Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton to drop Senate bid in Mississippi

A Mississippi Democrat running to replace retired GOP Sen. Thad Cochran will abandon his bid in an effort to unify the party behind former Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy, NBC News has learned. 

Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton is expected to announce his departure from the U.S. Senate race on Tuesday afternoon. The decision means Espy, who in 1986 became the first black congressman to represent Mississippi in Congress since Reconstruction, will be the only Democrat appearing on the ballot in the general election contest.

State and national Democrats hope Espy is able to mirror Democrat Doug Jones’ upset victory last December in neighboring Alabama.

“I think being the lone Democrat while the two Republicans are beating each other up, there’s big advantage in that,” Joe Trippi, Espy’s media strategist who served in the same role for Jones’ campaign, told NBC News last month. “Jones basically didn’t have a primary of great consequence, and there was great advantage to that. We were able to focus on the positive while they were negative. That’s fundamentally the big advantage of someone being the lone Democrat running.” 

Some Democrats in the state are hopeful Espy could win outright on Nov. 8, eclipsing the 50 percent threshold to avoid sending the race to a runoff that would take place three weeks later. 

There is no primary for the special election and no party designations will appear on voter ballots, meaning Espy will square off on the same Election Day ballot with both of the two Republican candidates: Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, the former Mississippi Agricultural Commissioner appointed this spring by the state’s governor to fulfill the rest of Cochran’s term, and Chris McDaniel, the former state senator who narrowly lost to Cochran in an insurgency bid in the 2014 election.

Espy met in D.C. last month with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Chris Van Hollen, the head of the Democratic Senatorial Committee. Espy also met with Guy Cecil, the current head of Priorities USA. 

Brad Chism is working as Espy’s political consultant and Trippi as its media strategist. The campaign is currently building out its apparatus but is waiting to begin campaign advertisements until after the state’s June 5 primary in which multiple Democrats are vying to take on Republican Sen. Roger Wicker in a parallel race this November. 

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Carrie Dann

A look at TV ad spending in GA-GOV

With today’s Georgia gubernatorial primaries getting lots of attention, here’s the major TV and radio ad spending for each side to date (via Advertising Analytics.)


  • Evans for GA Governor: $1.5m
  • BlackPAC (pro-Abrams): $842k
  • PowerPAC Georgia (pro-Abrams): $839k
  • Women Vote! (pro-Abrams): $575k
  • Abrams for GA Governor: 475k

And here's the most *aired* ads on the Democratic side, by candidate:

Pro-Evans — her hit on Abrams “cutting a deal with Republicans” on Hope scholarship changes

Pro-Abrams —  BlackPAC positive bio piece about Abrams/education policy



  • Cagle for GA Governor: $4.4m
  • Kemp for GA Governor: $1.6m
  • Citizens for Georgia’s Future (pro-Cagle): $1.2m
  • Hill for GA Governor: $1.2m
  • Tippins for GA Governor: $859k

And here's the most *aired* ads on the Republican side, by candidate:

Pro-Cagle: Cagle ad on illegal immigration invoking MS-13.

Pro-Kemp: Kemp’s controversial ad showing him aiming a shotgun at "a young man interested in one of my daughters."

Pro-Hill: Hill ad featuring the candidate (a former Army ranger) completing an obstacle course against “career politicians” 

Carrie Dann

CA-GOV: Newsom hits fellow Dem John Chiang in new TV ad

Gavin Newsom, the frontrunner in next month's California primary race, is up with a new ad targeting one of his fellow Democrats — John Chiang. 

The ad claims that Chiang, who previously served as state treasurer and state controller, "lost track of $31 billion" during his stint as controller. 

Recent polling has shown the race for second place in flux over the past weeks, with Republicans John Cox and Travis Allen in the mix along with other Democrats jockeying for position. 

Chiang has spent about $1.7 million on California airwaves — behind Newsom's $6.1 million and nearly $12 million spent by a super PAC backing Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa. 

In a release, Chiang's campaign called the attack "false and erroneous" and said that the latest volley from Newsom is evidence that Chiang is gaining public support. 

“Gavin Newsom’s desperate attempt to attack John's record is evidence that John is gaining momentum, and that Gavin is scared to confront his biggest one-on-one threat this November,” said Fabien Levy, Deputy Campaign Manager and Communications Director for John Chiang’s campaign. “These dirty attacks show Gavin lacks the integrity to be governor and can't be trusted to tell the truth."

Newsom has suggested that he would prefer to face a Republican in the general election after the state's top-two nonpartisan primary in June. 

You can view the ad here. According to ad trackers at Advertising Analytics, it began airing Monday in major California markets. 

