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OFF TO THE RACES: Straw poll languishing

Msnbc.com's Benjy Sarlin offers his take on the humongous GOP field.

"When Republican officials in Iowa convened a planning session Thursday for their quadrennial presidential straw poll, only a handful of advisers to GOP contenders bothered to show up," the Washington Post reports.

And the Des Moines Register writes which camps attended the straw poll meeting: Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, Carly Fiorina and Rick Perry.

CLINTON: The New York Times writes that Bill Clinton accepted an award from charity group Happy Hearts Fund after it offered the Clinton Foundation a $500,000 donation.

CHRISTIE: "New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said the Common Core academic standards weren’t working and asked his education chief to tap a group of parents and teachers to review the program and possibly recommend new guidelines," writes the Wall Street Journal.

CRUZ: Remember the flap over the gay hotelier who hosted Ted Cruz for an event? Turns out he did make a donation to Cruz's campaign, but asked for a refund.

KASICH: Keeping an eye on the all-important calendar, via the Columbus Dispatch: "Ohio lawmakers set the table for Gov. John Kasich to potentially take all of the Buckeye State’s GOP presidential delegates in one swoop next year. By moving the state’s 2016 primary election back a week — from March 8 to March 15 — Ohio’s Republican vote will be a winner-take-all contest."

PATAKI: The Washington Post editorial board: "The fact that observers easily dismiss his candidacy doesn’t just reflect on Mr. Pataki; it also is a measure of what the GOP has become."

Perry Bacon Jr. writes on how Pataki's moderate record makes him such a long shot.

PAUL: He's working to leverage his NSA Senate gambit to win support in unconventional places, the AP notes.

A pro-Paul group is out with a WWE-style ad blasting Obama, Lindsey Graham and "the capitulatin' Canadian" Ted Cruz on surveillance.

POLITICO: "In a presidential campaign defined by billionaire sugar daddy donors, Rand Paul has a problem: He doesn’t seem to have one."

RUBIO: He's testing his campaign message as a fresh face for the GOP in the early nominating state of Nevada.

SANTORUM: The Wall Street Journal writes on his economic message and what it says about the GOP's ideological and demographic tilt.

And around the country...

Here's NBCNews.com's report on the indictment of former House Speaker Dennis Hastert on charges of hiding payments to an individual to "compensate and conceal his prior misconduct."

More from the Chicago Sun-Times: "Once second in line to the presidency, Hastert, 73, of Plano, now has an unwanted distinction: he’s believed to be the highest-ranking Illinois politician ever to be criminally charged. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of structuring the alleged hush money payments to avoid detection, and of lying to the FBI."

The AP interviews a man whose son wrestled for Hastert during his high school coaching years in Yorkville. "You won't get anyone to say anything bad about him out here."

OBAMA AGENDA: Clock ticking on the Patriot Act

The New York Times: "As the Senate moves closer to a Sunday night showdown over whether it will let Patriot Act surveillance powers expire on Monday, supporters and critics of how the government has used those authorities have been using increasingly alarming language. But there is little evidence in the history of the expiring laws — including the one that the government uses to justify the once-secret National Security Agency program that vacuums up Americans’ phone records in bulk — to support the arguments that either side is making.

The HOPE poster designer just isn't that into Obama these days. He told Esquire: "Obama has had a really tough time, but there have been a lot of things that he's compromised on that I never would have expected."

From the AP: "Two large artillery vehicles were detected on one of the artificial islands that China is creating in the South China Sea, U.S. officials said Friday, underscoring ongoing concerns that Beijing may try to use the land reclamation projects for military purposes."

PROGRAMMING NOTES.

*** Friday’s “News Nation with Tamron Hall” line-up: Tamron Hall speaks with Chicago Sun-Times columnist Lynn Sweet about Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert indicted on federal charges for allegedly lying to the FBI about over unreported cash withdrawals, Ohio State University Research Scientist and Economist Jay Zagorsky about ending tipping in food service industry, another in our Born in the USA series: Tony Tjan, CEO & Managing Partner Cue Ball Capital about his idea of a chain nail salon store called Miniluxe.

*** Friday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell will interview Republican Presidential Candidate Fmr. Gov. George Pataki, Sports Illustrated Senior Writer Grant Wahl, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza and Karen Tumulty and NBC’s Chuck Todd, Luke Russert, Jacob Rascon, Pete Williams and Sarah Dallof.

*** Friday’s “MSNBC Live with Thomas Roberts” line-up: MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts will have a wide-ranging exclusive one-on-one interview with House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) discussing the indictment of former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, 2016 Politics, the Patriot Act, the war on ISIS and the fight for marriage equality. Roberts will also interview former U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team goalie Brianna Scurry on the FIFA corruption scandal.