GOP governor braces for Illinois primary

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On the roster: GOP governor braces for Illinois primary - House GOP leaders call for second special counsel - Senate Intel pushes for election security upgrades - Time continues to tick on spending bill - #Burn

GOP GOVERNOR BRACES FOR ILLINOIS PRIMARY
Fox News: “One of the most vulnerable Republican governors up for re-election in 2018 is heading into Tuesday’s primary in Illinois with a strong challenge from his own party as well as six Democrats gunning for his job. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner will need to beat out former Army veteran Jeanne Ives, who has forced the multimillionaire into a contested primary and called him out for his left-leaning stance on abortion and immigration. If he is able to secure a win, he will face a Democratic rival in November. The Illinois primary, like the one held in Texas last week, are being seen as a bellwether for the rest of the nation and could shed light on what Democrats need to do to cut into GOP holds on governors’ seats. … In Illinois, Rauner’s Republican challenger has built a strong grassroots campaign to unseat him by attacking his position on abortion. In September, Rauner signed a bill that expanded public funding of abortion in the state – effectively cutting ties to the very conservatives who helped elect him.”

So who are all these Dems? - WaPo: “The Democrats in Illinois are even more divided than Republicans. Six candidates are running for governor to try to unseat Rauner in the general election… The top three candidates, roughly, are: J.B. Pritzker: One of Rauner’s advantages is his wealth. … But front-runner Pritzker is from one of the wealthiest families in the country and has said he’ll spend whatever it takes to win the general election. He’s also quickly become the favorite of the Democratic establishment… Chris Kennedy: The nephew of President John F. Kennedy is another massive name in this race. He’s not been afraid to try to capitalize on his name recognition, running ads celebrating his father, the late Robert F. Kennedy. Consider him the second choice of the Democratic establishment. … Daniel Biss: Consider Biss the most progressive candidate in the race. A political group with ties to Bernie Sanders endorsed Biss in January…”

THE RULEBOOK: *CHUGS ENERGY DRINK*
“Energy in government is essential to that security against external and internal danger, and to that prompt and salutary execution of the laws which enter into the very definition of good government.” – James Madison, Federalist No. 37

TIME OUT: SPRING HAS (SORT OF) SPRUNG
Nat Geo: “Twice each year, as the sun marches across the sky, its center crosses Earth’s Equator. This celestial alignment results in the equinox—a day with light and dark of (nearly) equal length, with the sun rising precisely in the east and setting precisely in the west. This year, the vernal, or spring, equinox will occur on Tuesday, March 20. … In March, the vernal equinox signals the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and autumn in the south, and the reverse happens during the September equinox. But for many ancient cultures across the Americas, equinoxes were something more: a time for celebration, sacrifice, and migration. For millennia, observing the sun’s shifting path was both essential for survival and hard to ignore. Our star’s celestial wanderings foretold the onset of the growth and harvest seasons and warned of impending winter, so it’s not unusual to find a variety of solar calendars among the artifacts of vanished civilizations.”

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SCOREBOARD
Trump job performance 
Average approval: 
41 percent 
Average disapproval: 54.8 percent 
Net Score: 
-13.8 points
Change from one week ago: up 0.8 points
[Average includes: NBC News/WSJ: 43% approve - 53% disapprove; Gallup: 40% approve - 56% disapprove; Pew Research Center: 42% approve - 53% disapprove; CBS News: 38% approve - 57% disapprove; George Washington University: 42% approve - 55% disapprove.]

Control of House
Republican average: 38.2 percent
Democratic average: 48.8 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 10.6 points
Change from one week ago: Democratic advantage down 0.8 points 
[Average includes: NBC News/WSJ: 50% Dems - 40% GOP; George Washington University: 49% Dems - 40% GOP; Quinnipiac University: 48% Dems - 38% GOP; Monmouth University: 50% Dems - 41% GOP; USA Today/Suffolk: 47% Dems - 32% GOP.]

HOUSE GOP LEADERS CALL FOR SECOND SPECIAL COUNSEL
Fox News: “House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise have joined the House Republicans calling for a special second counsel to investigate the Department of Justice and FBI’s actions related to the Hillary Clinton and Trump-Russia probes. ‘I agree with the many others who have called for the appointment of an additional special counsel,’ Scalise said in a statement. … In his statement, Scalise referenced the infamous, unverified anti-Trump dossier that was written by former British MI6 agent Christopher Steele, funded by Democrats and used by the FBI to obtain a warrant from the FISA court to spy on Trump adviser Carter Page. Scalise said a second special counsel -- unlike Special Counsel Robert Mueller -- should have the ‘authority to look into the potential abuses of the FISA system that allowed the Democrat-funded Steele Dossier to serve as the basis for the initial FBI investigation.’ On Tuesday, New York GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin, who is among the House Republicans calling for a second special counsel, celebrated McCarthy and Scalise’s comments as ‘huge news.’”

Report: Trump’s lawyers gave Mueller new documents -
WashEx: “Lawyers for President Trump have given special counsel Robert Mueller’s office written descriptions of specific events that are under investigation, with the goal of limiting any interview between the president and Mueller’s team, according to a report. Sources told the Washington Post the president’s legal team provided Mueller’s office with the documents in hopes of narrowing the scope of an interview between Trump and Mueller to a few topics. The president has reportedly told aides he is ‘champing at the bit’ to meet with the special counsel, but his legal team is in the midst of negotiating the terms of such a session, according to the Washington Post. Trump has frequently criticized Mueller’s investigation, describing it as a ‘witch hunt’ and repeatedly claiming there was ‘no collusion’ between his presidential campaign and Russia.”

High profile, GOP attorney passes up offer to join Trump legal team - WaPo: “President Trump’s legal team reached out in recent days to Theodore B. Olson, one of the country’s most high-profile and seasoned litigators, to join forces amid mounting challenges in the probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to three people familiar with the discussions. The overture came as Trump, feeling more vulnerable to the investigation led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, has told confidants he wants to recruit top-tier talent and shake up his group of lawyers, the people said. But after reviewing the offer and weighing potential conflicts with his clients at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, where he is a partner, Olson is not planning to join Trump’s team, a top executive at the firm said Tuesday.”

This comes after Trump just added to the team - NYT: “President Trump hired the longtime Washington lawyer Joseph E. diGenova on Monday, adding an aggressive voice to his legal team who has pushed the theory on television that the F.B.I. and Justice Department framed Mr. Trump. Mr. diGenova, a former United States attorney, is not expected to take a lead role. But he will serve as an outspoken player for the president as Mr. Trump has increased his attacks on the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. Mr. Trump broke over the weekend from the longstanding advice of some of his lawyers that he refrain from directly criticizing Mr. Mueller, a sign of his growing unease with the investigation.”

SENATE INTEL PUSHES FOR ELECTION SECURITY UPGRADES
Fox News: “Top Senate Intelligence Committee lawmakers on Tuesday called Russia ‘relentless’ in its attempt to meddle in the 2016 U.S. elections and warned that state election officials need to strengthen their safety nets against future cyberattacks ahead of the midterm elections in November. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the panel, previewed some of the committee’s recommendations for improving the nation’s election infrastructure at a bi-partisan news conference. ‘We’ve got to get some standards in place,’ Burr said. Among other things, the committee recommended that Congress ‘urgently pass’ legislation to boost assistance to states and establish a voluntary grant program. It also recommended that Washington ‘clearly communicate’ that attacks on elections are hostile and to ‘respond accordingly.’ The recommendations also include creating a voluntary state election security grant program, and urges states to ‘rapidly replace outdated and vulnerable voting systems.’”

GOP worry W. Va. Senate race will be another electoral disaster - Politico: “National Republicans — on the heels of the Roy Moore and Rick Saccone debacles — worry they’re staring down their latest potential midterm election fiasco: coal baron and recent federal prisoner Don Blankenship. With Blankenship skyrocketing in the West Virginia Republican Senate primary and blanketing the airwaves with ads assailing his fractured field of rivals as career politicians, senior party officials are wrestling with how, or even whether, to intervene. Many of them are convinced that Blankenship, who served a one-year sentence after the deadly 2010 explosion at his Upper Big Branch Mine, would be a surefire loser against Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin — and potentially become a national stain for the party.”

