READ IN: Thursday, April 17, 2014: New Russia sanctions likely, Palin to Iowa (for Joni Ernst), Rand for Prez bill dies, Mike Simpson buys big in Idaho

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A1: The stories you need to read before your first conference call.

-- Ukrainian forces killed three pro-Russian militants and wounded 13 during a siege of a military base near the city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov. The clash, the most serious yet between Ukraine forces and pro-Russian demonstrators, came after Ukrainian officials said a mob of 300 attacked a military outpost overnight. (Washington Post)

-- White House officials are preparing a new round of sanctions against Russia as the tension in Ukraine rises. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov today in Geneva. U.S. officials say the fact the Kremlin has initiated the last several calls between President Obama and Vladimir Putin is an indication that Putin feels isolated and undercut. (Politico) In an interview, President Obama said it was "absolutely clear" that Russia had violated Ukraine's sovereignty. (CBS News)

-- President Obama heads to Asia next week, three years after announcing a renewed diplomatic focus on the region. The so-called "pivot" hasn't gone well: Relations between Japan and South Korea have soured, China is provoking other countries over naval territory, and Obama had to cancel his involvement in two summits between Asian countries during the government shutdown. Obama will visit Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines next week, and China, Burma and Australia in the fall. (Washington Post)

-- Republican leaders are telling members that criticizing the Affordable Care Act is the path to victory in November, regardless of how the implementation process goes. Tapping into conservative opposition to the law, party leaders say, is designed to boost turnout in the midterm year. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy: "The intensity level of those who have been most affected by this law is greater on the negative side than on the positive side." (Wall Street Journal)

-- Meanwhile, some Democrats say the party should embrace the Affordable Care Act, now that more than 7 million people have signed up for coverage. New ads running in Alaska thank Sen. Mark Begich (D) for helping get coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, without mentioning ObamaCare. (Associated Press)

-- Front Pages: WaPo highlights Ukraine's increasing budget problems, and the two-year long repair scheduled for the Capitol dome. NYT leads with Russia's slowing economy. WSJ leads with Ukraine, while USA Today leads with the South Korean ferry sinking.

National Roundup: What's happening outside the Beltway.

-- Nevada: In their first-ever joint TV appearance, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Dean Heller (R) on Friday will sit down for an interiew on KSNV-TV, Las Vegas's NBC affiliate. Reid and Heller requested the television time after the Cliven Bundy/BLM situation spiraled nearly out of control last week. They'll appear on the station's political debate show "What's Your Point?" (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

-- Louisiana: Congressional rules prevented Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) from using footage of herself at a hearing in a new ad out this week, so Landrieu's campaign reenacted the hearing. She mostly sticks to the verbatim transcript in the footage, though she does fix one grammatical error. (Fox News) Reid's Take: Campaign pros across the spectrum, left and right, say the ad, "Will Not Rest," is one of the best they've ever seen.

-- Iowa: Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) will stump for state Sen. Joni Ernst (R) on April 27, giving Ernst a big boost in a crowded Republican primary field. (Des Moines Register) Reid's Take: Palin's endorsement doesn't mean a lot in a general election, but in a primary, she's lifted several struggling candidates, including New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R), Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and even Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

-- Oklahoma: Shot: "I think every elected official, including me, owes it to people, the grassroots, to go and make the case to the grassroots," Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said last August, defending his decision not to endorse Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) for re-election (Dallas Morning News). Chaser: "I’m proud to offer [former Oklahoma House Speaker] T.W. [Shannon] my enthusiastic endorsement," Cruz said in a statement released by Shannon's campaign on Wednesday.

-- Virginia: Clear leaders are emerging in two D.C.-area open House seats. State Del. Barbara Comstock (R), a Bush administration alum, pulled in a whopping $761,000 in the first quarter (That's more than some Senate candidates). She'll likely face Fairfax County Supervisor John Foust (D), who raised $526,000 over the last three months, in a battle for retiring Rep. Frank Wolf's (R) VA 10. Former Lt. Gov. Don Beyer raised $668,000 in the first three months of the year, far outpacing the rest of the Democratic field in the race to replace outgoing Rep. Jim Moran (D) in VA 08. Other leading candidates reported raising around $200,000 during the first quarter. (Washington Post)

-- Kentucky: A bill that would allow candidates to appear on a ballot twice will die in the Democratic-controlled state House after passing the Republican-run Senate. That's bad news for Sen. Rand Paul (R), whose allies wanted to make the change in advance of a likely presidential bid in 2016. His Senate seat is up the same year.

-- Colorado: Candidates seeking statewide office have to turn in 1,500 valid signatures from each Congressional district to qualify for the ballot. Former Rep. Bob Beauprez (R) barely made it after thousands of his signatures were deemed invalid, finishing just barely above the threshold in the Denver-based 1st District and the Colorado Springs-centered 5th District. Beauprez, the 2006 Republican gubernatorial nominee, will face former Rep. Tom Tancredo, Secretary of State Scott Gessler and former state Sen. Mike Kopp in the June 24 primary. (Denver Post)

DC Digest: What's on tap today in DC.

-- President Obama will welcome the Wounded Warrior Project's Soldier Ride to the White House this morning. This afternoon, Obama and Vice President Biden meet with representatives from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, then with insurance industry executives.

