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DSCC FRIDAY TAKEAWAYS: VULNERABLE AYOTTE PIGGYBACKS OFF TRUMP & SHE’S UNDERWATER IN NEW POLL; GLOVES COME OFF IN #FLSEN GOP PRIMARY; BLUNT CONTINUES TO DODGE CONFLICT OF INTEREST QUESTIONS; MCCAIN’S A BIRTHER (?!); HECK CASTS 9TH VOTE AGAINST PLANNED PARE

BUZZFEED: AYOTTE DOUBLES DOWN ON PLEDGE TO SUPPORT TRUMP, IS SENDING CAMPAIGN STAFF TO HIS RALLIES. Before Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign, Kelly Ayotte met with him. When he made his run official, she called it “a positive thing.” Even after his divisive comments, she still indicated she would support whoever won the GOP presidential nomination. Now, Buzzfeed reports on her increasingly vulnerable reelection bid and finds Ayotte doubling down on her intention to support presidential nominee Trump – and even sending campaign staff to his events to collect voter data. The problem is, moderate New Hampshire voters may not take to Donald the way Ayotte has:

“She’s in a bind: Ayotte can’t entirely distance herself from Trump to win over moderates and independents (an important part of New Hampshire’s electorate); right-wing activists in the state are still trying to recruit a primary challenger to run against her…

“But Trump’s comments and proposals have in recent weeks caused a lot of anxiety among party leaders concerned about the re-election prospects of Ayotte… Republicans are defending a narrow majority in the Senate and can’t afford to lose independent voters in swing states, or risk low turnout for Republicans less charmed by Trump.

“’If Donald Trump is the nominee, Kelly Ayotte might as well resign because it’s all over,’ said Fergus Cullen, former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party.”

GLOVES COME OFF IN FLORIDA GOP PRIMARY AS 2016 BEGINS. That didn’t take long. Just a week into the election year and the crowded Florida Republican primary is getting heated. An ally of Carlos Lopez-Cantera went on the record to trash both David Jolly and Ron DeSantis, even going so far as to call DeSantis “kind of a jerk.” Lopez-Cantera and Jolly also traded barbs over Jolly’s comments related to a change in Veteran Affairs policy. Lopez-Cantera slammed Jolly as “disgraceful and insulting,” which led Jolly’s team to respond that Lopez-Cantera’s “comments are as inconsequential as his candidacy.” Yikes.

Meanwhile, Patrick Murphy announced a growing coalition of supporters, with new endorsements from six South Florida mayors.

MCCAIN’S PRIMARY FEARS HAVE TURNED HIM INTO A BIRTHER. In one of this week’s most surprising stories, John McCain jumped on the birther bandwagon launched by Donald Trump. McCain questioned Cruz’s eligibility to run for president, saying that his citizenship is “worth looking into.” It doesn’t seem like McCain is going to back away from the extremist wing of the Republican Party anytime soon, especially with FreedomWorks PAC publicly trying to convince Congressman David Schweikert to enter the GOP Senate primary. Look for McCain to continue siding with Donald Trump as he faces low favorability ratings and at least one conservative primary challenger.

BLUNT CONTINUES TO DODGE CAMPAIGN QUESTIONS. If Roy Blunt thought the questions about his campaign’s many conflicts of interest would disappear with the new year, he was wrong. He turned what was meant to be an easy photo op into this: HEADLINE: Blunt deflects campaign questions after food bank tour. Blunt refused to answer about his failed national security record and his son’s dual role as his campaign manager and well-known lobbyist. Then, Blunt put the blatant conflicts of interest on full display when he spoke to the Missouri House of Representatives, the same people his son/campaign manager actively lobbies. This is just the latest example of his complete disregard for the people of Missouri.

HECK VOTES AGAIN TO DEFUND PLANNED PARENTHOOD AS CORTEZ MASTO PROMISES TO FIGHT FOR NEVADANS. On Thursday, Joe Heck cast his ninth vote to defund Planned Parenthood, even though more than 21,000 patients across Nevada depend on the routine health services Planned Parenthood provides. That same night, Catherine Cortez Masto spoke at the First in the West Caucus Dinner in Las Vegas, where she touted her strong record as attorney general and hit Joe Heck for playing partisan games in Washington.

