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Key takeaways from last night's primary results

Last night’s round of primaries may not have been the most high-profile contests of the year, but they still gave us some important storylines to watch going forward, First Read notes.

Primary battles in Idaho, Nebraska, Oregon and Pennsylvania showcased the strength of Democratic women and progressives, while also proving that having “Congress” attached to a candidate’s name is a major hurdle.  

Here are some of our top takeaways:

  • It was a good night for Democratic women, especially in Pennsylvania. The Keystone State currently does not have any female members in its congressional delegation. Now four women have a shot to head to Washington. And in one of the night's biggest surprises, former Democratic Rep. Brad Ashford fell to progressive Kara Eastman in Nebraska. 
  • Being a member of Congress is NOT an asset. Rep. Raul Labrador lost his GOP primary bid for governor of Idaho, GOP Rep. Lou Barletta delivered an underwhelming victory in Pennsylvania's Senate primary, and Ashford lost to Eastman. 
  • Progressives had a good night. Along with Eastman, two members of Pittsburgh's chapter of Democratic Socialists of America defeated incumbent state representatives. National Republicans said the results showcase that Democrats have a primary problem. “Kara Eastman makes socialist Bernie Sanders look moderate by comparison," the National Republican Congressional Committee said in a statement. 

Check here for more analysis of last night's results.

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Young voters make up significant portion of new registrations in key states since Parkland shooting

Young voters are flocking to register to vote in key battleground states in the wake of the February school shooting at a Parkland, Fla. high school, according to a new analysis from Democratic data firm TargetSmart.  

The report, released exclusively to NBC News, shows that young voters between the ages of 18 and 29 years old make up an increasing share of those registering to vote in a handful of key states.

Pennsylvania has seen the sharpest increase—61 percent of new voter registrations come from young voters, compared to 45 percent before the shooting.

Virginia, Indiana and New York have all seen an increase of about 10 percentage points in the youth share of new voter registrants, while Arizona and Florida have seen gains of about 8 percent. All of these states are home to some key Senate or House races that will play a crucial role in deciding control of Congress.

Other key battleground states—like California, North Carolina and Ohio—have seen more modest increases. And in West Virginia, home to one of the top Senate races on the map, the youth share of new registrants fell 11.5 percentage points.

Democrats are boosted by the general upward trend—TargetSmart found a 2 percent uptick in the share of youth registrants across the country—considering young voters skew more liberal and are more supportive of enacting new gun control measures. The February shooting in Parkland, where 17 people were killed, has served as a motivator for activists looking to make the case to pass new measures like expanding background checks and restricting access to certain weapons 

Take a look at how the share has changed in each of the 38 states (plus the District of Columbia) that have updated their voter files since the shooting on Feb. 14 (states shown in grey haven’t publicly released new voter registration data over this span) on the graph below. And TargetSmart has all of the data here.   

TargetSmart, NBC analysis

How Helsinki is playing out in 2018 midterm races

Democrats are seizing on President Trump's friendly comments toward Russia during his meeting this week with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, with many vulnerable Republicans even breaking ranks to join the chorus of criticism. 

There's been almost unanimous condemnation of the president's comments on the left, even in red states where Democrats typically walk a fine line on challenging Trump. But it's been more complicated terrain for Republicans in tough elections, since Trump remains popular among the base.

Here's a sampling of how some vulnerable incumbents and top candidates are handling the fallout:

Republicans breaking with Trump

Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., was one of the first Republicans to call for an investigation into Russian interference in  the 2016 election and Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey. After Trump's press conference,  he tweeted to call it "embarrassing" to see an "American President taking the side of a Russian dictator over American intelligence agencies."

Rep. Leonard Lance, R-N.J., said after Monday's press conference that Trump "was wrong; we cannot trust the word of Putin." Lance was one of the first Republicans to team up with Democrats to sanction Russia for election meddling. 

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who is the GOP nominee running against Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, told CNN that "President Trump is harder to defend than he is to explain sometimes." He added that Trump should have been "more forceful" and fretted about describing Russian and American intelligence as "morally equivalent."

Republicans decline to criticize Trump

Missouri Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley's spokeswoman, Kelli Ford, framed the discussion as one about the 2016 election in a statement to the Springfield News-Leader. "President Trump won. Hillary lost. ... It's time for Democrats and the media to move on, and the President should keep on being forceful with Russia." Hawley is running against Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in the GOP-leaning state. 

Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., criticized the Obama administration for being too weak on Russia in a Facebook post responding to the press conference. He argued that while America "should stand unequivocally opposed to a foreign government meddling in our elections," the Obama administration's "foreign policy failures emboldened Putin." 

