2014 Watch
July 22, 2014

A new set of Senate polls from Democratic-aligned firm Public Policy Polling shows close races for three closely watched Democratic-held seats.

In Colorado, Democratic Sen. Mark Udall has 44 percent support, against Republican Rep. Cory Gardner with 43 percent, within the poll's margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percent. The poll was conducted from July 17-20. The pollster's analysis describes the political mood in Colorado: "The Democratic incumbents aren't very popular, but their Republican challengers aren’t exactly setting the world on fire either."

In North Carolina, Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan leads Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis, 41 percent to 34 percent, plus another 8 percent support for Libertarian candidate Sean Haugh. The survey was also conducted from July 17-20, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent. The pollster's analysis attributes Hagan's lead to the unpopularity of the state legislature: "The big question though is whether she’ll be able to sustain this bigger lead once they’ve gone home," or if the race will tighten up again.

And in Montana, Republican Rep. Steve Daines leads Democratic Sen. John Walsh — who was appointed to the seat earlier this year — at 46 percent to 39 percent. This survey was conducted July 17 and 18, with a margin of error at plus or minus 4.1 percent. In a somewhat interesting twist, the last time PPP checked in on this race was way back in November of last year — and previously had Daines leading Walsh by an even wider margin of 52 percent to 35 percent, showing that Walsh might be starting to at least close the gap a little. Eric Kleefeld

Oops
7:26 p.m. ET
USAF/Getty Images

On Wednesday, the Pentagon confirmed that live samples of anthrax were inadvertently sent to private research labs in nine states and one in South Korea.

"The Department of Defense is collaborating with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in their investigation of the inadvertent transfer of samples containing live Bacillus anthracis, also known as anthrax, from a DoD lab in Dugway, Utah, to labs in nine states," spokesman Col. Steve Warren said. "There is no known risk to the general public, and there are no suspected or confirmed cases of anthrax infection in potentially exposed lab workers. The DoD lab was working as part of a DoD effort to develop a field-based test to identify biological threats in the environment."

The samples were shipped out on April 30 to a military lab in Maryland, and from there were sent to eight companies across nine states. When a lab in Maryland detected their shipment contained live samples, they contacted the CDC, ABC News reports. Three workers who were possibly exposed to the spores have decided to take antibiotics. The Department of Defense often sends dead or inactivated spores to research facilities, officials say, and when they do ship live samples it is under specific safety protocols. Catherine Garcia

settlements
6:48 p.m. ET
Robin Marchant/Getty images

Tracy Morgan and Walmart have reached a settlement nearly one year after Morgan was seriously injured in a highway crash involving one of the company's trucks in New Jersey, the comedian's attorneys announced Wednesday.

On June 7, 2014, Morgan was returning from a performance in Delaware when the limousine he was in was hit by a Walmart tractor-trailer driven by Kevin Roper. Accident investigators said that Roper was speeding and had been awake for more than 24 hours when he crashed into the limo, killing 63-year-old comedian James McNair and injuring Morgan; his assistant, Jeffrey Millea; Millea’s wife, Krista; and comedian Ardie Fuqua.

The terms of the settlement were not made public, but Morgan's attorneys said Walmart took "full responsibility for the accident." In a statement, Morgan said, "Walmart did right by me and my family, and for my associates and their families. I am grateful that the case was resolved amicably." Roper has pleaded not guilty to one count of death by auto and four other counts of assault by auto, the Los Angeles Times reports. Catherine Garcia

This just in
5:28 p.m. ET
AP Photo/Nati Harnik

Nebraska became the first conservative state to repeal the death penalty in decades on Wednesday, as state lawmakers narrowly voted to override Gov. Pete Ricketts' (R) veto of the bill.

The Omaha World-Herald notes that 30 of Nebraska's 49 senators must vote to overturn a gubernatorial veto; the state's senators voted 30-19 to override Ricketts' veto. The repeal marks a victory for independent Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha (pictured), who has spent four decades lobbying for the death penalty's abolishment.

