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Foreign stumbles shape election narrative

Feb. 20, 2014:  Ukraine.

Feb. 20, 2014: Ukraine.  (AP)

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Buzz Cut:
• Foreign stumbles shape election narrative
• Sheriff Joe continues White House walkback of ObamCare goals
• Crist has gotta hug, even if he makes you sick
• Southerners seek to increase 2016 GOP primary clout
• Willie Nelson agitates cows

It’s been a big week already for despots around the globe. From Caracas to Cairo to Damascus to Kiev, authoritarian regimes are cracking down on protesters and slaughtering dissidents. The United States is officially opposed in all cases, but what difference will that make? Normally, international affairs don’t have much sway in midterm elections unless there’s a pressing American policy decision at hand, like the Iraq war in 2006. But the downward spiral of pro-liberty interests around the globe may be another data point for Republicans to argue that the Obama Democrats are incompetent. To wit: President Obama was finally roused Wednesday to make remarks about the nascent civil war brewing in Ukraine. He spoke equivocally about the crackdown by Russian-backed forces in Kiev, suggesting both sides were to blame. But after just a few hours felt obliged to talk a little tougher when speaking to reporters, saying that the Putinists in Kiev had “the primary responsibility” and that he and other Western leaders would do “whatever we can” to support a “peaceful resolution.” But at this point, there’s not a lot to suggest that means much at all.

[Obama says U.S. not in competition with Russia - “… I don’t think there’s a competition between the United States and Russia…Now, Mr. Putin has a different view on many of those issues, and I don’t think that there’s any secret on that. And our approach as the United States is not to see these as some Cold War chessboard in which we’re in competition with Russia.” – President Obama at a press event in Mexico, Wednesday.]

Catching up with him - In a dynamic that first played out in what was originally called the “Arab Spring,” the relative value of American backing has become questionable at best. Obama Democrats have said this intentional diminution of American clout is necessary for a “sustainable” foreign policy. While voters certainly like the idea of an end to the large-scale military interventions of the previous decade, they won’t much like the idea of the United States being so blithely ignored by tyrants on the world stage. Meanwhile, the nation’s top diplomat says that he’s focused on global warming and the administration’s key foreign policy initiative, a nuclear deal with Iran, is looking slighter by the day. Presidents often pivot to foreign policy in second terms, but this one seems to be spinning his wheels. Now, as world events again demand Obama’s re-engagement, he finds his past missteps a major disadvantage. Why should despots pay any attention to threats from a leader whose infamous “red line” in Syria has become a punch line for U.S. critics?

[“Name me a serious civil war that ended in negotiations?  English civil war, American civil war, Russian, Spanish, Chinese: None ended in negotiations because they are so vicious and so fratricidal that splitting the difference at the end of the day is not possible.” – Columnist George Will on “Special Report with Bret Baier]

Washington Examiner: “President Obama said Wednesday that a Pacific trade deal would win approval despite stiff opposition from congressional Democrats. Obama's progressive allies in Washington have resisted his calls to swiftly finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership, undercutting the president’s trade pitch to North American leaders at a summit in Toluca, Mexico. ‘We’ll get this passed if it’s a good agreement,’ Obama declared Wednesday, joined by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. The president hit back at suggestions that his party was holding up the 12-nation trade accord.

Obama defends Keystone delays - Washington Examiner: “President Obama on Wednesday defended the administration's review of the Keystone XL pipeline, while allowing that the process might seem “laborious” to Canada, which has urged the U.S. to quickly approve the project. ‘There is a process that has been gone through. And I know it's been extensive and at times, I'm sure, [Canadian Prime Minister] Stephen [Harper] feels, a little too laborious,’ said Obama, flanked by Harper and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, during a joint press conference at the North American Leaders Summit in Toluca, Mexico.”

[Ruh-roh - AP: “A Nebraska judge on Wednesday struck down a law that allowed the Keystone XL pipeline to proceed through the state, a setback for the project that would carry oil from Canada to Texas refineries. Lancaster County Judge Stephanie Stacy issued a ruling that invalidated Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman's approval of the route.”]

Minneapolis Star Tribune: “Vice President Joe Biden told visitors to a Minneapolis coffee shop on Wednesday that the millions of people likely to sign up for health insurance before a March deadline is ‘a hell of a start,’ despite the fact that the federal government probably will fall short of its goal… Biden said that, despite hiccups, the goal is to sign up 7 million people by the March 31 deadline. ‘We may not get to seven million, we may get to five or six, but that’s a hell of a start,’ he said. ‘I’m here to say thanks’… ‘Look, thank you for what you’re doing,’ he told them, adding that between a serious car accident and brain aneurysm, ‘I’ve been a significant consumer of health care, and I’m not bragging about it.’ During those hospital stays, ‘All I kept thinking about was ‘Thank God I had all this insurance.’’’

