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First Read: Last Night's Wild Kentucky Primary

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
Kentucky Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin addresses supporters at the Galt House Hotel in Louisville, Ky., Tuesday, May 19, 2015. Bevin is locked in a tight race with Republican James Comer. (AP Photo/Dylan Lovan)Dylan Lovan / AP

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

Last night’s wild primary in Kentucky

The premiere political race of 2015 -- Kentucky’s gubernatorial contest -- delivered a wild primary result last night. It appears that Tea Party Republican Matt Bevin, who lost his 2014 Senate primary to Mitch McConnell last year, won the right to face Democrat Jack Conway in November’s general election. But barely. The Lexington Herald Leader: “After 214,187 votes were counted, Louisville businessman Matt Bevin held an 83-vote lead over Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer, but Comer said late Tuesday night that he owed it to his supporters to ask for a recanvass. According to the secretary of state's office, a recanvass will be conducted at 9 a.m. May 28. In a recanvass, printed vote totals are checked against figures sent to the state Board of Elections. No individual votes are actually recounted.” If Bevin maintains that lead, Conway would begin the general as the favorite -- but not by much. Remember, this is Kentucky after all.

Why Kentucky matters in 2015

And if Bevin does win, he would have done so with Senate Majority Leader McConnell’s team opposed to his candidacy. Mitch McConnell is great at saving Mitch McConnell (see last year), but he’s not so great at using his political machine to help/hurt others (see Rand Paul beating Trey Grayson in 2010 and Bevin last night). So Kentucky’s gubernatorial race has national themes because of this McConnell angle. It also has national themes because a Conway-Bevin general election would be a referendum on the state’s health-care exchange, Kynect. As Bloomberg’s Dave Weigel notes, “Bevin has said he’d dismantle Kynect.” And it’s a national story because it’s the home state of presidential candidate Rand Paul. Bottom line: If you’re covering non-2016 politics this year, Kentucky is the best story out there.

Why Bevin winning is awkward for Mitch McConnell

And if you want to know how awkward it will be for McConnell and his team to stand next to Bevin in the general election, consider these quotes:

  • Former McConnell Chief of Staff Josh Holmes: “If Matt Bevin had moved to a state where he had a better shot at being elected to office as a Democrat, he would articulate the values of liberalism with the same conviction he now talks about conservatism." (Louisville Courier-Journal, May 6, 2015);
  • More Holmes: “Kentucky Republicans have a way of working through primary battles to reunite in the general election. Of course, there are certainly some candidates who are easier to reunite behind than others.” (Politico, May 16, 2015);
  • Even more Holmes: "I think Bevin disqualified himself with most Republican voters when he refused to endorse McConnell after the primary. It said more about his willingness to put himself before the party and the commonwealth than anything anybody else could possibly say." (Lexington Herald-Leader, Jan. 28, 2015);
  • Former McConnell Campaign Manager Jesse Benton: "Mitch was a gentleman and extended several olive branches, but Bevin acted like a petulant child and slapped the hand of friendship," Benton said. "Republicans should not, and will not, take Bevin seriously." (Lexington Herald-Leader, Jan. 28, 2015).

That said, before Comer staged his comeback last night, Holmes tweeted this conciliatory note about Bevin: “I've never said a bad word about a Republican nominee in my life and that won't change tonight. Congrats to @MattBevin. I hope he wins.”

Oh, and one other thing: The last time McConnell’s team didn’t get it preferred candidate was back in 2010. And guess what happened: Conway lost (to Rand Paul).

GOP wins competitive Jacksonville mayoral race -- in all-important Florida

In another race we were following last night, Republican Lenny Curry defeated incumbent Democratic Mayor Alvin Brown in Jacksonville, FL’s mayoral contest. And it was a nail-biter: Curry got 51%, Brown 49%. The Tampa Bay Times: “Curry, the former head of the state GOP, was boosted by a determined Republican effort to recapture the seat, strong fundraising and the help from Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and other top officials... Brown won the seat in May 2011, becoming the first Democrat to hold the position in two decades and the first African-American. Democrats saw the former Bill Clinton aide as a future statewide candidate.” The questions we had going into this contest: Was Brown’s 2011 victory an aberration (goosed by Obama’s re-election machine, which saw the race as an opportunity to flex its turnout muscles)? Would it be a sign of the Florida GOP getting its groove back? Well, last night’s result was definitely good news for Florida Republicans. But it was a CLOSE race.

The role Super PACs played in Philadelphia’s mayoral race

Also last night, Philadelphia City Councilman Jim Kenney “rolled to an easy victory Tuesday in the Democratic mayoral primary, making him the odds-on favorite to become Philadelphia's next chief executive,” the Philly Inquirer says. But maybe the best story out of this race was HOW big of a role Super PACs played in a local contest. “Heading into the weekend, the race's three highest-spending groups on TV all were super PACs, according to a Democratic source tracking the buys,” National Journal wrote. “One outside group, funded by out-of-town charter-school advocates, had invested more on TV ads than the other campaigns combined. And the candidate expected to win, former City Councilman Jim Kenney, has not one but two super PACs working on his behalf, each of which has spent close to a million dollars.” Wow.

LA to raise city minimum wage to $15 per hour

Finally, there’s one other local political story worth noting from yesterday: “The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday backed a plan to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 per hour, joining a trend sweeping cities across the country as elected leaders seek to boost stagnating pay for workers on the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder,” the LA Times says. “Lawmakers agreed to draft an ordinance raising the $9-an-hour base wage to $15 by 2020 for as many as 800,000 workers, making L.A. the largest city in the nation to adopt a major minimum-wage hike. Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle already have approved similar increases, and raising the federal minimum wage has moved to the forefront of the Democratic Party’s agenda.”

Remember that big upcoming Hillary speech? That won’t happen until June -- at the earliest

Turning to the 2016 race, Hillary Clinton finally answered reporters’ questions yesterday. (That wasn’t so hard, was it?) But today’s most interesting Hillary news comes via Politico: It looks like she’s delaying her big campaign kickoff (big speech, rallies, etc.) until June -- at least. “‘If they had their druthers, they would basically get off the front pages, let the Republicans eat themselves alive, and let her do what she needs to do: raise the money and not have to be part of the debate right now,’ said one Clinton donor who’s familiar with the campaign’s thinking. ‘She has 100 percent name recognition and is in a good place vis a vis the primary. Why put your foot on the accelerator?’” Is this perhaps a recognition that the campaign feels like she got in TOO EARLY? Yes, the launch in April helps on the fundraising front, and having a campaign in place helped battle with the “Clinton Cash” book. But if Team Clinton wants to delay the big speeches and rallies, what was the point of getting in back in April?

On the trail today

Jeb Bush is in New Hampshire… Hillary Clinton raises money in Chicago, where she also will discuss the issue of childcare… And Rick Perry is in Iowa.

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