She said: “Let me tell you what Wash­ing­ton shouldn’t be do­ing: Telling wo­men what to do with their bod­ies and their health care de­cisions. … [M]y op­pon­ent, Con­gress­man Heck, has been part of the mess in Wash­ing­ton. He votes with the tea party and the right-wing of his party nine times out of ten. He voted to de­fund Planned Par­ent­hood. He op­posed rais­ing the min­im­um wage. He op­posed com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion re­form. Con­gress­man Heck even wants to ab­ol­ish the De­part­ment of Edu­ca­tion. Now he does have one thing go­ing for him. The Koch broth­ers will be all in for him, try­ing to buy this elec­tion. … I think that’s sup­posed to scare me.”

ENTRY OF NEVILLE IN COLORADO PROMISES TO DRAG PRIMARY EVEN FURTHER TO THE RIGHT. This week, State Senator Tim Neville threw his hat into a crowded GOP primary field full of second and third-tier candidates. One reporter noted that “If you love unregulated guns, think vaccines are a big government conspiracy, want to destroy Planned Parenthood and kick immigrants out of the United States, you should have been at state Sen. Tim Neville’s kick-off party.” Neville’s reckless, far right-wing positions are sure to drag the divisive GOP primary even further to the right, leaving a damaged nominee who is too conservative for Colorado.

ICYMI – NEW SENATE RANKINGS SHOW 10 OF 12 SEATS MOST LIKELY TO FLIP ARE REPUBLICAN. Hotline publishedtheir most recent 2016 Senate rankings, and 10 of the 12 seats most likely to flip are currently held by Republicans. The top six seats are all held by Republicans. Additionally, both Kelly Ayotte and John McCain made Politico’s List of “Top Primaries to Watch,” as both face potentially serious primary challenges.

IN THE STATES

NEW HAMPSHIRE – NEW POLL SHOWS AYOTTE APPROVALS UNDERWATER. A new poll shows Kelly Ayotte’s approval ratings underwater, with 43% of Granite Staters disapproving of her job performance and only 41% approving. In contrast, Maggie Hassan has a 48% approval rating, with only 39% disapproving. 83% of voters favor closing the terrorist gun loophole, which Ayotte has voted to keep open – FLASHBACK: N.H. Sen. Ayotte under fire for support of watered down legislation that would ‘leave open the gun loophole’ for terror suspects

MORE NEW HAMPSHIRE – HASSAN POSTS IMPRESSIVE FUNDRAISING QUARTER. In her first quarter since becoming a Senate candidate, Maggie Hassan raised nearly $2.1 million. WMUR touted Hassan, saying her fourth quarter “exhibits a strong fundraising prowess.”

ILLINOIS – DOES THE NRSC KNOW ABOUT THIS? After months of NRSC-imposed hiding, Mark Kirk is finally making a public appearance. If he’s back in the spotlight, it’s only a matter of time before Kirk begins making the inflammatory statements that defined his 2015.

MORE ILLINOIS – DUCKWORTH CAMPAIGNS ACROSS THE STATE. Tammy Duckworth has been drawing big crowds across the state, with recent stops in Champaign, Carbondale, and Decatur.

OHIO – STRICKLAND TIES EXPERIENCE WORKING IN PRISONS TO OMNIBUS BILL SUPPORT. During a recent campaign stop, Ted Strickland spoke of how his previous work as a prison psychologist led him to understand the importance of the drug treatment provisions of the Omnibus budget bill. Senator Rob Portman voted against the bill.

MORE OHIO – PORTMAN ADMITS TO NOT READING BILL… AGAIN. Rob Portman admitted this week that he didn’t read the omnibus bill that he voted against. FLASHBACK – Portman voted to fast-track TPP in June without ever reading it.

ARIZONA – KIRKPATRICK PENS OP-ED ON IMPORTANCE OF CLOSING TERRORIST GUN LOOPHOLE. Ann Kirkpatrick wrote an op-ed about the urgent need to close the Terror Gap loophole so that suspected terrorists cannot buy firearms.

WISCONSIN – CAPITAL TIMES EDITORIAL PRAISES RUSS FEINGOLD FOR HAVING ANSWERS TO MOST PRESSING QUESTIONS. In a must read editorial, the Capital Times says that Russ Feingold has the answers to the most pressing questions of 2016.

TWEET OF THE WEEK – This week’s Tweet of the Week goes to EMILY’s List’s Marcy Stech: @etchaStech: Ayotte basking in the Trumpstorm – collecting voter data and piggybacking off his rallies. #NHSen #nhpolitics buzzfeed.com/tariniparti/ho…

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DSCC Statement on Congressman Joe Heck’s Ninth Vote to Defund Planned Parenthood

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