First Read Flash: Shifting tactics

New York Times: “Emboldened by the intense public criticism surrounding the rollout of the online insurance exchange, Republicans in Congress are refocusing their efforts from denying funds for the health care law to investigating it. In changing tactics, Republicans hope to tamp down the continuing public criticism of their previously fruitless attack on the Affordable Care Act, one that led to a 16-day government shutdown, by focusing on the problems with the law that they say they have warned the nation about, unheeded, for three years.”

Politico: “Given the unruly dozens in his House Republican Conference,” House Speaker John “Boehner has to let the specter of another shutdown and deficit crisis linger. But the Ohio Republican is beginning to shift his rhetorical focus toward oversight of the Obama administration. He privately hopes Obamacare begins to collapse under its own weight, and the majority of House Republicans organically come toward his view that a second fiscal crisis is fruitless, aides say.”

New York Times: “Contractors that built President Obama’s health insurance marketplace point fingers at one another and at the government, but each insists that it is not responsible for the problems that infuriated millions of Americans trying to buy insurance on the Web site, according to testimony prepared for a Congressional hearing on Thursday.”

Wall Street Journal: “Americans won’t face a health-insurance penalty so long as they sign up for coverage by March 31, 2014, the Obama administration said late Wednesday, offering what amounted to a six-week extension on the deadline….Taken literally, that would suggest a February deadline for applying to avoid the penalty. People have until around Feb. 14 to sign up for coverage in order for the coverage to take effect on March 1. If they waited any later, they might not get coverage until April 1, which is outside the 90-day window.”

NBC’s Kasie Hunt: “A growing chorus of Senate Democrats are raising concerns about implementing the president’s health care law on schedule as problems with the Healthcare.gov web site persist. Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia is drafting a bill to delay the health insurance law’s individual mandate for a year, his spokesman said Wednesday.”

Politico: “Manchin is searching for more co-sponsors — and if recent sentiment among his colleagues is any indication, he may find some. Democrats facing difficult reelection campaigns in 2014 — Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Begich of Alaska — came out on Wednesday evening in support of extending the open enrollment period of the law, as first proposed by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, who is also up for reelection in 2014.”

National Journal’s Beth Reinhard: “It took a tea party insurrection that disabled the federal government and wrecked the Republican brand, but after months of handwringing, establishment Republicans are preparing to attack ultra-conservative ideologues across red America. From Alabama to Alaska, the center-right, business-oriented wing of the Republican Party is gearing up for a series of skirmishes that it hopes can prevent the 2014 mid-term election from turning into another missed opportunity. But this will not be a coordinated operation. It will be messy, ugly, and prone to backfiring…’Hopefully we’ll go into eight to 10 races and beat the snot out of them,’ said former Rep. Steve LaTourette of Ohio, whose new political group, Defending Main Street, aims to raise $8 million to fend off tea party challenges against more mainstream Republican incumbents. ‘We’re going to be very aggressive and we’re going to get in their faces.’”

The Hill: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce would have to upend its endorsement process in order to wage primary election challenges against Republicans who defied the group on raising the debt ceiling.”

Jessica Taylor writes for The Daily Rundown on one such divisive primary race in Alabama. “The proxy fight is a special primary runoff in the state’s 1st Congressional District, where establishment-backed Bradley Byrne and Tea Party insurgent Dean Young are vying to succeed former GOP Rep. Jo Bonner, who resigned from Congress in August to take a job with the University of Alabama. The contest may show how harshly voters are–or aren’t–blaming the Tea Party for the shutdown, and whether the Republican establishment can–or can’t–successfully push back on the party’s extreme-right base….’If the establishment wins in South Alabama in a special election, the Tea Party is in serious, serious trouble,’ Young told NBC.”

Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty writes from Houston that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz “may be the most reviled man in the U.S. Senate at the moment, not least among his Republican colleagues….But back in Texas, there is a different reality. During the past week, Cruz has been greeted as a conquering hero, with a round of triumphal public appearances and welcome-home rallies such as the one that Alford attended Monday night in Houston, which was hastily arranged by the King Street Patriots tea party group. Even more extraordinary is the degree to which the freshman senator — who until 2012 had never run for public office — has quickly remade the Texas Republican Party in his own image.”

The New York Times profiles Cruz’s wife, a top executive at Goldman Sachs: “At first glance, Senator Ted Cruz’s wife, Heidi Nelson Cruz, seems to be just the sort of person the Tea Party supporters who celebrate her husband’s anti-establishment positions love to hate….Mrs. Cruz, both personally and professionally, is a complex study in contrasts to her husband. She describes herself as instinctively collaborative, and her husband as a man of big, fearless ideas — a seemingly polite way of saying that, yes, Mr. Cruz breaks a few pieces of china every now and then.”

Washington Post: “The conservative group Americans for Prosperity is going up with ads in several House districts highlighting the glitches on the Obama adminstration’s new health-care exchanges Web site.The ads thank Reps. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) and Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) for opposing the health-care law, known as the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare, and attack Reps. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.) and Scott Peters (D-Calif.) for declining to oppose it.”

MONTANA: Politico: “Lt. Gov. John Walsh, the Democratic candidate for Senate, has hired several veterans of Sen. Jon Tester’s successful 2012 reelection campaign for his own team. This helps gives the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee confidence that the former leader of the Montana National Guard can keep the race for the seat being given up by retiring Sen. Max Baucus (D) competitive.”

Roll Call reports that “Rep. Steve Daines, one of the last remaining 2014 Senate recruit holdouts, is expected to announce his decision by the end of this year, according to a Montana Republican source familiar with his thinking. To this point, Daines has refused to offer a timeline for a decision about whether to seek the Big Sky State’s open Senate seat, a top GOP pickup opportunity. He’s also noted that Montana voters want a shortened election season after a nearly two-year battle last cycle.”

TEXAS: Dallas Morning News: “In Houston, immigration lawyer Linda Vega announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate on Tuesday at what appeared to be a sparsely attended news conference. She’s challenging two-term Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 GOP leader. She didn’t mention Cornyn by name in her remarks, nor go out of her way to critique his performance or views.”

VIRGINIA: Washington Post: “Ken Cuccinelli II often brags that he has won elections in the battleground precincts around his home in Northern Virginia. But you wouldn’t know it in the closing days of the Virginia governor’s race. Rather than aiming for the moderates who have transformed the political landscape in recent elections, Cuccinelli is increasingly focused on shoring up his conservative base at a time when all recent polls show him lagging behind Democrat Terry McAuliffe.”

Richmond Times Dispatch: “The two major-party candidates for governor will meet face-to-face this evening on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg for the third and final debate of a long and contentious campaign” at 7 p.m.

WYOMING: NBC’s Mark Murray: “Supporters of Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) clearly want to make marriage – and gay marriage – an issue in Enzi’s Senate GOP primary race against Liz Cheney. In a new TV ad, the outside group the American Principles Fund features former Arkansas Gov.Mike Huckabee (R) calling Enzi a protector of ‘traditional marriage.’ Huckabee goes on to say, ‘He believes a mom and dad just do a better job raising kids than a government ever can do. Mike brings Wyoming values to Washington. Not the other way around.’”

First Read Flash: Shifting tactics