Wicker takes on McDaniel in new ad

Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker is hitting the airwaves to take on the threat of a GOP primary challenge from Chris McDaniel. And the red state senator (who's been endorsed by Donald Trump) is accusing McDaniel of being insufficiently loyal to the president. 

In a new TV ad, Wicker's camp charges that McDaniel "loves the spotlight, but doesn't care much for President Trump." 

A narrator invokes McDaniel's 2016 Facebook posts criticizing some Trump supporters as "delusional" (for attacking McDaniel himself) and "disturbing" (he wrote in 2016 that "Donald Trump is a strong candidate will do well in Mississippi. But the inclination of some of his supporters to promote wild-eyed conspiracy theories and flat out lies is incredibly disturbing.") 

The ad will run for eight days in broadcast markets statewide as well as on FOX, according to the campaign.

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Mark Murray

Watching enthusiasm and independents in the new NBC/WSJ poll

By now, you’ve probably seen our new NBC/WSJ poll, which finds President Trump’s job approval rating at 43 percent and Democrats regaining their double-digit lead in congressional preference.

But the poll also tells two important stories about 2018 that we’ll continue to track.

1. Democrats hold the enthusiasm advantage heading into the midterms: Sixty percent of Democratic voters say they have a high degree of interest in the upcoming elections (registering either a “9” or “10” on a 10-point scale), versus 54 percent of Republicans who say the same thing. In addition, 64 percent of 2016 Clinton voters say they have a high level of interest, compared with 57 percent of 2016 Trump voters.

And there’s this: Among all high-interest voters, 56 percent prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress, versus 40 percent who want a GOP-controlled Congress — a 16-point advantage for Democrats.

2. Independents are breaking in favor of Democrats: In the new NBC/WSJ poll, independents prefer a Dem-controlled Congress over a GOP one by 12 points, 48 percent to 36 percent. That’s up from the Dems’ 8-point lead here in January (40 percent to 32 percent) and the party’s 6-point advantage for the average of 2017 (39 percent to 33 percent).

But while independents are increasingly breaking for Democrats, they also crept back into Trump’s column, with 45 percent approving of the president’s job – up from 33 percent in January.

So watch the enthusiasm and the independents. 

Leigh Ann Caldwell

Trump nudges Tarkanian out of Nevada Senate race

President Donald Trump on Friday gently — but very publicly — persuaded perennial conservative candidate Danny Tarkanian to leave the Nevada Senate race where he is challenging Republican Sen. Dean Heller in the primary.  

The president sent the message via Twitter, writing: "It would be great for the Republican Party of Nevada, and it’s [sic] unity if good guy Danny Tarkanian would run for Congress and Dean Heller, who is doing a really good job, could run for Senate unopposed!"

Shortly after Trump's tweet, NBC News confirmed that Tarkanian is dropping out of the Senate primary and will run for Congress in the state's 3rd district instead.

With GOP candidates facing stiff headwinds for the midterm elections, Trump was backing Heller in the primary even though the two had a rough start. Heller repeatedly criticized Trump during the 2016 presidential election and the president had previously threatened to support Tarkanian in a primary.

Heller was struggling in the primary among the GOP faithful, especially in Northern Nevada, who have been  disappointed in the incumbent senator for what they say are a lack of conservative bona fides.

Anger peaked when Heller opposed efforts in the Senate to repeal the Affordable Care Act last year, an effort to appeal to the more moderate Republicans in southern Nevada and the independents in a possible general election.

Carrie Dann

Pew: How pro-Trump and anti-Trump factions view each others' 'values and goals'

It's not exactly surprising that Trump supporters don't see themselves having that much in common with Trump opponents — and vice versa — but a new poll shows just how sizable a chunk of Americans see those who view Trump differently as vastly different from themselves on a personal level as well. 

The new survey from the Pew Research Center found that, among Trump approvers, 51 percent say that those who don't like the president also "probably don't share many of my other values and goals." 

