Hillary Clinton in Davenport, Iowa, on Monday (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)

THE BIG IDEA:

POINT CLEAR, Ala.—Bernie Sanders could win the Iowa caucuses and/or the New Hampshire primary. If that happens, the South stands ready to save Hillary Clinton.

The Democratic primary in South Carolina is Saturday, Feb. 27, and Clinton has a much more comfortable lead than in the first two early states. Then Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia all vote the following Tuesday, March 1.

Several Republican secretaries of state in the region worked together to move up the contests so that the South would have more clout. While their primary focus in creating “the SEC Primary,” named for the college football conference, was prodding the GOP to choose a more conservative nominee, the unintended result has been to give the Democratic frontrunner a firewall in case things kick off poorly.

“I believe Hillary is a lock to sweep the Deep South,” said Richard Fording, the chair of the political science department at the University of Alabama.

This was a common sentiment I heard during nine days in the South over the holidays. It’s backed up by what sparse polling there is and conversations with leading Democrats.

— Dynamics can change quickly. Recall 2008, when the Clinton juggernaut turned out to be not so unstoppable, but here’s the bottom line: So long as the former first lady of Arkansas maintains overwhelming support among African Americans, who make up the majority of the Democratic electorate in several of these states, her outlook in the region – and for the nomination – remains very rosy.

John Lewis introduces Clinton at an “African Americans for Hillary” rally at Clark Atlanta University on Oct. 30. (Reuters/Tami Chappell)

— Clinton has a near monopoly on support from the Democratic establishment in the South. She has spent years improving relationships that were frayed during the brutal battle with Obama, when Bill Clinton bitterly called his candidacy a “fairy tale” and friends like John Lewis, the civil rights hero, defected.

— Lewis says he’s backing Clinton “wholeheartedly” this time. So are a bevy of other prominent African Americans from Georgia, including former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, Reps. Hank Johnson and David Scott, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Stacey Abrams, the powerful minority leader of the state House. The campaign rolled out these endorsements in the fall, and the support has shown no signs of fraying.

Here in Alabama, where Democrats are more of a minority party, Clinton has the strong backing of the mayor of Birmingham and the only Democrat in the nine-member congressional delegation, Terri Sewell. The former Secretary of State spoke at the Alabama Democratic Conference convention in October and then came to Montgomery in December, to mark the anniversary of the bus boycott.

Clinton has weighed in vocally against the state’s decision to shut down 31 driver’s license offices, calling it “a blast from the Jim Crow past.” Among the 60 Alabamians on her “leadership council” is Fred Gray, the civil rights attorney who defended Rosa Parks after she refused to go to the back of the bus.

— Many on these “leadership teams,” which have been rolled out for every key Super Tuesday state, are superdelegates. They automatically get a vote at the national convention in Philadelphia next summer because they hold elected office or a party leadership position, and they are not bound by how their state votes. Nationally, Sanders has secured the backing of 11 such superdelegates, including himself. Clinton has received public pledges of support from more than 350 of about 700 total.

“Since the first day of her campaign, Hillary Clinton has been working hard to earn the nomination – from the early caucuses and primaries, through Super Tuesday and beyond – and she’s building a ground-up grassroots campaign to get the job done,” says spokesman Jesse Ferguson.

Host Larry Wilmore interviews Bernie Sanders on Comedy Central’s “The Nightly Show” last night. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Comedy Central)

— Sanders has tried with limited success to make inroads in the SEC primary states. The campaign said recently that it will open three field offices in Alabama. “It’s a real uphill battle here,” Juanita Juarez, who had helped gather signatures to put Sanders on the ballot in Alabama, recently told my colleague David Weigel. “There’s a lot of name recognition to get past. People know Hillary; the first time I talk to people about Bernie is usually the first time they’ve heard about him.”

Sanders’ broader challenge is that he’s not peeling away enough African Americans from Clinton, despite regularly campaigning with Cornel West, embracing the Black Lives Matter movement and recently traveling to Chicago essentially to criticize embattled Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a Clinton ally.

Sanders is not Obama. Besides the obvious, the septuagenarian has represented a rural, almost entirely white state in Congress. He’s not needed to build ties with communities of color over his decades in politics.

