By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )
ABC's RICK KLEIN: If Rep. Ed Markey prevails as expected in today's Senate primary, it will mark a return to normalcy in Massachusetts politics - if not full normalcy in the state rocked by a terrorist attack two weeks ago. Markey is the dean of the state's congressional delegation, and the choice of virtually every member of the Democratic establishment, local and national, from Kerry and some Kennedys on down. He's also by far the more committed liberal in the primary race against Rep. Stephen Lynch. Lynch, a former ironworker who voted against President Obama's health care law, has sought to tap into the same blue-collar strains that Scott Brown used to win a Senate seat. That's harder to do in a Democratic primary, and near-impossible without the animating anger in the electorate that allowed Brown to win the seat. Of course, Brown was swept out of that seat last fall. Elevating Markey to the Senate would be another boost for the Obama agenda; slightly more broadly, it would mark a boost for the Obama brand of politics.
ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: Today is Election Day in Massachusetts. Again. Voters in the Bay State have had to endure many elections in the past few years: Scott Brown vs. Martha Coakley in 2010, Elizabeth Warren vs. Scott Brown in 2012, and of course a presidential election that same year. The Boston Marathon bombings are overshadowing today's voting, but it's also a bit of election burn out. "Certainly, it has been overshadowed in the sense that the drama and the pain of the April 15 bombing made it look less important but, on the other hand, no one was paying attention to [the special election] before the bombing," Tufts political science professor Jeffrey Berry said. "The race hasn't gained traction and this added to that. There was always going to be a tiny turnout anyway." All five of the candidates suspended campaigning for the week after the bombings and have had to figure out the delicate balance since they started up again, but Berry chalked up the lack of interest not just to the bombings, but to election fatigue for Bay State residents, as well. He added that there's a different feel than there was when Scott Brown beat state Attorney General Martha Coakley for an open Senate seat in 2010. "There isn't the sort of anger out there like the last special election where we were at the bottom of the recession that propelled Scott Brown into office," Berry said, adding the third reason is a "dispirited" state Republican Party that lost both the 2012 Senate election and the 2010 gubernatorial election.
ABC's MICHAEL FALCONE: The Republican Senate primary in Massachusetts has turned into something of a Romney campaign reunion - but it hasn't always been a friendly affair. Among the stranger dynamics of the contest pitting businessman and Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez, former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan and state legislator and former general counsel for Mitt Romney, Dan Winslow, against each other is the presence of former Romney aides on their teams. Two top Romney strategists, Beth Myers and Peter Flaherty, have been advising Sullivan. Meanwhile, Romney's former communications director, Gail Gitcho, and the GOP presidential candidate's former advance chief, Will Ritter, are members of Team Gomez. Winslow's spokesman is Charlie Pearce, another Romney campaign veteran. The three sides have sparred with each other - not unexpected in a competitive primary - but as Senate contender Winslow, himself, told NBC News last week, after the dust settles today, "we're all going to be family afterwards."
ABC's CHRIS GOOD: Last night's debate between Mark Sanford and Elizabeth Colbert Busch was, in a word, wild. The candidates jabbed at each other from the moment it began; the audience booed, cheered, and groaned loudly throughout; Colbert Busch dissed her rival for his 2009 trip to Argentina; and Sanford said the words "Nancy Pelosi" seemingly every 20 seconds. Republicans want fewer presidential primary debates in 2016, and it's hard to blame them-but South Carolina's showdown served as a reminder that debates can be bare-knuckle, substantive, hilarious, and revelatory all at once. Sanford displayed impressive charisma in addressing fiscal issues, and while Colbert Busch wasn't quite as smooth, she stood her ground and came off as the no-nonsense, pro-business Democrat she has claimed to be. Policy-wise, the most interesting aspect of this race might not be harbor dredging or "Obamacare" or government spending, but Colbert Busch advocacy for gay rights and abortion rights. South Carolina is a conservative state, but Sanford's blunders could put a social liberal in the First Congressional District seat.