Mark Murray

Dem Super PAC tries to help Nelson in Florida

Last week, First Read noted how Republican Rick Scott and allies are outspending Sen. Bill Nelson and the Democrats over TV and radio airwaves by nearly a 50-to-1 margin in ads.

And since we published that, the margin has increased to 66 to 1, $12.3 million to $185,000.

Well, Senate Majority PAC, the Dems’ main Senate Super PAC, is now advertising on Nelson’s behalf with a new TV ad. Senate Majority PAC tells NBC News that the buy is $2.2 million.

“Bill Nelson has delivered for Florida,” the narrator says in the ad. “When some tried to privatize Social Security and Medicare for millions of Floridians, he stopped them. Stopped insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions too. We need a senator who serves all of us. Who puts Florida first. That’s Bill Nelson.”

Rick Scott's campaign responded in a statement, saying that "it's ironic that a liberal SuperPAC is going out of its way to claim that Bill Nelson is independent." 

"Nelson's voting record is anything but moderate and nothing can hide his own record of voting in lockstep with his party bosses in D.C. Not surprisingly, the ad focuses on things Nelson has opposed, but not a single thing he has accomplished," said Scott spokesman Ryan Patmintra.

Those PACs that funded anti-Blankenship ads? We now know who funded them.

With West Virginia's Don Blankenship back in the news — we also got some answers over the weekend when it comes to campaign finance in the primary that Blankenship lost earlier this month. 

Anti-Blankenship super PAC Mountain Families — which had long been linked to pro-Mitch McConnell allies — officially filed paperwork with the FEC on Sunday showing that it was exclusively financed by a $1.4 million contribution from Senate Leadership Fund, a McConnell-controlled group. 

Because of the intricacies of campaign finance law, Mountain Families PAC was able to avoid officially disclosing its donors until after the primary election. 

Another outside group that intervened in the GOP primary, Duty and Country, disclosed Sunday that it benefitted from hefty donations from wealthy donors in New York, Chicago and the Boston area. That group ran ads attacking Blankenship's GOP rivals — Patrick Morrisey (who won) and Evan Jenkins — in the effort to boost the former inmate's campaign. 

Don Blankenship announces third-party Senate bid in West Virginia

Don Blankenship, the colorful and controversial Republican who recently came up short in West Virginia's Senate primary, announced Monday he will throw his hat back in the ring with a third-party bid. 

That is, if Blankenship's candidacy is legally allowed.

His renewed candidacy flies in the face of a West Virginia law designed to prevent exactly this scenario. The "sore loser" or "sour grapes" statute bars candidates who ran and lost in a primary election from changing over to a minor party and running again.

The once-jailed ex-coal baron ran for the Republican nomination and came in third place during the May primary, losing the GOP nod to state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

In a statement released Monday, Blankenship alludes to the state's laws, surmising that the "establishment" that has long been against his candidacy will likely try to mount legal challenges against him. "[I]f challenged — our legal position will prevail," Blankenship promised, "absent a politically motivated decision by the courts." 

"This time we won't get surprised by the lying establishment," Blankenship said Monday, referencing the wide range of conservatives — from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to President Donald Trump — that came out against his candidacy before the GOP primary. 

Both Trump, McConnell, and Trump's own son Donald Jr. warned that Blankenship wouldn't be able to win against Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin in the state that Trump won by 42 points in November 2016. Blankenship on Monday called that charge "a lie." 

If he is on the ballot in November, however, Blankenhip could threaten to complicate Republicans' hopes of unseating Manchin. Blankenship earned the support of 20 percent of GOP voters during the primary earlier this month. 

Mark Murray

Female candidates to play a starring role in Tuesday's primaries

The 2018 midterms are shaping up to be more than the Year of the Woman; they’re likely to be the Tsunami of the Woman.

That’s especially true for this week’s primaries and runoffs, particularly on the Democratic side. After a week when female Democratic candidates won key congressional primaries in Nebraska and Pennsylvania, women are once again expected to be the headliners in as many as six races on Tuesday:

Georgia Governor (D)

It’s Stacey (Abrams) vs. Stacey (Evans) in the Democratic gubernatorial primary — a contest that’s been divisive from the get-go. (Last summer, Evans was shouted down at the progressive Netroots Conference by Abrams backers.) The scarce polling so far has shown Abrams ahead, and she's been endorsed by national Democrats like Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, while Evans' supporters are from Georgia state politics. The Stacey-vs.-Stacey winner takes on the victor of a crowded GOP field including Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

Texas-7 Runoff (D)

Another female-vs.-female contest is the runoff in Texas’ 7th congressional district, where Lizzie Fletcher (who’s backed by EMILY’s List and is the preferred choice among national Democrats) faces off against Laura Moser (who’s favored by progressive groups). This race attracted national headlines earlier this year when the DCCC released oppo on Moser.

