By MICHAEL FALCONE (@michaelpfalcone)
- VOTERS, VOTING: In South Carolina’s First Congressional District today, voters will turn out for the special election between Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, and former governor Mark Sanford, whose career was tarnished by the infamous “Appalachian Trail” episode in 2009, when he left the state to meet with his mistress in Argentina, misleading staffers and the public about where he was. ABC’s CHRIS GOOD reports that after months of back-and-forth campaigning and a contentious debate last week, the voters will finally weigh in on Sanford’s long and, at times, arduous comeback journey — from the nation’s top political pariah to a potential return to Congress. If he wins today, Sanford will retake the House seat he held in the 1990s before becoming governor. http://abcn.ws/17JmE2D
- THE WIFE, THE MISTRESS AND A COMEDIAN: What do Comedy Central talk show host Stephen Colbert; Jenny Sanford, the spurned ex-wife of former Gov. Sanford, and Maria Belen Chapur, the Argentinean woman Sanford left her for all have in common? None of them are running to represent South Carolina in the House of Representatives, but any of them could tip the scales as voters decide who does. As the campaign has played out, Colbert Busch’s famous brother has mostly stayed away. The Comedy Central star held two fundraisers last month for his sister, one in New York and another in Washington, D.C., but he hasn’t campaigned for her in South Carolina’s First House District, and there is no indication he will do so before polls close today. Perhaps it’s by design. Colbert Busch, a Democrat, stands a chance of winning in a GOP stronghold where her brother’s parody of conservatism might not play as well as her centrist-businesswoman campaign rhetoric on the trail. http://abcn.ws/17JmE2D
- THE PELOSI FACTOR: Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has hovered over the South Carolina race, too. At a campaign event, Sanford staged a mock debate with a cardboard cutout of the House minority leader, and during his debate with Colbert Busch at the Citadel on April 29, Sanford repeatedly sought to tie his opponent to Pelosi. Nearly every time he mentioned the minority leader’s name, Colbert Busch’s supporters booed and groaned. Sanford has made Pelosi and unions major themes in his campaign, seeking to highlight the support from national Democratic groups that Colbert Busch enjoys. In mentioning Pelosi as often as he has, Sanford has given the race a retro feel, reminiscent of the 2010 Republican House campaigns that made Pelosi and the Democratic House majority’s agenda a cornerstone of their successful efforts to retake the lower chamber.
ABC’s RICK KLEIN: You can take Chris Christie’s explanation at face value — that lap-band surgery is about his family, not 2016 — and still have plenty of reasons to think the biggest loser will be the biggest winner. In this country of voters who are struggling with their waistlines, Christie’s quest to shed pounds could work on several levels. Assuming he continues to lose weight as the next presidential race draws near, it will implicitly answer questions about his health and ability to serve. And Christie, already among the most talented communicators in the country, will have another way to connect with voters. His weight-loss quest could make the New Jersey governor even more of a crossover star than he is already, if his effort to lose weight becomes all of ours.
ABC’s CHRIS GOOD: Mark Sanford’s reelection bid has been downright weird. From trespassing allegations, to asking his ex-wife to run his campaign, to his fiancé’s surprise appearance at his primary victory party, to his mock debate against a cardboard cutout of Nancy Pelosi, to pretending he didn’t hear Elizabeth Colbert Busch’s mention of his affair during their real debate, to searching the sidewalk for a female voter who hates him, this race has felt at times like a total circus. Four years ago, we looked to the off-year elections in New Jersey, Virginia, and upstate New York for broader political significance–and special elections often draw that kind of attention. But even though South Carolina’s First District race has been the highest profile election after President Obama’s win in November, there might not be any broadly applicable political intelligence to be gleaned from it. The race is more about Sanford, Colbert Busch, Jenny Sanford, and Maria Belen Chapur than it is about fiscal policy. It’s just kind of its own thing.
