By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )
ABC's MICHAEL FALCONE: Anyone else starting to see a pattern here? In yet another poll, Hillary Clinton bests her potential Republican competition in hypothetical 2016 match-ups. The latest numbers come from a Quinnipiac survey of 1,000 registered voters in Florida, a crucial swing state that Mitt Romney lost to President Obama last November. Pitting the former First Lady and Secretary of State against former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, she leads by a 51 to 40 percent margin and in a head-to-head race against Sen. Marco Rubio, she prevails 52 percent to 41 percent. Notably, Clinton is viewed favorably by 62 percent of voters in the state, whereas Bush only gets a 50 percent favorability rating and Rubio an even lower mark - 41 percent. "If she decides to make the race, she begins with a sizable lead in a state that Republicans cannot win the White House without," said Quinnipiac pollster Peter A. Brown. "Florida voters have a very positive view of Mrs. Clinton and it's not just Democrats who feel that way."
ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ: Even though the assault weapons ban won't be part of the comprehensive gun package considered on the Senate floor next month, Vice President Joe Biden and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg are sticking to their guns to ensure some type of firearm legislation does get enacted. The two will meet with the families of victims of the Newtown shooting to discuss gun reform today in NYC, and in an interview with NPR's "All Things Considered" Wednesday, the vice president said he's still hoping the assault weapons ban will pass eventually because it is "the will of the people." "My experience, having been the only guy that did this once before, along with Dianne Feinstein and others, is that this doesn't necessarily happen in one fell swoop," Biden said of the assault weapons ban. "We are going to continue to push for logical, gun safety regulations. Eventually the will of the people is going to prevail and we're going to keep at it."
ABC's CHRIS GOOD: Have the voters really forgiven Mark Sanford? That's the big question hanging over his comeback race, but who really knows? Sanford beat expectations in his 16-way primary, taking 37 percent, whereas state GOP insiders expected him to collect below 30 percent. One of them suggested to me that a 25 percent showing would be kind of abysmal for a guy with ultra-high name recognition. But who's to say whether or not 37 percent is actually good? After all, more people voted against him than for him. There were so many candidates in this primary, some of them state and local lawmakers with their own bases in the district, that it's hard to see any way to accurately judge Sanford's performance as a referendum on his public image rehabilitation. We'll have to wait until the April 2 runoff.
ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: In a conversation with Tea Party leaders about their continued support of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul - even after his immigration announcement this week - an interesting theme emerged: openness to reform. Though the issue is not traditionally in their wheelhouse, some Tea Party leaders expressed support. Sal Russo, founder of the Tea Party Express told me, "I think the immigration issue is an important issue and Republicans have looked like they have their head in the sand and are not being serious about addressing a problem … People are in this country a long time and they are not legal. We have to get them legal in some way in a process that gets people legal that are here…We should do it because it's the right thing." Matt Kibbe, the president and CEO of Tea Party ally FreedomWorks, said Paul's proposal is in the "framework of our principals." "We believe in the rule of law," Kibbe said. "Treat everyone just like everybody else, but we believe if you want to come to this country and work the government has a responsibility to make the process as efficient as possible."
OBAMA IN ISRAEL: President Obama's busy day of sight-seeing and political outreach is already well underway, ABC's Mary Bruce notes. In the morning, he visited the Israel Museum to see the Dead Sea Scrolls. He also visited West Bank city of Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority President Abbas. Back in Jerusalem (at about 11 a.m. ET) President Obama is set to deliver remarks to Israeli youth at the convention center, the centerpiece of his effort to court the Israeli public while he's overseas. Obama rounds out his day with dinner with Israeli President Shimon Peres (2 p.m. ET). WATCH ABC Chief White House Correspondent JONATHAN KARL'S "Good Morning" for the latest on Obama's visit: http://abcn.ws/14ebB2q
THE BACKDROP: As President Obama headed to the West Bank for talks with President Mahmoud Abbas earlier today, rockets were fired from Gaza toward the southern Israeli town of Sderot, reports ABC's ALEXANDER MARQUARDT. This is only the second rocketing incident since the ceasefire was brokered following November's eight-day conflict. It highlights the divide among the Palestinians (Gaza vs. the West Bank, Hamas vs. Fatah), the view among Israelis that Palestinians don't want peace and the lack of optimism around here that Obama's trip will result in new talks.