— In the short-term, the Clinton campaign is primarily focused on winning decisively in Iowa and New Hampshire. She finished third in the 2008 caucuses and has a steady, but fragile, lead in the polls this year. “I know that if I get off to a good start here in Iowa, we’re halfway home,” Clinton said in Davenport this week, making her 75th appearance in the state since announcing her candidacy last April. “The battle for Iowa is mostly a battle of expectations,” Anne Gearan and John Wagner write in today’s paper. “Expectations are lower for Sanders, who at times sounds almost surprised by his success.” If Sanders somehow wins the first two states, Clinton is surely in for a longer slog to the nomination than widely anticipated.

— It’s historically unusual for a candidate to prevail in both Iowa and New Hampshire. Sanders today seems much better positioned to win in New Hampshire, which borders his own states and where he’s led in public polling. Just like the Granite State broke late for Clinton eight years ago after Obama’s victory in the Hawkeye State, though, it’s easy to imagine something similar happening again if Sanders managed to pull out a win in Iowa on Feb. 1. Independent voters who can choose which primary to cast a ballot in might suddenly be more interested in the Democratic contest, which has been relatively staid because of the drama in the GOP field.

— More than just Southern states go on March 1. Colorado, Minnesota, Massachusetts – plus Sanders’ home state of Vermont – also vote that Tuesday. Clinton has campaigned in each of these places but Vermont.

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

North Korean soldiers parade through Pyongyang. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

— North Korea announced that it conducted a successful hydrogen bomb test. The U.S. Geological Survey recorded a 5.1 magnitude artificial earthquake about 20 miles from the country’s main nuclear site at Punggye-Ri. This would be North Korea’s third nuclear test since 2006, and second during the reign of Kim Jong Un. What you need to know:

  • “There is a considerable amount of skepticism about the North’s assertion,” The Post’s Tokyo bureau chief, Anna Fifield, reports. “Nuclear experts and the South Korean military saying that the size of the blast was consistent with an atomic explosion, not an enormous hydrogen bomb.”
  • The United Nations Security Council will hold an emergency meeting in New York today to discuss the international response.
  • The State Department says it is monitoring the situation. “While we cannot confirm these claims at this time, we condemn any violation of U.N. Security Council Resolutions and again call on North Korea to abide by its international obligations and commitments,” said spokesman John Kirby.
  • Why now? “It’s Kim Jong Un’s birthday on Friday — probably his 33rd, although it could be his 32nd, such is the paucity of our knowledge about the ‘Great Successor’ — so the launch could be an early gift for him,” Fifield reports. “The leaders’ birthdays are always celebrated with a lot of fanfare in North Korea.”
  • Smart take: Our man in Beijing, Simon Denyer, explains that the test actually reflects North Korea’s deteriorating relations with China more than a response to U.S. hostility.
  • Rubio was the first 2016 candidate to release a statement, giving a taste of the news cycle to come: “I have been warning throughout this campaign that North Korea is run by a lunatic who has been expanding his nuclear arsenal while President Obama has stood idly by. If this test is confirmed, it will be just the latest example of the failed Obama-Clinton foreign policy. … We need new leadership that will stand up to people like Kim Jong-un…”

— Two big fights escalated in the Republican race: 

Donald Trump gestures during a rally at Stevens High School in Claremont, N.H., last night. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

— First, Donald Trump vs. Ted Cruz:

  • Trump said Cruz’s Canadian birth could be “very precarious” for the GOP. “Republicans are going to have to ask themselves the question: ‘Do we want a candidate who could be tied up in court for two years?’ That’d be a big problem,” Trump told The Post’s Robert Costa and Philip Rucker during an interview in New Hampshire. “It’d be a very precarious one for Republicans because he’d be running and the courts may take a long time to make a decision. You don’t want to be running and have that kind of thing over your head.” In the interview, Trump insisted that he was merely providing a candid assessment of his leading opponent rather than initiating a personal attack and reviving the “birther” debate that he once led against President Obama. He repeatedly said he is hearing chatter on the topic among voices on the right. “People are bringing it up,” he said.
  • Cruz responded with a tweet that linked to a video of Fonzie “jumping the shark” on Happy Days. Watch here.
  • Meanwhile, during his bus tour around Iowa, Cruz tweaked Trump on immigration. “He’s advocated allowing folks to come back in and become citizens. I oppose that,” the Texas senator told a questioner in a video posted by BuzzFeed.
Chris Christie speaks at a college student convention yesterday in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

