Podiums for this evening's debate between the then four remaining Republican presidential candidates stand ready at the North Charleston Coliseum on January 19, 2012 in Charleston, S.C.
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty

How do you fit 18 GOP contenders on a debate stage?

How do you fit 18 Republican presidential candidates on one debate stage?… Eigh(teen) is enough…  The friends you keep: Sidney Blumenthal returns… Hillary’s State Department emails won’t be released until right before the Iowa caucuses… It’s Primary Day in Kentucky. Is Matt Bevin your GOP frontrunner?… And Jacksonville’s mayoral race also takes place today, which could offer some tea leaves to read about Florida and 2016.


*** How do you fit 18 Republican presidential candidates on one debate stage? We can count as many as 18 potential GOP presidential candidates – after Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal formed his exploratory committee and after reports that Ohio Gov. John Kasich is “very likely” to run. So the questions become: How do you fit them all on one stage in the first debate set for August? Do you leave some out, including current and former governors and senators? Or do you hold two different debates in one night – with nine candidates in one hour, and another nine the next? Those are all questions after an earlier suggestion that Republicans might cap the first debate to nine to 12 participants, which would mean that some prominent names might be excluded. National Journal reports that the Republican National Committee is walking back the talk about a cap. “RNC chief strategist Sean Spicer … told reporters: ‘There’s no cap.’” But if there’s no cap, that means that either 18 candidates share the same stage, or that you have to divide them up into different heats.

*** Eigh(teen) is Enough: Here is our list of the 18 Republican presidential candidates. If you capped a debate at 12, which six would you leave out?

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

Sen. Marco Rubio

Sen. Rand Paul

Sen. Ted Cruz

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee

Former Sen. Rick Santorum

Sen. Lindsey Graham

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

Ohio Gov. John Kasich

Donald Trump

Carly Fiorina

Ben Carson

Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore

Former New York Gov. George Pataki

Former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich

*** The friends you keep… : Clinton friend and former journalist Sidney Blumenthal is back in the news. “When the Clintons last occupied the White House, Sidney Blumenthal cast himself in varied roles: speechwriter, in-house intellectual and press corps whisperer,” the New York Times writes. “Now, as Hillary Rodham Clinton embarks on her second presidential bid, Mr. Blumenthal’s service to the Clintons is again under the spotlight. Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, a Republican who is leading the congressional committee investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, plans to subpoena Mr. Blumenthal, 66, for a private transcribed interview.” More: “Mr. Gowdy’s chief interest, according to people briefed on the inquiry, is a series of memos that Mr. Blumenthal — who was not an employee of the State Department — wrote to Mrs. Clinton about events unfolding in Libya before and after the death of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. According to emails obtained by The New York Times, Mrs. Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time, took Mr. Blumenthal’s advice seriously, forwarding his memos to senior diplomatic officials in Libya and Washington.” And the Times adds that Blumenthal’s Libya intel came from business associates he was advising.

*** Hillary’s State Department emails won’t be released until right before the Iowa caucuses: Hillary Clinton’s State Department emails are also back in the news. The AP: “The State Department has proposed releasing portions of 55,000 pages of emails from former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton by next January. The department made the proposal in a federal court filing Monday night, in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by Vice News.” Why January? The State Department said that’s how long it is taking to review the materials.

*** Primary Day in Kentucky: It’s Primary Day in Kentucky, where a handful of Republicans – perhaps led by failed 2014 Senate candidate Matt Bevin – are vying to take on Democratic state Attorney General Jack Conway in the fall. Current Gov. Steve Beshear (D) is term limited. Jennifer Duffy, who monitors gubernatorial races for the Cook Political Report, says that Bevin is the odds-on favorite to win today’s GOP primary, and that could hurt Republicans in the general election. “You won’t see any enthusiasm from the Republican Governors Association,” she says. How is Bevin the favorite over state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and former Louisville Councilman Hal Heiner? Duffy points to two reasons: 1) Bevin’s wealth, which has allowed him to dominate the airwaves; and 2) a Comer-Heiner feud over allegations that Comer abused a college girlfriend and took her to get an abortion in 1991. But Politico writes that the allegations against Comer, which he denies, could create some backlash and maybe even help him.

