OFF TO THE RACES: New polls galore!
The latest from the New York Times/CBS: "Donald J. Trump occupies his strongest position yet in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, yet nearly two-thirds of American voters say they are concerned or frightened about the prospect of a Trump presidency, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News nationwide poll." More results: "Trump 35%, Cruz 16%, Carson 13%, Rubio 9%"
A Winthrop poll out of South Carolina has Trump in a commanding lead too: Trump 24%, Cruz 16%, Carson 14%, Rubio 11%, Bush 9%.
On the Democratic side, Clinton leads Sanders by 20 points, according to the NYT/CBS poll.
CARSON: He's trying to change the subject after a rough few weeks of criticism of his foreign policy expertise, writes msnbc.com's Jane Timm.
CHRISTIE: NBC's Leigh Ann Caldwell on a snag in Christie's New Hampshire upswing. "An influential gun group has put out a scathing notice about Christie to its politically engaged membership."
CLINTON: Maggie Haberman of the New York Times reports that the much-talked about Clinton ad on gun laws only aired on broadcast TV six times.
CRUZ: The Des Moines Register: "Ted Cruz, the no-compromise conservative purist, is on the verge of securing the Christian conservative bloc, a linchpin that could secure victory in the 2016 Iowa caucuses, GOP insiders say. The question is whether Cruz can siphon enough tea party voters from front-runner Donald Trump to vault Cruz into the No. 1 slot when votes are counted less than two months from now, they say."
He's trying to play Mr. Nice Guy on the campaign trail despite a career that's mostly centered on making enemies.
TRUMP: He tweeted: "I have decided to postpone my trip to Israel and to schedule my meeting with @netanyahu at a later date after I become President of the U.S."
The decision comes after his comments on Muslims were criticized by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
From the Washington Post: "[W]hile it may seem like a lurching, chaotic campaign, Trump is, for the most part, a disciplined and methodical candidate, according to a Washington Post review of the businessman's speeches, interviews and thousands of tweets and retweets over the past six months."
Vulnerable Republicans in the Senate are treading carefully around Trump's remarks, notes Roll Call.
A Bloomberg online poll showed that two-thirds of GOP primary voters agree with Trump's Muslim ban.
SANDERS: Msnbc's Alex Seitz-Wald writes: "Frustration with the press may be longstanding for Sanders, but it's particularly acute now that the political discussion has moved to the less friendly terrain of national security, revealing the limitations of a candidate who has spent decades honing a single message he is reluctant to change. One of Sanders' biggest strengths is his consistency, but it comes with an inflexibility that can makes him appear brittle."
OBAMA AGENDA: Affirmative action debate
Don't miss the debate over Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's suggestion that there are "those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school — a slower-track school where they do well."
NBCNews.com notes: "Not one predominantly Muslim nation makes the list of top 10 countries of origin for legal immigrants in 2013, according to the most recent census figures compiled by the Migration Policy Institute."
And around the country...
ILLINOIS: The latest from Chicago: "Fighting for his political life, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday apologized for the "systematic breakdown" that culminated in the "totally avoidable" police shooting of Laquan McDonald and acknowledged the "code of silence" in the Chicago Police Department he once tried to keep out of a court record. The cathartic speech before aldermen, who offered their own apology, did nothing to silence demands for Emanuel's resignation."
CONGRESS: Another short-term fix?
NBC's Alex Moe and Frank Thorp have the latest on Congress's efforts to get a $1.1 trillion spending bill hashed out -- including a short-term fix expected to come up for a vote on Friday.
*** Thursday's "Andrea Mitchell Reports" line-up: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), Breanna Champion from the Black Youth Project 100, Flashpoint's Laith Alkhouri, Bloomberg's Mark Halperin, USA Today's Susan Page and the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza.