By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )
ABC's JEFF ZELENY: The political number to remember this year has always been six. That's still how many seats Republicans must win to take control of the Senate, a feat that would forever be part of President Obama's political legacy and be an obstacle for the rest of his second term. The road to November hasn't changed, but more paths exist than either side had imagined, which explains why Democrats are increasingly nervous - and increasingly airing - their political jitters. The map of Senate battlegrounds now stretches from Alaska to New Hampshire, with Montana and Colorado and a handful of other key states in the mix. But as Scott Brown introduces himself to his new fellow residents of New Hampshire this week and Cory Gardner starts to make his statewide debut in Colorado, a new question is quietly percolating: What races will be left behind? Both sides will have to choose where to invest, but the toughest decisions are facing Democrats: Which incumbent will be thrown overboard first, by deciding where not to spend money?
ABC's RICK KLEIN: Michigan… Colorado… now New Hampshire. Something big has happened in the past few weeks, big enough to create a superstorm out of what was looking like a flood watch. The map is expanding rapidly in Republicans' direction, surely enough to make a Senate takeover more of a probability than a possibility. The formers (Gibbs, Plouffe) can admit what the currents can't, but Democrats need to wake up to the new reality regardless. In terms of messaging, if Democrats think Republicans' obsession with Obamacare won't work, who thinks Democrats' focus on the Koch brothers will win votes? It's March, yes - but it's not time Democrats need to work on messaging and, especially, turnout. That will take motivation - leaving Democrats hoping their base gets scared enough to be inspired, and fast.
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY: NOTHING U.S. COULD DO MILITARILY TO STOP RUSSIA IN UKRAINE. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., told ABC's GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS this weekend there was nothing the U.S. could do militarily to prevent Russia from moving into Eastern Ukraine following its seizure of the Crimean Peninsula. But Murphy advocated for new sanctions on Russia that could put economic pressure on President Vladimir Putin and prevent further Russian action in Ukraine. "Clearly, this is a longer-term effort to build up the Ukrainian military," said Murphy. "But if on Monday, we announce - with the European Union - a set of crippling sanctions coming after not only individuals, but Russian business entities, I think that sends a strong message to Putin." "I think [Putin] marched into Crimea because he didn't believe that the United States and Europe would actually take a chunk of flesh out of his economy," Murphy added. "And, if we stand together on Monday, that gives us a chance, at least, to change the calculus in Moscow." When asked about the effectiveness of economic sanctions, Murphy said, "We have to wait for our European friends to tell us if they're willing to move forward… There is no doubt that if you cut off Russian gas to Europe, it will hurt. There's no doubt that if you freeze Russian assets in places like Germany and Great Britain, it will hurt them." http://abcn.ws/1gw4NSK
THE CURIOUS CASE OF L.A.'S TATTOOED TED CRUZ POSTERS. Posters of a tattooed - and muscular - Cruz mysteriously appeared in several locations around Los Angeles, according to Breitbart News. The poster carries the following message: "BEVERLY HILTON / Ted Cruz's So-Cal 'Blacklisted & Loving It' Tour" with today's date. Breitbart's Kerry Picket reports that the posters have appeared "in front of popular L.A. clubs: the Viper Room, the Seventh Veil, Whiskey-a-Go-Go, as well as on car windshields and utility poles among other places." Turns out the Republican Texas senator was scheduled to be in Los Angeles this weekend to receive an award from conservative Claremont Institute at an event Saturday night at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel (not the Beverly Hilton). For his part, Cruz is had a little fun with the strange images, tweeting: "Saw this, but noticed an error. So I wanted to make one thing clear: I don't smoke cigarettes." http://abcn.ws/NiPPny
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
CLINTON IN 1999: AIDE 'SAYS THAT EVERY TIME I MENTION GAYS, MY NUMBERS GO DOWN'. On Jan. 11, 1999 - a little more than a week before Bill Clinton was set to deliver the last State of the Union Address of the 20th century - he huddled in Oval Office with a group of advisers and worried. "Mark always says that every time I mention gays, my numbers go down in the State of the Union," Clinton told his team. "It's the only thing that goes down." Clinton's concern stemmed from a draft version of the speech, which included a reference to Judy and Dennis Shepard of Casper, Wyo., the parents of Matthew Shepard, the gay college student who was brutally murdered in October 1998, according to ABC's MICHAEL FALCONE, RICK KLEIN AND STEVEN PORTNOY. The Clinton White House was not only considering having the president mention Shepard in his address but also inviting the slain student's parents to Washington to sit in the first lady's box during the speech. But, according to a transcript of Clinton's actual address, Clinton never said those words (and didn't mention Shepard at all in his remarks). As for the Shepards - they were either not invited to attend the 1999 State of the Union address or chose not to come. Clinton advisers had their own concerns about the family: "The Shepards are Republicans - we can't say this, but they're Republicans," an adviser said during the pre-speech meeting with the president. "We don't know if they would be interesting in coming." http://abcn.ws/1icDm0c
WHAT WE'RE WATCHING
SOLDIERS' STORIES: BOOK ABOUT IRAQ WAR PAINTS INTIMATE PORTRAIT OF MILITARY EXPERIENCE. "We shot dogs." Those are the first words of Iraq war veteran Phil Klay's new book, "Redeployment," that gives readers a glimpse into the chaotic and complicated existence that U.S. armed forces confronted during the Iraq war. "In that story, I had a friend, Mike Green, who was at the second battle of Fallujah, who talked about seeing … stray dogs in Fallujah who were eating corpses in the streets," said Klay, whose book is fictional but derived from real-life stories that he and his comrades lived in Iraq. For more of the interview with Klay, including what he hopes readers take away from the book, check out this episode of "Power Players" with ABC's DAVID KERLEY. http://yhoo.it/1gy8vuZ
?@aterkel: "The Obama administration more often than ever censored government files or outright denied access to them last year" http://apne.ws/1g2BhFm
@AaronBlakeWP: Kasparov: 'Carter looks like Churchill in comparison' to Obama http://ti.me/1gtWN0e
@JimAcostaCNN: Our long national winter continues pic.twitter.com/Tq6dX4tlbo
@zbyronwolf: @JimAcostaCNN Four days from now is the spring of our discontent…
?@steveholland1: Pres Obama urged to sign executive order declaring spring in Washington pic.twitter.com/B4GeqyXmKw