WHAT WE'RE WATCHING
GERARD BUTLER AND AARON ECKHART BRING ACTION TO DC IN NEW MOVIE. Imagine, if you will, that terrorists seize control of the White House and take the president hostage-that's the plot of Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart's new action-packed film "Olympus Has Fallen." Now, imagine showing that film to a theater full of Secret Service agents and politicians-that's what happened at the film's DC premiere . Butler and Eckhart jokingly tell Top Line that they were worried they might "be stoned" at the premiere but were pleasantly surprised. "They loved it," Butler told ABC's Reena Ninan and Yahoo! News' Olivier Knox about the audience's reaction. In the film, Butler plays the role of a disgraced Secret Service agent who gets demoted following a tragic accident that results in the death of the first lady, played by Ashley Judd. He then finds himself in a unique position to save the day and redeem himself after terrorists take the president hostage. For more of the interview with Butler and Eckhart, including more on Judd's potential Senate run, check out this episode of Top Line: http://yhoo.it/WFYgey
WHAT WE'RE READING
" ABOUT THAT 'SCALPEL'…" a Wall Street Journal editorial. "President Obama often claims he wants to cut the budget smartly, using a "scalpel" - not a meat axe, machete, cleaver or chainsaw, to list a few of his favorite metaphors. He'll need a more inspired term to describe what he's now doing to Medicare Advantage, perhaps napalm or WMD. The Affordable Care Act drained $306 billion from this growing version of Medicare that 29% of seniors use to escape the traditional entitlement and obtain modern private insurance, but the Administration is imposing the cuts in ways that are even more harmful than the law requires. … Folding in ObamaCare's $8 billion tax on insurers next year that is the equivalent of a smaller subsidy, the Medicare Advantage cuts will total anywhere from 6.9% to 7.8%. Thus Advantage will become the only entitlement for which real spending will fall slightly year over year and continue to decline, even as health costs rise and more people join the program." http://on.wsj.com/11hlM1C
TEA PARTIERS STAND BY RAND PAUL. Tea Partiers still love Rand Paul. His new immigration proposal-which includes backing a pathway to citizenship-doesn't seem to have changed their opinion of him, ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE notes. Instead, Tea Party faithful say it is an example of his forthrightness as well as their own openness to reform. Sal Russo, founder of the Tea Party Express, called Paul a "favorite of the group," and despite the movement's focus on the national debt, spending and economic issues he praised Paul's "willingness to stand up and take a principled stand" on immigration. Matt Kibbe, the president and CEO of Tea Party ally FreedomWorks, said he does not think Paul's immigration announcement hurt his potential 2016 presidential aspirations. "I think he's sort of risen to the top of the GOP ladder simply by putting ideas back on the table," Kibbe said, referring to both the filibuster and his budget plan. "All of these ideas that most Republicans pay lip service to, he's putting specifics on the table. It's a calculated risk taking that puts him ahead of his other potential primary opponents for 2016." http://abcn.ws/YqolyQ
MARK SANFORD CAMPAIGN RISING FROM DISGRACE. Mark Sanford appears to be getting a head start in his primary runoff, ABC's CHRIS GOOD notes. The scandalized former South Carolina governor won Tuesday's 16-way primary for his old House seat, but there's some confusion about whom he'll face in Round 2, a GOP runoff slated for April 2. With 100 percent of precincts reporting Tuesday night, former Charleston County councilman Curtis Bostic led state Sen. Larry Grooms by 493 votes, which would trigger an automatic recount. But in a statement yesterday, grooms indicated he wasn't going to put up a fight, paving the way for a head-to-head matchup between Sanford and Bostic for the right to take n Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch in the general election on May 7. http://abcn.ws/Y6xsY8
LARRY GROOMS BOWS OUT IN S.C.: "By a voting margin of less than 1%, my plans to represent South Carolina's 1st Congressional District have ended. 1 Thessalonians 5 teaches us that we should give thanks in all things. While there is great disappointment for coming so very close in such an incredibly difficult election, there is no doubt cause to give thanks and rejoice," Grooms said in a statement yesterday. "To the possibility of a recount, as I understand it, the state Election Commission will begin an automatic recount as outlined by state law - and I will be the 'official' third place finisher in the race. I wish Gov. Mark Sanford and Curtis Bostic all the best."
