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5 Senators to watch in Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearing

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Former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee today as he seeks to make the case for why he should be the next Secretary of Defense.

While Hagel's nomination has been quite controversial -- on both the left and the right -- he appears to have weathered the initial storm and, having won the backing of influential New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, seems likely headed for confirmation.

Still, much rides on Hagel's performance before the committee today. The committee is packed with opponents (ranking Republican Jim Inhofe has already said he would oppose Hagel's nomination), former friends (John McCain) and likely supporters who still need to hear a few correct answers to reassure them (Kirstin Gillibrand).

Below are five senators on the Armed Services Committee worth keeping an eye on -- for a variety of reasons -- during Thursday's hearing.  Whom did we miss? The comments section awaits.

1. Ted Cruz: The Texas Republican senator may have only been elected in 2012, but he's already making waves for his outspokenness in the Senate. (He was a forceful advocate for gun rights in a hearing on gun violence in the Senate Wednesday, for example.) Cruz, who was elected thanks to the power of the tea party movement, has already come out in opposition to Hagel's nomination; Cruz has said Hagel has "consistently advocated weakness" in matters of foreign affairs. And Cruz was one of only three senators to vote against John Kerry's confirmation as Secretary of State on Tuesday.

2. Kirstin Gillibrand: The New York Democrat has given every indication since meeting with Hagel that she will be a 'yes' vote but has said she will resist coming out publicly one way or the other until after the hearing. Expect Gillibrand's questioning to focus heavily on Hagel's past statements about Israel and the threat posed by Iran -- areas of considerable concern not only to her constituents in the Empire State but also of major importance if she wants to pursue national office at some point. Gillibrand, an early sponsor of repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gays in the military, is also expected to get Hagel to state publicly that he'll do whatever is necessary to ensure that the policy is fully repealed.

3. Lindsey Graham: The South Carolina senator has every reason to give Hagel a hard time. Graham has already called Hagel's pick an "in-your-face nomination" by President Obama and insisted that the former GOP senator has "long severed his ties with the Republican party." Graham faces the very real possibility of a primary challenge from his ideological right next year, and the Hagel hearings are a good place to allay some concerns conservatives have with him.

4. Jim Inhofe: You might think that Inhofe, of Oklahoma, might go easy on his fellow Plains-state senator. You'd be wrong. Very wrong. Not only has Inhofe already gone on record in opposition to Hagel's nomination, but he has also suggested that voting for Hagel would amount to "giving (Obama) that added impetus to do the things that I think are destroying America." So there's that. Now, while Inhofe is expected to hammer Hagel on things like Iran, the two are friendly on a personal level, and so that may limit Inhofe's aggressiveness. Or it may not.

5. John McCain: The history of faded friendship between Hagel and McCain makes this perhaps the most intriguing coupling of the hearing. McCain has withheld his endorsement from Hagel to date and said Sunday he won't decide how he will vote until after the hearing. He and Hagel parted ways during the early part of the last decade over the way forward in Iraq, and in the immediate aftermath of Hagel's nomination, McCain said he had "serious concerns about positions Sen. Hagel has taken on a range of critical national security issues in recent years." Will McCain allow a once-close friendship to trump those policy concerns? Or will it be the other way around?

DCCC raises $1.9 million: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will announce today that it raised $1.9 million since late November, ending the 2012 cycle with nearly $184 million raised, a DCCC aide tells The Fix.

That figure is actually $20 million more than the committee raised during the 2010 election cycle, when the party was in the majority.

It also has less debt ($13.5 million) than it did after the 2010 cycle ($19 million), along with more cash ($1.5 million versus $800,000), leaving it in better financial shape to start the 2014 election cycle.

Cuccinelli sounds like Romney in book: Virginia governor hopeful Ken Cuccinelli (R) is set to come out with a book in which he echoes -- in part -- Mitt Romney's "47 percent" comment.

“Sometimes bad politicians set out to grow government in order to increase their own power and influence," the attorney general writes. "This phenomenon doesn’t just happen in Washington; it happens at all levels of government. The amazing thing is that they often grow government without protest from citizens, and sometimes they even get buy-in from citizens — at least from the ones getting the goodies."

He adds: “Citizens will vote for those politicians who promise more benefits each year, rather than the fiscally responsible politicians who try to point out that such programs are unsustainable and will eventually bankrupt the states or the nation."

Cuccinelli is very conservative -- there is no doubt about that -- and Democrats will undoubtedly try to use stuff like this to marginalize him.


Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) responds to Erick Erickson's criticism of his immigration reform push. Meanwhile, Ann Coulter and Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) go after Rubio.

Rubio is moving his family to Washington, and selling his house back in Florida. He will still keep a home in his home state, though.

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) says Rubio is "amazingly naive" on the immigration issue.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) says video games are a bigger problem than guns.

Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) is very close to announcing his Senate campaign.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) says allegations that he used prostitutes in the Dominican Republican are "false." The office of a Menendez ally whose plane that senator has used was raided this week.

Potential Kentucky Senate hopeful Ashley Judd (D) and her race-car driver husband Dario Franchitti are getting divorced.


"Obama’s Flip-Flops on Money in Politics: A Brief History" -- Justin Elliott, ProPublica

"GOP electoral vote changes going nowhere" -- Emily Schultheis, Politico

"Who would benefit if Electoral College is changed?" -- Anthony Salvanto and Mark Gersh, CBS News

"Mass. governor taps friend to fill Kerry seat" -- Nia-Malika Henderson and Sean Sullivan, Washington Post

"Why Republicans Should Ignore Obama" -- Ramesh Ponnuru, Bloomberg

"Lynch, Markey Ready for Senate Primary Brawl in Massachusetts" -- Joshua Miller, Roll Call