-- Book Report: On her first day working for the Obama administration, Elizabeth Warren had lunch with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. On their way to the restaurant, Warren yelled at Geithner to put on his seatbelt, Warren writes in her new memoir (Warren and Geithner had a tense relationship while she worked to set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau). Warren plans a six-week book tour that will include stops in New York, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle and Portland. (Boston Globe)

TV Time Out: Our exclusive look at who's advertising, and where

-- Since the beginning of the year, Senate incumbents have spent $6.2 million on TV advertisements. Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have been advertising since 2013. Non-incumbents, mostly those running in competitive primaries, have spent $7.6 million.

-- Candidates are running TV ads earlier than ever, strategists said, because they have the money to do so, especially in smaller states with cheaper media markets, and they don't want to let outside groups frame the campaign. The danger is that money spent on early messages in April and May can't be spent on last-minute ad blitzes in September and October. But they don't want to let otherwise-winnable races get away from them, either; early money can be preventative, too. (Washington Post)

-- Idaho: Rep. Mike Simpson (R) has purchased $181,000 in broadcast ads set to run between today and the May 20 primary, equivalent to between 650 and 1,050 points in the Boise, Idaho Falls-Pocatello and Twin Falls markets. That number will probably rise: Simpson's campaign hasn't bought in Boise past this week. Attorney Bryan Smith (R) has bought a combined $53,000 in ad time in Idaho Falls-Pocatello and Twin Falls for ads running this week and next.

-- The Chamber of Commerce, which is backing Simpson, has $167,000 in ads running for the month leading up to the primary. The Club for Growth, which backs Smith, is spending $70,000 on ads this week. That flight will run through April 21. The Club has spent $185,000 boosting Smith so far, more than twice what Smith himself has been able to put on air.

Senate Minute: Our weekly 30,000-foot look at the battle for the Senate

-- Last week, we took stock of at-risk Democratic-held seats. This week, the Republican seats in play, in order of risk. Once again, for brevity's sake, we're limiting ourselves to one sentence (and a semicolon) per race:

-- 1) Georgia. Democrat Michelle Nunn is a skilled fundraiser, but her chances hinge on one of the weaker Republicans, like Reps. Phil Gingrey or Paul Broun, winning the nomination; businessman David Perdue and Rep. Jack Kingston are ahead at the moment. 2) Kentucky. Alison Lundergan Grimes sure can raise money, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has the bankroll to stay on TV from now through Election Day.

-- 3) Mississippi. Call this a bankshot race for Dems: Sen. Thad Cochran is leading, but if he loses the GOP primary, former Rep. Travis Childers could score a Joe Donnelly-esque surprise win. 4) Kansas. Dead last in the pack, even if Sen. Pat Roberts falls to a weak challenger like Milton Wolf, Kansans aren't going to back the architect of ObamaCare, even if she was their former governor.

-- Let's be clear: Kentucky and Georgia are real races. Mississippi could be, but only if lightening strikes. Kansas won't be. (Headline in today's Kansas City Star: "Kansas Democrats downplay a Senate bid by Kathleen Sebelius, while Republicans hope for it")

The Buried Lede: The nuggets that deserve the spotlight.

-- "'Of course, I know among this crowd I represent an endangered species – a Virginia Democrat,' [Sen. Mark] Warner (D-Va.) cracked. 'Not unlike Republican women, our numbers here are few.'" Warner was the keynote speaker at this year's Shad Planking, one of the must-visit political events of the year. Warner didn't roast his opponent, former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie. Later, talking with the press, Warner spent more time on his tenure as governor than on his first term in the Senate. (CNN)

B1: Business, politics and the business of politics

-- The Treasury Department will form a unit tasked with monitoring the municipal bond market with a particular focus on troubled borrowers after high-profile defaults in cities like Detroit. The unit will be led by former J.P. Morgan executive Kent Hiteshew. Muni bonds are a $3.7 trillion market. (Wall Street Journal)

-- Stock market futures are down a day after U.S. markets added about 1 percent. Most world markets are flat. (CNN)

C1: The long reads you'll need to check out before tonight's cocktail party.

-- "The Republican-leaning white majority is shrinking, while Barack Obama’s vote share in the growing Hispanic and Asian American communities increased from more than 60 percent in 2008 to more than 70 percent in 2012. What could go wrong? Among other things, demographic change itself could blunt the pro-Democratic impact of identity politics among non-whites and magnify its pro-Republican impact among whites." A smart take on the future of electoral politics in a changing America, from our colleagues at The Monkey Cage.

-- Rep. Vance McAllister (R-La.) seemed to openly flirt with Melissa Peacock, the woman he was seen kissing on a surveillance video, including at times when his wife was present. The video system that caught him was installed by his predecessor, former Rep. Rodney Alexander (R), as a security precaution after the attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in 2011. (Washington Post) Leah Gordon, the McAllister staffer accused of leaking the video, has resigned. McAllister's office said she was not fired. (Monroe News Star)

C4: The comics page, fun things to read when you're bored at work

-- Huy Fong Foods, maker of Sriracha, is considering moving its factory after battling the city of Irwindale, Calif., for months. Residents have complained that smells from the facility burn their eyes and throats. The Irwindale city council voted unanimously last week to declare the factory a public nuisance. (Los Angeles Times)

Attn Matt Drudge: Things conservatives will get outraged by today.

-- Emails obtained by the conservative group Judicial Watch show former IRS official Lois Lerner communicated with the Justice Department over possible criminal prosecution of conservative tax-exempt groups. The emails don't break new ground, but they'll add fuel a fire that's far from burned out. (Judicial Watch)

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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