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First Read: A Tale of Two Republican Brackets

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.
Image: Republicans Hopefuls Speak At Iowa Faith And Freedom Coalition
WAUKEE, IA - APRIL 25: A vendor sell campaign buttons at the Point of Grace Church before the start of the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition 2015 Spring Kickoff on April 25, 2015 in Waukee, Iowa. The Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition, a conservative Christian organization, hosted 9 potential contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential nominations at the event. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)Scott Olson / Getty Images

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.

A Tale of Two Republican Brackets

With Chris Christie camping out in New Hampshire and with a brand-new poll out of Iowa, here’s a helpful way to look at the crowded Republican field: It’s a tale of two different brackets -- Iowa and New Hampshire. About half of Republicans are betting on success in the Hawkeye State, and the other half are focused on the Granite State, with a little overlap between the two.

  • Your Iowa bracket: Scott Walker (who is leading today’s new Quinnipiac poll of Iowa at 18%), Ben Carson and Donald Trump (who are tied for second at 10% each), Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal
  • Your New Hampshire bracket: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, John Kasich, George Pataki, maybe Lindsey Graham
  • Your crossovers: Rand Paul, Marco Rubio

Iowa is fascinating because you have 20% of likely caucus-goers in the Quinnipiac poll supporting either Trump or Carson, who in many ways look like placeholders for two different types of conservatives. Does that support go elsewhere as the race picks up -- to Walker, Cruz, or maybe even Rubio? As for Rubio, while we label him a crossover, ask yourself this question: How does he win the nomination without Iowa? Sure, he has an impressive organization in South Carolina. And a Top-3 finish in Iowa or New Hampshire would allow him to remain in the race a long time. But if he’s going to win, it’s going to have to start in Iowa, right?

As for New Hampshire, you’re going to have three “moderate”-leaning governors or ex-governors all in the running -- Jeb, Kasich, Christie -- with maybe the eventual Iowa winner being a factor, too.

A Tale of Two Different Disclosures

We witnessed two very different disclosures on Tuesday. One candidate (Jeb Bush) controlled his disclosure regarding his taxes, and even had a story to tell about his business work and about how all Americans (including the wealthiest) should pay less in taxes. Another candidate (Hillary Clinton) let others control the rollout of her State Department emails. Of course, there doesn’t appear to be any disqualifying smoking gun in Hillary’s emails. But one person looked prepared; the other didn’t. One was proactive; one was reactive. A hint to how they'll govern? How they'll campaign in a general?

Jeb’s impressive preparation -- except for one key weak link

Indeed, Jeb so far has proven to be a VERY disciplined presidential candidate. The European trip was well prepared. So was the presidential announcement in Miami. Ditto yesterday’s tax disclosure. That kind of preparation and discipline should scare the rest of the GOP field. This isn't a candidate that will get bounced out easily. Then again, Jeb and his team have displayed one weak link: They don’t know how to get away from George W. Bush’s shadow. For as well prepared as they’ve looked elsewhere, Jeb’s answer in May on Iraq was so ill prepared for what everyone knew was coming.

U.S., Cuba to open embassies in each country’s respective capital

Outside of the 2016 presidential race, here’s today’s top political story: “The United States and Cuba will officially re-establish diplomatic relations on Wednesday morning with the announcement of a deal to open foreign embassies in each country's respective capitals,” NBC’s Andrea Mitchell and Peter Alexander reported. President Obama will deliver his statement on this at 11:00 am ET – before heading to Nashville, TN to talk health care. Marco Rubio is out with a statement criticizing the embassy move. “I intend to oppose the confirmation of an Ambassador to Cuba until these issues are addressed. It is time for our unilateral concessions to this odious regime to end.” As with gay marriage, the GOP’s risk here on Cuba is that it looks like it’s fighting old fights. And that’s especially dangerous for the candidates who are trying to cast themselves as the ones representing the future.

De Blasio vs. Cuomo

Finally, don’t miss the fireworks that the New York tabloids have to love. The New York Daily News: “Mayor de Blasio lit Gov. Cuomo up Tuesday with a double-barreled blast of political payback. In stunningly frank language, the mayor accused the governor of deliberately thwarting his Albany agenda out of political pique and revenge — and hurting New Yorkers in the process. Hours before leaving on a vacation out West, de Blasio called reporters into his office and spoke calmly in a calculated decision to take off the gloves and reveal the ‘frenemies’ were really enemies. He described his relationship with Cuomo as a series of painful letdowns. ‘I have been disappointed at every turn,’ de Blasio said.” This feud is going to keep political reporters in NYC busy and entertained for some time.

On the 2016 trail

Ben Carson is in South Carolina… Rand Paul campaigns in Iowa… Chris Christie remains in New Hampshire… And Bernie Sanders hits Wisconsin.

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