Hey, kids! How about a conference call with the vice president? – Weekly Standard: “As the clock ticks down toward the end of Obamacare’s first open enrollment period on March 31, the White House continues to invest considerable resources in publicizing the president’s signature domestic program.  On Thursday, Vice President Biden will host a 30-minute ‘off the record’ conference call targeted at young people to follow up on last weekend’s National Youth Enrollment Day.”

Enrollment crash coming? - National Journal’s Sam Baker notes: “…[A]t some point, likely this spring, the administration will be forced to disclose how many people are actually paying their premiums – a more accurate, yet undoubtedly lower count of who actually got insured under [ObamaCare]… But if the early indications hold and the more accurate enrollment metric shaves 20 to 30 percent off the initial numbers, it will be a painful shift for Democrats. At current levels, it takes enrollment from 3.3 million down to about 2.6 million. If, hypothetically, 6 million people choose a plan by the end of March, real enrollment would be closer to 4.8 million…”

WSJ’s Daniel Henninger discusses The Rube Goldberg Democrats: “The idea that the $824 billion stimulus was for ‘shovel-ready’ projects has become a butt of the government joke circuit. This sloppy mindset outputted ObamaCare, by acclamation the party's biggest product since Medicare. It looks like a Rube Goldberg machine. The Rube Goldberg Democrats means that whether from laziness or arrogance, the party is now producing political contraptions that are monuments to inefficiency, incomprehension and unworkability. Before ObamaCare, it often went unnoticed. But the health-care law sits out in plain view, letting every voter connect the dots between political promise and nonperformance… Brands collapse because consumers have good choices. It may be true that ObamaCare has exposed the Democrats as a party of bells, whistles and rotating pinwheels. But absent a better product, it will lumber forward.”

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Real Clear Politics Averages

Obama Job Approval: Approve –  43.6 percent//Disapprove – 52.4 percent
Direction of Country: Right Direction – 29.3 percent//Wrong Track – 63.4 percent
Generic Congressional Ballot:  Democrats – 41.7 percent// Republicans 41.7 percent

AJC: “[Georgia’s] top elections official is backing a new plan that would make Georgia among the first in the nation to cast ballots in the 2016 presidential primaries, thrusting voters…squarely into the national spotlight. Secretary of State Brian Kemp said Wednesday his plan would establish a March 1, 2016 primary for Georgia, and that he’s reached out to other Southeastern states to form a new Super Southern Tuesday bloc that would give the region a broader say in the eventual presidential nominee.”

Washington Free Beacon: “A new poll shows Rep. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) is gaining ground in his effort to unseat Sen. Mark Pryor (D., Arkansas)… Cotton received 46 percent support … while Pryor received 42 percent. The poll was conducted …by the Little Rock-based Impact Management Group. In an Oct. 24 poll conducted by the same group, Cotton received 43 percent support, and Pryor received 41 percent.”

Oklahoma Republican Senate candidate T.W. Shannon is hitting the airwaves with his first TV spot in his effort to succeed retiring Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. The $150,000 ad buy from the former state House speaker shares Shannon’s faith and his stance on lowering the nation’s debt. From the ad: “T.W. is guided by his faith. Raised by working class parents, T.W. learned that success comes from hard work, not handouts. And it’s those values that T.W. and his wife, Devon, are teaching their two kids.” Shannon faces Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla., in a June 24 primary. If neither candidate is able to secure a majority of the vote, they could face an Aug. 26 runoff.

Kentucky Republican Senate hopeful Matt Bevin is taking to the airwaves to hit Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell over wasteful spending and gun rights in two new ads. From one ad: “Mitch McConnell voted with Harry Reid to infringe on our gun rights…the choice is clear conservative Republican Matt Bevin for U.S. Senate.”

[Buuuut… - “A new document obtained by Breitbart News undermines another facet of Matt Bevin’s explanations for his signature on a 2008 pro-TARP bailout letter sent from an investment firm he served as president.”]

Washington Examiner: “Tea Party Senate candidate Bill Connor released the first ad attacking Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., of the Republican primary, highlighting the senator’s praise for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as a means of countering a Graham’s effort to tout his investigation of the Benghazi terrorist attack. ‘He rails on the administration about Benghazi, but in private has nothing but praise for Hillary,’ Connor said of Graham in the press release accompanying the ad. The Connor ad shows Graham calling Clinton ‘a good role model for young people’ and describing her as one of the ‘greatest ambassadors for the American people that I’ve known in my lifetime.’’’

Breitbart: “[Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss.] has more government buildings and programs named after himself than any current member of Congress.”

The conservative group Concerned Women for America is endorsing Nebraska Republican Senate hopeful Shane Osborn. Frontrunner Osborn faces rivals, including Midland University President Ben Sasse, in a May 13 primary.

Republicans must gain six seats to win the Senate this year. The current consensus among Fox News First readers for the six most vulnerable Democrat-held seats: Arkansas, Montana, Louisiana, South Dakota, North Carolina and Alaska. Reader Jim Hartman would like to see West Virginia make the list. Hartman writes, “News that the Obama Administration’s EPA continues to wage a ‘war on coal’ with punitive regulations strengthens the position of Republican Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito in her Senate race in West Virginia. The retirement of Democrat Jay Rockefeller and the dismal showing of President Obama in the state’s polling provides the GOP with a huge pick-up opportunity in West Virginia’s open seat.”

[Ed. note: Mr. Hartman knows what he’s talking about. And the renewed focus by Obama Democrats on global warming may seal the deal for Capito.]

Share your top six picks. Email them – just your top six, please – to FOXNEWSFIRST@FOXNEWS.COM or tweet @cstirewalt.

WSJ: “Tens of thousands of pages of e-mails, search warrants and other documents related to a criminal investigation of a former top aide to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker became public Wednesday, renewing interest in an investigation that has dogged the possible Republican presidential candidate. The case reaches back to 2010 when Mr. Walker was running for governor and serving as Milwaukee County executive. Kelly Rindfleisch, his deputy chief of staff at the time, was arrested after the election as part of a wider probe into Mr. Walker’s staff and campaign… Mr. Walker in a statement said all the documents released had been reviewed already by authorities in a legal process that concluded last year. Democrats said the documents highlight how criminal activity was taking place just feet from Mr. Walker’s desk when he was a county official.”

What it really means - From “MADISON, Wis. — On a day when news headlines nationwide screamed of Gov. Scott Walker’s ‘apparent’ knowledge of illegal campaigning going on in his office when he was Milwaukee County executive, the judge of the nearly three-year ‘secret’ investigation into Walker’s former aides and associates summed up the meat of the matter. ‘The John Doe is closed and the results of the John Doe speak for themselves in terms of who has allegedly committed a crime, who has been charged with a crime and who has been convicted of a crime,’ former Appeals Court Judge Neal Nettesheim told Wisconsin Reporter on Wednesday. Not on that conviction list, perhaps much to the dismay of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and like-minded liberals, was Walker.”

Phoenix Herald: “Arizona State Treasurer and former Cold Stone Creamery CEO Doug Ducey…announced [Wednesday] he is officially seeking the Republican nomination for governor of Arizona. He previously had an exploratory committee that has now transitioned to a primary campaign committee… Ducey made the announcement… amongst hundreds of supporters – including former U.S. Rep. John Shadegg [R-Ariz.] and…Former U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl [R-Ariz.]”

WaPo: “Charlie Crist doesn’t take to bed when he gets sick. He takes three Red Bulls, two cups of coffee, a glass of Mountain Dew, Sudafed and cough drops. Then, he discards the box of Mucinex his 81-year-old father suggested he take, pushes through the back door of a Fort Myers restaurant and wraps his arms around his Democratic supporters. ‘I can’t help it; I have to hug,’ he says afterward, when asked whether he worries about passing on his cold to voters. ‘Can you even imagine not hugging?’”

Breitbart: “[House Speaker John Boehner] just bought a condo in tony Marco Island, FL, known for its tropical climate and white sand beaches… The new purchase is likely to prompt a new round of speculation about whether Boehner will retire at the end of this Congress, although he has been adamant – both publicly and privately – that he intends on staying on for another term.”

The Hill: Bruce Blakeman, an attorney and former Nassau County, N.Y., official, plans to launch a bid for Rep. Carolyn McCarthy’s (D-N.Y.) seat on Thursday. His entry into the race gives Republicans a prominent self-funder to compete for the seat, which leans Democratic but became an opportunity for Republicans with McCarthy’s retirement announcement earlier this year. Blakeman is already drawing establishment support – Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) is expected to join him at his kickoff event on Thursday – but he's facing a primary fight with New Hyde Park attorney Frank Scaturro…. His brother could come to his aid as well. Brad Blakeman formerly served on former President George W. Bush’s senior staff and helped launch the conservative advocacy group Freedom’s Watch. On Wednesday, he sent out an email to associates and friends letting them know his brother's running. Democrats are expected to nominate nationally known District Attorney Kathleen Rice for the seat, a top contender who will make it a tough seat for Republicans to win.”

WaPo: “Actress Robin Wright has apparently gained much insight into the inner workings of Washington through her research into her “House of Cards” character …  Claire Underwood For instance, she gleaned this little gem from a conversation with an unnamed ‘senior person’ in the Obama administration: Washington reporters sleep with their sources! During a Q&A in the upcoming issue of Capitol File magazine, a reporter asked whether Wright’s White House source thought the fictional events depicted in the Netflix series were close to the mark. ‘Did he think reporters sleeping with sources and members of Congress was factual?’ the reporter asked. ‘Oh, yeah,’ the actress replied. ‘D.C. is more corrupt than Hollywood. It really is. It’s more sleazy than Hollywood.”

He’s an icon for many American liberals, but the Dalai Lama is at a conservative think tank in Washington today talking about the role liberty plays in happiness. The American Enterprise Institute is hosting an online event in which organization’s president, Arthur Brooks, discusses with the Buddhist leader and refugee from Chinese oppression the ways in which free societies and free enterprise can advance human potential. From AEI: “In working with his Holiness the Dalai Lama, AEI seeks to create an open forum among scholars, social and political leaders, doctors, and scientists to discuss the ways in which material prosperity, spiritual development, and ethical leadership can maximize human flourishing.”

The Hill: “Environmental groups are pushing the Federal Trade Commission to do away with dry clean only labels. Dry cleaners, the groups say, often use cleaning chemicals that are harmful to the environment and can pose health risks to workers and consumers. They say labeling rules should be changed so that consumers are told their garments can also be cleaned by more green-friendly ‘wet cleaning.’’’

Feds take another swipe at regulating Internet - NYT: “The proposal, unveiled by the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday, is part of a continuing battle over the basic pipelines through which information flows on the Internet.”

JudgeAndrew Napolitano addresses the muted responses to President Obama’s use of executive action in An Unconscionable Silence: “The political philosopher Edmund Burke once remarked that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good folks to do nothing… Presidential law writing violates the presidential oath of office, steals power from Congress, disrespects an equal branch of the government and, when unchecked, accumulates such power in the executive branch that it effectively transforms the president into a menacing tyrant who rejects his constitutional obligations and limitations…”

The Guardian: “An ancient Norse code which has been puzzling experts for years has been cracked by a Norwegian runologist - to discover the Viking equivalent of playful text messages. The mysterious jötunvillur code, which dates to 12th or 13th-century Scandinavia, has been unravelled by K Jonas Nordby from the University of Oslo, after he studied a 13th-century stick on which two men, Sigurd and Lavrans, had carved their name in both code and in standard runes. …. The sticks on which the code has been written, said Nordby, are ‘everyday objects, so you often find names on them, either because they used them to communicate that it was something they wanted to keep or sell, or for practising writing, or because they were talking about people so names occur frequently’. … One, from Sweden, uses a simpler code, using numbers to indicate runes, and is believed to say ‘kiss me’.”

Modern Farmer: “Dairy farmers have become experts in cow comfort, from barn design to climate control engineering to keep cows as content as possible. But not all the attempts to sooth cows are quite so high tech. It may sounds silly, but some farmers swear by playing relaxing tunes for their herd for maximum milk results. But can you really slow jam your way to higher milk production? Turns out that yes, you just might… a pair of psychologists showed that slow music played at a large dairy farm increased the cows’ milk production by 3 percent as compared to fast music which had no effect…Frannie Miller, of Sulphur Springs, Texas, plays Spanish-language music in her parlor where her largely Latino employees milk about 130 Jerseys. ‘Our cows will tolerate some country and western, but they do not like Willie Nelson,’ she reports. Their milk production doesn’t drop, but something about the country legend’s warble agitates the cows.”

[The suggested playlist from Modern Farmer based on the research: “Everybody Hurts,” REM; “What a Difference A Day Makes,” Aretha Franklin; “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Simon & Garfunkel; “Moon River,” Danny Williams; “Perfect Day,” Lou Reed and “Oronoco Flow,” Celtic Woman]

“We know that Democrats like to redistribute income. And they pretend it is always from the rich to the poor. What the [Congressional Budget Office] has shown absolutely clearly is that when you raise the minimum wage, you redistribute the income from one set of low income people to another set of low income people. There are some who will get a raise and who will be better off. But there are others who are going to lose their job, lose everything…going … from $7 an hour to nothing. Going to lose their opportunity. And the irony is that the winners get a marginal advantage. But for the losers it is devastation. And you don’t really think about this administration as sort of robbing the people it says it really wants to help. And that is why they have to run away from these numbers.” – Charles Krauthammer  on “The Kelly File.” Watch here.

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News. Want FOX News First in your inbox every day? Sign up here. To catch Chris live online daily at 11:30 a.m. ET, click here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.