— Second, Chris Christie vs. Rubio: 

  • The Florida senator charged that Christie has been too closely aligned with President Obama on gun control, health care and Common Core. His super PAC is using the same line of attack in its own New Hampshire ads.
  • Christie, in an interview with The Post, hit back hard. “I just don’t think Marco Rubio’s going to be able to slime his way to the White House,” Christie told Costa and Rucker. “He’s never been in a tough race in his life. The guy who advocated for amnesty and then ran away when the topic got too hot tells you two things: He’s not a reliable conservative, A, and, B, whenever it gets too hot, Marco turns tail and runs. … I’m not the least bit concerned that Marco Rubio will hurt me with conservatives. Rubio has work himself to do with conservatives.” (More on the back-and-forth here.)
  • Early look — Christie is going up in New Hampshire today with a commercial responding to the Rubio super PAC attack ads. “Do not be fooled,” Christie says. “Any significant division within the Republican Party leads to the same awful result – Hillary Rodham Clinton in January of 2017 taking the oath of office as president of the United States. This country cannot afford that outcome, and thus we Republicans have a duty – I believe a profound, moral duty – to work together.” (Watch here.)

— Christie is staffing up. The New Jersey governor has had one of the smallest campaign teams of the major candidates, with just 34 staffers. “But Christie has hired six additional aides, four nationally and two in New Hampshire, bringing his campaign’s headcount to 40,” Rucker reports.

A Christie adviser tells the 202 the campaign will place advertising buys today in both Iowa and South Carolina, an indication they are bringing in more money and continue to look beyond just New Hampshire, where their primary focus has been over the past year.

— Rubio, meanwhile, is going up today with an ad focused on attacking the current president: “Barack Obama released terrorists from Guantanamo, and now they are plotting to attack us,” the senator says to camera. “Instead of fighting to fund our troops, he fights to fund Planned Parenthood. He spies on Israel and cut a deal with Iran. His plan after the attack in San Bernardino: take away our guns. While ISIS is beheading people, burning them in cages, he says climate change is our greatest threat.” Watch here:

— The latest from the Oregon standoff:

  • County police say they are working diligently to end the occupation of a wildlife refuge, but the sheriff told reporters that the steps being taken “aren’t visible to the public.” (The Oregonian)
  • The FBI has been tracking one of the occupiers for months because the Marine from Arizona has posted several videos threatening violence towards Muslims. (Peter Holley)
  • There are now more reporters and bystanders than armed protesters at the wildlife refuge, Carissa Wolf writes in a scene story.
  • Ammon Bundy, a leader of the armed protesters, told CNN he took out a $530,000 federal loan for his company.

GET SMART FAST:

  1. Top Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee vowed to use the power of the purse to block funding for Obama’s executive actions on guns. (Kelsey Snell and Karoun Demirjian)
  2. One U.S. soldier was killed and two others were wounded during a joint U.S.-Afghan special operations mission near Marja, Afghanistan. (Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Missy Ryan)
  3. The FBI asked for the public’s help in finding out what the two San Bernardino terrorists did during an 18-minute window after the rampage. (Mark Berman)
  4. Police arrested a man who set fire to a Planned Parenthood clinic near Los Angeles, saying the arson was motivated by a domestic dispute and was not a political statement. (Los Angeles Times)
  5. E-cigarette marketing has become so ubiquitous that it now reaches more than two-thirds of middle and high school students, according to a new CDC report. (Brady Dennis)
  6. Turkish authorities found the bodies of 21 migrants, including three children, washed ashore on the Aegean coast. (Daniela Deane)
  7. A security firm blamed Russian hackers for widespread power outages in Ukraine. (Ellen Nakashima)
  8. The Nevada Democratic Party hopes to boost turnout for the caucuses by unveiling a new online pre-registration tool. (Las Vegas Sun)
  9. The jackpot for tonight’s Powerball drawing is $450 million.
  10. Bill Cosby’s wife, Camille, was granted a temporary reprieve from being deposed in a defamation suit against her husband by seven women. (AP)
  11. The Agriculture Department recalled 90,000 pounds of beef after wood pieces were found in the production process. (ABC News)
  12. A record number of cars were sold in the United States last year, eclipsing a peak last reached in 2000 and spurred by cheap gasoline and low interest rates. (Wall Street Journal)
  13. A Navy captain was relieved of his command at the helm of a guided missile submarine after it struck a buoy and ran aground while trying to dock in Georgia. (Navy Times)
  14. A Marine was arrested in connection with the fatal shooting of a female University of North Texas student on New Year’s Day in Denton, Texas. (WFAA)
  15. At least 40 former students say they were sexually assaulted between 1974 and 2004 at St. George’s School, an elite prep academy in Rhode Island. (Sarah Kaplan)
  16. The mother of the “affluenza” teen, appearing in a Los Angeles court room after her capture in Mexico last week, said she does not object to being extradited back to Texas. “In the short hearing, Tonya Couch stood inside a glass caged area,” the Los Angeles Times reports.
Tonya Couch (left) during an extradition hearing at the Los Angeles Superior Court yesterday. Couch is the mother of a fugitive teenager known for using an “affluenza” defense in a deadly drunken-driving case. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times via AP, Pool)

