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Off to the races: South Carolina kickoff

USA Today table sets Vice President Joe Biden’s speech in South Carolina Friday and looks at whether it’s a preview for 2016. The State newspaper in South Carolina front pages Biden and Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) visit. Headline: “2016 presidential races gets off to its S.C. start.”

Story: “A little more than a year after the last presidential primary in South Carolina, the next one gets an unofficial start Friday night. Vice President Joe Biden and Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas – two presumed 2016 White House hopefuls – are the keynote speakers at the state’s annual Democratic and Republican fundraising dinners in Columbia. Their Friday night appearances enhance the state’s stature as the home of the first presidential primary in the South, political observers said.”

With Biden and Cruz speaking in South Carolina tonight, C-Span is officially launching its “Road to the White House ’16.”

“Rhode Island Thursday became the 10th state to approve same-sex marriage, and the Delaware Legislature holds a key vote Tuesday on the same issue. But Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, denies there is a national tide in support of marriage rights for gay couples,” Susan Page writes.

Politico: “OFA’s pledge to punish senators who voted against gun control was the first big test of the group’s reach – and, undoubtedly, a difficult one, given that many of the senators voting no were in deep-red states where Obama lost badly. Even measured against those odds, there are almost no successes to point to: the group didn’t sway a single vote for the background check proposal, and so far, they haven’t been able to make any of those who voted against it feel any heat. Even in states Obama carried handily – places like Ohio and New Hampshire – the group couldn’t hold big rallies, blanket the airwaves with TV ads or motivate enough supporters to match the volume of phone calls pro-gun advocates. Asked for demonstrations of the strong effort they were mounting, OFA staff pointed to “tweet your senator” pushes they encouraged in the days after the vote.”

Speaking of guns, USA Today goes to Houston for the NRA’s annual conference: “In some ways, the national debate over gun control has been good for the National Rifle Association. The nation's largest and most powerful gun rights group holds its annual meeting in Houston this weekend, and it's expected to be its biggest and most-watched gathering ever — perhaps 80,000 people, more than 400 exhibitors, 600 credentialed media and perhaps a future presidential candidate or two.”

The AP: “After winning a major victory over President Barack Obama with the defeat of a gun control bill in the U.S. Senate, the powerful gun-rights lobby will gather in Houston this weekend for its annual convention. Organizers anticipate a rollicking, Texas-sized party -- one that celebrates the group's recent victory, while stressing that the fight against gun control is far from over. ‘If you are an NRA member, you deserve to be proud,’ Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's no-compromises chief executive, wrote to the organization's 5 million members last week, telling them that they ‘exemplify everything that's good and right about America.’”

More: “Today's big event is a political forum with speeches from several state and national conservative leaders, including Mr. Perry; Sarah Palin, former GOP vice-presidential nominee; Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania's Republican former senator and presidential candidate; and Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, a firebrand who has become one of the top Tea Party voices in Washington since being elected last year.” LaPierre speaks Saturday.

Said the NRA’s spokesman: "The geography is helpful. The current [political] climate helps."

Santorum’s group Patriot Voices on what he will say Friday: “Senator Santorum will share with attendees his commitment to defending the 2nd Amendment, his opposition to universal background checks which could lead to a national gun registry, and his belief that we must work to enforce existing laws, not create new laws that do nothing to deter criminals and madmen.”

Reid Wilson: “After taking control of the state legislature earlier this year, Colorado Democrats have become the vanguard of a new movement to tinker with voting rules. The proposal under consideration now would require elections to take place entirely through the mail -- in essence, signing every Colorado voter up for an absentee ballot… Colorado wouldn't be the first state to conduct elections entirely by mail. Two states, Washington and Oregon, moved to an all-mail system over the last decade and a half. What worries Republicans about the Colorado bill is what happened in Washington and Oregon. Hard as it may be to imagine, both states were once presidential battlegrounds.”

Nancy Pelosi prays that Hillary Clinton will run for president.

HAWAII: “U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa of Hawaii announced her candidacy for U.S. Senate on Thursday, setting up a primary showdown that almost certainly will be the state’s marquee race next year,” AP writes. “The former state lawmaker starting her second term in Congress will be running against fellow Democrat and incumbent U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, who was appointed to the post after longtime Sen. Daniel Inouye died in December. Schatz’s appointment by Gov. Neil Abercrombie came as a surprise to some in Hawaii, after Inouye wrote the governor just before he died saying his last wish was to have Hanabusa named to replace him.”

Said Hanabusa: “Brian was not elected. He was appointed. And I don’t think the people have really had an opportunity to weigh in on who they want to represent them in the United States Senate.”

MASSACHUSETTS: First Lady Michelle Obama will help raise money for Rep. Ed Markey May 29, in what will be her first fundraising effort after the November 2012 election.