Fox News First

Primary guide: GOP civil war or quality control?

File photos of Republican Senate hopefuls, former State Treasurer Shane Osborn and Midland University President Ben Sasse, in Omaha, Neb. on March 11, 2014.

File photos of Republican Senate hopefuls, former State Treasurer Shane Osborn and Midland University President Ben Sasse, in Omaha, Neb. on March 11, 2014.  (AP)

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Buzz Cut:
• Primary guide: GOP civil war or quality control?
• Ah, ObamaCare: ‘We have to break people away from the choice habit’
• Baier Tracks:  Obama can’t ride out vets scandal
• First in Fox News First - Cotton’s camp rebuts NBC poll
• A virtual ghost town

Don’t believe the hype. The Nebraska Senate primary today is being cast as another installment in the battle between the Republican Senate leadership and the tea-party coalition trying to brush back Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. And that’s true… but only up to a point. Insurgent candidate Ben Sasse, a former Bush administration health policy wonk who helped turn around a struggling Nebraska college after leaving Washington, headed into today’s voting with what scanty polling suggests is the lead and the momentum. Those who plunder the corpses left by Republican civil wars for fun and profit are already casting Sasse’s potential victory as revenge for an establishment candidate’s victory last week in North Carolina. But Sasse has been quite good at running for Senate. His tea-party backed counterpart in North Carolina, however, was not. Much the same can be said of conservative crusaders in Mississippi, Georgia, Kansas and certainly in McConnell’s own Kentucky. Conversely, base-buoying candidates are doing just fine in places like Oklahoma, Iowa and Michigan.

[The last polls will close in Nebraska at 9 p.m. ET.]

Chickens counted, not hatched - So who cares which very conservative candidate wins a Nebraska primary in which fewer than 200,000 votes may be cast? The seat is safely Republican and either Sasse or the frontrunner he supplanted, former state Treasurer Shane Osborn, would have a nearly identical voting record in the Senate. The only ones who really care are those who are already counting votes for leadership posts in an imagined Republican majority next year. McConnell is all but certain to retain his position atop the heap if he survives a stiff Democratic challenge this fall, but when it comes to other posts in the leadership team and, more importantly, deciding which strategies the party would pursue, loyalties count. Sasse, supported by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, would not go along to get along. Osborn, who has paid his dues in the party and is backed by McConnell loyalists, would likely be a reliable vote for Team Mitch. This jockeying for future Senate scrimmages has no doubt made the race uglier and far more expensive than necessary, but hey, politics is a tough business. Sometimes you husk, sometimes you get husked.

[Remember, Cruz has also made an endorsement in Nebraska’s crowded, toss-up gubernatorial contest, backing Pete Ricketts to win.]

Discerning - All this effort for drafting fantasy teams for the 114th Congress is fine for the political junkie set and for those looking to lobby or otherwise pull the strings of the Senate. But what about the decent people? What seems to be happening is that Republicans are embracing the old William F. Buckley rule of backing the most conservative candidate… “who can win.” The long-running feud between McConnell and his foe, former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, who now leads the Heritage Foundation, is great for Beltway smack-talkers but not of much consequence to regular folks. The mistakes Republicans made in 2010 and 2012 related to placing these kinds of allegiances ahead of practical considerations, like, you know, actually getting into the Senate. Some establishmentarians will win this year, some may lose. The same goes for the outsiders. But in the end, these races will all come down to Republican voters taking the measure of their options. Sasse has run well and made few mistakes. Osborn’s campaign faltered on a couple of occasions. Voters may have concluded that Sasse is the steadier choice. Making overbroad interpretations about national trends from that would be dangerous. But one thing is showing through so far this year: Republican voters are showing a degree of discernment we didn’t see from them in the previous two cycles.

Campaign Carl wants to know… if all the outside money and negative attacks in Nebraska’s Republican U.S. Senate primary could backfire on the two frontrunners,  Midland University President Ben Sasse, with support from tea party groups and outside super PACs had inched into a slight lead in the polls over former state treasurer and establishment favorite Shane Osborn. But heading into the final stretch, three national super PACs backing Sasse unleashed attacks on a third candidate, banker Sid Dinsdale, who ran no attack ads in his campaign and won the endorsement of the state’s largest newspaper – all of which suggests Dinsdale is worth very much watching tonight, too.”

In West Virginia, seven-term Rep. Shelley Moore Capito is expected to easily win the Republican primary. On the Democrat side, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant is bound to secure her party’s nomination. Capito is widely favored to win the seat currently held by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., with even Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., praising Capito’s candidacy. When Democrats recruited Tennant, the party had hoped Republican infighting and resistance to moderate Capito’s nomination would present an opportunity. But, West Virginia will almost certainly move deeper into the loss column for the blue team after tonight. Fine, but what about the state’s House races? There are trends to be seen.

[West Virginia polls close at 7:30 p.m. ET.]

Rahall has rough ride ahead - Rep. Nick Joe Rahall, D-W.Va., faces a tough battle to keep the seat he has held since 1977. Already considered one of the most vulnerable incumbents, Rahall has drawn a testy primary challenge from retired Army Maj. Richard Ojeda. While Rahall should cruise to victory, a strong showing even in defeat by the underfunded Ojeda would be a key indicator that Rahall is toast. That would lead national Democrats to write off Rahall, who is expected to face his toughest general-election fight yet with state Sen. Evan Jenkins, a Democrat-turned-Republican. The National Republican Congressional Committee named Jenkins to its “Young Guns” list and the scant polling indicates Rahall will be start the general election cycle well behind his challenger. Sixty-five percent of voters in the district backed Mitt Romney in 2012.

Two steps forward, one step back for GOP? - The test of how red West Virginia has become will be in the 2nd Congressional District, represented by Capito since 2001. Democrats have drawn a strong contender in former state party Chairman Nick Casey, but Republicans have been in an expensive, unpleasant four-way fight for the nomination. (Read the Charleston Daily Mail’s take here.) A Democratic win in the fall would encourage the national party to keep West Virginia on its map for the future.

[Watch Fox: Campaign Carl Cameron is following today’s primaries in W.Va., and Neb.]

NYT has the story of how ObamaCare is resulting in fewer choices for American health-care consumers. As insurance costs go up, choices for care go down. But, according to the Times and the companies selling limited-option plans as part of the law, maybe that’s a good thing. Instead of people getting all mixed up deciding how highly to prioritize cost or coverage, the government just tells companies what to sell and then people don’t have to choose. This rationale results in the following quote from a purveyor of “narrow” plans: “‘We have to break people away from the choice habit that everyone has,’ said Marcus Merz, the chief executive of PreferredOne, an insurer in Golden Valley, Minn., that is owned by two health systems and a physician group. ‘We’re all trying to break away from this fixation on open access and broad networks.’”

Poll: broad opposition to birth-control mandate - Daily Caller: “A majority of Americans — including a majority of women, independents, and young voters — oppose the contraception mandate created by Obamacare, according to a new poll set to be released Tuesday by the Family Research Council. Fifty-three percent of likely U.S. voters oppose forcing employers to provide plans that [provide] various birth control methods, according to the poll, conducted earlier this month. Forty-three percent support doing so… Despite being a bargain for women, fifty percent of women oppose the mandate while only 45 percent support it, according to the poll, conducted by WPA Research…”

[Byron York: “Millions of Americans have now had an opportunity to experience Obamacare, and if the polls are correct, more of them have had negative experiences than positive…Democrats, in their euphoria over the ‘8 million’ sign-ups to Obamacare, made a mistake in concluding that signups equal approval. In truth, a significant number of those signing up for health coverage on the exchanges might be unhappy about losing coverage elsewhere, or unhappy about the (unsubsidized) price they are paying, or dissatisfied with the choices available under their new coverage.”]

Can’t call it a win bonus… - Daily Caller: “The CEO of Colorado’s Obamacare exchange was given a $14,000 bonus and a 2.5 percent cost of living raise on Monday, even as the exchange struggles for ways to pay its bills in the coming years. Patty Fontneau is now the third-highest paid director of a state-run Obamacare exchange, earning more than $195,300, according to Health News Colorado. She raised hackles after her request for the raise and bonus came to light in October, when the exchange was performing miserably and not hitting even its worst-case scenario goals for enrollment.”

“While Republicans have set their sights on getting to the bottom of the Benghazi and the IRS controversies, another scandal has been brewing that threatens to overtake the administration sooner – as in right now. Americans have been horrified to hear allegations of fraud, faked documents, shoddy healthcare and deadly delays at Veterans Affairs hospitals. It is unimaginable to most that those who have served our country could be treated so poorly by the government that owes them so much. What started in Arizona has now spread to other facilities around the country. And they just keep coming. Last night, the agency revealed new reports about potential wrongdoing at a North Carolina veterans’ hospital. If the scandal continues to snowball, two things will likely happen: 1) President Obama will be forced to address the subject in greater detail. 2) Secretary Eric Shinseki will have to step down. This doesn’t feel like an instance where the administration can do what it has attempted in other scandals and ride it out or try to convince reporters it has already dealt with. But, in Washington, anything can happen.”  – Bret Baier.

[Laud and honor - Retired Army Sgt. Kyle J. White, 27, a Seattle native who now lives in Charlotte, will receive the Medal of Honor today for saving his fellow soldiers after a 2007 ambush in Afghanistan. Stars and Stripes has the details.]

Report: vets’ cancer tests delayed, denied - Patients of a southeast Texas Department of Veterans Affairs facility had life-saving cancer tests delayed or denied as a cost-cutting measure, a whistleblower told the Washington Examiner. “Dr. Richard Krugman, former associate chief of staff at the Veterans Affairs health care system based in Harlingen, Texas, said his boss implemented a policy in 2010 that colonoscopies would only be approved if the patient tested positive in three successive screenings for bloody stools. ‘By the time that you do the colonoscopies on these patients, you went from a stage 1 to a stage 4 [colorectal cancer], which is basically inoperable,’ said Krugman, ‘That was done because of dollars and cents.’”

Drone memo author faces more hurdles for judgeship - The nomination of David Barron to the First Circuit Court of Appeals is one of the most controversial by the Obama Administration, with sparks expected to fly this week. Barron, a former Harvard law professor and former acting assistant attorney general, is the author of the Justice Department Drone memos which provide the legal basis for the targeted killing of American citizens. – Watch Fox: Chief Intelligence Correspondent Catherine Herridge examines the growing opposition from both sides to Barron and what it means for the future of the administration’s drone policy.

NYTexplains how red velvet cake went From Gimmick to American Classic: “After Congress passed the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act in 1938, shoring up regulations for food coloring, [Texan John A. Adams] figured he could sell a lot more extracts and dyes, and a red cake would be just the way to do it. Sometime in the 1940s, the company tricked out a mahogany cake recipe with food coloring, printed it on cards and began plans to merchandise it alongside bottles of vanilla, red dye and artificial butter flavoring, which was popular when butter was rationed during World War II… driven in part by a cameo as an armadillo groom’s cake in “Steel Magnolias” in 1989 and the arrival of the Magnolia Bakery in the West Village in New York City in 1996, red velvet gained new life….As the nation swung into its post-9/11 comfort-food phase, both cupcakes and Southern food offered solace. Red velvet became a superstar.”

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Real Clear Politics Averages

Obama Job Approval: Approve –  44.3 percent//Disapprove – 51.7 percent
Direction of Country: Right Direction – 27.9 percent//Wrong Track – 63 percent
Generic Congressional Ballot:  Democrats – 43.3 percent// Republicans 43.8 percent

Tampa Bay Tribune: “[Former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla.] gave an impassioned speech before New York’s top political donors, casting immigration reform as a way to grow the economy, warning of a declining American Dream and pressing back on Common Core critics. ‘We cannot go back and dumb down our standards,’ Bush said at a Manhattan Institute dinner … ‘The American Dream is slowly being replaced by something economists call ‘stickiness at the ends.’ Those born wealthy will stay there and in many cases, those who are poor will do the same. Those in the middle -- the group who has defined who we are as a nation for two centuries -- are shrinking and they are feeling the squeeze. Today for the first time over the longest period of time, a majority of Americans believe their children will have less opportunity than what they had. If our people are not rising, our nation will not rise.’ But Bush said taking more from the successful and ‘doling out the proceeds to the less successful’ will not work. He called for lower taxes, better education and supporting families, ‘in a traditional way,’ in order to prevent childhood poverty. Immigration reform was a recurring theme of the night, with several speakers calling for action, including mega-donor Paul Singer… ‘For the life of me I have a hard time understanding why people are fearful of our own heritage, our own history… ‘The rules are you come to this country, you pursue your dreams, you create value for yourself and your families and others and great things happens to you and to our country. Why would we ignore that at time when we need to restart and rejuvenate our economy? It makes no sense to me,’ [Bush said]…[Former New York City Mayor] Rudy Giuliani, who introduced Bush, said the former Florida governor was elected with 61 percent of the Hispanic vote. ‘Wow,’ Giuliani said. ‘It just could be that our party could win an emerging group and get a big vote and change the nature of politics. Oh well, I hope we can.’ ‘There’s a lot of speculation that he may run for president,’ Giuliani said. ‘He’s got a very, very high problem to overcome: He’s got a record of success.’’’