Among those who disapprove of Trump, an even greater share — 56 percent — say pro-Trump folks don't share their values and goals. 

Here's a chart summing up Pew's findings. 

Source: Pew Research Center

Pelosi on Lamb: 'I don’t think he ran against me the entire time'

Conor Lamb pointedly said during his campaign that he wouldn't support Nancy Pelosi for Democratic leader, a move that likely neutralized GOP-led attempts to paint him as a liberal in Pelosi's mold. 

On Thursday, the minority leader disputed the idea that the disavowal played an important role in the outcome. 

"I don’t think he ran against me the entire time," Pelosi told NBC's Kasie Hunt. "I think he ran on his positive agenda." 

Pelosi added that she "just wanted him to win" and that she's a target of GOP attacks simply because she's a party leader. 

"Yes, I am a liberal — but I don’t think it’s the misrepresentations or the demonizations that are put out against any leader on the Democratic side. Whoever the leader is will be the target," she said. 

Andrew Rafferty

Chris McDaniel to run for Mississippi Senate seat vacated by Cochran

Conservative firebrand Chris McDaniel announced Wednesday he will run for the Senate seat being vacated by Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, abandoning his primary challenge to Sen. Roger Wicker.

"By announcing early, we are asking Mississippi Republicans to unite around my candidacy and avoid another contentious contest among GOP members that would only improve the Democrats' chances of winning the open seat," McDaniel said in a statement. "If we unite the party now and consolidate our resources, we can guarantee Donald Trump will have a fighter who will stand with him."

The move means Wicker will avoid what was already turning out to be a nasty GOP primary battle with McDaniel, and McDaniel will have the chance to compete either for an open seat or against whoever Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant chooses to fill the remainder of Cochran's term. 

McDaniel is an outspoken critic of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is pushing for Bryant to appoint someone who will have a good chance of defeating McDaniel. 

Cochran will step down April 1.  

Andrew Rafferty

New Hampshire primary status at center of brewing political battle

A political battle is brewing in New Hampshire that has some warning the state’s first-in-the-nation primary status could be at stake.

Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Colin Van Ostern announced he will challenge Bill Gardner, the nation’s longest serving secretary of state, to oversee New Hampshire’s elections.

Gardner has been in the influential post for 42 years and is a well-known defender of the state's role in the presidential primaries. But the Democrat angered members of his own party when he agreed to take part in President Trump’s now defunct election integrity commission and supported other tweaks to the state’s voting laws that Van Ostern told the New Hampshire Union Leader will discourage voting.

The post has considerable power during presidential years by determining the date of the first presidential primary. It has traditionally been the week after the Iowa caucuses and a good showing can give candidates a significant boost, while a poor one can effectively end their run. New Hampshire law allows the secretary of state to move the primary date a week before any “similar election.”

Gardner has sparred with Democrats in the past for being seemingly too accommodating to Republicans, but his last serious challenge came in 1984, according to the Union Leader.

“New Hampshire would lose our First-in-the-Nation prestige and our election integrity would be at risk with a political hack as Secretary of State,” the New Hampshire Republican Party said in a statement.

The secretary of state is elected by members of the New Hampshire legislature.


Carrie Dann

GOP: 'Conor Lamb ran as a Republican'

In the wake of the Pennsylvania special election, one talking point has emerged from the GOP: Conor Lamb won, they say, because he acted like a Republican in this conservative district. 

"Both of these people, both of these candidates, the Republican and the Democrat, ran as conservatives, ran as pro-gun, pro-life, anti-Nancy Pelosi conservatives, and I think that’s the takeaway you see here," said House Speaker Paul Ryan. 

"Conor Lamb ran as a Republican," said RNC spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany. "He said 'I’m not running against Trump but I am running against Pelosi.'"

It's true that Lamb refrained from taking many shots at Trump and said he wouldn't support Pelosi as Democratic leader. But the idea that Lamb convinced voters that he is "anti-Pelosi" also concedes, at the very least, that the $6 million barrage of GOP TV advertisements against Lamb — most of which took pains to tie him to the unpopular Minority Leader — didn't exactly stick with voters. 