POWER PLAYERS IN THE NEWS:

  1. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley will deliver the GOP response to the State of the Union address next Tuesday. (Karoun Demirjian)
  2. Jeb Bush apologized for repeatedly saying he received a non-existent award from the NRA and for wrongly claiming that Charlton Heston gave him a rifle. “I am the most pro-Second Amendment person running for president,” he said in New Hampshire. “I apologize for getting that wrong, but I think the intent was pretty clear.” (Ed O’Keefe)
  3. British lawmakers will debate on Jan. 18 whether to ban Trump from the United Kingdom after a petition collected 560,000 signatures. (Adam Taylor and Niraj Chokshi)
  4. Hillary Clinton called for a nationwide early screening process to detect autism in children, and will push states to make insurance companies pay for developmental and behavioral autism services. (Anne Gearan and Lenny Bernstein)
  5. Rahm Emanuel said it’s “not possible” that Chicago’s City Hall was behind a cover-up, deflecting blame to the city’s police department a day after a judge ruled that a prosecutor intentionally withheld evidence in a fatal police shooting. Meanwhile, the city split $5.5 million among 57 men who were electrocuted, suffocated and beaten by the city’s cops between the ’70s and ’90s. (Chicago Tribune)
  6. Josh Romney, Mitt’s son, announced he is “strongly considering” running for governor of Utah in 2020 and is not deterred by fellow Republican Jason Chaffetz, who says he is likely to run. (Deseret News)
  7. Emilio Huerta, the son of Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez, announced he will challenge Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.). (The Bakersfield Californian)
  8. Trump called voting fraud a rampant problem at his rally in New Hampshire last night, saying the system is “out of control.” He also said he supports equal pay for women. (Jenna Johnson)
  9. Trump will speak at Liberty University’s first convocation this year, addressing thousands of young evangelicals on Jan. 18. This is where Cruz announced his candidacy. (Sarah Pulliam Bailey)
  10. Only $1.7 million has been spent on ads attacking or negatively portraying Trump, according to a Huffington Post analysis of the $99.3 million in spending so far on presidential campaign commercials.
  11. Chris Chocola, the former president of the Club for Growth, endorsed Rubio.
  12. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) announced that he raised $3.5 million in the second half of 2015 and has $6.8 million cash on hand. His Democratic challenger, John Gregg, raised about $2 million for one of the marquee governor’s races of 2016. (Indianapolis Star)
  13. Bernie Sanders called for capping interest rates on credit cards at 15 percent and capping ATM fees at $2 during his Wall Street reform speech. (John Wagner)
  14. Polling show that Democratic primary voters who have daughters are more likely to support Hillary than Democrats with sons. (Monkey Cage)
  15. Abby Wambach, the captain of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team that won the World Cup last year, will spend this weekend doing surrogate events in New Hampshire for the Clinton campaign. (Keene Sentinel)
Abby Wambach waves to fans in her final game before retiring last fall. (Derick E. Hingle/USA Today Sports)

WAPO HIGHLIGHTS:

Nancy Pelosi gets updates from Steve Israel, then chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, on election night 2014. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