Boehner gives a nudge - Washington Examiner: “House Speaker John Boehner said he is ‘nudging’ former Florida [Republican] Gov. Jeb Bush to run for president and he wants to take up immigration reform legislation in small pieces, starting first with border security. Boehner made the remarks at the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce during a question-and-answer session with the editor of Texas Monthly. Boehner, when asked whether the House would take up immigration reform this year, said it would depend on whether he can ‘bring my members along,’ and he acknowledged that one group of GOP lawmakers has no interest in taking up the issue during an election year. ‘There are some members of my party that just do not want to deal with this," Boehner said. ‘It’s no secret. But I do believe the vast majority of members of our party do want to deal with this, and they want to deal with this honestly, openly and fairly’…He said it was ‘way too early’ to pick a top GOP presidential candidate. “We’ve got a lot of good candidates out there, and yes, Jeb Bush is my friend, I think he’d make a great president. And I’ve been nudging him for some time.’”

Roll Call: “Less than one year ago, [former Democratic Rep. Marjorie Margolies’s] commanding lead in the polls, familiarity with voters thanks to her one term in Congress in the early 1990s, and her ties to the Clinton dynasty as Chelsea Clinton’s mother-in-law made her a seemingly untouchable foe. Yet Democratic operatives say Margolies has run an astonishingly poor campaign in the 13th District... That has shifted the focus from Margolies, 71, to state Rep. Brendan Boyle, 37. … They will vote on May 20 and will likely determine the next member of Congress from the heavily Democratic district, which begins in the working-class segment of northeast Philadelphia and fans out into the wealthy Montgomery County suburbs.”

[Do you know who’s funny? Stuart Rothenberg, that’s who.]

Rep. Tom Cotton’s campaign is hitting back against an NBC News/Marist College poll that shows the Arkansas Republican trailing Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., by 11 points. A poll conducted for the campaign by GOP firm onMessage and provided to Fox News Fist shows Cotton leading 42 percent to 40 percent. Among independents, Cotton leads 36 percent to 33 percent. Another 23 percent of independents are undecided, good news for a challenger in a race with a longtime incumbent. Cotton’s camp argues that the NBC News/Marist poll  is unreliable, pointing out that it is not screened for likely voters and that its sample includes just 23 percent registered Republicans in a state that has grown increasingly red in recent elections.

The Atlantic’s Clare Foran explains why the growing influence of environmentalist and billionaire Democratic bundler Tom Steyer is scaring some Democrats: “Steyer, a hedge-fund-manager-turned-green-evangelist, says he plans to raise up to $100 million during the midterm elections for candidates who stand strong on climate change. But as he doles out big checks to Democrats, Steyer has also stepped into the spotlight—and that is making some in the party nervous… Steyer’s persona, the skeptics feel, opens Democrats up to charges of hypocrisy, and leaves too much of the party's profile in the hands of a man who has been popularly elected to exactly nothing… Others fear that Steyer, a wealthy environmentalist living in Northern California, plays into a decades-long GOP effort to paint Democrats as out of touch with working class America. Intent on making those charges stick, the Republican National Committee rolled out a series of attacks last week describing the mega donor as a wealthy elite bankrolling the liberal agenda.”

Politico: “The independent expenditure arm of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has begun booking airtime in Alaska, laying down extensive TV reservations in one of the states expected to determine control of the Senate. Democratic and Republican media-tracking sources said Monday that the DSCC has booked time running from Sept. 23 through Election Day. The full size of the buy is about $3.5 million, according to one source. Democratic Sen. Mark Begich’s reelection campaign in Alaska is expected to be one of the hardest-fought Senate races in the country this year. He will face one of three Republican challengers: former state Attorney General Dan Sullivan, the favored candidate of D.C. Republicans; Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell; or conservative activist Joe Miller, the party’s unsuccessful 2010 Senate nominee. The primary is set for Aug. 19.”

