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A1: The stories you need to read before your first conference call.
-- President Obama said new sanctions against Russia are imminent if Russia doesn't reverse course in Ukraine during a news conference in Tokyo. But Obama admitted that even new sanctions might not change Russian President Vladimir Putin's approach. Obama also said the U.S. continues to recognize Japan as the rightful owner of a chain of disputed islands that China has claimed too. (ABC)
-- Acting DHS Inspector General Charles Edwards altered and delayed investigations at the request of senior administration officials as he sought a permanent appointment, compromising the independent role the IG's office is supposed to play, according to a bipartisan Senate report to be released today. Edwards, the report says, relied too heavily on input from then-DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano's political advisors. (Washington Post)
-- The Navy has reassigned Capt. Gregory McWherter, a two-time commander of the Blue Angels, over charges the elite acrobatic squadron was rife with hazing, sexual harassment and discrimination. An internal document inadvertently emailed to a Washington Post editor says a former subordinate accused McWherter of promoting a hostile work environment and tolerating sexual harassment. (Washington Post)
-- The FCC will propose new rules allowing internet service providers to negotiate rates with individual content companies like Netflix or Google for priority access to consumers, a complete reversal on so-called "net neutrality" rules that were thrown out earlier this year by a federal appeals court. The rules would prevent service providers from blocking websites, but it would still allow priority treatment to some traffic. (Wall Street Journal)
-- The FDA today will announce plans to begin regulating electronic cigarettes by banning sales to minors and requiring health warnings. The agency won't ban TV advertising or flavorings, which some health watchdogs had advocated. Regulators say they don't have scientific evidence to rule on flavorings. (Los Angeles Times) In the absence of federal guidance, states have started passing their own e-cig regulations, many advocated by the industry itself. Background here.
-- Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) is awake and responsive after emergency heart surgery for an acute aortic dissection, his family said in a statement Wednesday. The statement said doctors are pleased with Boozman's progress so far. (Roll Call)
National Roundup: What's happening outside the Beltway.
-- WH'16: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) said Wednesday he's "thinking" about running for president, according to attendees present at a Catholic Charities fundraiser in New York City. Someone said they hoped he'd take a run at it. Bush responded: "Would you call and tell my mom?" (Politico) And Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) is the latest candidate to deny he's interested in running for president. (Washington Post)
-- Oklahoma: Former state House Speaker T.W. Shannon (R) leads Rep. James Lankford (R) in the race to replace outgoing Sen. Tom Coburn (R), according to a new Public Opinion Strategies poll taken for a conservative group backing Shannon. The survey, conducted earlier this week, shows Shannon leading Lankford 42 percent to 32 percent, with former state Sen. Randy Brogdon (R) at 7 percent. (POS) Bolger tells us: "Voters like James Lankford, but they love T.W. Shannon."
-- Colorado: Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) leads all Republican challengers by between 7 and 10 points, according to a new Quinnipiac poll. Hickenlooper's favorable rating is back up to 51 percent after falling to the mid-40s over the last year. (Quinnipiac) Expect a Senate poll out later today.
-- North Carolina: State House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) survived a second Republican debate Wednesday, the second of three scheduled before the May 6 primary. There's a last-minute push to get Tillis over the 40 percent threshold he needs to avoid a primary: American Crossroads dropped another $513,000 in TV ads backing Tillis on Wednesday, according to FEC reports, bringing their total investment in the race to $1.6 million. The Democratic group Senate Majority PAC is spending $800,000 on ads through the primary; Democrats are resigned to Tillis being the Republican nominee, but they're sure trying to force the runoff.
-- North Carolina: In other Tarheel State news, here's a twist on the establishment-vs.-Tea Party setup: An outsider making his first bid for office is promising to spend more time working within the structures of Congress, and more time compromising, than incumbent Rep. Walter Jones (R). Former Bush administration official Taylor Griffin is getting help from outside groups that don't like Jones's anti-foreign aid stance, and even from party bigwigs like former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R). (CNN) Reid's Take: More than a few Republicans in D.C. would not-so-secretly love to see Griffin replace Jones, a constant thorn in leadership's side.
-- Florida: Rep. David Jolly (R) won a special election earlier this year in part with the support of Beverly Young, widow of the late Rep. Bill Young (R). But that didn't last long; Beverly now tells several outlets in the Tampa Bay area she won't support Jolly anymore after the rookie congressman brought in his own staff to replace Bill's employees. (Tampa Bay Times)
-- Iowa: Businessman Mark Jacobs has spent $1.65 million of his own money trying to win the Republican nomination for retiring Sen. Tom Harkin's (D) seat. That's more than any Iowa candidate has ever spent from their own pocket. (Des Moines Register) Across the Mississippi, Illinois gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner (R) probably thinks Jacobs is a cheapskate.
