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First Read’s Morning Clips

OFF THE RACES: Debate Night!

It’s Debate Day! NBC's Matt Rivera envisioned what would happen if there was a debate playoff a-la March Madness. Check it out.

Here’s a keeper: the front page of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. (Note the sidebar story, too – not a boost for the governor on debate night: “Report: Median income in Ohio falls.”)

Buzzy site IJReview has a video preview of what the candidates do to prepare for debates.

Ashley Parker of the New York Times previews what the debate moderators are hoping to accomplish tonight -- and how they hope to keep candidates on their toes.

On a day full of flash, the New York Times nudges us to remember to consider the invisible primary.

From POLITICO: "Only 10 of the top Republican donors from the 2014 cycle have so far contributed at least $1 million to the presidential hopefuls and the outside groups that can raise unlimited sums on their behalf. Meanwhile, 45 deep-pocketed donors who didn’t give much in 2014 have stepped up and written those checks early in the race, including Toby Neugebauer, co-founder of a private equity firm and son of GOP Rep. Randy Neugebauer of Texas, energy company executive Kelcy Warren and Dallas entrepreneur Darwin Deason."

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, whose name has been floated as a possible candidate for president, writes in the New York Times: "Despite the encouragement of others, I have no intention of entering the presidential fray. I’m not done serving at Starbucks ... Our country deserves a candidate courageous enough to select a member of the other party as a running mate. Our country deserves a president humble enough to see leadership not as an entitlement but as a privilege."

(So what happens if that candidate wins the White House and dies? The other party controls the presidency?)

BUSH: POLITICO has a look at "how the Jeb and the GOP got Trumped," noting that Bush has voiced plenty of private skepticism about Trump. “Seriously, what’s this guy’s problem?” he asked one party donor he ran into recently according to accounts provided by several sources close to Bush—and he went on to describe the publicity seeking real estate developer now surging in public polls far ahead of Bush and all the 15 others in the Republican field as “a buffoon,” “clown” and “asshole.”

Via the Bush campaign, he has announced county chairs in all 17 Nevada counties.

CLINTON: She's won the endorsement of Rep. Xavier Becerra (CA-34), NBC's Frank Thorp reports.

KASICH: Bloomberg writes that his presence on the debate stage could be awkward for his opponents. "Over the years, the governor has developed a reputation as a moderate (or a RINO, as conservative critics have labeled him) for his willingness to work with Democrats on immigration reform, his support of Common Core (he’s called conservative opposition to the national education standards “hysteria”), and, most controversially, his state’s acceptance of the Obamacare Medicaid expansion. Kasich’s presence at Thursday's debate in Cleveland serves as a reminder that the GOP’s best chance for winning the bellwether state might be found in the moderate stances candidates tend to take during the general election, and Kasich has taken his share. "

Chief Kasich strategist John Weaver tells NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell that Ohio Gov. Kasich has “tremendous upside” going into tonight’s ten man scrum because “we probably have the lowest name ID nationally of anyone on the stage.”

PAUL: Jesse Benton, a key backer of Ron and Rand Paul, has been indicted over allegations that he and two other aides to Ron Paul in 2012 concealed payments to a state senator in exchange for his endorsement

The Des Moines Register talks to Iowa activists, who say the Benton scandal could hurt Rand Paul there.

O'MALLEY: He's upset with the Democratic Party for "trying to tilt the primary contest in Hillary Clinton’s favor," The Hill writes.

RUBIO: The campaign emailed this to supporters: “At 9pm EDT tonight, Marco will join nine other candidates for his first presidential debate. As one of our strongest supporters, I’m asking you to join us in our online debate war-room. I have no doubt that Marco’s going to do great – but it’s our job to help amplify his message. That’s why our campaign set up an online debate war-room that will offer real-time fact checking, video highlights and commentary during the debate. Check it out: MarcoRubio.com/debate.”

TRUMP: He's reiterating that he's going to "keep it on a high level" and only counterpunch if attacked.

The Washington Post reported yesterday - and NBC News confirmed - that Donald Trump and Bill Clinton spoke by phone shortly before Trump entered the 2016 race.

PROGRAMMING NOTES.

*** Thursday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell hosts a special edition of “Andrea Mitchell Reports” live from Cleveland. She’ll interview Clinton campaign Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri, msnbc’s Chris Matthews, Kasie Hunt and Steve Kornacki, Fmr. Sen. John Sununu, Fmr. McCain Campaign Senior Advisor Steve Schmidt, Fmr. Romney Campaign Economic Policy Advisor Vin Weber, Fmr. RNC Chairman Michael Steele, the New Hampshire Union Leader Publisher Joe McQuaid and the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza and Karen Tumulty.