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First Read: Figuring Out How to Fit the GOP Candidates on One Debate Stage

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter

How do you fit 18 Republican presidential candidates on one debate stage?

We can count as many as 18 potential GOP presidential candidates -- after Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal formed his exploratory committee and after reports that Ohio Gov. John Kasich is “very likely” to run. So the questions become: How do you fit them all on one stage in the first debate set for August? Do you leave some out, including current and former governors and senators? Or do you hold two different debates in one night -- with nine candidates in one hour, and another nine the next? Those are all questions after an earlier suggestion that Republicans might cap the first debate to nine to 12 participants, which would mean that some prominent names might be excluded. National Journal reports that the Republican National Committee is walking back the talk about a cap. “RNC chief strategist Sean Spicer … told reporters: ‘There's no cap.’” But if there’s no cap, that means that either 18 candidates share the same stage, or that you have to divide them up into different heats.

Eigh(teen) is Enough

Here is our list of the 18 Republican presidential candidates. If you capped a debate at 12, which six would you leave out?

  • Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush
  • Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker
  • Sen. Marco Rubio
  • Sen. Rand Paul
  • Sen. Ted Cruz
  • Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee
  • Former Sen. Rick Santorum
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham
  • Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry
  • Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal
  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
  • Ohio Gov. John Kasich
  • Donald Trump
  • Carly Fiorina
  • Ben Carson
  • Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore
  • Former New York Gov. George Pataki
  • Former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich

The friends you keep…

Clinton friend and former journalist Sidney Blumenthal is back in the news. “When the Clintons last occupied the White House, Sidney Blumenthal cast himself in varied roles: speechwriter, in-house intellectual and press corps whisperer,” the New York Times writes. “Now, as Hillary Rodham Clinton embarks on her second presidential bid, Mr. Blumenthal’s service to the Clintons is again under the spotlight. Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, a Republican who is leading the congressional committee investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, plans to subpoena Mr. Blumenthal, 66, for a private transcribed interview.” More: “Mr. Gowdy’s chief interest, according to people briefed on the inquiry, is a series of memos that Mr. Blumenthal — who was not an employee of the State Department — wrote to Mrs. Clinton about events unfolding in Libya before and after the death of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. According to emails obtained by The New York Times, Mrs. Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time, took Mr. Blumenthal’s advice seriously, forwarding his memos to senior diplomatic officials in Libya and Washington.” And the Times adds that Blumenthal’s Libya intel came from business associates he was advising.

Hillary’s State Department emails won’t be released until right before the Iowa caucuses

Hillary Clinton’s State Department emails are also back in the news. The AP: “The State Department has proposed releasing portions of 55,000 pages of emails from former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton by next January. The department made the proposal in a federal court filing Monday night, in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by Vice News.” Why January? The State Department said that’s how long it is taking to review the materials.

Primary Day in Kentucky

It’s Primary Day in Kentucky, where a handful of Republicans -- perhaps led by failed 2014 Senate candidate Matt Bevin -- are vying to take on Democratic state Attorney General Jack Conway in the fall. Current Gov. Steve Beshear (D) is term limited. Jennifer Duffy, who monitors gubernatorial races for the Cook Political Report, says that Bevin is the odds-on favorite to win today’s GOP primary, and that could hurt Republicans in the general election. “You won’t see any enthusiasm from the Republican Governors Association,” she says. How is Bevin the favorite over state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and former Louisville Councilman Hal Heiner? Duffy points to two reasons: 1) Bevin’s wealth, which has allowed him to dominate the airwaves; and 2) a Comer-Heiner feud over allegations that Comer abused a college girlfriend and took her to get an abortion in 1991. But Politico writes that the allegations against Comer, which he denies, could create some backlash and maybe even help him.

Today’s mayoral race in Jacksonville

Today is also the mayoral election in Jacksonville, FL. The AP explains why a mayoral election is getting national attention. “There’s a reason why the Jacksonville mayoral race is drawing the attention of such outsiders as former president Bill Clinton, former Texas governor Rick Perry, former governor Jeb Bush, and Senator Marco Rubio, and it’s about more than who wins Tuesday. It’s because the state’s largest city will also be a key to winning Florida in the 2016 presidential election, and having an ally in the mayor’s office can only help. Perry, Bush, and Rubio have an eye on the White House next year, and each is helping former state Republican Party chairman Lenny Curry, who’s challenging incumbent Democrat Alvin Brown. Clinton, whose wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, is running for president, came to Jacksonville to raise money for Brown.” When Brown won this race four years ago, it was seen as a sign of change in Florida -- and a reminder of how the state was smack dab in purple and even slightly leaning Obama.

On the trail today

Hillary remains in Iowa, campaigning in Cedar Falls around 11:00 am ET… Rick Perry and Mike Huckabee also are in Iowa… And Bernie Sanders, on Capitol Hill, holds a news conference on college tuition.

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