe's (D) "political director from his successful" VA GOV "run as a scheduler based in her personal office in New York." (Politico)
- 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney (R) "has invited his debate prep advisers and senior campaign aides to his mountaintop chalet in Park City, Utah, for a weekend of skiing later this month. ... But Romney has been adamant in saying he will not run for president a third time. And his aides insisted this month's reunion in Park City is not a 2016 strategy session." (Washington Post)
- "The Gridiron always pokes fun at candidates from both parties. You could have saved time and just invited me." -- FL GOV candidate/former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (D), at the annual Gridiron Dinner in Washington on Saturday (Politico)
- "Did you hear the one about the guy who went to see a man about a horse and ended up in a soft-core porn movie? It is not a joke. That's essentially what happened to" Idaho Gov. Butch Otter (R) "when he went to visit a California movie crew that needed horses for what was described as 'a low-budget horse opera' that was filming near Weiser." (Idaho Falls Post Register)
PLAY OF THE DAY!
- Today's weather, from the National Weather Service: Partly sunny. Highs in the lower 60s. Southwest winds 5-10 mph.
- Rubio delivers a speech proposing a "new economic growth agenda," followed by a discussion and Q&A session, at an event hosted by the Jack Kemp Foundation. (Google's Washington, D.C. headquarters, 1:30 p.m.)
- The House returns at 2 p.m., while the Senate is back at 4 p.m.
- The Capitals host the Penguins. (Verizon Center, 7 p.m.)
- Have an event for us to highlight? Email us!
- Frederick Law Olmstead designed Central Park, the master plans for the University of California-Berkeley, the grounds for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Belle Isle Park in Detroit, the Niagara Falls Reservation, and the grounds of the U.S. Capitol.
- The winner is Paul Equale, and here's his Swizzle Challenge: "Which president lived in Russia for 5 years prior to assuming office?" The 3rd correct e-mailer gets to submit the next question.
NJ'S EARLY BIRD SPECIALS
- Meet the Newest Member of the Super PAC Billionaires Club
- Can Hillary Clinton Bring White Men Back?
- Rand Paul Is the King of CPAC
- Millennials Grow More Liberal, but Identify as Independent
- For Rick Santorum, It's 2012 All Over Again
"When Aretha first told us what R-S-P-E-C-T meant to her, she had no idea it would become a rallying cry for African Americans, and women, and then everyone who felt marginalized because of what they looked like or who they loved." -- Obama, misspelling "respect" while paying tribute to soul singer Aretha Franklin (CNN)
"I am so smart. I am so smart. S-M-R-T!" – "Homer Simpson" (h/t David Kanevsky)
Adam Wollner, Editor
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