TREE OBAMA PLANTED IN JERUSALEM MAY BE UPROOTED. It's an old gospel song: Just like a tree planted by the water, I shall not be moved. But, as ABC's REENA NINAN notes, if you're the magnolia tree the president of the United States planted today in Jerusalem, there's a chance you might be moved. Obama planted a tree on Wednesday in Israeli President Shimon Peres's Jerusalem garden. It's a gift for a man Obama said has planted "the seeds of progress, the seeds of security, the seeds of peace - all the seeds that have helped not only Israel grow but also the relationship between our two nations grow." The tree was meant to signify the strong roots of the relationship between the United States and Israel. But before these American roots can take hold, the Israeli government will inspect them. An Israeli official tells ABC News that the magnolia tree will be tested and possibly removed in a week by the Israeli Agriculture Department. The roots of the tree were apparently kept in a plastic covering during the planting. As in the U.S., Israeli law forbids plants and trees from other countries from entering Israel. The White House and the Israeli government were aware of the limitations ahead of the visit. http://abcn.ws/WW6dhZ
FOUNDATION TO COVER SEQUESTER CUTS TO IRAQ, AFGHANISTAN SCHOLARSHIPS. A Florida-based charity announced that it will cover the funding cut from scholarships for children of military members who died fighting in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars because of sequestration. ABC's SARAH PARNASS reported Tuesday that scholarships were being cut by as much as $2,133.81 per recipient this year because of automatic budget cuts to the Department of Education included in the sequester legislation. The Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation, a Jacksonville Beach organization that helps children of military members who perished while on active duty to finance their education, said it will use funding from private donations to cover the gap left by sequester cuts. "We work with our children any way to find them all available funding and grants towards college," Executive Director John Coogan told ABC News. Coogan said the organization dedicates every dollar of donations to identifying children of the fallen, advising them on how best to find grants and scholarships for higher education, and covering whatever costs are left over. http://abcn.ws/Zehbd1
IN THE NOTE'S INBOX
MAMA MIA! PIZZA PROTEST ON THE HILL. Today, the American Pizza Community - a coalition of pizza franchises led by Domino's as well as hundreds of family owned grocery and convenience stores across the country are holding a bi-partisan press conference today on Capitol Hill to unveil legislation aimed at amending calorie and nutritional requirements in the Affordable Care Act. The "Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act of 2013? does away with what supporters say are "unnecessary regulation requiring restaurants, including franchised chains with 20 or more locations, to post calorie and nutritional information for all of their products on in-store menu boards costing locally owned businesses up to $4,000 per year. For a company like Domino's, a company that already posts an online calorie calculator, that means in store menu boards for all of its 34 million pizza combinations. Ninety percent of Domino's customers, who get their food delivered, will never step foot inside the store to even see the signs." Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Washington State, Chair of the House Republican Conference, will lead a 1:45 p.m. ET press conference advocating for the "Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act." She will be joined by fellow members: Rep. John Barrow (D-GA), Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC), Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) and Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR).
@thegarance: Tom Perez nomination is a test case for GOP in how badly they want to alienate Hispanic voters while failing to derail a Cabinet appointment
@froomkin: An important reminder of the vitriol directed at anti-war protesters 10 years ago, from @conor64 http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/03/behold-the-hatred-resentment-and-mockery-aimed-at-anti-iraq-war-protesters/274230/ …