Mississippi gov. narrows replacement list for Sen. Cochran - The Clarion-Ledger: “Gov. Phil Bryant said last week his pick for an interim replacement for U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran would come ‘sooner rather than later.’ Most folks are taking that to mean sometime this week. And the Republican governor’s short list — according to numerous sources — has gotten short indeed: Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves — who had been Bryant’s top pick — doesn’t want the job largely because he has young children and doesn’t want to move his family to Washington, instead looking at a gubernatorial run in 2019. Others — and the list was fairly lengthy at one point — have according to many sources either been eliminated for various reasons or opted out.”

Pawlenty files to run for his old job -
AP: “Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced Monday he created a campaign committee to run for his old job, the most concrete step yet after months of speculation whether the Republican would return to politics following his short-lived 2012 presidential campaign. Pawlenty has been inching toward a run for months, recently quitting his Washington lobbying job and starting to raise money for a potential bid to replace outgoing Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton. In an emailed statement from a new campaign website, Pawlenty touted his credentials as a potential candidate while promising a final announcement soon. … Minnesota law requires candidates to register a campaign committee within 14 days of collecting $750 in donations or spending an equal amount. Pawlenty has started to raise money for a campaign, including an upcoming fundraising trip to Florida. Pawlenty told The Associated Press and other reporters just last week he was ‘warming up the engine’ for a possible bid.”

‘Sex and the City’ star enters NY gov. race - NYT: “The actress Cynthia Nixon officially jumped into the race for governor of New York on Monday, setting off what promises to be a tumultuous six months as she challenges Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in this year’s Democratic primary. Ms. Nixon, 51, has never before run for elected office and has chosen a huge undertaking for her first bid: seeking to unseat a two-term incumbent (and son of a three-term governor) who is sitting atop more than $30 million in campaign cash. The contest will likely become one of the marquee Democratic primaries in the nation, as Ms. Nixon is widely expected to challenge Mr. Cuomo from the political left.”

TIME CONTINUES TO TICK ON SPENDING BILL
Weekly Standard: “An omnibus funding bill is facing delays in Congress ahead of a Friday government shutdown deadline, with lawmakers scrambling to answer a number of open questions in the $1.3 trillion package related to border security, infrastructure projects, and gun violence prevention measures. House leaders previously hoped to release the text of the bill, which would keep the government funded for the remainder of fiscal year 2018, sometime Monday night. On Tuesday morning, however, it was nowhere to be found. When … a House aide involved in the appropriations process [was asked] where the bill was, he answered, ‘I don’t know. If you happen to see it, would you tell it that we love it and we just want it to come home?’ House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters during a press conference that congressional leaders are ‘hoping to post today.’ He went on to downplay the possibility that lawmakers may turn to another stopgap spending measure to keep the lights on.”

It’s all in the details - Politico: “Democrats, Republicans and the White House battled late into the night Monday and into Tuesday afternoon over whether to include provisions on President Donald Trump’s border wall, a massive New York infrastructure project and the special counsel‘s Russia investigation, according to lawmakers and aides in both parties. President Donald Trump is likely to support the bill if the New York-area Gateway project is excluded, the military receives a major budget boost and there is a significant infusion of border security funding, White House legislative affairs director Marc Short said at the Capitol Tuesday. … Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he would keep the Senate in until the bill is passed.”

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Lawmakers request Mark Zuckerberg testify on Capitol Hill - Time

AUDIBLE: YOU’RE NOT?
“Oh… I’m not much of a politician.” – U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., when asked by the Chattanooga Times Free Press whether he thinks Republicans can hold on to the Senate seat in Tennessee.

[Ed. note: Chris Stirewalt is away – by which we mean he is holed up in his garret, hiding from his publisher and trying to finish the book he loves but that may be trying to kill him. He will return, Lord and the Louisiana Historical Society willing, on March 21. In lieu of flowers, please send coffee and bacon.]  

#BURN
AP: “An Austrian man faces a 160-euro ($197) fine for describing police officers as ‘smurfs’ in a warning about speed checks posted on Facebook. The Austria Press Agency reported Tuesday that authorities in Tyrol province imposed the fine on the man, whose name wasn’t released, for violating ‘public decency’ by ‘defaming two police officers.’ The man’s post in a Facebook group alerted others to ‘two smurfs standing with lasers’ on a local highway. A police officer who was also in the group filed a complaint. The local Tiroler Tageszeitung newspaper reported that the man maintains the term ‘smurfs’ was meant as a harmless joke rather than an insult, and plans to defend himself at regional police headquarters.”

Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

This article was written by Fox News staff.