Congress returns to town next week … which means President Obama is back on the hunt for fruit with which to make fresh juice. Not much of it is low-hanging, but we knew that already. Maybe just as tasty will be a race in South Carolina that late-night comedy hosts couldn't have dreamed up, though in fairness, one of the candidates is one of their sisters. Stir in the possibility of a new Scott Brown in Massachusetts, plus the old Scott Brown in New Hampshire, and a road to the White House lined with tea, and flavors abound in the stories your ABC News political unit will be tracking in the week ahead:
Tuesday is Election Day in South Carolina's First Congressional District, with Mark Sanford's political comeback on the line. Sanford faces Elizabeth Colbert Busch, Stephen's sister, in a district that any Republican should win in a landslide. Alright, any Republican who didn't follow an infamous trip on the "Appalachian Trail" with a bizarre Super Bowl Sunday incident at his ex-wife's house that prompted a trespassing complaint. It wouldn't be a South Carolina race without some dirty tricks: Late "push polls" have suggested Colbert Busch had served jail time and had an abortion. Then there's assorted weirdness: Sanford has been "debating" a cutout of Nancy Pelosi, and at the candidates' one and only actual debate, Colbert Busch referenced Sanford's extramarital affair. Sanford claimed not to have heard what his opponent said. One lingering question is, Will Stephen Colbert make a late appearance on his sister's behalf? Nothing is on the schedule – yet.
A tense week in the gun debate is closing out with the NRA annual convention's "Stand and Fight" theme, hammered home by Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and Sen. Ted Cruz, among a parade of other conservative bold-faced names. The victory lap comes despite a smattering of tense exchanges at town halls across the country, where members of Congress who voted against expanded background checks heard from angry constituents – and in some cases, the families of shooting victims themselves. Still, nothing in those confrontations matched the energy of the health care town halls of 2009, as gun-control advocates continue to work a quieter lobbying strategy. Senate leaders are talking about reviving votes on background checks, hoping for flips among both Democrats and Republicans. But there's no indication they should expect a different result, at least not yet.
He's a Harvard-MBA-former-Navy-SEAL-turned-entrepreneur who's the son of Colombian immigrants. And now Gabriel Gomez, political newcomer, is the Republican nominee for Senate in Massachusetts. His opponent in next month's special election is Rep. Ed Markey, who's been in the House since Gomez, 47, was in grade school. Before Republicans get too excited about a candidate they couldn't have found with the help of a casting agency, remember that this is Massachusetts. The losing Democratic candidate got more votes by himself in the primary than all three Republicans combined. But also remember, this is Massachusetts, home (for now) of Scott Brown (who may be running for Senate in New Hampshire, but that's another story). Any hint that Gomez can make this a real race against Markey will trigger a flood of outside money into the Bay State, with the Republican Party anxious to find a new champion, particularly one who speaks fluent Spanish. Two early polls, while not airworthy by ABC News standards, have Republicans optimistic that the race can be competitive.
It's back to work for the Gang of Eight and other backers of comprehensive immigration reform, after a bit of a rough rollout. President Obama pronounced himself optimistic about the bill's prospects during a short trip to Mexico this week, but the measure's strongest supporters acknowledge they have work to do to get a bill through the Senate, not to mention the GOP-controlled House. The bill's Republican champion, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is seeing his conservative credentials called into question. "Rubio's Folly," blares the cover of National Review, depicting the onetime tea party darling smiling in between Sen. Chuck Schumer and Sen. John McCain. Rubio is saying he's open to changes, but any deviation could upset the careful balance that led them this far. Immigration reform remains the likeliest big Obama agenda item to pass this year – the one clear area where a critical mass of Republicans agree that their future path is sufficiently aligned with the president's desires that something really has to happen. Then again, we're talking about a dysfunctional Washington.
|Standing With Rand|
Lots of Republicans in Iowa want to spend time with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. Paul has sold out the state GOP's annual Lincoln Dinner, in Cedar Rapids, next Friday night. Paul is openly pondering a 2016 presidential race, riding the celebrity of his marathon anti-drone filibuster, and redefining his father's libertarianism for a tea party age. But tea partiers might have another choice to consider: Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is also getting early presidential buzz; tonight, he speaks to a GOP gathering in South Carolina. Oh, and Vice President Joe Biden will be speaking in Columbia, S.C., as well tonight, only a few miles away from Cruz's speech. And Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La., will be in New Hampshire the same night Paul speaks. So yes, it has begun…