TOP OF THE BALLOT: Expectations creep up on Republicans in Hawaii and Pennsylvania; Dobson switches endorsement in Kentucky; and a DSCC recruit hopes to force runoff in North Carolina.

Special expectations for the GOP

Expectations are rising for Republicans in the two special elections coming up in mid-May, and that can be a good thing or a bad thing.

The two most recent public polls in the Hawaii and Pennsylvania special elections show Republicans leading by eight points and six points, respectively. Both wins would represent takeovers for the GOP and would be the end of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s (NRCC) nine-race losing streak in special elections.

But it’s that losing streak that makes the expectations here potentially troubling. The House GOP’s campaign arm needs a win in the worst way (especially after the Senate GOP took a seat in MASSACHUSETTS this year), and the seats in Hawaii and Pennsylvania are ones that they should be able to take

The environment in the late Rep. John Murtha’s (D-Pa.) seat is toxic for Democrats, and thanks to the vote-by-mail nature of his race, Republican Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou is likely already mounting a lead over a split field of two Democrats.

It’s become clear that a sweep by either side would be pretty momentous. But with expectations building on the GOP side, both here and nationally, they seem to have more to lose at this point.

Dobson pulls Grayson endorsement, backs Paul

Just a week after backing Trey Grayson in the Kentucky Senate race, evangelical leader Dr. James Dobson pulled the endorsement, backed Rand Paul and blamed GOP leaders for providing him misleading information about Paul’s record.

"Senior members of the GOP told me Dr. Paul is pro-choice and that he opposes many conservative perspectives, so I endorsed his opponent,” Dobson said. “But now I've received further information from OB/GYNs in Kentucky whom I trust, and from interviewing the candidate himself.”

Paul’s news will likely trump Grayson’s not-so-insignificant endorsement from Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), who represents a strongly conservative district and is well-regarded by his district’s voters.

A pulled endorsement – especially within a week’s time period – doesn’t happen often. And the fact that Dobson blamed GOP leaders only bolsters Paul’s outsider cred.

Trouble for DSCC in N.C.

With just less than 24 hours to go until voting begins in the North Carolina Democratic Senate primary, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall has expanded her lead on former state Sen. Cal Cunningham to 28-21, according to a new Public Policy Polling (D) survey.

That still leaves the race headed for a runoff, unless Marshall can take more than one-third of the 33 percent of voters who are undecided.

Cunningham has the unofficial support of national Democrats in the race. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) doesn’t want Marshall as its nominee. But it’s looking harder for Cunningham.

(Side note: PPP has polled for Marshall this year, but its CEO has contributed to Cunningham’s campaign. This poll was conducted independently.)

Other updates

-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio (R) is set to announce today whether he will run for governor of Arizona. The well-known immigration hawk would enter the GOP primary as the odds-on favorite and performs best against state Attorney General Terry Goddard in recent polling.

-Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (I) wouldn’t say Sunday which party he would caucus with in the Senate.