In it, but not of it. TPM DC

The North Carolina Senate race -- a prime pickup opportunity for Republicans -- has shaped up to be a bit messier than it probably should be.

With a little more than a month before the Senate primary, the GOP still lacks a de facto nominee. There's a social conservative favorite, Rev. Mark Harris; a Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)-backed candidate, Dr. Greg Brannon; and a GOP-backed establishment candidate who's supposed to have locked up the whole thing by now, State House Speaker Thom Tillis, among others. Most observers say Tillis is the frontrunner, but he's far from a lock on the nomination and there's a chance he could be pushed to a runoff.

"I don't think there's any question that the person who is best positioned to defeat Kay Hagan is Thom Tillis," North Carolina-based Republican strategist Brian Nick told TPM. "And he's the best candidate in the Republican field and the Democrats are certainly cheering on someone else to possibly pull off an upset."

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In a sharply divided Supreme Court, women led the charge Tuesday in aggressively questioning the challengers of the rule under Obamacare that for-profit employers' health plans cover contraceptives for female employees at no extra cost, which the suing business owners say violates their religious liberty.

The first salvo came from Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who swiftly jumped in to question the challengers' lawyer if any employer can get an exemption from a general law that they claim a religious objection to.

"There are many people who have religious objections to vaccinations," she told Paul Clement, who was representing Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, two businesses who sued for relief from the mandate on the basis of their owners' Christian beliefs.

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The Treasury Department has now weighed in amid conservative media titan Matt Drudge's claims that he recently paid the Obamacare penalty he dubbed a "liberty tax."

In summary, Drudge apparently volunteered to fork over money to the IRS far earlier than he needed to. And he did it before the rules for doing so were final. TPM reported on Friday that was one of the possibilities from the facts Drudge laid out last week.

The department confirmed to TPM on Monday that instructions to pay the individual mandate penalty are still forthcoming. The IRS is still working on proposed regulations. On top of that, Treasury said that Americans who file quarterly estimated taxes -- as Drudge said he did -- are not required to include payments for the penalty.

That means Drudge likely gave the IRS an amount of money, which he has described as his penalty, but which he lacked the full information to pay.

And in a twist on Monday night, the IRS released a new explainer with some examples for calculating the penalty -- three days after Drudge said he paid it.

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A couple weeks ago, a Republican triumphed over a Democrat in a special House election in Florida. Because much of the conversation about the race centered on Obamacare and its possible role in the outcome, the Democratic defeat was quickly extrapolated by some as a full damnation for the party's Obamacare message and its prospects for the midterm elections, where the Democrats are defending seats in deep-red states where the health care reform law is unpopular.

"Florida loss exposes Democrats' disarray on Obamacare" was among the headlines that followed. A somber examination of how Democrats approach Obamacare -- and whether they needed to separate themselves from it -- was supposed to be imminent. And, to be clear, there was undoubtedly some anxiety, especially within the Beltway.

But with a few weeks of distance, has anything really changed on the ground, particularly in the battleground states that will determine control of the Senate and where Obamacare is expected to be a critical issue? Any signs of panic from the Democratic candidates who should have been shaken by the vote in Florida?

Actually, both Democratic and Republican strategists in two of those key states told TPM the answer is no. In fact, polling suggests it is far from certain exactly how Obamacare will factor into the November elections.

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When the Supreme Court hears two landmark cases about birth control on Tuesday, few observers doubt that Justice Antonin Scalia's sympathies will be with the Christian business owners who charge that the mandate violates their religious liberties.

The Reagan-appointed jurist is a devout Catholic who has extolled "traditional Christian virtues" and insists the devil is "a real person." He even has a son who's a Catholic priest. He voted in 2012 to wipe out Obamacare in its entirety and has been President Barack Obama's most outspoken foe on the Supreme Court.

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Four years after Obamacare was enacted, and more than 50 House votes to undo it, Republicans remain dedicated to destroying the law. But they're still lost on what they'd put in its place if given the chance.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) is leading the effort to craft a GOP alternative, and promised his members a vote in 2014. He faces a sea of obstacles to writing a health care bill with sufficient support in the House, and potentially a world of hurt if he follows through with his commitment.

"House Republicans will rally around and pass an alternative to Obamacare this year," Cantor told Republicans at their annual conference retreat in January.

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The Republican-led House will consider an updated budget resolution this year by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), according to a Friday memo to GOP lawmakers by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA).

He said it will adhere to spending levels agreed to under the two-year Ryan-Murray budget deal -- which means it'll set fiscal 2015 spending at $1.014 trillion -- and reach balance in a decade.

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This Sunday is the the Affordable Care Act's fourth anniversary and, in what is something of a tradition, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus wrote a scathing op-ed in USA Today on Friday to remind readers of all that the GOP believes is wrong with the law.

But it's also a reminder that there is one piece of the law that even the GOP really, really loves and would never roll back: letting kids stay on their parents' health plan until age 26.

"Believe it not, we can actually find some common ground. For example, I think we can agree on allowing young people to stay on their parents' insurance plans until age 26," Priebus wrote. The Republicans could take the Senate -- even the presidency -- but that piece of Obamacare is here to stay.

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