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It's the Home Stretch to Midterm Mini-Super Tuesday

Image: Businessman Matt Bevin Challenges Senate Minority Leader McConnell In Primary Election
ADAIRVILLE, KY - MAY 17: Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell and his wife Elaine Chao ride in the Adairville Strawberry Festival parade while campaigning for the Republican primary May 17, 2014 in Adairville, Kentucky. McConnell and challenger Matt Bevin are campaigning heavily throughout the state during the final weekend before the primary to be held May 20. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)Win McNamee / Getty Images

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24 hours to go until mini-Super Tuesday

We’re now 24 hours away from the best series of contests we’ll see until Election Day 2014, when six states (Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Oregon, and Pennsylvania) will hold their primaries. Here are some of the developments in these races over the weekend: In Kentucky, a Bluegrass Poll (robo-poll with live cell calls) found Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell leading GOP challenger Matt Bevin by 20 points among Republican likely voters, 55%-35%, coming close to our NBC-Marist result from last week (McConnell 57%, Bevin 25%). Also while not explicitly saying he’d back McConnell in a general election if he wins the primary, Bevin pretty much implied it by saying he’s never supported a Democrat over a Republican. “I see no chance of that starting any time in the foreseeable future, including in this race.”… In Georgia, GOP Senate front-runner David Perdue is up with a new ad slamming Jack Kingston's "big spending experience" in Washington and depicting the congressman as an infant. Also in Georgia, Perdue and Karen Handel both said they will not support McConnell as party leader, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. And in Oregon, the GOP Senate primary is being colored by a last-minute report that front-runner Monica Wehby “was accused by her ex-boyfriend last year of ‘stalking’ him, entering his home without his permission and ‘harassing’ his employees according to a Portland, Oregon police report.”

Getting out over our skis

A little Monday morning rant: One of our chief complaints about the state of American politics and political journalism in particular is how everyone is getting WAY AHEAD of themselves. For starters, there is so much focus and attention on 2016 (Is Hillary healthy? Is Jeb going to run? Is Julian Castro going to be Hillary’s running mate?) when there are no declared candidates and when we still have about six months to go before the 2014 midterms. Another example is the practice of news organizations and pollsters using likely voter models to describe an election environment before Memorial Day when many Americans haven’t even begun to tune in to the general election. (A tip: There is no such thing as a likely voter six months before a general election, and if you think there is one, you’re likely cooking the books. Our rule is to always begin introducing likely voter models after Labor Day.) A third example of everyone getting ahead of themselves is all the coverage of what a Republican-controlled Senate might look like come 2015. We understand the temptation here: When the current political stories seem boring, or when you have to feed the 24-7 beast, it’s easy to jump ahead. And your First Read authors are plenty guilty in writing about 2016 and what a GOP Senate might look like next year. But it’s also important for everyone to realize what we’re doing here and what some of the unintended consequences might be of covering news cycles a year or two early. Of course, if 2014 and 2016 bore you, here’s a good primer on the 2018 California Democratic gubernatorial primary.

Tapping the breaks on Julian Castro and 2016

Over the weekend, NBC’s Kristen Welker and Katie Wall confirmed that San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro -- who delivered the keynote address at the 2012 Democratic convention -- is the favorite to become the next HUD secretary, replacing Shaun Donovan (who’s expected to be the next OMB director). And the news set off plenty of 2016 speculation about Castro. The argument: Even though HUD secretary is hardly a top-tier cabinet post, the move would elevate Castro to being a VP possibility in 2016, more so than being just San Antonio mayor. But, folks, a little caution here: When is the last time someone went straight from being HUD secretary to possibly being one step away from the presidency? The closest example would be 1996 GOP VP nominee Jack Kemp (who was HUD secretary from 1989-1993), but Kemp had served in Congress for 18 years BEFORE THAT -- and had run for president himself in ‘88. Castro becoming HUD secretary would certainly elevate him to run for statewide office in Texas down the road. But potentially being Hillary’s VP in 2016? That appears to be a little premature, in our opinion, and, well, go see our rant above. And speaking of getting ahead of ourselves, realize the vetting of Castro is not done. So nothing is a done deal and there’s UNLIKELY to be any announcement THIS WEEK.

Burwell's HHS nomination producing yawns rather than fireworks

When it comes to another cabinet position, want to know one of the stories that hasn’t quite materialized like we thought it would? The answer: Sylvia Mathews Burwell’s confirmation hearing to succeed Kathleen Sebelius as HHS secretary. After Sebelius announced her resignation, many of us predicted that the Matthews hearings would allow Republicans to re-litigate the Health Care Wars. But so far, the nomination has produced yawns instead of partisan fireworks. Here’s how the New York Times described Burwell’s hearing last week: “Sylvia Mathews Burwell, President Obama’s nominee for secretary of health and human services, appeared Wednesday to be on a swift path to confirmation after she sailed through another cordial congressional hearing without promising significant changes in federal health policy or regulations… Sen. Tom Coburn, a conservative Republican from Oklahoma, set the tone for the hearing on Wednesday when he introduced Ms. Burwell and said he would vote for her with enthusiasm. ‘She’s competent,’ Mr. Coburn said. ‘So often we have people placed in Washington who aren’t competent for the task at hand.’” Wow. You know the politics of health care has been defused -- at least for the time being -- when Republicans are supporting (rather than fighting) Burwell’s nomination.

Nunn’s not-so-good answer on health care

Turning back to the midterms, Democratic Senate candidate Michelle Nunn gave this answer to NBC’s Kasie Hunt about if she would have voted for the Affordable Care Act if she served in the Senate back in 2009-2010: “At the time that the Affordable Health Care Act was passed, I was working for Points of Light,” she answered. When Hunt followed up by asking her “yes” or “no,” Nunn added, “I think it's impossible to look back retrospectively and say, what would you have done when you were there.” Folks, that isn’t a good answer -- and it doesn’t come across as credible since, well, it’s the biggest political debate this country had for the last four years. It’s hard to imagine someone like Michelle Nunn didn’t have an opinion one way or the other.

The strange (and ugly) story down in Mississippi

Finally, this story more than got our attention over the weekend: “Authorities say a conservative Mississippi blogger went into a nursing home, photographed the bedridden wife of Republican U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran without permission and posted an image online as part of a video,” the AP said. “Rose Cochran, 72, has lived at St. Catherine's Village since 2000 and has dementia. Clayton Thomas Kelly, 28, of Pearl, was arrested Friday and charged with a felony, exploitation of a vulnerable adult, Madison police said. Kelly remained in the Madison County Detention Center on Saturday on $100,000 bond.” Here is where things get a murky (and potentially ugly): Kelly happens to be a supporter of Cochran primary opponent Chris McDaniel, and the McDaniel campaign says it has no connection with Kelly. But the McDaniel campaign has provided somewhat contradictory explanations about when it knew about the break-in. And the central question in this story has become: Was the campaign -- in any way -- tied to this? And of course, what’s the motivation to do this? Well, some McDaniel supporters (or Cochran detractors, however you want to refer to them) have been trying to start a whisper campaign about Cochran’s fidelity. That’s the potential motivation here, but the story is VERY complicated -- a spouse in a nursing home for over a decade. This isn’t as cut and dried as your typical attempt at digging into someone’s personal life. It’s ugly.

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