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Southern Democrats Hang In There

Image: Mark Pryor

U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., motions to a worker at his Little Rock, Ark., campaign headquarters Friday, Feb. 28, 2014. Pryor, who filed to run for re-election earlier Friday, faces a challenge from Republican Congressman Tom Cotton in the 2014 election. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston) Danny Johnston / AP

Hanging in there

After a rough last four or five months for their party, Democrats can feel good about this important midterm development: The vulnerable Southern Senate Democrats are still hanging in there, according to new polling from the New York Times and the Kaiser Family Foundation. In Arkansas, Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) holds a 10-point lead over GOP challenger Tom Cotton, 46%-36%. In Louisiana, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) is ahead of likely GOP front-runner Bill Cassidy, 42%-18% (the free-for-all November race will go to a December runoff if no one surpasses 50%, so Landrieu’s lead is not as impressive as you might think for now). In North Carolina, Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) is up 42%-40% over GOP front-runner Thom Tillis (and up 41%-39% over the other leading GOPer in the race, Greg Brannon). And in Kentucky, it’s Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at 44%, Democrat Alison Grimes at 43%. Perhaps the most important result here are the Arkansas numbers, because they confirm other polling we’ve seen showing Pryor ahead. The poll also shows that North Carolina is headed -- as we’ve said before -- to be this cycle’s true bellwether for Senate control, because it’s truly a “generic D” vs “generic R” result. And the poll cements the conventional wisdom that the Kentucky Senate race is a pure toss-up. Of course, these vulnerable Democratic incumbents are below 50% (and Landrieu and Hagan are in the low 40s), so they are still in dangerous territory. But the important news for Democrats is that these races are far from done, meaning that Republicans winning the Senate in November (or December) is far from a sure thing.

The bad news for Democrats: Obama remains a liability in these states

The bad news for Democrats is that President Obama remains a big liability in these Southern races. According to the poll, his approval rating among registered voters is 32% in Kentucky, 33% in Arkansas, 41% in North Carolina, and 42% in Louisiana. Strikingly, however, the Democratic governors in Arkansas and Kentucky are very popular (Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe has a 68% approval rating, and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear has a 56% rating), while the GOP governors in Louisiana and North Carolina are in rough shape (Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is at 40%, and North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory is at 43%). In fact, don’t be surprised if Dems in Louisiana and North Carolina try and make the Republican governors more of an issue as basically a counterpoint to the president. Still, the other bad news for Democrats is that Republicans have other ways to get to a majority beyond these southern races -- given that they’ve put Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, and New Hampshire into play (or somewhat into play). But with six months to go until Election Day, Democrats can take comfort that no one is going to write off these southern races. And that’s an important victory for them. Already, the GOP thinks it has three pickups on the board (SD, WV, and MT), if the Democrats can keep them from adding any more into their column in this EARLY stage and force them to be competing in a wider playing field for longer, it’s an important development.

“For relaxing times, make it Suntory time”

Meanwhile, President Obama has arrived in Japan -- the first leg of his overseas trip to Asia. At 8:30 pm ET, he participates in an arrival ceremony and holds a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Abe at 11:00 pm ET. Some have dubbed this trip as an effort to “contain” China. But more than anything else, the trip is about giving love to the United States’ leading allies in this region -- Japan and South Korea. Both countries have felt as if the U.S. hasn’t given them the ally love that they deserve, especially as the U.S. moves closer to China. So this trip is about Obama reassuring both key U.S. allies that the U.S. will play favorites in the region on their behalf. And yes, while the U.S. denies it, there is an obvious “contain China” strategy going on here.

Bob Dole’s tour through Kansas

Don’t miss the Washington Post’s Dan Balz on Bob Dole’s tour through Kansas, where the 90-year-old former senator and former presidential candidate is thanking his former constituents. “He is running for nothing but is nonetheless running hard. He made three stops on Monday, four more on Tuesday, including at the Dole Institute, which is named for him, at the University of Kansas here in Lawrence. He has two stops planned for Wednesday. That’s just a warm-up. When he returns next month, he has 16 stops on his schedule… ‘I’ve got a 45-year-old-mind trapped in a 90-year-old body,’ he joked at the Senior Center in Paola.” Dole on Obama: “‘I think President Obama certainly means well,’ he said, ‘but without being critical — because I’m not here for that purpose — I think he needs to get acquainted with more members of Congress. . . . You have to get acquainted obviously with your own party, but you’ve got to get acquainted with the other party. All the wisdom doesn’t reside in one party.’” On the partisanship in Washington: “‘Some people say ‘compromise’ is a bad word,’ he said. ‘That means you must be a liberal. Well, Ronald Reagan told me one day, “Get me 70 percent and I’ll get the rest next year. . . . He was pragmatic — and he was Mr. Conservative.’”

Where the Democrats are fighting back on health care, Part 2

Speaking of Landrieu and her re-election race, she is the latest to use strong language to defend the health-care law she voted for in 2010. “It’s a solid law that needs improvement,” Landrieu tells the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent. “My opponent offers nothing but repeal, repeal, and repeal. And even with all the law’s setbacks, we’re seeing benefits for thousands of people in Louisiana.” More from Landrieu: “I think the benefits that people have received are worth fighting for… I think Bill Cassidy is going to be at a distinct disadvantage. He has insurance, but he’s also denying it to the 242,000 people who fall into the Jindal gap [not expanding Medicaid]. He also wants to take coverage away from tens of thousands who have gotten it for the first time.” Don’t miss Landrieu’s “Jindal gap” remark when it comes to the GOP governor’s refusal to expand Medicaid. After all, that New York Times/Kaiser poll has Jindal with a lower approval rating among registered voters in Louisiana (40%) than Obama does (42%).

Where the Democrats aren’t fighting back on health care

While Landrieu is defending the health-care law, Democratic Senate candidate Michelle Nunn in Georgia is up with a TV ad saying she would eliminate the subsidy that members of Congress get to pay for their health insurance under the health-care law. "It's time Washington worked for us for a change."

Tillis wins last night’s debate “by default”

Speaking of North Carolina’s Senate race, the Republican vying to challenge Sen. Kay Hagan participated in their first televised debate last night, and the state’s top political writer essentially declared Thom Tillis the winner. The Raleigh News & Observer’s Rob Christensen: “State House Speaker Thom Tillis, who has been leading in the polls and in fundraising, emerged from the debate largely unscathed despite frequent barbs from Cary physician Greg Brannon, his tea party opponent. The other two candidates, Charlotte pastor Mark Harris and Heather Grant, a nurse practitioner in Wilkes County, chose not to engage their opponents in a debate that was surprisingly staid. The winner by default was Tillis, who had the most to risk because he has an extensive public record to defend and only rarely did he have to do so.”

The war over women’s votes

If you want to see how contraception remains a potent issue for Democrats, just check out this new TV ad Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) is running against challenger Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO). “Gardner sponsored a bill to make abortion a felony, including cases of rape and incest,” the ad goes. Gardner even championed an eight-year crusade to outlaw birth control. And if you want to see how Republicans are trying to parry the “war on women” attacks from Democrats, observe this ad by GOP Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land in Michigan, which knocks down the idea she’s anti-woman (after previously saying that women prefer work flexibility to more pay). "Congressman Gary Peters and his buddies want you to believe I'm waging a war on women," she says to the camera and later concludes: "As a woman, I might know a LITTLE bit more about women than [Democrat] Gary Peters."

Clawson wins GOP special primary in Florida

In the special GOP congressional primary in Florida to replace Rep. Trey Radel -- who resigned after being pleading guilty to cocaine-possession charges -- businessman Curt Clawson came out on top and is likely headed to Congress. Roll Call: “Clawson won with 38 percent of the vote, with 95 percent of precincts reporting at the time the Associated Press called the race. Finishing behind him were state Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto with 26 percent and state Rep. Paige Kreegel with 25 percent. He will now face Democrat April Freeman in the June 24 special, where Clawson is heavily favored.”

Paul Ryan to meet with Congressional Black Caucus next Wednesday

Fnally, NBC’s Frank Thorp reported that House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) will meet with the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) next Wednesday at noon to discuss the issue of poverty, an aide for the CBC says, a meeting that was set after Ryan's comments about men not working in "inner cities" sparked accusations that the use of the term was racial. "You know, Congressman Ryan is a nice guy, and as such you know he has tried to frame the comments that he made about inner city folk as just sort of an inarticulate way of communicating," Rep Gwen Moore (D-WI) said during a conference call with reporters today. "We want to challenge his assumptions about that and really raise with him a couple of very specific proposals."

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