Here's just a smattering of screenshots from ads that aired in the district. 

PA-18 results a troubling sign for GOP ahead of midterms

Democrat Conor Lamb’s apparent victory in Pennsylvania's special congressional election has left Republicans struggling to explain how the party lost a seat in a district President Trump won by 20 points in 2016.

Here’s a roundup of NBC News’ analysis of what the race means for Democrats, the midterms, and beyond.

  • From First Read: Why the Pennsylvania special election was a gut punch for the GOP. Democrats have been over performing strongly in elections since 2016, and neither Trump nor GOP money save Republican Rick Saccone.
  • Democrats now have a national model for victory in the midterms, NBC News' Jonathan Allen writes
  • Pennsylvania result is another blow to GOP’s November House prospects, Cook Political Report and NBC News election analyst David Wasserman writes. There are 118 GOP-held House districts that are more Republican than the one Lamb appeared to win Tuesday, according to the Cook Political Report's Partisan Voter Index. That could spur some more Republicans to take a hard look at retirement. 
Andrew Rafferty

Razor-thin margin separates Lamb and Saccone in Pennsylvania

As of midnight: Democrat Conor Lamb holds a slight lead over Republican Rick Saccone in Pennsylvania's special congressional election with votes left to be counted.

The close race in the congressional district President Trump won by nearly 20 points was enough for many Democrats to begin declaring victory even before a winner was announced.

Saccone vowed to supporters late Tuesday that he will “fight all the way to the end.” A margin within .5 percent triggers an automatic recount in statewide races in Pennsylvania, though it is unclear exactly how the law could apply to a congressional race. A candidate can also request a recount.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released a statement declaring victory, while the national campaign arm of the Republican Party said the race remained too close to call shortly before midnight. 

Two precincts and several thousand absentee ballots, enough to swing the election, have yet to be tabulated.

Republicans privately sought to tamp down expectations heading into Tuesday, saying Saccone ran a lackluster campaign

Also on the ballot was Libertarian candidate Drew Miller, who earned more than 1,000 votes.

“I think I have a shot. Even if I don't, I think this race is so close between Lamb and Saccone, I could actually be the spoiler between who wins,” Miller told the Tribune-Review in January.

Tonight's outcome will reverberate beyond PA's 18th district

The race between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone has occasionally been described as a high-dollar contest for a district that's "going extinct." That's partly accurate: the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision to strike down the current GOP-drawn congressional map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander mean that all 18 districts will be newly configured in November. But the Republican outside groups attempting to rescue Saccone, including the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Congressional Leadership Fund, wouldn't have spent millions on TV ads attacking Lamb if the outcome didn't have big implications for the fall.

First, the race's outcome will have big local repercussions. If Lamb wins tonight, he would likely run for re-election in the new 17th District, a seat that takes in much more of his suburban Allegheny County base than the current 18th District and is much more favorable to Democrats. He might even be the favorite there against GOP Rep. Keith Rothfus in the fall, assuming both Lamb and Rothfus choose to run in the district where they live. If Saccone wins, he would have the inside track to win reelection in the new 14th District, which takes in much of the current 18th District but is roughly three points more Republican. Regardless of who wins, both Lamb and Saccone will only have a week to plot their next moves: Pennsylvania's filing deadline for the November elections is March 20.

Second, tonight's outcome will reverberate nationally. If Lamb wins, the election would tell Republicans that even districts that voted for President Trump by 20 points may not be safe this fall. It could also indicate that the tax cut bill - a key element of GOP groups' messaging throughout February on the Pittsburgh airwaves - failed to motivate Trump supporters to get behind Saccone sufficiently, a development that could cause several more incumbent Republicans to contemplate retirement. Even if Saccone wins, he's unlikely to do so by nearly the same margin as Trump did in the district. And that would signal it's become possible for Democrats to make inroads in GOP districts by running to their party's right on issues like guns, trade and energy - just like Lamb did.