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OFF TO THE RACES: Clinton leads Sanders nationally, 52%-33%

A New York Times/CBS poll shows Hillary Clinton maintaining a lead over Bernie Sanders, 52 percent to 33 percent.

Dan Balz, on why the 2016 field remains so crowded: "Even after months on the campaign trail, the winnowing has been minimal. More rather than fewer candidates still harbor dreams of accepting the nomination next summer in Cleveland. That means the incentives argue in favor of staying in to see how things shake out, rather than quitting in the face of tepid poll numbers or weak fundraising."

Jonathan Martin, in the New York Times: "From immigration and bank regulation to taxes and national security, the robust seminar on the issues that began Tuesday night and continued Wednesday exposed a contentious dispute over what it means to be a conservative and offered a preview of the contours of the battle for the Republican nomination."

Charles Koch told USA Today: "I have no plans to support anybody in the primary now."

Speaking of the Kochs, POLITICO has a deep dive into their influence in downballot primaries.

BUSH: The Des Moines Register files from Bush's stop in Atlantic, IA: "During a town-hall style meeting at the Coca-Cola bottling company here, the former Florida governor outlined aspects of the Affordable Care Act health care law that he believed should be preserved and offered specifics on the process by which he would grant legal status to undocumented immigrants."

CARSON: The AP reports: "Republican presidential contender Ben Carson has maintained a business relationship with a close friend convicted of defrauding insurance companies and testified on his behalf, even as the candidate has called for such crimes to be punished harshly. Pittsburgh dentist Alfonso A. Costa pleaded guilty to a felony count of health care fraud after an FBI probe into his oral surgery practice found he had charged for procedures he never performed, according to court records."

Last night, he called ongoing protests at Yale and at the University of Missouri "infantile behavior."

CLINTON: Did Hillary Clinton really once try to join the Marines? The Washington Post investigates.

CRUZ: Benjy Sarlin wraps his recent criticism of the rest of the GOP field - particularly Marco Rubio - on immigration policy.

KASICH: POLITICO reports on conservative backlash to his sometimes testy debate performance.

RUBIO: The Washington Post: "As Marco Rubio settles into his new role as a rising top-tier candidate, most of his opponents in the Republican presidential race are showing a reluctance and even an unwillingness to engage him directly on the national stage."

SANDERS: He's been endorsed by the American Postal Workers Union, Alex Seitz-Wald reports.

And around the country...

LOUISIANA: Voter turnout in the November 21 gubernatorial runoff could be higher than in the primary.

OBAMA AGENDA: Gitmo opposition

Roll Call sums up the opposition to Obama's proposals to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

Under a federal rule set to be announced today, smoking would be prohibited in public housing nationwide.

CONGRESS: Will the GOP’s reconciliation gambit pay off?

The Wall Street Journal sums up the GOP hunt for votes on its health care gambit. "GOP lawmakers debated for months about what measures to pass under a special procedure tied to the budget process, known as reconciliation, which enables legislation to pass with just a simple majority. But there is a problem with the combination they settled on: it may go too far for some Republicans and not far enough for others."


*** Thursday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof to discuss free speech on college campuses; Wall Street Journal’s Jeanne Cummings, USA Today’s Susan Page, and Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza to talk 2016 politics; and NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski, Craig Melvin and Kerry Sanders.