It’s February 4, which means we’re just one month (or four weeks) away from 2014’s first primaries. There are a number of GOP races we’ll be watching over the next month in the Lone Star State — and, no, Sen. John Cornyn‘s GOP primary contest against Rep. Steve Stockman isn’t one of them.
— House incumbents: Two long-time Republican members of Congress are facing potentially-credible primary challenges. Seventeen-term Rep. Ralph Hall, who turns 91 this spring, will be at a severe financial disadvantage in TX-04 against self-funding former U.S. Attorney John Ratcliffe. At the end of the year, Ratcliffe had more than $430,000 in the bank, nearly four times as much as Hall did. Hall has beaten back primary challengers before, winning 58% of the vote in 2012 and 57% in 2010. Meanwhile, Rep. Pete Sessions, a member of GOP leadership and former NRCC chair, has drawn a tea-party-aligned challenger in TX-32, Katrina Pierson. Pierson campaigned for now-Sen. Ted Cruz (R) in 2012, and she has the support of Cruz’s outspoken father, Rafael. But she has so far failed to gain traction, particularly with fundraising.
— Battleground House seat: Despite its 36 House seats, Texas isn’t home to a large number of battleground districts. Just two seats are marginally competitive: TX-15 (D+5) and TX-23 (R+3). TX-23, won by Pete Gallego (D) in 2012, should be an opportunity for a GOP pickup this year. Gallego knocked off then-Rep. Quico Canseco (R) by 4 points, despite the fact that Mitt Romney won 51% in the district. Republicans face a competitive primary for their nomination in the 71% Hispanic district: Canseco is back for another go, as are Will Hurd (R) and Robert Lowry (R), both of whom ran against Canseco in 2010. Canseco isn’t a prohibitive favorite. Hurd finished first in the 2010 primary before losing the runoff, and he started 2014 with slightly more in the bank ($204,000) than Canseco ($183,000). The NRCC continued recruiting here before the filing deadline, suggesting they aren’t satisfied with a 2010 rerun.
— Lieutenant governor: Having failed in the 2012 Senate primary runoff, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R) is running for reelection. But just as Cruz did in 2012, Dewhurst’s rivals have ganged up on him and forced him to run to the right. Like in 2012, the race seems destined for a runoff. Whether the second candidate to qualify is state Sen. Dan Patrick, state Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples or Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson could impact Dewhurst’s chances at renomination. It’s possible that 2014 could mark the beginning of Dewhurst’s recovery, or the denouement of what began two years ago in the Senate race.
March 4 won’t be the final word on many of these primaries, but they will provide the first 2014 front in the battle between establishment Republicans like Sessions and Dewhurst, and the upstart conservatives looking to supplant them.
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"A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that 34% of registered voters think the three presidential debates would be extremely or quite important in helping them decide whom to support for president. About 11% of voters are considered 'debate persuadables'—that is, they think the debates are important and are either third-party voters or only loosely committed to either major-party candidate."
Will he or won't he? That's the question surrounding Donald Trump and his on-again, off-again threats to bring onetime Bill Clinton paramour Gennifer Flowers to the debate as his guest. An assistant to flowers initially said she'd be there, but Trump campaign chief Kellyanne Conway "said on ABC’s 'This Week' that the Trump campaign had not invited Flowers to the debate, but she didn’t rule out the possibility of Flowers being in the audience."
NBC's Lester Holt hasn't hosted the "Nightly News" since Tuesday, as he's prepped for moderating the first presidential debate tonight—and the first of his career. He's called on a host of NBC talent to help him, namely NBC News and MSNBC chairman Andy Lack; NBC News president Deborah Turness; the news division's senior vice president of editorial, Janelle Rodriguez; "Nightly News" producer Sam Singal, "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd, senior political editor Mark Murray and political editor Carrie Dann. But during the debate itself, the only person in Holt's earpiece will be longtime debate producer Marty Slutsky.
"The House passed legislation late Thursday that would prohibit the federal government from making any cash payments to Iran, in protest of President Obama's recently discovered decision to pay Iran $1.7 billion in cash in January. And while the White House has said Obama would veto the bill, 16 Democrats joined with Republicans to pass the measure, 254-163."
In contrast to Hillary Clinton's meticulous debate practice sessions, Donald Trump "is largely shunning traditional debate preparations, but has been watching video of…Clinton’s best and worst debate moments, looking for her vulnerabilities.” Trump “has paid only cursory attention to briefing materials. He has refused to use lecterns in mock debate sessions despite the urging of his advisers. He prefers spitballing ideas with his team rather than honing them into crisp, two-minute answers.”