TOUCHDOWN SCORER, 7, WITH CANCER VISITS OBAMA AT WHITE HOUSE. Jack Hoffman, the Nebraska boy who captured national attention after running a ceremonial 69-yard touchdown during a University of Nebraska spring football game earlier this month, visited the White House yesterday. The 7-year-old, who is battling pediatric brain cancer, met with President Obama for about 15 minutes in the Oval Office, ABC's JEFF ZELENY notes. The White House invited the Hoffman family after a video of Jack's touchdown became an online sensation, drawing nearly 8 million views on You Tube. One of those viewers was President Obama, who talked with Jack about his long touchdown run and his fight with cancer. In an interview with ABC News, Jack said the visit to the White House was the highlight of a weekend tour of Washington. The president signed a Nebraska football for him. "It was almost like being the president," Jack said of his walk through the West Wing and his time in the Oval Office. Jack lives with his family in Atkinson, Neb., a small town about four hours from Omaha. He's been featured on ESPN, and his picture is now on a football trading card. http://abcn.ws/11Rte4I
BACKSTORY: The idea for the meeting was conceived during a White House dinner earlier this month with Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., who mentioned Jack's story to the president. The White House followed up with an invitation to the Hoffmans. Jack, who suffered epileptic seizures, has endured two surgeries. An MRI showed a tumor growth near the stem of his brain, so he has been receiving six-hour chemotherapy treatments every week.
ON THE AGENDA: President Obama joins Vice President Joe Biden, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden in making a "significant" employment announcement for veterans and military spouses today at the White House.
CHEERS, BOOS AND GROANS AT SOUTH CAROLINA DEBATE. In a debate that held the ambiance of a schoolyard confrontation, Mark Sanford fended off mentions of his affair and attacked his opponent as a liberal Democrat before a boisterous crowd at the Citadel Monday night in Charleston, S.C. ABC's CHRIS GOOD reports that both Sanford and his Democratic rival, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, drew loud cheers, boos and groans as topics veered among topics including fiscal restraint, port dredging, gay marriage and abortion. Colbert Busch came out in favor of gay marriage and abortion rights, while beating back accusations that outside Democratic money will sway her toward liberal policies. In recent days, Sanford has staged mock debates against a cardboard cutout of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi at campaign events in the House district he represented in the 1990s and is seeking to reclaim. http://abcn.ws/ZwBmIn
AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER: The night's biggest fireworks came when Sanford's extramarital affair was brought up, first by Colbert Busch and later, obliquely, by a moderator. "When we talk about fiscal spending and we talk about protecting the taxpayer, it doesn't mean you take that money we save and leave the country for a personal purpose," Colbert Busch said. Sanford flew to Argentina in 2009 to meet with his then-mistress, now-fiance Maria Belen Chapur, leading aides to believe he was hiking on the Appalachian Trail. "I couldn't hear what she said," Sanford replied, cupping his hand to his ear. "Repeat it, I didn't hear that. I'm sorry." It was unclear whether Sanford actually hadn't heard Colbert Busch. http://abcn.ws/ZwBmIn
COMING OUT PARTY: CLINTONS PRAISE JASON COLLINS. Two members of the Clinton family are praising NBA center Jason Collins for becoming the first male athlete active in a major professional sport to come out as gay. ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE reports that former President Bill Clinton called Collins' announcement "an important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT community." "It is also the straightforward statement of a good man who wants no more than what so many of us seek: to be able to be who we are; to do our work; to build families and to contribute to our communities," Clinton wrote in a statement. "For so many members of the LGBT community, these simple goals remain elusive. I hope that everyone, particularly Jason's colleagues in the NBA, the media and his many fans extend to him their support and the respect he has earned." Collins, 34, last played with the Washington Wizards during the 2012-13 season. He came out Monday on the cover of Sports Illustrated, telling them "I didn't set out to be the first openly gay athlete in a major American team sport. But since I am, I'm happy to start the conversation."Chelsea Clinton, who went to Stanford with Collins, tweeted praise of her friend as well writing, "Very proud of my friend Jason Collins for having the strength & courage to be the first openly gay player in the NBA" and linked to the Sports Illustrated cover. http://abcn.ws/ZgfQnz
WATCH ABC's GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS interview Collins on "Good Morning America" today: http://abcn.ws/10RfLgr
DEFICIT SURPRISE: U.S. PAYS DOWN NATIONAL DEBT. For the first time since 2007 - before the recession - the U.S. Treasury is planning to make a down payment on the federal debt, notes ABC's RICHARD DAVIES. The budget deficit has been shrinking more than expected. Thanks to government spending cuts, and higher tax receipts The Treasury says it expects to pay off $35 billion of debt in the second quarter. That compares to an earlier forecast that it would have to borrow $103 billion. Usually this time of year is the best for government cash flow because annual tax returns flood into the Treasury in April. But the return to at least one quarter of debt paydown is a clear sign government spending cuts and tax increases have helped lower the deficit.