Democrats on the attack

Abigail Spanberger, the Virginia Democrat running against Brat, called him out for choosing "his party allegiance over our country" in a tweet responding to Brat's statement. Spanberger is a former CIA agent.

McCaskill blasted Trump by arguing his "statements fly in the face of the consensus of the Intelligence Community, the Director of National Intelligence, the Special Counsel, and a bipartisan investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee."

Heitkamp sang largely in agreement with her opponent, Cramer, in her own statement. She called it a "sad day" when the "American president stood with Russia over our own country." 

And Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas, tweeted that Trump "turned his back on this country" and told the Dallas Morning News he would "vote to impeach the president" after the meeting.  

Courtney Buble contributed to this report. 

Mark Murray

Trump backs Kemp in brutal Georgia gov primary

President Trump threw his weight behind Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp over Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle in next week's gubernatorial primary runoff, a move that injects the president into the center of an ugly primary battle. 

Trump tweeted his endorsement of Kemp Wednesday afternoon, describing him as "tough on crime, strong on the border and illegal immigration," similar language he's used to endorse other GOP candidates this cycle.

There isn't much of an ideological difference between the two GOP candidates, making Trump's endorsement a notable one. It also puts him at odds with current Gov. Nathan Deal, who has backed Cagle. 

The final days of the race have been dominated by leaked audio in which Cagle described the primary as a contest to see "who has the biggest gun, who had the biggest truck and who could be the craziest.”

And a new leak showed Cagle calling to "cut poverty in half," a pledge his opponents have seized on to frame him as too dependent on government to fight poverty.

Cagle entered the runoff as the presumed frontrunner after winning 39 percent of the vote in the May primary compared with Kemp's 26 percent. But a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Channel 2 poll found the race within the margin of error. 

The winner of next Tuesday's primary faces Democrat Stacey Abrams, who had a head start on the general election after finishing well above the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff in her primary in May.

Leah Vukmir rising in Wisconsin Senate primary poll

Wisconsin State Sen. Leah Vukmir is neck and neck with Marine veteran Kevin Nicholson in the GOP Senate primary, according to a new poll of likely voters.

Vukmir leads Nicholson by two points — 34 percent to 32 percent — in Marquette University Law School's latest poll. While that result is still well within the poll's margin of error, it shows Vukmir appears to be closing the gap with Nicholson.

Last month's Marquette poll found Vukmir down five points and the school's February poll found her behind by nine points. 

The conservative state senator has the backing of state GOP bigwigs like House Speaker Paul Ryan and former Republican National Committee chairman and former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus. She also won the state party's endorsement during its spring convention. 

Nicholson has remained undeterred even as key state party figures break in Vukmir's direction. He holds the fundraising advantage so far and has sought to highlight his own conversion from an active Democrat to a staunch Republican as a way to reach out to disaffected voters of all stripes.  

Both candidates remain relatively unknown — more than 50 percent of both Republican and general election voters didn't have a favorable or unfavorable opinion on either Vukmir or Nicholson. 

The winner of the Aug. 14 primary will go onto face Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who holds an 11-point-lead over Nicholson in a hypothetical matchup and a 9-point-lead over Vukmir. 

Baldwin has a 41 percent favorability rating, slightly below the 43 percent who view her job performance unfavorably. 

Seven Senate races where the Kavanaugh nomination is an issue

Now more than a week since President Donald Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, here are seven Senate races where the nomination has become an issue in the contest.

 

Indiana

What Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., has said: “I will take the same approach as I have previously for a Supreme Court vacancy. Following the president’s announcement, I will carefully review and consider the record and qualifications of Judge Brett Kavanaugh.” 

What Republican challenger Mike Braun has said: “President Trump has chosen another outstanding justice in Brett Kavanaugh. I can immediately say without hesitation that I would support this nomination and I hope the Senate moves quickly to confirm the president's choice."

 

Florida

What Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., has said: “I look forward to meeting with Judge Kavanaugh to discuss his views on several issues such as protecting women's rights, guaranteeing access to health care for those with pre-existing conditions & protecting the right to vote, just to name a few. I’ll make my decision after that,” Nelson said in his original statement via Twitter. Then, in a July 16 fundraising email, Nelson said: “If you want to stop McConnell's plans to put another right-wing extremist on the Supreme Court, gut affordable health care and dismantle Medicare, you need to give right now to make sure Democrats take back the Senate by winning in Florida.”

What Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Nelson’s challenger, has said: “I am glad President Trump nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and look forward to learning more about his record. Even though Bill Nelson pledged last week he would vote against the nominee without knowing who it was, he needs to do his job and give him a fair hearing. Unlike Nelson, I actually waited on commenting on the nominee until there was one.”