— “Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), once a rising star, won’t seek re-election after 16 years,” by Paul Kane: “Israel’s announcement, a surprise given his recent appointment as a top adviser to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), came on the first day of the new session of Congress. His decision to retire follows the move by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), another Pelosi confidant, to give up his House seat to run in a contested April primary for the seat of retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.). … His Long Island-based district skews toward Democrats, but is not a slam dunk …With a trio of 70-somethings atop the Democratic caucus — Pelosi is 75, House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) is 76, Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.) is 75 — some viewed Israel as a potential member of the next-generation team of leaders once those veterans retired. Now, with Israel and Van Hollen leaving the House, Pelosi has no obvious natural ally to run for one of the top two positions in leadership. No one is sure when those openings will come.”

— “Paul Ryan’s year of contrasts begins with Obamacare repeal vote,” by Mike DeBonis: “Congressional Republicans on Wednesday are set to make good on a central campaign pledge from the 2014 midterms, delivering a bill repealing the health care reform law they loathe to President Obama’s desk, forcing a certain veto … House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, barely two months into his new role as GOP standard bearer, is faced with selling another symbolic vote — the latest in dozens of anti-Obamacare votes — as a significant step forward to frustrated conservatives.”

John Kasich arrives for a town hall meeting in Hopkinton, N.H. (Photo by Charles Ommanney/The Washington Post)

— “Spurning the party line,” by Dan Zak: John Kasich in is “in the bottom tier of presidential candidates, polling around 2 percent nationally, but he’s burdened by more than poor numbers. As governor of Ohio he made a decision to accept the expansion of Medicaid as part of Obamacare — a choice that brands him as a moderate or, worse, a RINO (Republican in name only) … Why Kasich approved the Medicaid expansion — and how — forecasts the type of president he would be: sometimes compassionate and often cunning. Kasich didn’t agonize over the decision … But Kasich wasn’t about to turn down an expected infusion of $13 billion. He is a man obsessed with budgets, and he believed Medicaid expansion was a step toward balance in Ohio … There was one way around the legislature: the state’s Controlling Board … Kasich needed only four yes votes on the board. Two of the board members were Democrats. Kasich needed Ohio’s speaker of the House, a conservative named William Batchelder, to use his authority to replace two anti-expansion board members … Batchelder was won over by Kasich’s conviction that this was the right thing to do.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

— WORD CLOUD WEDNESDAY: These clouds from our analytics partners at Zignal Labs show pretty clearly what dominated the conversation about each of the five leading presidential contenders.

Obama’s executive action on guns loomed large in mentions of Cruz and Rubio:

Cruzjan6

Rubiojan6

The Trump talk continued to focus on his first TV spot (Moroccan border and all):

Trumpjan6

Sanders coverage focused on his policy plans for Wall Street:

Sandersjan6

As for Clinton, her pledge to get to the bottom of whether aliens have already visited Earth completely dominated the social media chatter for a second day:

hillaryjan6

— Pictures of the day:

Wheaton College will try to fire a professor for writing on Facebook that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. The tenured political scientist at the Illinois evangelical school is wearing a hijab to show solidarity with Muslims:

Wheaton College is trying to fire associate professor Larycia Hawkins. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

There are pretty much no words to describe this image of Robin Roy, who attended Trump’s rally Monday night in Lowell, Mass.:

Boston Globe photographer Keith Bedford got a quote:

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) showed off his new/old look, saying: “Fresh year. Fresh start. Fresh shave”:

Washington Sens. Maria Cantwell (D) and Patty Murray playfully taunted Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D) and Al Franken (D). The Seahawks-Vikings playoffs wildcard game is this Sunday:

— Tweets of the day:

Obama wipes a tear while talking about Newtown and other mass killings at the White House yesterday. (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

— Obama cried as he unveiled modest new restrictions on gun sales. “The 37-minute speech became part eulogy, part admission of political failure and part constitutional lecture on the Second Amendment,” write Juliet Eilperin and David Nakamura. “Flanked by more than a dozen men and women, many of whom he had consoled privately shortly after they lost loved ones to gun violence, Obama summoned the memory of nearly two dozen children killed three years ago in their Connecticut school.” Watch the video:

Ex-Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.) was one of several victims of gun violence in the East Room:

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.)  said “Congress is not off the hook” on gun control:

Rapper Wale and Amy Schumer came to D.C. for the announcement:

Hillary quickly embraced Obama’s proposal, suggesting she would expand on it if elected:

But Republicans on the campaign trail were quick to push back. This image was posted on Ted Cruz’s landing page:

Congressional Republican leaders also decried the measures:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) chimed in:

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) — who supports Rand for president — attacked Rubio after he offered a new defense for his absenteeism during an event in Cedar Rapids:

— Instagrams of the day:

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott (R) posted: “Here’s to 2016 South Carolina!”

