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OFF TO THE RACES: Recapping the past year in the GOP race

The Washington Post writes on this first Monday back on the campaign trail: "It is clear now that there were two halves to the year for the Republican Party: BT and AT, Before Trump and After Trump. From January to mid-June the story of the Republican race was mostly conventional, with Bush the focal point for good and ill. There were unanticipated twists, among them the sheer size of the field of candidates — ultimately a total of 17 who would formally declare. Those early months, however, were only a prelude to the real events that would follow. It is hardly overstatement to say that, on June 16, everything changed — though no one knew it at the time, not even Donald Trump." Later in the piece, Mitt Romney tells the Post: “'I had one person who was running for president, and I won’t give you the name … called me and said, ‘I hope you don’t close the door. We may need you.’ That’s a person running for president. A candidate. A Republican. I’m not giving it a second thought.”

The New York Times looks at the big questions that could shape the 2016 race.

Republicans have blasted Obama's planned executive order on gun control. The LA Times sums up the reaction from the 2016 field.

Politifact says that, on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, Rand Paul overstated Ted Cruz’s missed votes.

And Politifact also rates Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s statement that “everywhere that we have more citizens carrying guns, crime is less” as “mostly false.”

BUSH: He's out with a new TV ad in New Hampshire focusing on the fight against ISIS.

CHRISTIE: The Des Moines Register notes that "off-the-cuff town halls allow Chris Christie to contrast himself with opponents who rarely go off script."

CLINTON: She took on a heckler at her first campaign event of 2016, NBC's Monica Alba reports.

Bill Clinton is back on the road. Bloomberg: "After spending the first eight months of his wife’s candidacy behind the scenes, advising and fundraising out of sight of voters and the media, the never-shy former president is upping his level of public engagement. He’s set to headline two rallies Monday, in Nashua and Exeter, plus more across the country in the weeks to come with the aim of helping erase Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’s neighboring-state advantage in New Hampshire and grassroots appeal in Iowa."

The Union Leader: "In N.H., Hillary Clinton hits on opioid abuse as a top concern"

FIORINA: She's defending what she calls a "tongue-in-cheek" tweet about the Rose Bowl that prompted cries of "panderer!"

HUCKABEE: Over the weekend, he called the 2016 election cycle "bewildering." More, from the Des Moines Register: "This has been, of all the election cycles I’ve been involved in, this has been one of the most bewildering, because it’s almost as if the more experience, the more preparation one has had for this job, it’s almost like it’s a detriment than it is an asset."

KASICH: He's also up with his first TV ad in New Hampshire, with a heavy emphasis on his biography.

RUBIO: NBC's Alex Jaffe previews Marco Rubio's foreign policy speech today. The Florida senator will decry "isolationist candidates" who are "apparently more passionate about weakening our military and intelligence capabilities than about destroying our enemies."

The New Hampshire Union Leader headlines: "Rubio plans more face time in NH"

TRUMP: He's out with his first TV ad of the cycle, featuring a male narrator who says of Trump: "He's calling for a temporary shutdown of Muslims entering the United States, until we can figure out what's going on. He'll quickly cut the head off ISIS and take their oil. And he'll stop illegal immigration by building a wall on our southern border that Mexico will pay for."

More from the Washington Post: "The Republican presidential candidate’s long-awaited and hotly anticipated first ad, which was shared exclusively with The Washington Post, is set to launch Monday as part of a series that will air in the final month before the Iowa caucuses. Trump has vowed to spend at least $2 million a week on the ads — an amount that will be amplified by the countless times they are likely to be played on cable news and across social media. The decision to air television ads — which Trump hinted at for months, though the billionaire mogul has been loath to spend more than he deems necessary — represents a tightly produced new act for a candidate who has fed largely off free media attention."

The Wall Street Journal delves into Trump’s brushes with financial problems.

Vanity Fair profiles Megyn Kelly.

And around the country...

The FBI is seeking a "peaceful" end to a standoff with armed protestors who seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters Saturday.

GOP candidates aren't saying much about the standoff. "Some of the issues involved in the standoff — constitutional rights, allegations of federal government overreach and individual liberties — have come to the fore in the GOP primary race. And as Western states are poised to play a larger role in the contest, so has the issue of property rights in a region where the federal government controls about half of the land. But few candidates seemed willing to wade into any of these issues Sunday as the leaders of the group said they are standing up against government overreach and are prepared to remain there for “as long as it takes.”

OBAMA AGENDA: Saudi Arabia cuts diplomatic ties with Iran

The New York Times: "Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Iran on Sunday and gave Iranian diplomats 48 hours to leave the kingdom, marking a swift escalation in a strategic and sectarian rivalry that underpins conflicts across the Middle East. The surprise move, announced in a news conference by Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, followed harsh criticism by Iranian leaders of the Saudis’ execution of an outspoken Shiite cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, and the storming of the Saudi Embassy in Tehran by protesters in response."

More analysis, from the Wall Street Journal: “Administration officials voiced rising concern that the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia could undermine their broader regional efforts—in particular ending the Syrian civil war.”

The AP: “President Barack Obama is slated Monday to finalize a set of new executive actions tightening the nation's gun laws, making his first order of business in the new year a clear signal the president in his final year doesn't intend to go quietly. At a meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, FBI Director James Comey and other top law enforcement officials Obama is expected to sign off on a package of proposals aimed at curbing gun violence and cracking down on unregulated gun sales.”

"Mr. Obama heads into his final year in office determined to remain relevant even as the political center of gravity shifts toward the battle to replace him. The obstacles are daunting. The opposition controls Congress, and polls show doubts about his handling of critical issues. His megaphone does not project as far, and he will have to weigh the impact of using it on his party’s chances of retaining the presidency," notes the New York Times.