Back from the Brink
June 24, 2014
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Sen. Thad Cochran has just pulled off one of the biggest political comebacks of the year, winning tonight's Mississippi Republican primary runoff against Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel — after having trailed McDaniel in the original primary vote three weeks ago.

With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Cochran has 182,507 votes, or 50.6 percent, against McDaniel's 177,709 votes, 49.4 percent. The Associated Press has projected Cochran as the winner.

McDaniel, a state senator, led in the initial primary with 49.5 percent against Cochran's 49.0 percent. But because no candidate reached over 50 percent of the vote, with a little-known third candidate taking the balance, under Mississippi election law the two contenders were then pushed through to a runoff.

Cochran aggressively attacked McDaniel's past career in talk radio, presenting him as undignified and not fit to serve in the U.S. Senate. And the Cochran campaign reached out heavily to African-American voters, who normally vote Democratic, to vote in the Republican runoff in order to stop the more extreme McDaniel.

Moreover, the Cochran campaign also had a finely tuned message in its campaign ads: That as the top Republican on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee, as well as the powerful Appropriation Committee's defense subcommittee, only he could continue to bring home the federal projects that are really so vital to the state's economy.

As the Jackson Free Press pointed out, Cochran also ran a cleverly bifurcated outreach. In white areas, campaign literature touted his many votes against the Affordable Care Act and his support for gun rights; in black areas, he touted his work on behalf of historically black colleges and universities, and his support for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program — commonly known as food stamps, a program that is not too near and dear to Republican primary voters. Eric Kleefeld

3:22 p.m. ET
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On Thursday, Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton slammed the 2016 Republican candidates for their "out-of-date and out-of-touch policies" on women's health issues, even going so far as to compare some Republicans to "terrorist groups."

"Extreme views about women? We expect that from some of the terrorist groups. We expect that from people who don't want to live in the modern world," Clinton said at a campaign stop in Ohio. "But it's a little hard to take coming from Republicans who want to be the president of the United States."

Clinton's comments earned her an immediate rebuke from the right.

The national press secretary for the Republican National Committee (RNC) also reproached Clinton for her "inflammatory rhetoric," saying, "For Hillary Clinton to equate her political opponents to terrorists is a new low for her flailing campaign." Becca Stanek

Trump's take
2:18 p.m. ET
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Donald Trump's latest comments earned him a rebuke from a Jeb Bush spokesman for "trafficking in false conspiracy theories" about the former investment bank Lehman Brothers, where Bush worked for a stint after leaving the governor's office in Florida in 2007. Amid Trump's 33 attacks against the Bush family in a 35-minute interview with The Washington Post, he managed numerous times to drop his suspicions that Bush's high salary from Lehman was a "reward for helping direct Florida state funds to the firm, whose collapse in 2008 helped kick off the Great Recession," The Post reports.

"That’s a Hillary Clinton kind of situation," Trump said. "This is huge. Let me ask you: Why would you pay a man $1.3 million a year for a no-show job at Lehman Brothers — which, when it failed, almost took the world with it?" Trump then went on to offer Lehman's crash as evidence that Bush lacks business savvy. When asked whether he thought Bush could "steer the economy," Trump responded: "Steer it? He can't steer himself. Look what he did with Lehman." Trump surmised that the state of Florida "lost a lot of money after Lehman went bad, thanks to Jeb Bush."

In response, Bush spokesman Tim Miller pointed out Trump's attendance at "New York liberal cocktail parties" and his "trashing of conservatives and Republican presidents any chance he got." Miller wrote in an email to the Post, "The only 'Hillary Clinton situation’ is Trump thinking she'd be a good negotiator with Iran and supporting her campaigns." Becca Stanek

In a galaxy far, far away
1:53 p.m. ET

There's a new teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens — and while it's very brief, it does contain one very interesting moment for Star Wars fans to puzzle over: a shot in which John Boyega draws a lightsaber, which seems to set him up as the latest Star Wars movie's first new Jedi.

There has been an awakening... #StarWars #TheForceAwakens

A video posted by Star Wars (@starwars) on

The image of John Boyega holding a lightsaber hints at a very dramatic arc for his character. In the first teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, he was seen wearing a Stormtrooper outfit, which seems to hint at a past with the Galactic Empire. But Boyega is wielding a blue lightsaber, which recalls the one used by Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars (and might even be the same one). If he's drawing it against the villainous Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), he must be a good guy, right?