 

Missouri

What Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., has said: “I look forward to thoroughly examining Judge Kavanaugh’s record in the coming weeks as the Senate considers his nomination to replace Justice Kennedy.”

What Republican challenger Josh Hawley has said: “Judge Kavanaugh is a remarkably qualified nominee for the Supreme Court. I have full confidence he will uphold the Constitution as the people wrote it, not impose his values from the bench. And that’s what the people deserve. The balance of the court turns on this nomination and I applaud the President for his thoughtfulness on this decision. Unfortunately, the deciding vote may well rest with Senator Claire McCaskill – who has been wrong on Supreme Court nominees every single time.”

 

Nevada

What Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., has said: “Judge Kavanaugh has a record of adherence to the Constitution and has demonstrated a commitment to interpreting the law – not making it. I expect the U.S. Senate to conduct a fair, thorough confirmation process, and I look forward to meeting with the nominee.”         

What Democratic challenger Jacky Rosen has said: “Based on President Trump’s own statements, it’s critical the next Supreme Court justice affirm their belief that the Constitution protects individual liberties – including reproductive rights. I have serious reservations about whether Judge Kavanaugh will meet that standard. Nevadans will be watching closely to see whether Sen. Heller will be an independent voice who will ask these tough questions, or if he will once again bend to his party leaders and rubber stamp another nominee from President Trump.”

 

North Dakota

What Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., has said:  “All that changes for me is that we now have a nominee … Now I’ll get to work to thoroughly review and vet his record to provide advice and consent for filling this vacancy. … An exhaustive and fair process took place for Justice Gorsuch, who I supported, and it should and must take place again now,” she said in a statement via Twitter.

What Republican challenger Kevin Cramer has said: “He is strongly committed to the rule of law and the U.S. Constitution and holds tight to the concept of the constitutional separation of powers to ensure government accountability and protect our liberty. His temperament, academic background and past judicial experience more than qualify him to serve on the highest court in the land. I believe these characteristics and values match perfectly with the expectations of the majority of North Dakotans and for these reasons, I support his nomination and strongly encourage our North Dakota Senators to unite in support of this outstanding nominee. This is a winning pick for North Dakota and deserves our two votes.”

 

Tennessee

What Democrat Phil Bredesen has said: “An important part of a Senator's job is to approve or reject appointments the President makes to the Judiciary. In the Senate, I’ll vote for or against a nominee based solely on whether I believe them to be highly qualified and ethical —not based on partisan politics. Looking ahead: the President’s Supreme Court nominee deserves a fair and timely confirmation hearing. This is an opportunity for the Senate to get back to basics and show it can do its job.”

What Republican Marsha Blackburn has said: “Judge Brett Kavanaugh will make a fine Supreme Court Justice, and I thank President Trump for nominating a strong constitutionalist with a proven track record of upholding the rule of law. Tennesseans are frustrated by liberal activist judges and justices who too often legislate from the bench. I know they will be well served by Judge Kavanaugh.” 

 

West Virginia

What Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., has said: “I take my responsibility to advise and consent on a nominee to the Supreme Court very seriously. As I did when Merrick Garland and Neil Gorsuch were nominated, I am evaluating Judge Kavanaugh's record, legal qualifications, judicial philosophy and particularly, his views on healthcare. I encourage West Virginians to review his qualifications themselves and share their thoughts and concerns with me.”

What Republican challenger Patrick Morissey has said: “West Virginians are tired of Sen. Manchin’s spineless political calculation and pandering to liberal elites. West Virginia voters were clear in 2016 when they overwhelmingly elected President Trump by more than 40 points, and now they have an opportunity to remind Sen. Manchin to stand with our President and a highly-qualified Supreme Court nominee.” Morissey added, “What you will see over the next month, you began to see it last week, is that Joe Manchin is flopping along, straddling that fence. Joe Manchin knows that he will ultimately vote for Kavanaugh, that he is going to be in a very difficult position with Chuck Schumer and his liberal donors.”

 

Carrie Dann

NY-GOV poll: Cuomo retains wide lead over Nixon

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is maintaining his wide lead over Democratic primary challenger Cynthia Nixon, besting the progressive activist and former Sex and the City star by more than 35 points in the latest Quinnipiac poll. 

Cuomo has the support of 59 percent of registered Democrats, compared with 23 percent who back Nixon. Cuomo's lead among Democrats in New York City stands at 40 points (61 percent to 21 percent), while he leads by more than 20 points in the upstate (52 percent to 30 percent). 

