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First Thoughts: Personality vs. Politics in Florida Election

<p>Tonight's special election in Florida can help us decipher which is the more powerful force: an individual campaign or the overall political environment.</p>
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What FL-13 could help answer: What’s the more potent force right now -- campaigns or the environment?... The power of outside spending in this special congressional election… Polling places close in the district at 7:00 pm ET… NBC/WSJ poll to be released first thing tomorrow morning… Bridget Kelly goes to court to quash subpoenas… Bombshell story could impact DC mayoral race -- and it also has links to Hillary’s ’08 campaign… Why achieving legislative climate change could be a generation away (or longer) for Democrats… And Obama vs. Zach Galifianakis.

What’s the more potent force --campaigns or the environment? Yes, we know that special congressional elections don’t predict what will happen in November. And, yes, it’s difficult to attach meaning to a close race that could be decided by less than 5 percentage points. But tonight’s special congressional election in Florida between Democrat Alex Sink and Republican David Jolly can help us answer this question: What’s the more powerful force right now -- an individual campaign or the overall political environment? Sink has a lot of the intangibles on her side. She has more money, a higher name ID (after running for governor in 2010), an opponent whose previous job was a lobbyist (about as despised of a political occupation as you can have), and a third-party candidate (Lucas Overby) who would probably take more votes away from the Republicans. So a Sink win would be a blueprint for survival for skittish Democrats: If you run a superior race, hold most of the intangibles, and take the health-care issue head on, you can survive. On the flip side, a Sink loss and Jolly win will rattle a lot of Democrats, because it would prove that the environment -- including a more GOP-leaning electorate -- trumps everything else. If a B-minus candidate running a C+ campaign who happens to be a lobbyist can beat someone who has more of the intangibles on her side, then that is going to scare the Mark Udalls, Jeanne Shaheens, and Jeff Merkleys running for re-election in blue/purple states in November.

The power of outside spending

The other story in this race, as we mentioned yesterday, is all of the outside spending. And while Sink has vastly outspent Jolly over the airwaves, GOP-leaning outside groups have helped erase the gap. Just check out these TV ad-spending numbers a campaign source sent us:

Sink campaign: $2.2 million

DCCC: 2.0 million

House Majority PAC: $776,000

LCV/Sierra Club: $343,000

Total Democratic spending (includes other groups): $5.4 million

Jolly campaign: $560,000

NRCC: $2.0 million

U.S. Chamber of Commerce: $1.2 million

American Crossroads: $357,000

American Action Network: $357,000

Total GOP spending (includes other groups): $4.5 million

Bottom line: Sink has outspent Jolly nearly 4-to-1, but the GOP outside groups (Chamber, Crossroads, and American Action Network) have allowed the Republican candidate to keep up.

NBC/WSJ poll to be released first thing tomorrow morning

What does the overall political environment look like less than eight months until Election Day 2014? Is President Obama an asset or a liability for Democrats? What campaign messages and attributes are stronger than others? We’ll have the answers to these questions in our new NBC/WSJ poll, which will be released first thing tomorrow morning (posted online at 12:01 am ET).

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Bridget Kelly goes to court to quash subpoenas

Today’s a rather important day for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s ability to withstand the “Bridgegate” scandal that has rocked his administration. “Lawyers for two key figures in a political payback scandal ensnaring Gov. Chris Christie's administration will go in court to try to persuade a judge not to force them to turn over text messages and other private communications to New Jersey legislators investigating the matter,” the AP says. “Fired Christie staffer Bridget Kelly and two-time campaign manager Bill Stepien say complying with the subpoenas carries the risk of self-incrimination. Kelly planned to be in court on Tuesday; Stepien does not.” Getting the subpoenas quashed could help prevent any more damaging emails and text messages from surfacing. On the other hand, if a judge says that Kelly and Stepien must comply, then that could potentially produce some more tough storylines for the Christie administration. Of course, Bridgegate isn’t the only scandal Team Christie is facing. As the Bergen Record writes, “Federal prosecutors in Manhattan took steps late last week to open an inquiry into Port Authority Chairman David Samson, only to withdraw their subpoena for documents Monday afternoon and cede control of any potential investigation to the U.S. attorney in New Jersey, multiple sources said. Although it was still unclear Monday night whether federal authorities in New Jersey would pick up the inquiry, the development was a potentially troubling sign for a close adviser of Governor Christie who is the founder of a powerful law firm and was once New Jersey’s attorney general.”

Bombshell story could impact DC mayoral race -- and it also has links to Hillary’s ’08 campaign

This story out of Washington, D.C. could very well impact the city’s mayoral primary on April 1. “D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray knew that his 2010 campaign received money donated illegally by a businessman with multimillion-dollar city contracts, and even asked personally for the funds, federal prosecutors alleged in court Monday,” NBC Washington reported yesterday. “Businessman Jeffrey Thompson, 58, pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to violate D.C. and federal campaign finance laws by funneling more than $3.3 million in unreported donations to at least 28 local and national candidates and their campaigns beginning in 2006.” Mayor Gray has denied the allegations. Yet there’s also a 2016 presidential angle here, too. Last September, the Washington Post reported that Thompson also financed a secret program to help Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign in Texas, Indiana, and North Carolina. “Thompson allegedly paid Troy White, a New York marketing executive, more than $608,000 to hire ‘street teams’ to distribute posters, stickers and yard signs beginning in February 2008 to help raise Clinton’s profile during her primary battle with then-Sen. Barack Obama… A search of federal campaign records found no evidence that Thompson or White disclosed the alleged expenditures or activities to the Federal Election Commission, as required by campaign finance laws.”

Why achieving legislative climate change could be a generation away (or longer) for Democrats

Twenty-eight Democratic senators participated in a marathon talk-a-thon to raise awareness about climate change, per NBC’s Frank Thorp. But if you wanted to know why achieving legislative climate change might be at least a generation away for Democrats, consider the red-state Democrats who didn’t participate who are up for re-election this year: Mark Pryor, Mark Begich, Mary Landrieu, and Kay Hagan. And then also consider even the Democrats who AREN’T up in 2014: Jon Tester, Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Donnelly, and Joe Manchin. Bottom line: The Democratic Party isn’t united on the issue or at least PUBLICLY united. And that also was true back in 2009-2010, when Democrats had a supermajority (or close to it) in the Senate and couldn’t get cap-and-trade, something that the energy sector actually was ready to accept.

Obama vs. Zach Galifianakis

Finally, we end with this dispatch from NBC White House Producer Shawn Thomas: “The White House push to get people to sign up for health insurance found its way to the interwebs today when ‘Funny or Die’ posted this interview between the president and funnyman Zach Galifianakis on his popular internet-based show, ‘Between Two Ferns.’ If you've never seen Between Two Ferns, Galifianakis awkwardly questions celebrities in front of a black curtain and two fern plants on either side of the interview setup. It makes for collar-pulling humor and this episode didn't disappoint since the president came to play ball armed with his own awkward-comedy timing and the fact that he's still president of the United States. The appearance was shot two weeks ago. Sitting next to a watch-checking, sighing Galifianakis, the president is able to plug and encourage young people to sign up. But he's cut off in a way that every journalist must long to do with the president but cannot:

ZG: Is your plug over?

BO: I-I suppose so.

ZG: So what country were you rooting for in the winter Olympics?

BO: Seriously. I'm the president of the United States. What do you think Zach?

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