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* Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) criticized New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) over his recent comments about the National Rifle Association and his pressure on Congress to fund Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. “I think criticizing the Second Amendment movement and the over-the-top 'give me my money' stuff, 'I want all sixty billion now or I'll throw a tantrum,' I don't think that's going to play well in the Republican primary," Paul told conservative radio show host Laura Ingraham. Both Paul and Christie are viewed as potential 2016 presidential candidates.

* White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the White House is “encouraged” by House Republicans’ decision to hold a vote next week to raise the debt ceiling for three months, and wants to see a “clean debt limit increase." Meanwhile, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called the GOP plan -- which would ramp up pressure on the Senate to pass a budget and withhold Congress's pay checks if either chamber fails to adopt a budget by April 15 -- a "gimmick."

* Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Tim Murray (D) won't run for governor in 2014, a somewhat surprising decision that could open up the Democratic primary in the race to succeed Gov. Deval Patrick (D), who has said he won't seek a third term.

* Arkansas Lt. Gov. Mark Darr (R) plans to challenge Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) in 2014, according to a source. Pryor is a top potential GOP target in 2014 because of the overall Republican tilt of his state. Darr may be joined in the GOP field by other candidates; his fundraising potential aroused skepticism among some anonymous GOP strategists. A relative political newcomer, Darr, who owned a chain of restaurants before running for office, was elected lieutenant governor in 2010.

* Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, the sister of Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert, will run in South Carolina's 1st District special election. Colbert-Busch will face long odds in the race because the district leans heavily Republican. President Obama received just 40 percent of the vote there in 2012.

* Former South Carolina Republican governor Mark Sanford tweeted that he “meant no disrespect” to members of the military in his recent remark referring to himself as a “wounded warrior." Sanford, whose rising stardom came crashing down after he admitted to an extramarital affair in 2009, announced this week that he will run for his old 1st District House seat.

* Peter Waldron, an aide on Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann's 2012 presidential campaign, filed a Federal Election Commission complaint alleging Bachmann made improper payments to her Iowa campaign chairman. An attorney for Bachmann denied the allegations.


* After 20 years of working together, Gallup will no longer conduct polls for USA Today. Both sides said the split was a mutual decision.

* Former presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush will not attend Obama's inauguration. Officials said the younger Bush cited his father's health as reason for his planned absence from the event. The elder Bush was recently released from a hospital, where he bad been undergoing treatment since November.

* Former Florida governor Charlie Crist will be in the nation's capital for the inauguration. Crist, the former Republican and independent who recently joined the Democratic Party after stumping for Obama in 2012, will attend the president's  oath-taking ceremony and a White House reception. Crist is widely viewed as a potential 2014 gubernatorial candidate.

* The American Future Fund is running an ad on New York cable television questioning Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer's motivation for backing former Nebraska GOP senator Chuck Hagel, Obama's nominee for defense secretary. "How badly does Chuck Schumer want to be the Senate Majority Leader? And what did President Obama promise him?" asks the narrator of the ad. The group opposes the confirmation of Hagel. The size of the ad buy was not released.

* Here's something Democrats and Republicans actually agree on: The Electoral College has to go. A Gallup poll shows that 61 percent of Republicans and 66 percent of Democrats would vote for a law that would do away with the electoral college and base the election on national popular vote totals.

* Obama has a new official portrait for his second term.

* Democratic strategist Bill Burton is joining Global Strategy Group. Burton is a former White House deputy press secretary who later served as a senior strategist on the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA.


A canine conversation.

With Aaron Blake