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Off to the races: Gillespie to run for Senate in Va.

Charlie Cook looks at the Republican empathy gap, too: “In the last election, when people were asked to choose which quality mattered the most in deciding how they voted for president, the top choice was ‘has a vision for the future’ at 29 percent, followed by ‘shares my values’ at 27 percent. Coming in third was ‘cares about people like me’ at 21 percent, and, in fourth place, ‘is a strong leader’ at 18 percent. Romney scored higher on three out of four of these qualities. Those choosing ‘shares my values’ voted 55 percent for Romney and 42 percent for Obama. Those who picked ‘is a strong leader’ as a key quality in their president sided for Romney, 61 percent to 38 percent. Those who said ‘has a vision for the future’ went 54 percent for Romney, 45 percent for Obama. Looking at these numbers, one might assume Romney won the election. However, among the one in five voters for whom ‘cares about people like me’ was most important, Obama won 81 percent to 18 percent. That is a jaw-dropping finding as Republicans search for the answer to the question, ‘Why did we lose?’ Republicans need to think about these results as they decide how to position their party for 2014 and 2016, lest they watch this empathy gap cost them another winnable election.”

Unskew! Gallup: "Americans continue to be more likely to identify as conservatives (38%) than as liberals (23%). But the conservative advantage is down to 15 percentage points as liberal identification edged up to its highest level since Gallup began regularly measuring ideology in the current format in 1992."

ALASKA:Roll Call: “An Alaska-based super PAC supporting one of Democratic Sen. Mark Begich’s Republican challengers is launching its first three ads of the campaign on Friday. The radio ads are an opening salvo for the group, Alaska’s Energy/America’s Values, which backs former Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan. The group spent about about $12,000 to air the ads over the next five days in Anchorage and Matanuska Valley.”

The Hill’s Cameron Joseph: “Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) missed a procedural vote on extending unemployment benefits to deliver a speech to a lobby group in Hawaii, The Hill has learned. Begich delivered a keynote speechWednesday morning to the American Aviation Issues conference, an annual event hosted by the American Association of Airport Executives. … Begich was one of three senators — and the only Democrat — who missed a tight Tuesdaymorning vote to invoke cloture on a Senate bill extending federal unemployment benefits for three months.”

ARKANSAS: Roll Call: “A small, agricultural town in southeast Arkansas will morph into the center of the state’s political universe this weekend, as elected officials, candidates and political insiders caravan in for an event that marks the start of a lively election year. Hundreds of pounds of raccoon meat will be served Saturday night inside a local school gymnasium at the 71st annual Gillett Coon Supper. The more appealing draw, however, is Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor and Republican Rep. Tom Cotton.”

VIRGINIA: Jonathan Martin of the New York Times: “Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman, has told senior members of his party that he will challenge Senator Mark R. Warner of Virginia and announce his candidacy as early as next week, giving Republicans a top-tier candidate in what has become one of the nation’s most competitive swing states. The bid by Mr. Gillespie, a longtime party operative turned lobbyist with ties to both Republican grass-roots and establishment wings, also underlines the intent of more mainstream Virginia Republicans to retake control of the party after a Tea Party-backed candidate lost the governorship.”

The Hill: “Former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie has decided to challenge Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and will announce his campaign next week, two sources close to Gillespie confirm to The Hill. Gillespie is also close to finalizing much of his campaign staff  and has selected Chris Leavitt as campaign manager — a young GOP strategist who most recently ran Republican Mark Obenshain's 2013 race for attorney general. Obenshain lost the race by fewer than 1,000 votes, out-performing the rest of the GOP ticket.”