Nebraska joins 18 other states and Washington, D.C. in banning the death penalty. Sarah Eberspacher

Political candidates: They're just like us!
4:15 p.m. ET
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Us Weekly, the tabloid that regularly provides readers with content like this full slideshow of "Hollywood's Most Eye-Catching, Ogle-Worthy Bulges," netted a celebrity of a different sort this week to participate in its trademark "25 things you don't know about me" questionnaire. Tabloid readers hungry for the latest tidbits of celebrity trivia (Ariana Grande thinks Bruce Almighty is "the greatest movie ever"! John Stamos eats crackers in bed!) will have to settle for some fun facts from GOP presidential candidate Rand Paul, who shared everything from his favorite drink (root beer float) to his most unlikely hobby (composting) with the magazine.

Like a true politician, the 25 facts are a carefully calculated smattering of humanizing personal details ("I love working in the yard on my days off. Mowing the lawn is very therapeutic for me") and overt ideological pandering to his libertarian-leaning fan base ("Growing up, my parents did not enforce a curfew. They believed excessive rules can have unintended consequences"). Apparently a bald eagle even lives in a nest near his backyard.

The most confusing item — aside from the fact that he cut his own hair on his wedding day — is the last one on the list:

25. One thing I never travel without: my Ray-Ban sunglasses. It's important to protect your eyes from the sun. [Us Weekly]

Despite the fact that Rand supporters can't actually get their hands on Ray-Bans branded for his 2016 campaign, at least this proves the former ophthalmologist-turned-GOP hopeful is loyal to his favorite brand of sunglasses.

Read the full list of Rand Paul facts at Us Weekly. Samantha Rollins

This doesn't look good
3:50 p.m. ET
iStock

Only 63 percent of Americans have saved any money for retirement within the past year, according to a Federal Reserve survey released Wednesday.

The survey of 5,800 Americans, conducted last fall, found that 31 percent of Americans have no retirement savings or pension plans. And among adults older than 45, almost 25 percent of respondents didn't have retirement savings. Thirty-eight percent of respondents, meanwhile, said they don't plan on retiring and will "keep working as long as possible," USA Today reports.

The results weren't all bad, though: 29 percent of respondents surveyed last year expected their income would be higher in 2015, an increase from 21 percent in 2013. And 65 percent of adults surveyed said their families are "living comfortably" or "doing okay," compared with 62 percent in 2013. Meghan DeMaria

Discoveries
3:10 p.m. ET

A study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS One describes what was likely a grisly murder — and it happened 430,000 years ago.

A skull found in Spain's "Pit of Bones" in the Atapuerca Mountains is evidence of the world's first murder. It dates to the Middle Pleistocene time period and belonged to a young adult.

The skull is covered in red clay and was shattered into pieces. Forbes explains that the skull also showed two depression fractures, proving the victim was subject to blunt force trauma to the head. The researchers explain that the skull fractures were not accidental, since both fractures were likely caused by the same object and are found on the skull's facial region. They believe the victim's death was "the result of interpersonal violence."

Nohemi Sala of the Complutense University of Madrid, author of the study, explains in the paper that the find is significant because it "represents the earliest clear case of deliberate, lethal interpersonal aggression in the hominin fossil record." According to Sala, the find proves that murder was "an ancient human behavior," rather than a more recent development. Meghan DeMaria

Really?
2:00 p.m. ET
Johannes Simon/Getty Images

A proposed U.K. bill, expected to be published later this week, includes a "blanket ban" on legal highs, and the current legislation is worded to make the ban so broad that alcohol, cigarettes, and coffee are included unless specific exemptions are issued.

Queen Elizabeth announced the legislation on Wednesday, and the bill would ban "any substance intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive effect." The legislation would carry a maximum seven-year prison sentence for offenders, The Guardian reports. The bill would first ban all psychoactive substances and then explain which substances are government-permitted.

Ireland and Poland have similar bans, but their legislation stipulates that substances must produce "significant" effects, so the laws don't include caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco. The U.K. legislation is designed to prohibit chemically engineered drugs that are legal until explicitly banned. Meghan DeMaria

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