2014 Watch
July 15, 2014
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After his narrow victory in last month's very divisive Republican primary runoff, Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran is on track to win his re-election this November. However, the actual shape of the electorate now looks very odd, to say the least, as Mississippi is a state where party politics are often drawn sharply along racial lines.

In the new survey from Democratic-aligned firm Public Policy Polling, Cochran leads for the general election with 40 percent of the vote, followed by former Democratic Rep. Travis Childers with 24 percent, and Reform Party candidate Shawn O'Hara with 5 percent — leaving an immense 31 percent of voters saying they are undecided. The poll was conducted from July 10-13, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent.

Quite notably, the poll even shows Cochran with a one-point edge among African-American voters, who typically vote Democratic: Cochran has 37 percent support, and Childers has 36 percent. Among white voters, Cochran has 42 percent, and Childers has 17 percent. Among all voters, Cochran's approval rating is 47 percent, with disapproval at 37 percent; among white voters he is underwater at 40 percent to 46 percent, while black voters now approve of the Republican incumbent by a whopping margin of 59 percent to 20 percent.

Cochran won his GOP runoff with 51 percent of the vote due to an unorthodox strategy of reaching out to the state's African-American community and encouraging them to cross over into the Republican primary in order to defeat his Tea Party-backed challenger Chris McDaniel. Since then, McDaniel has been attempting to contest the outcome, alleging that voter fraud was involved. Among all voters, though, this poll shows 58 percent of respondents saying that Cochran was the rightful winner, compared to 29 percent who are still holding out for McDaniel. Eric Kleefeld

2016 Watch
1:44 p.m. ET

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has run a presidential campaign plagued by low poll numbers, weak fundraising efforts, and lackluster debate performances. Recently, he's been pouring more fundraising energy into his Senate re-election bid, which he's running simultaneously to his effort to win the Republican presidential nomination.

But Paul insisted he's not going anywhere in a Sunday interview on Fox News' Media Buzz.

"I think the rumors of my demise are somewhat exaggerated, to say the least," he said.

Paul also took a shot at Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, who predicted Paul's downfall in a September tweet.

"We run a tight ship around here," Paul said. "We plan on being in for the long hall, and I think ultimately celebrity will sort of filter out of this."

Watch Paul's full interview here. Julie Kliegman

Israel and Palestine
1:10 p.m. ET
Musa Al-Shaer/AFP/Getty Images)

Israeli authorities banned Palestinians — including Jerusalem residents — from entering the capital's Old City on Sunday, The New York Times reports.

The only exception to the ban was reportedly for Palestinians who wanted to worship at the Al Aqsa Mosque, where men under 50 are not typically allowed.

About 3,500 police officers in Jerusalem closed off some of the capital's Arab neighborhoods Sunday. The move came after the second deadly Palestinian attack on Israeli families in three days, where two ultra-Orthodox men were fatally stabbed. Julie Kliegman

squad goals
12:34 p.m. ET

The bad blood between pop stars Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus might run even deeper than previously thought. When Cyrus hosted Saturday Night Live, the show devoted a whole segment to relentlessly mocking her colleague's ever-growing squad.

On her 1989 tour, Swift has garnered attention for a mile-long list of invitations for celebrities to join her on stage: Lena Dunham, Uzo Aduba, Julia Roberts, Keith Urban, and Kobe Bryant, to name a very small fraction.

In a post-apocalyptic sketch that feels way too real, SNL dared to imagine what will happen when everyone forcibly joins Swift's cult.

Vanessa Bayer woke up in a dark, dark world where the few remaining survivors live in constant fear of being abducted to join Swift on stage.

"First it was the models. And then the athletes," a distraught Kenan Thompson said, moments before his own abduction. "Then it was everybody."

Watch your imminent demise unfold below. Julie Kliegman

lgbt rights
11:27 a.m. ET
Leigh Vogel/Getty Images

Vice President Joe Biden said transgender people should be able to serve openly in the military, a stance that goes beyond anything the Obama administration has said before, The Associated Press reports.

"It's simple," Biden said at the Human Rights Campaign gala Saturday night. "All Americans are qualified to serve, should be able to serve."

In July, Defense Secretary Ash Carter ordered a review of the policy banning transgender people from service.

Biden is known for supporting LGBT rights more vocally than other prominent Democrats. In 2012, he backed same-sex marriage before President Obama and Hillary Clinton did.

The vice president, who is still deciding whether to enter the 2016 race, also used the keynote as a chance to slam his would-be Republican opponents.

After noting how far the U.S. has come in supporting LGBT rights, Biden added a wry caveat: "There's homophobes still left — most of them are running for president." Julie Kliegman

School Shootings
10:56 a.m. ET

Republican frontrunner Donald Trump doesn't believe stricter gun control would result in fewer mass shootings, he said Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press. In fact, he thinks more guns could be the answer to stop gunmen like Christopher Harper-Mercer, who fatally shot nine people at an Oregon community college Thursday.

"I can make the case that if there were guns in that room other than his, fewer people would've died, fewer people would've been so horribly injured," he told Chuck Todd.

Both on NBC and in a similar interview on ABC's This Week, Trump blamed gun violence on mental illness.

"No matter how you cut it, you have people that are mentally ill, and they have problems and they're going to slip through the cracks," he told ABC's George Stephanopoulos.

In fact, only 4 percent of U.S. violence can be linked to people diagnosed with mental illness, according to a 2015 American Journal of Public Health report debunking the exaggerated role some believe mental illness plays in mass shootings.

Watch Trump's Meet the Press comments below and check out his This Week interview here. Julie Kliegman

the new boehner
9:32 a.m. ET
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) formally announced his bid for House speaker in a Fox News Sunday interview.

He'll be up against Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is favored to take over when John Boehner steps down Oct. 30.

"The American people want a fresh face and a fresh new person," Chaffetz said.

Chaffetz, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, told Politico he would treat the position as a facilitator.

"I'm not here to be a dictator, but to empower members to do what they see fit," he said. "I want the process to work its way through the body." Julie Kliegman

she's probably still a robot though
8:29 a.m. ET

In her latest attempt to convince voters she isn't a humorless robot, Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton took to Saturday Night Live to poke fun at herself.

Clinton played Val, an ordinary bartender, to Kate McKinnon's Clinton, who was feeling down on her 2016 chances. The two acknowledged Clinton took a long time to oppose the Keystone pipeline and support same-sex marriage.

When McKinnon mentioned Trump, the real politician mustered a surprisingly decent Donald voice and said, "Isn't he the one that's like, 'Ugh, you're all losers.'"

To further hit home that she's a good sport, Clinton even tweeted praise of McKinnon's performance:

And for his part, Trump retweeted a supporter who slammed Clinton's performance but complimented Taran Killam's ruthless impression of him, showcased in Saturday's cold open.

Even former President Bill Clinton dropped by (as played by SNL vet Darrell Hammond) to kick off the show's 41st season. Watch it all unfold below. Julie Kliegman

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