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Biden hoped to defy midterm trends. Here's why he probably won't

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on infrastructure at the Portland Air National Guard Base in Portland, Ore. on Apr. 21, 2022.Nathan Howard / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — If it’s Wednesday ... Russia cuts off gas supplies to NATO members Poland and Bulgaria. ... President Biden, Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton eulogize Madeleine Albright. ... New audio reveals House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy warning that Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and Mo Brooks, R-Ala., could incite violence after Jan. 6. ... A new Ohio Senate poll shows J.D. Vance ahead (but within the margin of error and with a quarter of Republicans undecided). ... And Pro-McCormick Super PAC ad blasts Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania Senate: “Oz didn't fight for America. He served for the Turkish army.”

But first: A year ago, as President Biden was completing his first 100 days in office, you could point to three different ways that Biden and Democrats could buck historic trends and have a better-than-expected midterm showing in 2022.

One was Biden running as a competent manager who had restored normalcy to daily life after the chaos of the Trump years, especially during the pandemic.

Two was by running on a record of robust FDR-like accomplishments that roused progressives and won new converts with big, tangible and highly visible government spending.

And three was by carrying out his campaign talk about restoring bipartisanship and comity, even as jaded Democrats rolled their eyes at the idea.

A year later, all three of those Democratic dreams have since disappeared.

Afghanistan, along with Delta and Omicron, undermined perceptions of Biden’s competence; the “Build Back Better” negotiations left Democrats bitter and disappointed; and the GOP’s continued turn to Donald Trump and his election lies made it clear that an infrastructure bill wasn’t enough to break the MAGA fever.

So a 2020 candidate and a new president who got to be different things to different people — competent healer-in-chief, the next FDR in legislative achievements and the bipartisan anti-Trump — now represents none of these things.

And on top of it all, he’s a president who isn’t picking fights with anyone not named Vladimir Putin.

He’s not — right now — fighting Corporate America, student-loan lenders, congressional Republicans, or even federal judges who overturn his administration’s mask and immigration policies.

Tweet of the day

Midterm roundup: Ad-Vance-ing in the polls

Next week’s Ohio primary will be the first big test of whether former President Donald Trump’s endorsement can propel a candidate to victory, and a new poll shows that it might.

Fox News released a poll of the GOP Senate primary showing Trump’s pick in the race, “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance, at 23 percent among Republican primary voters – followed by former state Treasurer Josh Mandel at 18 percent, investment banker Mike Gibbons at 13 percent, state Sen. Matt Dolan at 11 percent and former state GOP Chairwoman Jane Timken at 6 percent.

Importantly, Vance’s 5-point lead is within the poll’s margin of error, and 25 percent of GOP primary voters say they’re still undecided.

Meanwhile, the race has pitted Trump against Club for Growth Action, threatening their alliance, per The New York Times. The group, which is backing Mandel, launched a new ad with footage of Vance describing himself as a “Never Trumper.”

Elsewhere on the campaign trail:

Georgia Senate: Former football player Herschel Walker reserved $1 million in airtime in his first major TV buy of the Georgia Senate race tracked by AdImpact. Walker is Trump’s pick in the race, and he is favored to win the May 24 GOP primary. His first TV ad is a 30-second bio spot that also touts Trump’s endorsement.

Utah Senate: Republican Sen. Mike Lee is out with a new spot framing him as someone who hasn’t been changed by Washington.

Florida Governor: The Dispatch reports that Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist has only voted in person four days of this House session, with his spokeswoman saying “the proxy offers a great way to ensure his constituents’ voices continue to be heard” while he’s running for governor.

Kansas Governor: Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly is up with a new spot where she literally stands in the middle of the road to argue she’s “not too far right, or too far left.”

Maryland Governor: At an economic empowerment event in Baltimore last night, seven of 10 candidates for the Democratic nomination for governor discussed their plans for criminal justice reform, the implementation of new public transit and education.

North Carolina 11: Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn had a rough news day, first accused of bringing a gun to the airport before a new report from the Washington Examiner questioning whether he improperly touted a cryptocurrency based on the “Let’s Go Brandon” meme.

Texas 28: South Carolina Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn is heading to Texas to stump for Rep. Henry Cuellar before next month’s Democratic primary runoff.

Data Download: The number of the day is … $2 million

That’s how much money has been spent and booked for on ads in Ohio Democratic Rep. Shontel Brown’s primary rematch against former state senator and Bernie Sanders presidential campaign co-chair Nina Turner, per AdImpact. More than double that amount was spent on ads in the Aug. 2021 special election primary in the 11th District, when Brown beat Turner by 6 percentage points.

The drop in ad spending reflects Turner’s depleted campaign funds. Her campaign spent nearly $2.4 million on ads in the special election, but has only spent $165,000 so far, with the May 3 primary now less than one week away. Meanwhile, the outside Protect Our Future and the Democratic Majority for Israel PAC have spent a combined $1.2 million on ads supporting Brown, while Brown’s campaign has added $428,000 on the airwave

Other numbers you need to know today:

58 percent: The CDC’s estimate of how many people in America have antibodies from a previous Covid infection, up from 34 percent in December before the omicron surge.

2: The number of Democratic senators — Sens. Chris Murphy, Conn., and Ron Wyden, Ore.— who tested positive for Covid Tuesday.

23: The number of states that have either banned or opened investigations into 1,100 books, per a new report from PEN America.

$16 million: How much Planned Parenthood is spending on a new TV, streaming and digital ads targeting young voters and people of color, per Politico.

53: The percentage of women surveyed across 10 countries who say that their stress levels are higher than they were last year, according to new reporting on a Deloitte survey by NBC News.

Ad watch: Targeting the 'lone Democrat'

In a new ad, progressive attorney Jessica Cisneros, who is challenging Rep. Henry Cuellar in South Texas for the Democratic nomination for Congress, takes aim at Cuellar on abortion.

The ad highlights Cuellar’s vote against the Women’s Health Protection Act, which was designed to protect abortion rights on a national level and followed the passage of Texas’s restrictive statewide abortion ban.

“We showed up and spoke out when Texas Republicans passed the most extreme abortion ban in the country,” the ad’s narrator says. “But Henry Cuellar sided with them, the lone Democrat against a woman's right to make her own decisions.”

The ad comes just one month before the two candidates will face each other in a runoff. Since their March 1 primary election, Cuellar’s campaign has spent over $120,000 on TV ads, while Cisneros has spent just $68,000, according to AdImpact, an ad tracking firm.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

NBC is reporting that the U.S. gave Ukrainian forces detailed intelligence about exactly when and where Russian missiles and bombs were intended to strike, prompting Ukraine to move air defenses and aircraft out of harm’s way.

New text messages obtained by CNN show Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Scott Perry texting then-chief of staff Mark Meadows, passing along a message that appeared to suggest the National Security Agency should investigate voting-machine company Dominion after the 2020 election.

Gov. Kevin Stitt, R-Okla., signed a bill banning nonbinary birth certificates.