“Nothing better on a frigid day than chicken soup from Miranda’s Deli in downtown Albany,” pronounced Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.):

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) praised the form of these “GI yogis” found in D.C.:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

— Wall Street Journal, “New Hampshire GOP race still wide open,” by Heather Haddon: “New Hampshire voters have long relished putting presidential candidates through intense scrutiny, and voters interviewed at eight political events in recent days revealed a vacillating electorate burdened by the prospect of choosing just one primary contender. … Republican-leaning voters are the most engaged in their nomination fight, state polls show, with a field of 12 GOP candidates still competing. A CNN/WMUR New Hampshire Primary Poll of likely primary voters last month found that 56% of Republicans were still trying to choose a candidate, while 44% of Democrats were ahead of the Feb. 9 primary. … State exit polls show that the number of voters who pick a presidential nominee in the final days of the campaign has grown. In 2012, 46% of GOP primary voters chose their candidate in the three days leading up to the election, up from 39% in 2008 and 26% in 2000, University of New Hampshire Survey Center data show. ‘You shouldn’t believe in polls in New Hampshire until the weekend before the election, and I’ll tell you that as a pollster,’ said Zachary S. Azem, a survey center researcher.”

— Slate, “Trump’s anti–Bill Clinton strategy shows how much the GOP is counting on old voters,” by Jamelle Boule: “This worry—and Trump’s obvious bet that he can harm Hillary using Bill—might make sense if this were 2004 or even 2008. But in 2016, it’s an odd—even bad—bet. Why? Because much of the American electorate is too young to care … This November, if projections hold true, 31 percent of all eligible voters—68 million people—will be between 18 and 35 years old. This year’s youngest voters, in other words, were born at the tail end of Bill Clinton’s second term, in 1998.”

— Discovery Magazine, “Milky Way has burping black hole neighbor,” by Irene Klotz: “A supermassive black hole at the center of a neighbor galaxy apparently ‘burped’ after swallowing up nearby matter, a phenomenon that may have been instrumental in shaping the early universe, new research shows. Scientists using NASA’s Chandra X-ray telescope found two streams of X-ray emissions near the heart of NGC 5195, a small galaxy located about 27 million light-years away. The galaxy is in the process of merging with another galaxy, NGC 5194, a large spiral also known as ‘The Whirlpool.’”

HOT ON THE LEFT

The Affordable Care Act did not force employees into part-time work, according to a Health Affairs journal study. From The Hill: “The law mandates that employers provide health insurance for people working 30 hours or more per week. This had sparked reports that some employers would cut hours to avoid paying out insurance. However, the study, which looks at data from the Current Population Survey, does not find evidence to support suggestions the law would have such an effect.'”

HOT ON THE RIGHT

Bill O’Reilly said every person who buys a gun should undergo a background check, a rare opinion he shares with President Obama. From the Washington Examiner: “The FBI should background check anyone buying a firearm in America. That just makes sense,” the Fox News host said. “If you are paranoid and believe the government is stockpiling information so they can come to your house and take your guns, that’s your problem.”

DAYBOOK:

— What’s happening today on the campaign trail: Hillary Clinton is in Nevada, and will make stops in Henderson and Las Vegas before attending a caucus dinner. Martin O’Malley will also attend the dinner, which is at 7 p.m. Pacific at the MGM Grand. Ted Cruz continues his swing through Iowa, making stops in Rock Rapids, Sibley, Spirit Lake, Spencer and Storm Lake. Marco Rubio, also in Iowa, holds a town hall in Marshalltown at 9 a.m. Central. Ben Carson will speak at a town hall in Panora, followed by stops in Winterset and Pella. Mike Huckabee hosts meet and greets in Decorah, Oelwein, and Grinnell. Jeb Bush speaks at a town hall in Meredith, N.H., at 6:30 p.m. Carly Fiorina is also in New Hampshire, and she will campaign in Portsmouth, Northwood and Dover before concluding her day with a town hall in Exeter.

