(CNN) - After a poll Thursday showed Tea Party favorite Nikki Haley surging to the front of the pack in the race for the South Carolina's Republican gubernatorial nomination, her opponents acknowledged - but sought to downplay - her fresh momentum.
Haley, a state representative with little money and a meager statewide profile, entered the race last year as a dark horse candidate after supporters of Gov. Mark Sanford urged her to run under the reform mantle. Her small government views won over national conservative activists, but she struggled to make headway in her own four-way GOP primary.
That changed in recent weeks after Haley netted a surprise endorsement from Sarah Palin, who traveled to Columbia to appear with Haley at a rally. ReformSC, an advocacy group funded by allies of Sanford, ran TV ads backing her candidacy. Haley's campaign also went on the air with a tough ad attacking her rivals - Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, Attorney General Henry McMaster and Rep. Gresham Barrett.
A candidate must capture 50 percent of the vote in the June 8 primary, an unlikely prospect that means the race will probably result in a runoff between the top two vote-getters.
Haley campaign manager Tim Pearson said in an e-mail to supporters Thursday that "our campaign is in the strongest position we've ever been" - a claim Haley's rivals aren't disputing.
McMaster's campaign admitted Thursday that their once little-known opponent is riding high.
Washington (CNN) – U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he will urge President Barack Obama to veto a coming $726 billion defense authorization bill if it contains funding for unwanted projects Gates has been trying to cut for years.
Gates has been vocal about financial reform at the Pentagon, trying to rein in some big-ticket contracts and telling Congress to stop spending money on C-17 transport planes that are not needed and a $485 million alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). The JSF engine program - already delayed and over budget - could end up costing taxpayers billions of dollars, according to Gates.
But with jobs at stake, Congress has ignored those requests for years and continued to appropriate funds for the C-17 and a second F-35 engine.
"The detailed conditions they [Congress] have imposed on the overall JSF program would make it essentially un-executable and impose unacceptable schedule and budget costs," Gates said Thursday at a Pentagon briefing.
Washington (CNN) - A Democratic candidate, who does not have President Obama's endorsement, is happy to borrow a signature slogan from the president's 2008 campaign: "Change."
That familiar one-word motto is the title of a new TV ad, released Thursday, from Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. The Democrat is locked in a run-off with Sen. Blanche Lincoln after neither candidate captured 50-percent of the vote in Tuesday's primary.
The run-off is set for June 8.
Halter's new 30-second ad mentions the word "change" four times, an average of once every seven seconds.
Washington (CNN) – The National Republican Senatorial Committee raised $4.4 million in the month of April, and has $17 million cash-on-hand, the committee said Thursday.
"As we move closer to Election Day, it's increasingly clear that President Obama's big government, big spending agenda is putting more and more Democrat Senate seats in play. This makes it even more important to ensure that all of our candidates have the resources to run and win in November," said NRSC Executive Director Rob Jesmer in a statement.
The committee also reported that it has no debt. The NRSC reported raising $5.14 million in March.
(CNN) - Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul, facing withering criticism for questioning elements of the Civil Rights Act, lamented the state of the media Thursday when asked about the tempest swirling around his remarks.
"I thought I was supposed to get a honeymoon," Paul sighed in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "When does my honeymoon start after my victory?"
In an appearance on MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show" Wednesday night, Paul debated whether the landmark federal anti-discrimination legislation should apply to private businesses – unleashing a torrent of attacks from national Democrats eager to undercut his candidacy two days after he secured the GOP nomination.
Paul said in the CNN interview Thursday that MSNBC, taking cues from his Democratic opponent Jack Conway, had mistakenly reported that he supports a "repeal" of the Civil Rights Act.
"I think what troubles me is that the news cycle has gotten out of control," he told Blitzer. "For several hours on a major news network yesterday, they reported repeatedly that I was for repealing the Civil Rights Act. That is not only not true, never been my position, but is an out and out lie. And they repeated it all day long."
