How ugly? Cochran, McDaniel will decide

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Buzz Cut:
• How ugly? Cochran, McDaniel will decide
• ObamaCare coalition frays as prices soar for consumers
• Hillaryland pushes back on Bergdahl deal
• Power Play: Can Gillespie crack Warner’s lead?
• It was news to her

It looks all but certain that Mississippi’s vicious Republican primary will continue for another three weeks. With just a few precincts uncounted, Tea Party-backed state Sen. Chris McDaniel was leading but still below the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a June 24 runoff with the incumbent, six-term Mississippi GOP Sen. Thad Cochran. Barring a huge trove of McDaniel votes from unlikely precincts, the race will go on. That’s not good news for Cochran who, as Molly Ball reported, has not exactly been burning up the campaign trail. Cochran’s best chance to win was with the unusually large turnout on Tuesday, including some number of crossover Democrats supporting the moderate Republican. A runoff will distill the electorate to its concentrated conservative elements, and McDaniel’s supporters will be out in force. So how bad is it going to be?

[Stick with Fox News, on air and online for the latest news on the Mississippi maulers.]

What now, NRSC? - The question for the National Republican Senatorial Committee: How far are you willing to go? The stakes are higher for in-state party elders, like the members of the Barbour family, against which this result is a direct challenge. For the leaders of the national GOP, though, how many millions of dollars do they wish to spend and how nasty do they wish to get in order to protect an incumbent that experience suggests will lose? The national and state GOP establishments have done a very effective job of calling McDaniel’s fitness for office into question. There’s more opposition research to be had on McDaniel and more character attacks to be made, and the next three weeks could be very ugly indeed. We know that McDaniel’s supporters will go to extreme lengths for their candidate and the campaign itself has not shied away from blowtorch negativity.

[@cstirewalt asked for your predictions last night on the Mississippi Senate primary. Check back tomorrow when we will declare our own winner.]

Dems delight - Democrats have something close to a credible candidate in former Rep. Travis Childers, a guy who voted to the right of a considerable number of Republicans during his brief tenure in the House. But Childers will have to essentially start a campaign from scratch. Since media is relatively cheap in Mississippi, national Democrats can get him up and running without robbing too many resources from other, more competitive races. They have a double incentive: trying to win the seat and trying to keep media focus on likely GOP winner McDaniel. Democrats are determined to turn the Mississippian into 2014’s version of failed 2012 Missouri GOP Senate nominee Todd Akin, whose ignorance of biology became a national talking point. If McDaniel wins the runoff, the best hope for Republicans would be to turn the race into a snoozer. While it seems rather unlikely that Cochran would accede to calls for him to drop out of the race, how hard and how ugly he and his supports want to go in these three weeks will have a lot to say about what McDaniel does down the stretch. The national GOP would no doubt like McDaniel to run a witness-protection style campaign in which the only thing voters see from him are positive ads. Already a rebel, McDaniel seems a poor candidate to start listening to his party elders, especially if the next three weeks bring more scorched earth.

Fox News: “[Joni Ernst], a state senator, handily won the [Republican] nomination, receiving enough votes to avoid a nominating convention in the five-way race. She'll face Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley in the November general election to replace retiring Democrat Tom Harkin, who held the seat for 30 years. Ernst attracted national attention after she released an ad in March playfully suggesting her experience on her family’s farm castrating pigs will translate to her cutting ‘pork’ in Congress, pledging to ‘make ‘em squeal’… Ernst told a crowd of cheering supporters after being declared the winner that she is running to represent ‘Iowa values’ in Washington. ‘I’m running for Senate because Iowa means everything to me,’ she said.”

Resoundingly Rounds - Former Gov. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., took 55 percent of the vote in the state’s GOP Senate primary, far surpassing the 35 percent threshold to avoid a runoff. Republicans view the South Dakota race as one of their strongest chances to pick up a Democratic seat in 2014 with Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., retiring. Rounds will face Democratic business owner Rick Weiland.

Montana throwdown already underway - AP:“Democratic Sen. John Walsh and Republican Rep. Steve Daines were just selected as their party nominees for the U.S. Senate, but their campaigns have been swinging against each other for weeks. Walsh and Daines have been operating as though there were no primary elections. Each has been focused on the other, looking ahead to the Nov. 4 general election that will determine whether the U.S. Senate seat that has been in Democratic hands for a century will remain so.”

Headed to convention in Iowa - No Republican candidate in the six-way race for the Hawkeye State’s 3rd Congressional district was able to reach the 35 percent threshold to avoid a convention. Tuesday’s split decision means all six will be on offer to party faithful on June 21: State Sen. Brad Zaun, Secretary of State Matt Schultz, biofuels association director Monte Shaw, construction company owner Robert Cramer, physical education teacher Joe Grandanette and David Young, a former aide to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. The retirement of Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa., a longtime member of House Speaker John Boehner’s team, has Democrats eyeing the seat as a potential pick-up. The Republican emerging from the convention will face former state Sen. Staci Appel, who had no primary opponent Tuesday.

DeMaio advances - Fox News: “Voters selected Carl DeMaio as one of the top two candidates in the blanket primary for the right to represent California's 52nd congressional district Tuesday night, moving DeMaio one step closer to becoming the first openly gay Republican elected to Congress.”

MacArthur wades into general election - Randolph Township, N.J. Mayor Tom MacArthur, a former insurance executive, beat failed 2013 senatorial candidate Steve Lonegan to secure the Republican nomination in the New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District. MacArthur will take on Democrat Aimee Belgard for the South Jersey seat left open by the retirement of Republican Rep. Jon Runyan, in what is shaping up to be one of the most competitive races of this cycle.

The drug industry lobby group, PhRMA, which was arguably President Obama’s most important partner in writing and passing ObamaCare, is voicing new concerns about soaring prices under the law.  The Hill: “In a blog post Tuesday, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) pointed to new research showing that insurers tended to apply federal cost-sharing subsidies to deductibles and out-of-pocket caps rather than to specific treatments and services, including specialty drugs. The group also blamed the Obama administration for failing to impose constraints on how insurers determine what part of their coverage merits an extra discount for low-income individuals.” A study commissioned by PhRMA last month showed that many Americans could end up paying more than double in out-of-pocket costs for prescriptions under some ObamaCare plans. These moves are swipes against the other industry group most crucial to the writing and passing of ObamaCare, big insurance. Obama’s challenge: to settle the conflict between his two patrons before it turns uglier.

[While ObamaCare is rallying Republican voters, the latest WaPo/ABC news poll finds less than 10 percent of Democrats consider the health law is the most important issue in the midterm elections.]

A quarter billion to fix failed ObamaCare exchanges - WSJ: “Five states that launched health exchanges under the Affordable Care Act expect to spend as much as $240 million to fix their sites or switch to the federal marketplace, a Wall Street Journal analysis shows.”

At Fox News Opinion, author Gordon G. Chang looks at Tiananmen 25 years later: This time the Chinese people will win. “[O]n the 25th anniversary of the slaughter in Beijing, most analysts nonetheless think Party rule is secure. They advance many points, but none so fervently as the notion that the state is so coercive that there has been no chance for an opposition to form. Consequently, they look at China and see no force that can bring the Communist Party down…China is particularly unstable at this moment, with citizens thinking they have rights and taking to the streets whenever they feel aggrieved. Popular opinion counts for much more now than it ever has in Chinese society. The combination of the concept of self-rule and the power of instant communications, which has never existed before, has magnified the strength of activists. Ideas, therefore, are more powerful than they have ever been. Beijing’s opponents may look weak and scattered to us, but appearances reveal almost nothing about their ability to change China… China can change overnight. The next time the Chinese people take to the streets in great numbers, they will win.”

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Real Clear Politics Averages
Obama Job Approval: Approve –  43.6 percent/Disapprove – 52.7 percent
Direction of Country: Right Direction – 29.8  percent/Wrong Track – 62.7 percent 
Generic Congressional Ballot:  Democrats – 43.2  percent/Republicans 41.6 percent

[Poll Watch: The latest Fox News polls on the Bergdahl prisoner swap, President Obama’s Afghanistan plan, the U.S. Marine being held in Mexico, the VA scandal, along with the president’s job approval ratings and leadership, will be released in the 6 p.m. ET hour during “Special Report with Bret Baier.”]

Daily Beast: “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was personally and intensely involved in the debate over swapping five Taliban commanders for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in 2011 and 2012. But she had severe reservations about the potential deal, and was demanding stricter conditions for the release of the prisoners than what President Obama settled for last week… White House officials did meet several times with Taliban leaders in 2011 and 2012 to discuss the deal. The negotiations, held in in Munich and Doha, fell apart in early 2012. But before they did, Clinton had a framework deal drawn up that was much tougher on the Taliban than what ultimately got done two years later. Three former administration officials who were involved in the process told The Daily Beast that Clinton was worried about the ability to enforce the deal and disinclined to trust the Taliban or the Haqqani network in Pakistan, which held Bergdahl until this weekend. Clinton was so concerned, the former officials added, that she may not have even signed off if the negotiations had succeeded… ‘She was heavily involved from the beginning, she was very skeptical of the arrangement, she was very wary of it,’ one former administration official said.”

[Watch Fox: The Senate will hold a closed door all-members briefing this evening where lawmakers will be updated on classified information that lead to the Bowe Bergdahl release. Chief Congressional Correspondent Mike Emanuel has the latest on the fallout on Capitol Hill.]