FOOD SAFETY, UNEMPLOYMENT AND MORE STILL SUBJECT TO SEQUESTRATION CUTS. While Washington has opted to fix a few of the more publicly painful cuts pursuant to sequestration, other troublesome effects lie on the horizon, writes ABC's SARAH PARNASS. The bill to end some flight delays that flew through the legislature faster than a speeding bullet at the end of last week has left critics on the right and the left wondering why Congress couldn't come to the rescue of other sequestration victims. "Because of these reckless cuts, there are parents whose kids just got kicked out of Head Start programs scrambling for a solution," President Obama said Saturday. "There are seniors who depend on programs like Meals on Wheels to live independently looking for help." California joins the list of states sending out smaller unemployment checks because of sequestration this week. Some states, such as Michigan and Texas, have already sent out reduced payments. The Meals on Wheels programs across the country have been cut by on average $733,349. In North-Central Tennessee, which means about 300 people are on a waiting list to receive meals. The Food and Drug Administration is predicting $209 million in cuts to its budget, which could put the nation's food safety at risk. And as areas that experienced high snow fall this winter head into flood season, the U.S. Geological Survey warns sequester cuts could threaten the mechanism they use to predict flooding and droughts. http://abcn.ws/13IDTP9
WHAT WE'RE READING
"FBI LOOKING INTO RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MCDONNELLS, DONOR," by the Washington Post's Rosalind S. Helderman and Jerry Markon. "FBI agents are conducting interviews about the relationship between Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, his wife, Maureen, and a major campaign donor who paid for the food at the wedding of the governor's daughter, according to four people familiar with the questioning. The agents have been asking associates of the McDonnells about gifts provided to the family by Star Scientific chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. and actions the Republican governor and his wife have taken that may have boosted the company, the people said. Among the topics being explored, they said, is the $15,000 catering bill that Williams paid for the 2011 wedding of McDonnell's daughter at Virginia's historic Executive Mansion. But questions have extended to other, previously undisclosed gifts from Williams to Maureen McDonnell as well, they said." http://wapo.st/17ugwLq
IN THE NOTE'S INBOX
-RESURGENT REPUBLIC TURNS FOUR. From an aide to Resurgent Republic, the non-profit conservative polling group founded by former RNC Chairman and George W. Bush adviser Ed Gillespie and GOP pollster Whit Ayres: "Since the group's founding in 2009, RR has conducted 70 focus groups and 29 polls examining more than 100 policies. 'We've spotted trends and helped those advocating center-right policies make the best case on their behalf, said RR Executive Director Luke Frans. When it launched, RR openly stated it was 'modeled on Democracy Corps,' the liberal leaning outfit founded by James Carville and Stan Greenberg. A little over a year later, Democracy Corps and Resurgent Republic conducted a joint post- election survey and last year, the two groups conducted joint election-year surveys for NPR. More recently, this year, RR launched a new research series, Beyond the Ballot (BTB), drawing from lessons learned in our post-election analysis. The BTB project is an ongoing, data-driven study of key voting cohorts, including Hispanics and Asians, voters under 40 years old and women voters."
@HotlineJosh: From @nationaljournal magazine: The 'Obamacare' Rollout Will Be a Bureaucratic Nightmare http://www.nationaljournal.com/magazine/the-obamacare-rollout-will-be-a-bureaucratic-nightmare-20130418 …
@robertcostaNRO: Martha Roby is one of the House GOP's young stars. @KatrinaTrinko chats w/ her: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/346947/martha-roby-working-mom …