Sullivan celebrates service in new ad - Roll Call: “Alaska Republican Dan Sullivan released his latest TV ad on Monday, a 30-second spot highlighting his military service and pushing the message that the state “needs a fighter again.” The 30-second spot, running on broadcast stations, never mentions Democratic Sen. Mark Begich. But the incumbent’s photo is briefly plastered on screen alongside President Barack Obama. ‘As a Marine, I learned that talk is cheap and results are what matter. But that’s not how they operate in Washington,’ Sullivan says as the two Democrats’ photos appear.”

The Hill: “Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is touting his energy chops in statewide TV and radio ads released Monday.  The ads, boasting Graham’s push for the Keystone XL pipeline and drilling, come with less than one month left before Graham faces off with six Tea Party-affiliated Republican candidates in South Carolina’s primary election.  In the 30-second video ad, ‘Pipeline,’ former U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins praises Graham for being the first U.S. senator to visit the oil sands in Canada. ‘Every drop of oil we get from Canada is one less drop we have to get from countries in the Middle East, countries that don’t like us.  Lindsey Graham understood that before most people understood it,’ Wilkins, a former South Carolina state House Speaker, says in the TV ad.  The 60-second radio ad, also released on Monday, opens to the sound of gunfire in a war zone as the narrator asserts that ‘terrorism is on the rebound.’ The voice goes on to state that despite the increase in terrorism, the U.S. continues to import nearly $400 billion a year in foreign oil.”

[One of Graham’s Senate challengers, Richard Cash, is currently running an ad touting his 10 arrests for protesting abortion.]

The Hill: “Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s (D-N.H.) new campaign ad features a small-business owner touting the senator’s work for companies like hers in New Hampshire. In the ad, Adria Bagshaw, the vice president of a New Hampshire steel company, declares of the senator: ‘What really impresses me about Jeanne Shaheen is, if we bring a problem to her she cares and she’s going to listen.’ Bagshaw says Shaheen is working to help small businesses export products, access credit and train high-skill workers. ‘I think Jeanne Shaheen really makes a difference for New Hampshire,’ Bagshaw concludes, as a shot of Shaheen appearing with the plant’s workers appears on the screen. The ad will begin airing Tuesday, as National Small Business Week launches in cities across the nation.”

[The latest Dartmouth College poll shows Republican Scott Brown leading Shaheen 39 percent to 36 percent.]

The stakes are high for Democrats come November as they need to limit Republican gains in the Senate to five or fewer in order to retain control of the upper chamber. If the GOP can flip six seats from blue to red this year, the dynamics in Washington will change in a big way. Fox News First wants to know which six Democratic-held seats are most vulnerable. The current consensus among readers: Arkansas, Montana, Louisiana, South Dakota, North Carolina and West Virginia. Reader Frank Hutton of Los Angeles, Calif., would like to add Michigan to the list seeing a competitive race between Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land. Hutton writes, “This seat IS in play, let your readers in on what is happening there. Keep up the good work!”

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

The Internet runs on buzz, but what about the places that buzz forgot? The New Yorker’s Simon Parkin describes the rise, fall and surprising endurance of Meridian 59. Launched in 1996, the role-playing game was the first of its kind, allowing users from around the world to create a virtual community -- with sex and murder, of course. There were once tens of thousands of virtual residents of the royal city of Barloque, but then slicker, sexier and more graphic games like World of Warcraft came along, drawing tens of millions of users. “Today, almost eighteen years after Meridian 59’s launch, Barloque’s streets are quiet and vacant, its cobblestones buffed and rounded by little more than a digital breeze. They are rarely visited by more than twenty people in the world at any one time…A handful of faithful residents still remain. These players decided that their investment in this world was too great to give up. Meridian 59’s lingering population has kept playing not only out of social obligation but out of grim necessity. ‘You couldn’t quit, really,’ Matt Dymerski, an author from Ohio, and one of the game’s best-known residents, said. “The game needed you. All your friends needed you. If you didn’t show up, the game would die’…”

[Did you hear the one about the guy who kept his Twitter joke going for five years?]

“It is very obvious that this White House has an arm’s length relationship with the truth…here you get the idea that it’s less than arm’s length. It is actually a clearly manipulative relationship with the truth: That it is to be used, or abused, or inverted, in order to quote ‘send a message’; to send a [dog whistle].” – Charles Krauthammer discussing former Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s new memoir on “Special Report with Bret Baier.” Watch here.

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News. Want FOX News First in your inbox every day? Sign up 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.