-- New York: Today marks the filing deadline for major party candidates. Federal candidates will face off in the June 24 primary.
DC Digest: What's on tap today in DC.
-- President Obama's day in Tokyo started about 9 p.m. ET. He met with the Emperor and Empress at the Imperial Palace, then met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Akasaka Palace. Obama toured a science museum and the Meiji Shrine, and tonight he attends a formal state dinner. Vice President Joe Biden will attend a fundraiser in Woodbury, N.Y., tonight for DCCC chairman Steve Israel. Biden overnights at home in Wilmington.
-- Sign that the Robot Apocalypse is nigh: Obama played soccer with a humanoid robot about the size of a 10-year old child at Tokyo's Miraikan Science Expo. Click here for a photo.
TV Time Out: Our exclusive look at who's advertising, and where
-- Virginia: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is going negative on a little-known college professor running against him in the Republican primary. The new ad ties David Brat to a tax increase signed into law by then-Gov. Tim Kaine (D). (WWBT-TV)
-- Idaho: The National Association of Realtors is perhaps the lowest-profile outside group spending big money in politics today. They spent $8.2 million on ads in 2012, and they've already given $2.3 million to federal candidates this year -- more than all but 12 other big D.C. groups. Now, they're spending for Rep. Mike Simpson (R). The Realtors bought $32,000 in cable TV ads set to run between April 30 and May 13.
-- Arkansas: The Government Integrity Fund Action Network, a GOP super PAC that spent big against Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) last year, is the latest group spending against Sen. Mark Pryor (D). They'll drop $120,000 on new ads through April 27, and they have $40,000 in cable spending set to begin running tomorrow.
-- The new group hitting Pryor got us thinking: Just how many outside groups can possibly run ads beating up on Pryor and Rep. Tom Cotton (R)? The answer: A lot. By our count, 13 groups have spent on the Republican side, including Cotton's campaign. Seven have spent on the Democratic side, including Pryor's campaign. They've spent a total of $8.5 million on ads so far, meaning Arkansas voters aren't seeing much else on TV.
-- The leading groups so far: Americans for Prosperity, which has dumped $1.4 million on the Republican side, and Cotton's campaign, which has spent about $800,000 on TV. On the left, Patriot Majority leads the charge with $1.3 million spent. Pryor's campaign started advertising early, way back in June 2013. They've spent $1.37 million on ads to date.
The Buried Lede: The nuggets that deserve the spotlight.
-- "The collapse of Democratic support among Southern whites threatens the party’s ability to control government and enact its agenda. Democrats will find it extremely hard to retake the House without reclaiming the majority white, Southern districts once held by the now vanquished group of Democrats known as the Blue Dogs. This November, Southern whites could easily deny Democrats control of the Senate by dismissing Democratic incumbents in North Carolina, Arkansas and Louisiana."
-- Click through to Nate Cohn's analysis of where Democrats have lost support among white voters. President Obama won a shockingly low percentage of the white vote -- less than 20 percent -- in huge parts of the rural Mountain West and South. (New York Times)
B1: Business, politics and the business of politics
-- Democratic ad maker Mark Putnam is getting credit for cinematic ads he's made for his clients this year, like 60-second bio spots for Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska). And Americans for Prosperity ads that take a softer tone on the Affordable Care Act are striking a chord better among independent voters than those run by other groups. The goal across party lines: Stand out in the crowd. (New York Times)
-- Stock futures are higher in pre-market trading today after all three major indices fell slightly yesterday. Most European markets are trading higher. (CNN)
C1: The long reads you'll need to check out before tonight's cocktail party.
-- Top Democratic donors are huddling in Chicago next week for the Democracy Alliance's annual spring meeting, where New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will keynote the opening dinner. Liberals trying to move the party left will use the conference to assert themselves, in between parties like a wine tasting featuring selections from donors' vineyards. A must-read on the left's version of the Koch brothers' secretive retreats. (Politico)
Attn Matt Drudge: Things conservatives will get outraged by today.
-- Those New York Times polls from yesterday, the ones that showed Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) leading by 10 and other Democrats running well? Unskew them! Noted polling expert Bill Kristol says the polls are "bogus." (Weekly Standard) Here's NYT's pushback on the criticism.
Attn HuffPo: What outrages liberals today
-- Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher whose unpaid grazing fees led to a standoff with BLM, is quite outspoken on the subject of race. "I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy?" he said, in an actual interview, with an actual reporter named Adam Nagourney. Who wants to guess what MSNBC is going to be covering today? (New York Times)