ABC’s DEVIN DWYER: Some critics of President Obama’s super PAC “Organizing for Action” have begun drafting its obituary, pointing in part to a failed Senate vote on expanded background checks for gun buyers and a modest quarterly fundraising haul of just under $5 million. But a feisty OFA executive director Jon Carson told reporters Tuesday the group will prove its “staying power” with subsequent “rounds” of legislative lobbying on Capitol Hill. “Our tactics absolutely are working,” he said, when asked about the background checks vote. Carson said the group will continue agitating until they get another. OFA will this week deliver a petition to Congress with more than a million names “demanding passage of [expanded] background checks,” he said. Out in the states, the group is also turning up the heat on immigration reform, planning hundreds of events and, in the process, taking names. “At a typical event, about 20 percent of the people who show up will be new and didn’t participate in either election” for the Obama campaign, said Carson. The group is also expanding its paid staff, which as of last month had coordinators in 19 states.
CHRIS CHRISTIE’S SECRET SURGERY. “Gov. Chris Christie secretly underwent gastric band surgery in February to try to lose weight at the urging of his family, spokesman Michael Drewniak told The Associated Press on Tuesday. The father of four agreed to the surgery, in which a tube was placed around his stomach to restrict the amount of food he can eat, after turning 50 in September. Christie told The New York Post, which first reported the surgery, that he said he wasn’t motivated by thoughts of running for president. ‘I’ve struggled with this issue for 20 years,’ he told the newspaper. ‘For me, this is about turning 50 and looking at my children and wanting to be there for them.’” http://abcn.ws/YCjT2q
ABC’s JONATHAN KARL: A top Chris Christie aide tells ABC News that the governor kept his lap band surgery such secret that not even his top advisers knew he was doing it. Christie underwent the surgery – a one-day out-patient procedure – on February 16 (the Saturday of President’s Day weekend). He checked into the hospital under a pseudonym and told only his family and his chief of staff, who he told shortly before undergoing the surgery. Christie’s top aides (other than his chief of staff) only found out about the surgery yesterday.
ABC’S JEFF ZELENY: An adviser to Christie tells ABC News he has lost “more than 30 pounds — so far.” The governor, at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner 10 days ago, looked a bit smaller to people who talked with him. But his aides declined to talk about the lap band procedure at the time, waiting until this week to reveal the governor’s decision.
GLENN BECK OFFENDS JEWS BY DEPICTING MAYOR BLOOMBERG IN NAZI SALUTE. Glenn Beck roused the National Rifle Association’s annual convention this weekend with his attacks on New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, but he also aroused criticism by a major Jewish group for depicting the mayor giving a Nazi salute. ABC’s SHUSHANNAH WALSHE reports that the head of the Anti-Defamation League called Becks’ comments “deeply offensive on so many levels,” and B’nai B’rith called for Beck to apologize. “Glenn Beck, the keynote speaker at the NRA’s annual convention, trivializes the Holocaust when he compares New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to Adolf Hitler,” B’nai B’rith told ABC News. “The casual use of Nazi imagery or words serves to undermine the atrocities of the Holocaust. Glenn Beck should apologize,” the organization said. At his nearly two hour keynote address Saturday night Beck likened the mayor to a Nazi for his campaigns to limit the size of sugary drinks, salt intake, curb tobacco displays and gun control. The office of Mayor Bloomberg, who is Jewish, declined to comment on the comparison to a Nazi or to the other criticisms at the NRA convention. http://abcn.ws/11ePmcF