Nevertheless, Paul sought to walk back his explosive comments.
He said he would have voted in favor of the Civil Rights Act if he were in the Senate at the time, calling the racial climate at the time "a stain on the South and our history."
"There was an overriding problem in the South that was so big that it did require federal intervention in the Sixties," he said. "The Southern states weren't correcting it, and there was a need for federal intervention."
Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair has resigned. (PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images)
Washington (CNN) – The president's top intelligence adviser, Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair, has announced his resignation, effective Friday.
Blair, a retired four-star Navy admiral, has served in the post since January 29, 2009. His office oversees 17 federal agencies of the U.S. "intelligence community," including the CIA, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.
Word of Blair's resignation comes just two days after the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report that sharply criticized the National Counterterrorism Center - overseen by Blair's office - for failing to properly coordinate intelligence activities to detect the botched Christmas Day airline bombing in advance.
The report said the center, created after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to coordinate U.S. intelligence efforts, was "not organized adequately to fulfill its missions."
In addition, the report said other problems allowed suspect Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab to board a flight bound for Detroit, Michigan, in December with an explosive device that failed to detonate. AbdulMutallab was detained when other passengers noticed his clothes burning from his attempt to set off the device.
New York (CNNMoney.com) – Congress on Thursday previewed a grab-bag bill of spending and tax measures that is likely to be a flash point in the debate over the federal debt.
The legislation would extend a host of tax breaks, give continued relief to the unemployed, delay cuts to doctors' Medicare reimbursements, provide support for job growth and fund disaster relief, among other things.
Congress' budget scorekeepers haven't finished estimating the total cost of the bill and the amount of revenue it would raise through pay-for measures. But the pay-fors are not likely to cover even half of the total cost, which could top $150 billion.
The bill, a melded version of proposal passed earlier by the House and Senate, won't be free of opposition on either side of the aisle. There is pressure to pay for more of the bill's provisions, and there is strong disagreement over some of the pay-fors that are included.
Washington (CNN) – President Barack Obama on Thursday praised a Senate vote that cleared the way for Wall Street reform to head to a final vote.
"Over the last year, the financial industry has repeatedly tried to end this reform with hoards of lobbyists and millions of dollars in ads, and when they couldn't kill it they tried to water it down with special interest loopholes ... aimed at undermining real change," Obama told reporters Thursday. "Today, I think it's fair to say that these efforts have failed."
Wall Street reform cleared a crucial test vote on Thursday, all but assuring final Senate passage of the most sweeping regulatory overhaul since
the New Deal. The Senate voted 60 to 40 to meet the threshold to overcome filibusters and send the measure to a final vote within days.
The legislation aims to stop bailouts, shines a light on complex financial products and strengthens consumer protection. Final passage, which is likely to come within days, requires only 51 votes.
(CNN) - Sarah Palin bucked the GOP establishment on Thursday when she endorsed Washington state Tea Party activist Clint Didier in his bid for the Senate.
On Twitter Thursday, Palin said she is "inspired" by Didier and said he is a "patriot running for U.S. Senate to serve his state & our country for all the right reasons!"
The National Republican Senatorial Committee has heavily recruited another Republican to run in the race, businessman and former gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi. But Rossi, currently a commercial real estate investor, has so far remained uncommitted with only three weeks to go before the June 11 filing deadline.
Washington (CNN) - A member of the Florida congressional delegation is urging tourists to continue visiting the Sunshine State, even as BP and the Obama administration scramble to stem the flow of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican who represents Miami Beach and the Florida Keys, said Thursday that beaches in those areas are open for business.
"Their waters are warm and inviting," Ros Lehtinen said in a speech on the House floor. "Charter boat captains eagerly await the opportunity to take tourists deep sea fishing. [D]ive shops stand by to take visitors on a tour of some of the greatest underwater treasures in this world, the Florida Keys coral reefs."
But the sales pitch didn't stop there.