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2014 Watch
July 22, 2014
CC by: DonkeyHotey

There are lots of reasons to believe the November elections should be great for the Republican Party: Midterms are generally kind to the out-of-power party, the president's party almost always loses seats in year six of an administration, the 2014 map is favorable to Republicans, and President Obama's approval ratings are pretty low. Republicans even have reasonable hopes for a really big "wave" election, like every election since 2006, minus 2012.

But if the Republicans are going to ride an anti-Democratic wave to big pickups in the House and Senate, there are scant signs of it now, says Nate Cohn at The New York Times.

The race for the Senate, at least right now, is stable. There aren't many polls asking whether voters would prefer Democrats or Republicans to control Congress, but the Democrats appear to maintain a slight edge among registered voters. Democratic incumbents in red Republican states, who would be all but doomed in a Republican wave, appear doggedly competitive in places where Mitt Romney won by as much as 24 points in 2012.... The light-blue Democratic states and purple presidential battleground states, like Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and New Hampshire, all seem to be heading toward tight races or Democratic wins, as one would expect in a fairly neutral year. [New York Times]

None of that means Republicans will have a bad year, or even that they won't win control of the Senate in a non-wave election. In fact, there weren't clear signs of a wave election in 2006, 2008, or 2010 until after this point in the election cycle, Cohn writes. "But as July turns to August, the GOP is now on the clock.... Every day that goes by without a shift toward the GOP increases the odds that there will not be a wave at all." Peter Weber

This just in
1:30 p.m. ET

Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, who defied the Supreme Court's order to issue same-sex marriage licenses, was jailed Thursday after she was found in contempt of court. Davis, citing her religious beliefs, stopped issuing marriage licenses — to any couples, gay or straight — in June after the Supreme Court ruled same-sex couples had the right to marry.

Lawyers for four spurned couples asked a judge to impose fines to force her to comply. Davis has previously said she was prepared to go to jail for her actions. Jeva Lange

back to school
12:30 p.m. ET
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

If SAT scores are any indication, then hundreds of thousands of teenagers graduated in 2015 unprepared for college. According to College Board, which owns the test, SAT scores plummeted to their lowest average in a decade, despite the test being overhauled in 2005. The average score for the class of 2015 was 1490 out of 2400, down 7 points from 2014. Scores dropped across all three sections — in reading, writing, and math.

Only 42 percent of students who took the SATs earned a score of 1550 or higher, a troubling statistic considering the College Board calls this threshold the "college and career readiness" level. The scores were also lower for minorities: Only 23 percent of Hispanic students and 16 percent of African-American students made the 1550-or-higher cutoff. Poverty, language barriers, and low levels of parental education are cited by The Washington Post as possible factors in the dismal scores.

Although a new version of the SAT, with an essay-optional writing section, will be given to the class of 2016, it would likely take a major education overhaul to surmount the troubles students encounter when they hit high school level classes. "Simply doing the same things we have been doing is not going to improve these numbers," Cyndie Schmeiser, the chief of assessment for the College Board, told The Washington Post. "This is a call to action to do something different to propel more students to readiness." Jeva Lange

winning the internet
11:42 a.m. ET
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The Bernie Sanders campaign still faces an uphill battle challenging the Clinton juggernaut for the Democratic nomination, but there's one place where he's already won: Reddit.

If you're not familiar with the site, Reddit is a massive online forum that allows users to "upvote" and "downvote" user-submitted content, and it's divided into subreddits, which are single-topic forums users can subscribed to or ignore according to personal interests.

Sanders currently has more than 80 subreddits devoted to his cause, including one for every single state plus Washington, DC. The primary subreddit of the bunch, r/SandersforPresident, has nearly 100,00 subscribers, meaning there are lots of upvotes constantly pushing pro-Sanders content into the view of Reddit's 203 million monthly visitors. State-based subreddits have played a key role in organizing for real life events, too, helping Sanders pack stadiums with thousands of supporters.

This is not the first time Reddit has cottoned to a presidential candidate: In 2008 and 2012, Ron Paul was Reddit's choice for aggressively upvoted underdog, to the point that frustrated non-Paul supporters created an r/EnoughPaulSpam subreddit in protest. Bonnie Kristian

get smart
11:19 a.m. ET
Scott Olson/Getty Images

While Donald Trump himself may speak at the level of a fourth grader, the controversy surrounding his campaign has had the positive side effect of making Americans brush up on their vocabulary skills.

The editors of Merriam-Webster's online dictionary have noticed spikes in research on a number of campaign-related words, and Trump, says Merriam-Webster Associate Editor Kory Stamper, "has brought up the motherlode of lookups." He has particularly inspired curiosity about "demagoguery" and "misogyny."

But Trump isn't the only candidate unintentionally making us a little smarter this campaign season. The release of Hillary Clinton's emails, for instance, fueled interest in "louche," a word used by one of her advisers to describe House Speaker John Boehner.

Stamper expects these lookup trends to continue throughout election season. "It's going to be a long, verbose 14 months," he said. Bonnie Kristian

health and wellness
11:02 a.m. ET
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

When pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP (Truvada), first hit the market, critics were skeptical of the pill's claims that it could keep clients HIV-free if it at the same time lured people into believing they could have safe sex condom-free. However, 657 clients and more than two years later, it looks like that has, in fact, been the case: Not one person on the pill caught the virus, The New York Times reports.

However, critics who suggested the security provided by PrEP — which is close to 100 percent successful — would lead to a false sense of security about sexually transmitted diseases appear to have been correct. Gay men in the study did use fewer condoms, and about half became infected with syphilis, gonorrhea, or Chlamydia within a year. Forty percent said their condom use decreased, although the vast majority said their number of sexual partners remained the same. At least there's this: While HIV (which can develop into AIDS) is controlled with antiretroviral drugs taken for life, most other STDs are treated with a run of antibiotics. Jeva Lange

This just in
10:32 a.m. ET

Four-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady has emerged victorious yet again. On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Berman nullified the four-game suspension the NFL had slapped on Brady for his alleged role in the "Deflategate" scandal, in which Brady's New England Patriots were accused of breaking the rules by deflating footballs in a playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts last season. The Patriots won that game 45-7, and went on to win the Super Bowl.

Berman "did not rule on whether Brady tampered with the footballs in a bid for competitive advantage," The New York Times notes. "Instead, he focused on the narrower question of whether the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the players union gave [NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell] the authority to carry out the suspension. Judge Berman ruled that it did not."

Brady is now expected to face the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first game of the Patriots' season on September 10. And his star tight end, for one, certainly seems thrilled to have his QB back. Jeva Lange

This just in
10:23 a.m. ET
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump reportedly plans to sign a loyalty pledge to the GOP, a source revealed to Politico Thursday. The pledge would force Trump to endorse the eventual GOP nominee, and theoretically prevent him from a third-party run if he doesn't win the Republican nomination. By signing the pledge, Trump will avoid complications of getting on primary ballots as a Republican and also rob opponents of an attack line at the next debate.

Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski would not confirm Trump's plans to Politico, saying, "I don't think you can 'expect' ANYTHING from Mr. Trump." Jeva Lange

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