*** Today’s mayoral race in Jacksonville: Today is also the mayoral election in Jacksonville, FL. The AP explains why a mayoral election is getting national attention. “There’s a reason why the Jacksonville mayoral race is drawing the attention of such outsiders as former president Bill Clinton, former Texas governor Rick Perry, former governor Jeb Bush, and Senator Marco Rubio, and it’s about more than who wins Tuesday. It’s because the state’s largest city will also be a key to winning Florida in the 2016 presidential election, and having an ally in the mayor’s office can only help. Perry, Bush, and Rubio have an eye on the White House next year, and each is helping former state Republican Party chairman Lenny Curry, who’s challenging incumbent Democrat Alvin Brown. Clinton, whose wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, is running for president, came to Jacksonville to raise money for Brown.” When Brown won this race four years ago, it was seen as a sign of change in Florida – and a reminder of how the state was smack dab in purple and even slightly leaning Obama.

*** On the trail today: Hillary remains in Iowa, campaigning in Cedar Falls around 11:00 am ET… Rick Perry and Mike Huckabee also are in Iowa… And Bernie Sanders, on Capitol Hill, holds a news conference on college tuition.

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OBAMA AGENDA: Questioning the administration’s anti-ISIS strategy

The fall of Ramadi is making plenty of people anxious about the strategy the United States is using in Iraq.

Why are so many voters wary of trade deals? The Washington Post went to Tennessee to find out. “Many of those workers have long grown tired of politicians promising relief from their trade-induced job losses but never delivering.”

Critics say the EPA pushed its drinking water regulations by organizing a drive to solicit favorable public comments.

The White House will unveil a strategy today to protect honeybees.

The foundation building Obama’s presidential library has raised about $5 million – but needs $500 million, the Chicago Tribune writes.

CONGRESS: We need a raise!

Rep. Alcee Hastings says that members of Congress need a pay raise.

Elizabeth Warren is proposing a change to the trade bill that would protect Dodd-Frank, writes Bloomberg.

OFF TO THE RACES: Sidney Blumenthal returns

POLITICO looks at GOP hopefuls’ efforts to cultivate endorsements in Washington, D.C. this week.

BUSH: Jeb Bush’s wife Columba has a column in the Des Moines Register urging support for domestic abuse programs.

CHRISTIE: In New Hampshire, Chris Christie said: ““I think if I didn’t run the only reason would be personal. If we decided, Mary Pat and I decided that as a family this is not something that we wanted to do.”

“On Monday, Christie said that he now opposes providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, something he supported as recently as 2010,” Bloomberg notes.

CLINTON: “The State Department has proposed releasing portions of 55,000 pages of emails from former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton by next January,” the AP writes.

The New York Times compares one of Hillary Clinton’s challenges to Nixon’s: Remake an image with almost universal name recognition.

The New York Times also looks at the role played by Clinton friend Sidney Blumenthal, who wrote memos to Hillary Clinton about events in Libya even as he was involved in a possible business venture in the country. House Benghazi Committee chair Trey Gowdy plans to subpoena Blumenthal for a private interview.

The Washington Post looks at the cash the Clintons enjoyed because of close ties to Silicon Valley.

JINDAL: A pro-Jindal group will run ads in Iowa – even though the Louisiana gov isn’t in the race yet.

And around the country…

CALIFORNIA: Rep. Loretta Sanchez has had a rocky Senate bid rollout, and her fellow Democrats are not exactly racing to back her.

NEW HAMPSHIRE: Calls are mounting for the resignation of Frank Guinta in the wake of a campaign finance scandal – including from Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte.

NBC News’ Mark Murray contributed reporting.