And okay, okay, we can't be absolutely sure Boyega is playing a Jedi. — as reliable a source as you'll find for the answers to such questions — says that a non-Jedi can technically wield a lightsaber, but that it's not a very good idea; without the power of the Force to guide you, you can't use a lightsaber to deflect blaster shots, which means a single well-placed laser blaster shot from many yards away could take you down. If Boyega isn't playing a Jedi, he definitely shouldn't be pulling a lightsaber on as dangerous a villain as Kylo Ren.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits theaters in December. Scott Meslow

12:35 p.m. ET
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Graduates who earn the highest starting salaries straight out of college don't come from Brown or Columbia or Cornell or Dartmouth or Harvard or Penn or Princeton or Yale. None of the country's eight Ivy League schools even crack the top 10 for highest "early career pay," according to numbers gathered from nearly 1.5 million employees and crunched by PayScale. So how do you make the big bucks right away? Go to military school.

U.S. Naval Academy students make the most out of college, earning a median salary of $82,900 over the first five years out of the gates. West Point, at $82,800, comes in second, followed by Harvey Mudd, MIT, then yes, another military school, this one the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. The U.S. Air Force Academy also cracked the top 10.

Not only do Ivy League schools not appear in the top 10, they don't crack the top 20. Or 30. Harvard is 31st on the list. Dartmouth is all the way back at 56th.

See the whole list here (and check out Wonkblog's analysis over here). Jeva Lange

Abortion Debate
11:35 a.m. ET
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After months of conservative ire over leaked videos showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing the disposal of fetal tissue, the organization is striking back, courtesy of an analysis of the videos by Fusion GPS, a research and corporate intelligence company. The company's investigation of the series of secretly recorded videos found that "'manipulation' of undercover videos by abortion opponents make those recordings unreliable for any official inquiry," The New York Times reports. Fusion GPS said, "A thorough review of these videos in consultation with qualified experts found that they do not present a complete or accurate record of events they purport to depict" — events that, according to critics, include the discussion of the illegal sale of fetal parts.

Planned Parenthood on Thursday presented these findings of "substantive omissions" in the videos to congressional leaders and a committee investigating allegations of criminal activity, bolstering its case that the videos are "deceptively and misleadingly edited," The Times reports. The congressional investigation of Planned Parenthood was opened in July. Becca Stanek

Last night on late night: Colbert edition
11:10 a.m. ET
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To many, Stephen Colbert is inseparable from his ultra-conservative satirical persona. Colbert's challenge, therefore, on the eve of taking over the Late Show is figuring how to be the "real" Colbert.

It's an unrealistic demand in and of itself, since everyone in entertainment adopts some sort of persona when they're in front of the camera. So the real question is, who will the "new" Colbert be?

Colbert insists it might not be as hard as one would imagine. In his Time cover story interview, the comedian revealed that the real "him" was always lurking behind the Colbert we all know from his days at Comedy Central — the only reason we didn't see him is because every inch of the show was meticulously constructed before it went on air.

Why it’s incorrect to think he never broke character in The Colbert Report: We would edit any mistake I ever did. People said, "Oh, you never broke" or "You rarely broke." That’s because we always took it out, because part of the character was he wasn't a f—up. He was absolutely always on point. Win. Get over. Stay sharp. That was his attitude all the time, and we had to reflect that in the production of the show. None of that is necessary anymore. Now I can be a comedian. [Time]

But after a decade of The Colbert Show, can he truly make himself anew? Colbert had a final word for his doubters:

"They [used to say], 'You can't do a nightly show in character — it won't last until Christmas,'" Colbert remembers. "And now there's a lot of 'You can't do the show not in character.' Evidently nobody has any belief that I can do anything." [Time]

Colbert takes the helm of the Late Show Sept. 8 on CBS. Jeva Lange

This just in
10:30 a.m. ET
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At the rate Pakistan is building nuclear weapons, it could have the world's third-largest nuclear stockpile within five to 10 years, a new report by two American think tanks projects. The study by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Stimson Center suggests that Pakistan, driven by a fear of India, its nuclear-armed nemesis next door, may be building 20 nuclear warheads a year, which could result in the country possessing a total of at least 350 nuclear weapons within a decade. Right now, analysts estimate Pakistan has about 120 nuclear warheads.

Some, such as Mansoor Ahmed, a nuclear expert at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, think the new report is "overblown." Still, if its predictions are proven true, Pakistan will soon have the third-biggest nuclear arsenal on Earth — though still well behind Russia's 7,500 and America's 7,100. That means Pakistan would have more nukes than France, China, the U.K., India, Israel, and North Korea. Today, Pakistan is believed to have the world's sixth-largest stockpile.

"What the world must understand," Ahmed told The Washington Post, "is that nuclear weapons are part of Pakistan's belief system." Becca Stanek

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