— On the Hill: The House meets at 10 a.m. for morning hour and at noon for legislative business. The first votes of the day will begin at 2:15. There will be one-hour debates on H.R. 3762, which is Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act of 2015 sponsored by Rep. Tom Price, and on H.R. 1155, also known as the SCRUB Act of 2015, sponsored by Rep. Jason Smith. The Rules Committee also will hear H.R. 1927, the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2015 at 3 p.m. The Legislative and Budget Process Subcommittee at 10:30 a.m. will hear H.R. 1610, which is the Biennial Budgeting and Enhanced Oversight Act of 2015.

— At the White House: President Obama and Vice President Biden will eat lunch together, and then they will both sit with John Kerry in the Oval Office.

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

“I don’t think I can spend another day in another call room making another call begging for money,” said former DCCC chairman Steve Israel, explaining his decision to retire to the New York Times. “I always knew the system was dysfunctional. Now it is beyond broken.”

NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:

It’s cold again but not as bad as the past two days. “High pressure begins to drift away to our east-northeast, but should maintain enough control for mostly to partly clear skies,” the Capital Weather Gang forecasts. “Lows are cold but not as chilly as the past couple nights, dropping down to near 20 to near 30 with very light or calm winds.”

— The Capitals ended their two-game losing streak with a 3-2 victory on the road against the Boston Bruins. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)

— The D.C. Council reversed its decision to allow pot smoking on rooftop bars and private patios just 30 minutes after reaching it. Mayor Muriel Bowser argued it would be impossible to control open pot use once allowed in certain areas. (Aaron C. Davis)

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, while in Havana, called on Obama to visit Cuba before he leaves office. He said he would be surprised if the president doesn’t make the trip. (Laura Vozzella)

Virginia state Sen. Creigh Deeds, the 2009 Democratic nominee for governor, filed a $6 million wrongful death lawsuit. It accuses the state, a mental health professional and an agency of gross negligence and medical malpractice for not finding his son a psychiatric bed at the hospital. Hours later, his son stabbed him and then killed himself. (Jenna Portnoy)

More violence on the Metro: A man riding the Yellow Line towards the U Street Cardozo station had his ear cut open during an attempted robbery last night. (Martin Weil)

Donna Edwards (Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

— Donna Edwards continues to struggle financially in her Maryland Senate primary battle with Chris Van Hollen. “Van Hollen has spent nearly $1 million since October on television advertising in Baltimore, where he and Edwards are not well known. But with less than four months to go until the April 26 primary, Edwards has not aired a single commercial. Campaign finance records suggest that she is struggling to pay staff salaries and come up with money for other basics in her quest to succeed retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski,” Rachel Weiner reports. “By the end of September, Van Hollen, whose congressional district is based in Montgomery County, had $4.1 million in the bank. Edwards, who represents Prince George’s County and part of Anne Arundel County, had $368,500. The next round of financial disclosures is due Jan. 31.”

— Ryan Zimmerman and Ryan Howard sued Al Jazeera America for libel over its reporting linking them to steroids. (Barry Svrluga)

The Baseball Hall of Fame will unveil its new class tonight. Among the eligible players are first-year candidate Ken Griffey Jr., as well as Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza. To be selected, players need support from 75 percent of the voters. (Barry Svrluga)

TV SPOT OF THE DAY:

Called “Invasion,” this Cruz ad argues the immigration debate would be much different if it were journalists, lawyers or bankers crossing the Rio Grande. The spot takes a not-so-subtle shot at Rubio:

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

“The Daily Show” spoofed Fox News ringing in the new year:

Samuel L. Jackson says The Donald does know him, and discusses Trump’s tweet saying he was “boring:”

Watch Bernie Sanders lay out his economic plan yesterday in New York:

Watch a montage of six GOP candidates talking about their views on homosexuality over the past year:

Watch Kanye West audition for “American Idol’s” last season:

And watch these guys assemble a fort for a cat: