DAYBREAK DAILY: Rand Paul visits Maryland to make GOP pitch

ABC7 WEATHER: Partly sunny with highs near 50.

‘GOOD MORNING WASHINGTON’: Among the reports – The latest on the search for 8-year-old Relisha Rudd; much more, beginning at 4:30 a.m. M-F.

A PITCH IN MARYLAND: We’re not talking baseball, per the Baltimore Sun, “U.S. Sen. Rand Paul said the Republican party's base isn't big enough, especially in Maryland. But, he told a group of the state's GOP candidates and donors Wednesday night, becoming "the Democrat Lite" party isn't the answer. "If we want to win again, if we want to be a bigger party, we have to go to different people with a message of hope and optimism," the junior GOP senator from Kentucky said at a fundraiser for the Maryland Liberty Political Action Committee at the BWI Westin in Linthicum.

“Part of the issue is the party's image, Paul said. Republicans need to prioritize privacy and the Fourth Amendment, he said, along with their emphasis on balancing the federal budget. Paul pointed out that President Barack Obama won overwhelmingly with young voters, who were more concerned with the concrete challenges of student debt and jobs than a more abstract threat of a budget deficit. Those students, and every other demographic for that matter, care about privacy, he said, and if the GOP can become the "party of privacy" that will defend their rights, it could take back the White House.”

RELISHA RUDD: Just the facts, per WJLA-ABC7, “The extensive search for a missing 8-year-old D.C. girl continues. At D.C. General Wednesday, teams of police cadets searched the grounds and eventually inside the homeless shelter where Relisha Rudd lived with her family. Rudd was last seen on Feb. 26 and is believed to be with Khalil Tatum. . .Mayor Vincent Gray's administration raised questions about the child's grandmother, Melissa Young, and mother, Tamika Young. Around the time Relisha was seen with Tatum in surveillance video from a Northeast Washington hotel, staffers at Payne Elementary, where Relisha attended school, demanded to know why she'd been absent for so long.

“School officials say Relisha's grandmother presented the school with a paper and the number of a "Dr. Tatum." The school called the number and a man answered, whom police now assume was Khalil Tatum, a janitor at the shelter, pretending to be a doctor. When the school insisted on a written confirmation and Tatum reportedly told them to drop the form at the D.C. General shelter, school officials learned there was no Dr. Tatum. That's when they called police.”

D.C. MAYORAL RACE: And the key will be. . ., per the Washington Post, “Mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser is surging in polls, but her support is squishy: Those turning to her are less likely to vote, and they still might change their minds. Incumbent Vincent C. Gray enjoys a rock-solid base of die-hard supporters, but there are far fewer of them than there used to be.

“Both circumstances point to the urgency of turnout for both front-runners in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. Bowser is working feverishly to identify the supporters who, according to a new Washington Post poll, are flocking to her. She must persuade them to stick with their choice — and make sure they actually vote.”

NORFOLK NAVAL BASE SHOOTING: Just the facts, per the Virginian-Pilot, “He was a good kid from a humble family who seemed always to want to please his teachers and coaches. He got decent grades and played football and wrestled while in high school in Hagerstown, Md. He wanted to be a cop. After graduation, Mark Mayo chose his path. He enlisted in the Navy, left home and trained to become a master-at-arms - a military police officer.

“Soon he was in Bahrain, then Spain, then Norfolk. He died here, at age 24, doing a job he loved. The Navy on Wednesday identified Mayo as the sailor who was killed late Monday by a civilian truck driver who passed through security at Norfolk Naval Station, boarded the pierside destroyer Mahan, and wrested a gun from a female sailor standing guard on the deck.”

BOB MCDONNELL: The latest, per the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “The key to Bob McDonnell’s defense may be the testimony of his alleged partner in crime — his wife. The ex-governor’s lawyers say former first lady Maureen McDonnell’s testimony on his behalf would reveal a “strained” marital relationship. They say it would dispel the federal government’s notion that the McDonnells conspired to use the state’s highest public office to assist Jonnie Williams, then Star Scientific’s CEO, in exchange for gifts and loans.

“Far from acting in concert, they had no such agreement, and he had no timely knowledge of many of her interactions with Williams,” the governor’s attorneys assert. But that testimony will not take place if the McDonnells are tried together, the lawyers state in their motion to sever the public corruption case against the former governor from the case against his wife.

“The 28-page memorandum in support of the motion to split the trials was part of an avalanche of defense documents the McDonnells’ lawyers filed Tuesday night in U.S. District Court in Richmond. The filings included motions to dismiss 12 of the 14 counts against the McDonnells, to sever their trials, and to allow an expanded jury selection process.”

PUTIN: And/or Ukraine, per the New York Times, “President Obama and European leaders pledged Wednesday to bolster the NATO alliance and vowed that Russia would not be allowed to run roughshod over its neighbors. But the military reality on the ground in Europe tells a different story.

“The United States, by far the most powerful NATO member, has drastically cut back its European forces from a decade ago. European countries, which have always lagged far behind the United States in military might, have struggled and largely failed to come up with additional military spending at a time of economic anemia and budget cuts.”

MEANWHILE: Tentative unity, per The Hill, “Congress is expected to complete a Ukraine aid and Russia sanctions bill on Thursday after three weeks of squabbling between House Republicans and Senate Democrats. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) agreement to strip International Monetary Fund reforms from the bill has paved the way for a final vote, but both sides were wrapping up details on the legislation Wednesday night.

“The Senate’s plan is to take up legislation the House passed on March 6 that grants $1 billion in loan guarantees to Ukraine. Senate leaders then plan to amend that bill by adding language on sanctions approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The House on Thursday will vote on a competing Russia sanctions bill that passed out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.”

POLITICO PLAY: “President Barack Obama was once the biggest superstar on the international stage. On Thursday, he heads to the Vatican to benefit from the popularity of his replacement: Pope Francis. The visit is a rare chance for Obama to associate himself with a world leader whose cool factor far outweighs his own, and it comes at a critical time in his presidency. The White House is still recovering from what aides call a “lost year,” and the president’s job approval ratings at home are dipping to new lows.”

STATEHOOD STAR POWER: Or something like that, per City Paper, “Shadow senator Paul Strauss has been rounding up Hollywood celebs of varying levels of fame to shoot pro-District statehood ads, and now he's got another. After winning over Mario Van Peebles and Sex and the City husband Evan Handler, Strauss sends LL his newest spot featuring actress Alexis Carra.

“Carra stars in freshman Wednesday night ABC hookup comedy Mixology, which hasn't exactly been getting rave reviews (says New York Magazine: "It doesn't quite endorse rape, but it certainly has no problem with rape."). In the commercial, which is set to air with the other two spots on cable networks tomorrow, Strauss breaks the news to Carra that the District doesn't have congressional representation.”

YOUR TAXES AT WORK: In unseen ways, per Gazette.Net, “Montgomery County acted illegally when it spent taxpayer money to campaign for votes on a 2012 ballot question, a circuit court judge has ruled. But while Judge Ronald B. Rubin found the county in the wrong, he did not order County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) or spokesman Patrick Lacefield to repay county coffers or pay damages to the police union, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35, which brought the suit.”

MEANWHILE: A wildcard, per the Frederick News-Post, “Tax breaks for "House of Cards" survived debate in the House of Delegates on Wednesday, as Republicans unsuccessfully sought to reshape the state's budget proposals. Delegate Kathy Afzali even took a swipe at the starring actors in the Netflix series; as she argued for repealing tax incentives for Maryland productions, she announced she wanted to call the amendment "The Repeal of the Kevin Spacey-Robin Wright Retire in Style Fund.".

“. . .From fiscal 2012 through 2016, "House of Cards" received more than half of the tax credits available for films in the state, and the show's producers this legislative session are lobbying for bolstered incentives in the coming year. Afzali said the series' makers have threatened to move production out of Maryland unless they receive the additional credits. Afzali said she doesn't think it's right that Maryland dollars are lining the pockets of out-of-state production companies.”

HOOT: Of the intriguing owl, per DCist, “The snowy owl who made the mistake of making Washington, D.C. her home and was subsequently hit by a Metro bus and SUV is in Minnesota for treatment. According to a release from The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota, the snowy owl was being treated at an East Coast rehabilitation center but was transferred so damaged feathers could be replaced.”

SPORTS, BRIEFLY: Wizards lose 99-93 against Phoenix.

TRENDING ON ABC7 FACEBOOK: “Approximately 180 animals were rescued from a suspected puppy mill in Arkansas, where authorities discovered dogs, rabbits, and birds all living in filth. The Humane Society is now partnering with several groups from Arlington, Alexandria, D.C., and Calvert County to give the animals temporary shelter and medical care before adopting them out.”

NEWSTALK: Among today’s guests (10 a.m., NewsChannel 8) is D.C. mayoral candidate Jack Evans, who will offer his “closing argument” to DC voters.

--Skip Wood