The data shows Cuomo in an even stronger position than in a May survey that showed the incumbent governor leading Nixon 50 percent to 28 percent. 

Nixon's campaign disputed the poll's methodology, saying that a sample of all registered Democrats fails to account for the fact that turnout in the primary is likely to be limited to only the most engaged voters. 

In a head-to-head contest among all general election voters, the poll also shows Cuomo leading Republican candidate Marc Molinaro 57 percent to 31 percent. 

“Democratic primaries on a Thursday in September are decided by who turns out their voters. And whether you look at donors, social media engagement, or his poor book sales, there is no enthusiasm for Mr. Cuomo," spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said. 

The poll was conducted July 12-16 and has a margin of error of +/-4.1 percentage points for the full sample and +/- 6.2 percent for just registered Democrats. 

Freshman North Carolina Republican holds narrow lead in new poll

Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) is the latest House Republican to find himself in a close race, with new polling showing his Democratic opponent trailing him by just 5 points.

The survey from Civitas Institue, a conservative non-profit in North Carolina, found Budd with 40 percent of the vote to Democrat Kathy Manning’s 35 percent. Almost one-fifth of voters are undecided.

President Trump won Budd’s district in 2016 by 12 points, but the new poll found Trump’s approval rating underwater. While 44 percent of likely voters approve of his job performance, 48 percent disapprove.

But the poll also included some good news for Budd, who has a net favorability rating of 13 percent, slightly higher than Manning’s net favorability of 9 percent. A plurality of likely voters also approve of the GOP’s tax reform law, which Republicans like Budd are leaning on as they look to survive in November.  Forty-one percent say they support the law, compared to 33 percent who say they do not.

Manning has outraised Budd in each of the past three fundraising quarters and has $1.35 million banked away compared to Budd’s $780,000 in cash on hand. 

NBC News

Koch Group targets McCaskill in new ad

Americans for Prosperity, the Koch organization's chief political arm, is launching a new $1.8 million digital and television ad campaign against Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, one of the most vulnerable Democrats facing re-election this year. The ad uses criticism of McCaskill's use of a private plane for a campaign swing through the state that was touted as an RV tour to criticize her record on taxes.

"Missourians can tell the difference between an RV and a plane — and a politician who says one thing but does another," the ad says. Watch it here.

Arizona GOP lawmaker bucks colleague to back Ward in GOP Senate primary

Former Arizona State Sen. Kelli Ward has gotten her first primary endorsement from a member of Arizona’s congressional delegation for her Senate bid.

Rep. Paul Gosar’s R-Ariz., endorsement of Ward came with a rebuke of his House colleague, Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., who is leading the GOP primary field in fundraising and polling.

Gosar called McSally “likeable personally” but said she is “very inconsistent politically” and a “Never Trumper” in a statement announcing his endorsement.

“None of us can count on Martha keeping a campaign promise as she will fall for whatever the D.C. elite tells her to do at the time,” he said.

The statement echoes Ward’s push to outflank McSally from the right — she’s sought to frame McSally as insufficiently conservative for the GOP electorate while pitching herself as an outsider in the model of Trump.

McSally’s camp pushed back by framing the congresswoman as a loyal supporter of Trump in Congress.

“Rep. Gosar is a good man who cares about his constituents, but the facts are the facts,” McSally spokeswoman Torunn Sinclair said in a statement, noting that McSally has voted with Trump 97 percent of the time to Gosar’s 77 percent.

“If he voted with the President as much as Martha, we could accomplish even more for Arizonans.”

McSally has the backing of the state's former GOP Gov. Jan Brewer, an early Trump endorser. And she’s taken more conservative stances on issues like immigration recently, stances her allies have boosted as they seek to help her win the GOP nod.

Gosar is one of the more conservative lawmakers in Congress and has been a controversial voice at times. He made headlines last year for questioning whether a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. last year was “created by the left” for political gain. A counter-protester died in violence surrounding that rally.

Ward and McSally are running in the August 28 primary along with former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Carrie Dann

Kavanaugh heads into confirmation hearings with weakest public support since Harriet Miers

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh will head into Senate hearings later this year with the weakest public support for his confirmation to the high court since the failed nomination of Harriet Miers in 2005. 

A new poll from the Pew Research Center finds that 41 percent of Americans say Kavanaugh should be confirmed, while 36 percent said he should not be. 

That's a lower net level of support for any nominee since Miers, whose confirmation was backed by 33 percent and opposed by 27 percent of Americans. Miers was eventually forced to withdraw from consideration amid criticism that she was not qualified to serve on the nation's highest court.