SEN. ROB PORTMAN SAYS ‘YES’ HE’S SMOKED POT. The highlight of Senator Rob Portman’s Buzzfeed Brews interview Monday night wasn’t his pitchy rendition of Randy Newman’s “Burn On,” nor was it his remark that George W. Bush “certainly did his level best” during his tenure as President. It was that the conservative senator from Ohio admitted that yeah, he’s smoked pot, ABC’s ALI DUKAKIS notes. The hot-button question came just seconds after Portman took his seat for the interview, a Cleveland-brewed Great Lakes beer in hand. Buzzfeed’s John Stanton opened the interview by telling the crowd he’d recently seen photos of a young Rob Portman from the ’70s and ’80s, and that he looked “a bit like a dirty hippie with the long hair.” “It raises the question,” Stanton said to Portman, “did you ever smoke weed?” Portman shook his head as the crowd laughed, let out a defeated sigh and said, “This is all off the record, right?” and then, “Yes.” He added, “I’ve been asked that now in 20 years 3 times.” Portman didn’t elaborate on his experience with marijuana, but said that he’s been involved with drug prevention measures and programs since his first year in Congress, and expressed concerns about drug abuse in Ohio, most recently with heroin. “It can devastate your life, and it has for many people,” Portman remarked, saying that he believes education, prevention programs and support for the addicted are the best way to combat the problem. http://abcn.ws/15mP8lo WATCH: http://bit.ly/12dwQgr
U.S. DIPLOMAT REIGNITES BENGHAZI CONTROVERSY. The top deputy to the U.S. ambassador killed in the Sept. 11, 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, is prepared to deliver testimony this week that could contradict the administration’s explanation of the deadly attack, renewing the controversy over whether all available resources were utilized while the attack unfolded. Gregory Hicks, the deputy chief of mission for the U.S. in Libya, is set to testify Wednesday before the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, ABC’s JOHN PARKINSON and LUIS MARTINEZ report. Hicks, a 22-year Foreign Service diplomat, became the highest-ranking civilian in Libya after U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed in the attack, which the administration initially characterized as a spontaneous demonstration protesting a controversial Internet clip that devolved into civil unrest. During a transcribed interview April 11 with investigators from the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Hicks said he had repeatedly asked whether any “big military” support was on the way as the attack continued. While support was deemed to be too far away to respond, Hicks said that a Special Forces unit in Tripoli was prepared to board a flight to Benghazi but was told by military headquarters in Germany not to board because it did not have the authorization to do so. http://abcn.ws/10eDjoo
IN THE NOTE’S INBOX
EMILY’S LIST PICKS SIDES IN HAWAII SENATE PRIMARY. Today the Democratic group, Emily’s List, endorsed Hawaii Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa in her U.S. Senate primary bid against Sen. Brian Schatz. “Colleen Hanabusa is an experienced progressive champion who has spent her career serving the people of Hawai’i with passion and integrity,” Emily’s List president Stephanie Schriock said in a statement. “Now the Emily’s List community is ready to fight for her every step of the way so that she can take her place as a senator from Hawai’i. Colleen is the right choice for women and families in Hawai’i, and Emily’s List won’t stop until she shatters yet another glass ceiling by making Hawai’i the fourth state to send two women to the United States Senate.” Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie appointed Schatz to fill the late Sen. Daniel Inouye’s seat earlier this year. Schatz’s term is up in 2014.
WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
GEN. DEMPSEY: CHINA TAKES NO OWNERSHIP OF CYBER ATTACK ON U.S. The Pentagon officially blamed China of cyber attacks against the United States in a new report, but America’s top military official Gen. Martin Dempsey told ABC’s BOB WOODRUFF in an exclusive interview during his recent trip to Beijing that China is not claiming responsibility for such attacks. “Of course, they admit there is criminal activity in cyber, they take no ownership for it,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in an interview with On the Radar. “I was very candid about our concerns.” Gen. Dempsey, who met with top Chinese leaders including President Xi Jinping and the military leader Gen. Fan Changlong during his three-day-long tour, warned that cyber warfare is a serious concern in the U.S. relationship with China. For more of the interview with Gen. Dempsey, including his thoughts about the domestic challenges facing China, check out this episode of On the Radar. http://yhoo.it/12OMPjA
@waltershapiroPD: Re Chris Christie: Haley Barbours’s line is apt: “If you see me losing 40 pounds that means I’m running [for president] or have cancer.”
@daveweigel: Coming soon: “Is Chris Christie too thin to be president?”
@mikememoli: RT @markzbarabak: Marco Rubio, immigration and the tough sell back home in Florida. @LisaMascaroinDC: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-rubio-immigration-20130507,0,1624715,full.story …