Texas Governor Runoff (D)

In another runoff in the Lone Star State – for the top of the Democratic ticket – female Lupe Valdez (the former sheriff of Dallas County) competes against businessman Andrew White (the son of the late Texas Gov. Mark White).

Texas-23 Runoff (D)

In the runoff to determine the Democratic nominee in one of the nation’s most competitive districts – represented by vulnerable Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, it’s Gina Ortiz Jones vs. Rick Trevino. Ortiz Jones, who got 42 percent of the vote to Trevino’s 17 percent in March’s primary, is the favorite.

Texas-32 Runoff (D)

But in this runoff to determine the nominee to face Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, in November, male Colin Allred (who got 38 percent of the vote in March) is favored against female Lillian Salerno (who got 18 percent).

Kentucky-6 (D)

And it’s yet another female vs. male race in this competitive district between retired Marine Lt. Col. Amy McGrath and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray. The winner takes on vulnerable Rep. Andy Barr, R-Kentucky.

By the way, in the 10 states that have already held their primaries, half of the women who’ve run for Congress have won, according to a New York Times analysis. Expect that trend to continue tomorrow.

Andrew Rafferty

Bernie Sanders: Establishment Dems 'don’t generate excitement'

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on Sunday said establishment Democrats “don’t generate excitement” while touting the success of progressive candidates in the 2018 midterms.

“We all want to win. The question is what constitutes electability,” Sanders said on "Meet The Press."

Progressive candidates had an impressive showing last Tuesday in state's like Pennsylvania and Nebraska. Some members of the party, however, worry nominating more liberal candidates could hurt Democrats' chances in the general election. 

"Establishment Democrats don’t generate excitement," the progressive icon said. "And I think when you have progressive candidates...We have seen voter turnout go up because the people in their communities know that it’s time to stand up and fight."

Mark Murray

Here are the media markets with the most political ad spending so far

We are well into midterm season, which means there's already been a lot of spending on TV ads around the country.

As of May 16, here are the ad markets that have seen the most TV and radio advertising so far in 2018, according to Advertising Analytics:

1. Chicago, IL: $44.0 million

2. Pittsburgh, PA: $15.1 million

3. Los Angeles, CA: $12.0 million

4. St. Louis, MO: $8.7 million

5. Indianapolis, IN: $8.4 million

6. Philadelphia, PA: $7.4 million

7. Tampa/St. Pete, FL: $7.4 million

8: Atlanta, GA: $7.4 million

9. Satellite: $6.9 million

10. San Diego, CA: $6 million

Andrew Rafferty

Red state Dems take another tough vote on Trump nominee

One of the side effects of President Donald Trump’s cabinet departures continues to be the awkward position red state Democrats have been put in when approving their replacements.

Four of the ten Democratic senators up for re-election this year in a state Trump won in 2016 voted to approve Gina Haspel as CIA director despite concerns about her role in the use of enhanced interrogation techniques.  The other six have found themselves on the receiving end of a barrage of political attacks from opponents who criticized them for voting against the 33-year veteran of the agency.

The recent departures of Rex Tillerson as secretary of state and David Shulkin as head of veterans affairs have given these vulnerable Democrats two choices: 1) oppose Trump’s replacement and risk being portrayed as obstructionists or 2) approve the pick and potentially lose support from their liberal backers.  

Five Democrats in the group voted to approve Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month. But perhaps none of the 10 took a more direct hit than Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who was directly targeted by Trump for his objections to Ronny Jackson’s nomination to head the VA. Earlier this month Tester released an ad touting his work to support veterans after taking heat from the president.

TN-SEN: New poll shows Bredesen is more popular among independents than Blackburn

A new poll from Vanderbilt University shows that former Democratic governor Phil Bredesen is more popular among independent voters than GOP Rep. Marsha Blackburn: 69 percent of independents say they support Bredesen compared to 44% for Blackburn.

It’s not just independents who view Bredesen favorably.  According to the poll, Bredesen has a 52 percent favorability score among Republican voters while Blackburn hovers at 23 percent favorability among Democratic voters.

The November election is months out and partisanship could ultimately bring voters back to their home base by the time voting booths open. But the Vanderbilt poll helps explain why Blackburn is finding herself in a tougher race than anticipated in a state as red as Tennessee.

The poll also suggests that Bredesen’s strategy of running as a moderate and distancing himself from the national party could be paying off.

Bredesen was quick to capitalize on the poll findings Thursday morning, tweeting out the results and adding “it’s like I've said from the beginning— my campaign is open to anyone who’s tired of the hyper-partisan squabbling in Washington and is ready to get things done for Tennessee.”

The Vanderbilt poll was conducted April 26- May 8, and the margin of error is +/- 3.6 percent.