Senate Dems go silent on Taliban trade
- As the Clinton campaign pushes out the narrative about Hillary’s opposition to the deal to trade accused deserter Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five high-level enemy leaders, Clintonistas are taking flight from the controversial swap. On “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., was perhaps not in a state of “euphoria” over the deal, but certainly sounded like a fan, saying she was “very proud.” But as the charges mount against Bergdahl, McCaskill and her fellow Hillary helpers are sounding less enthusiastic. The Weekly Standard reports: ‘‘‘I’m not going to comment until I look at the brief,’ [said] annoyed McCaskill. ‘I’m not going to comment until I look at the brief,’ she repeated, referring to a classified briefing senators will receive [Wednesday]. McCaskill was not alone in her reluctance to support the deal. More than a dozen Democratic senators questioned…Tuesday afternoon declined to defend it… ‘It’s very disturbing,’ said Joe Manchin of West Virginia. ‘Everything you hear. I’m going to reserve judgment until after we have a secured briefing…’ … Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York declined to comment when asked if it was a good deal. In addition, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Chris Coons of Delaware, and Mark Begich of Alaska said they’re reserving judgment.”

A new low - The latest WaPo/ABC news poll shows President Obama hitting a new low when it comes to approval of his foreign policy. The president’s approval rating on international affairs now stands at 41 percent, a six percent drop since September.

He doesn’t Cotton to the deal - Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., an Afghan war veteran who is challenging Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., in November assailed the Bergdahl deal in an interview Tuesday. Cotton, who commanded a counterinsurgency unit in the same province formerly ruled by one of the released Taliban prisoners, told KWNA: “I think the president made a grievous error by negotiating with terrorists and engaging in a prisoner swap. There is now a price on the head of an American hostage. And Barack Obama has helped put that price there.”

Republicans are hoping a wave election could bring a tide of blue and purple states into their column. The Old Dominion is one of those states. In the latest edition of “Power Play with Chris Stirewalt,” Chris considers if the momentum will be strong enough for top Republican strategist turned senatorial hopeful, Ed Gillespie to topple popular centrist Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. Watch the race in 90 seconds here.

Kentuckians for Strong Leadership is reprising a radio ad blasting DemocratAllison Lundergan Grimes’ support of President Obama and Majority Leader Harry Reid, despite her public opposition to the administrations’ newly released regulations on coal plant emissions. From the ad: “Grimes was a Barack Obama delegate, supporting him even after he declared war on our coal communities.”

Vets group bashes McConnell over benefits bill opposition - The Veterans group, has released a newspaper ad slamming Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s opposition to a bill they claim would have expanded benefits and authorized 27 new clinics and medical facilities for veterans.

Washington Examiner: “The Center for Competitive Politics has lodged a formal complaint with the Senate Select Committee on Ethics, urging the committee to investigate nine senators for ‘improperly interfering with the administrative proceedings of the Internal Revenue Service.’ Monday’s request more specifically asks the committee to look into whether the senators used the IRS to suppress First Amendment speech rights of ‘certain nonprofit organizations.’ The list includes vulnerable Democrat incumbents Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.”

In a move that will help Democratic efforts to shift the election-year focus to campaign fundraising, wealthy technology executives are backing an outside group started by third-party proponents and campaign finance activists Lawrence Lessig and Mark McKinnon. WaPo reports that group is hoping to spend $12 million against candidates who oppose tighter government regulations on political activities.

[President Obama told donors in 2012 that he might be “in a strong position” to amend the Constitution to curb big campaign spending, according to a new book. The Hill has the deets.]

Which six Democrat-held seats are the most likely GOP pickups? The current consensus among Fox News First readers: Arkansas, Montana, Louisiana, South Dakota, North Carolina and West Virginia. Did Tuesday’s results make you rethink your top six? Are there states that now more at play than the ones listed here? We want to hear from you.

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

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tom Wolf, who won his party’s mantle last month, holds a 20-point lead over Republican incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett, R-Pa., according to a Quinnipiac University poll.

South Dakota GOP Senate candidate Dr. Annette Bosworth, who is famous for her internet rants, was part of a memorable TV moment on Tuesday night as she learned of her loss to Gov. Mike Rounds, R-S.D. live on the air. The AP had called the race for Rounds by a wide margin 20 minutes before Bosworth’s appearance on “The Kelly File,” where host Megyn Kelly asked for Bosworth’s reaction. “Well, um, that’s news to me. I didn’t know,” the stunned candidate replied. “I didn’t know, so I found out on national television.” Yes you did. See this one to believe it.

“The mistake [President Obama] made and this is part of his arrogance and also perhaps also ignorance is to celebrate the release with that press conference. When you make the swap, you know that the terms are uneven. You know the five guys … going to return and they are going to try to kill Americans.” – Charles Krauthammer on “The O’Reilly Factor.”

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