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The air is leaking out of inflation as the dominant midterm issue

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.
Image: S&G gas station in Sylvania Township
Pat Blevins, of Waterville, Ohio, fills the tank of his 2016 Chevrolet Silverado at an S&G gas station in Sylvania Township west of Toledo on July 5, 2022.Tom Krisher / AP

WASHINGTON — If it’s Monday ... Ukraine recaptures large swaths of territory, potentially recasting its war against Russia. ... President Biden heads to Boston, where he touts the bipartisan infrastructure law and then delivers remarks on his effort to end cancer. ... VP Harris warns about domestic threats to democracy in “Meet the Press” interview. … NBC’s Sahil Kapur and Natasha Korecki look at GOP push to flip Nevada Senate red. ... And it’s one day until the final primaries of 2022 (in Delaware, New Hampshire and Rhode Island) and 57 days until the general election.

But first: Besides abortion, Democratic legislative successes, GOP infighting and Donald Trump’s legal woes, there’s an additional reason why the political environment today looks vastly different than it did in the spring and early summer. 

Inflation has receded as the dominant midterm issue. 

We’ve seen it in gas prices, with the national average falling to about $3.70 a gallon. 

We’ve seen it with the overall rate of inflation slowing down.  

We’ve already seen it in our polling, with inflation dropping to the No. 2 national issue (behind “threats to democracy”).

And we’ve seen it in the midterm ads, where Democrats have been hammering Republicans with abortion messaging, while there’s been an uptick in GOP ads on crime, according to an NBC News review of AdImpact data.

“This is one of the things I’m telling Republicans: ‘Yes inflation is high, but it is coming down,’” former Trump economic adviser Stephen Moore told the Washington Post. “Inflation is not going to be like it was in March and April with huge increases, and I think broadening the message is going to be necessary.”

But an important caveat: The war in Ukraine and the energy crisis in Europe could make energy prices in the U.S. jump again. 

Also, we’ll be getting the latest reading on inflation tomorrow morning

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 3,000

That’s how many square kilometers (about 1,860 miles) Ukraine’s army chief says it’s recaptured from Russia since the beginning of September. 

While NBC News could not independently verify the claim, other independent experts agree with the rough estimation and it’s clear Ukraine’s counteroffensive has caught Russia on its back foot. 

Russia’s Defense Ministry admitted it was retreating — it said on Telegram that “a decision was made to regroup” and move troops from some strategically important cities back to the Donbas. And Chechyan leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a key Russian ally, said on Telegram that “mistakes were made” by the Russians, calling for immediate changes. 

Other numbers to know:

$99 million: How much former President Donald Trump has banked away in his leadership PAC, plus a few million more across joint fundraising committees. A handful of Republican senators have suggested to Politico that Trump should spend some of that money helping the GOP flip the Senate. 

$3 billion: The funding deficit of a program that pays for health care for 9/11 survivors and first responders, which Congress is scrambling to address

12%: The share of Americans who say the American health care system is handled “extremely or very well,” per a new AP/NORC poll. 

11: The number of major active wildfires across California. 

3: How many statewide GOP candidates Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., is campaigning next weekend as part of two Turning Point Action rallies — one in Wisconsin and one in Kansas, NBC News’ Allan Smith reports.

Midterm roundup: Betting on Nevada

While some GOP Senate candidates have struggled to gain traction, NBC News’ Sahil Kapur and Natasha Korecki report that Republicans are optimistic that they can win Nevada.

“Nevada’s races are always competitive,” Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, the first Latina elected to the Senate, told NBC News. “I’m not going to take anything for granted — and you can’t.”

Cortez Masto is facing former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt in November, whom Republicans lauded as a top recruit when he jumped into the race more than a year ago.

Democrats have found statewide success in Nevada’s recent elections, but those victories were hard fought. Biden won the state by just 2 points in 2020, while Cortez Masto won her first term and Hillary Clinton won the state by the same margin in 2016.

So what’s the sure bet in Nevada’s Senate race? It’s going to be close. 

Elsewhere on the campaign trail:

Arizona Senate: A super PAC tied to Heritage Action for America is planning to spend at least $5 million to boost Republican Blake Masters, Politico reports. And on Friday, three GOP governors — current Gov. Doug Ducey and former Govs. Jan Brewer and Fife Symington — endorsed Masters. They’re expected to hold events for Masters this week, per the Arizona Republic. 

North Carolina Senate: EMILY’s List’s independent expenditure arm Women Vote! announced it is investing $2.7 million to boost Democrat Cheri Beasley. A recent spot targets GOP Rep. Ted Budd on abortion.

Pennsylvania Senate: Lt. Gov. John Fetterman held an abortion rights rally over the weekend, declaring, “Women are the reason we win. Don’t p— women off,” per the Philadelphia Inquirer. Some Democrats in the state, meanwhile, told Reuters that they’re concerned about Fetterman’s health following his stroke in May.

Arizona Governor: Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Katie Hobbs’ campaign manager says she won’t debate Republican nominee Kari Lake because “debating a conspiracy theorist like Kari Lake…would only lead to constant interruptions, pointless distractions, and childish name-calling.”

Kansas Governor: Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt, the party’s gubernatorial nominee, said during a weekend debate that a recent vote against a proposed constitutional amendment that would have opened the doors for new abortion restrictions in the state “has to be respected” but that “does not mean that the discussion has ended.” 

Maine Governor: Former Republican Gov. Paul LePage is up with a new ad contrasting his background overcoming homelessness with Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, whom he chided as from “an elite family” and who “backpacked Europe and lived in San Francisco.” 

Rhode Island Governor: A former CEO of CVS is criticizing Democratic Gov. Dan McKee for claiming the company (and former CVS executive turned Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Helena Foulkes) contributed to the opioid crisis in a recent ad. 

Kansas Attorney General: Republican nominee Kris Kobach resigned from the board of the nonprofit at the center of the charges faced by GOP operative Steve Bannon. 

Ad watch: Attacking “cutesy” ads

 In a new ad out over the weekend, GOP Sen. Ron Johnson criticized Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes by arguing he will run “cutesy ads trying to convince you that he’s not a radical leftist.” 

He then alleges that Barnes “thinks the founding of America was awful and our national parks are racist,” that Barnes wanted to raise taxes and that he opposes school choice. (For the point on America’s founding, Barnes’ campaign says he was referring to slavery.)

It’s the second ad where Johnson calls Barnes’ ads “cutesy.” Johnson responded to negative ads attacking him by telling NBC News in August that, “I don’t want to engage in the politics of personal destruction. I will not become what they’ve become.” 

Also over the weekend, Barnes released a new ad in conjunction with Democrats’ Senate campaign arm where he discussed his middle class upbringing and told viewers, “I know the promise of America and no one will fight harder to protect it.” 

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world 

The Associated Press released a new investigation into Michael Flynn’s ties to the Christian nationalism movement. Flynn is former President Donald Trump’s former national security advisor.

Trump’s legal team and the Justice Department each nominated two individuals to be the special master in charge of reviewing documents found in a search at Mar-a-Lago last month.

NBC News’ Sahil Kapur and Scott Wong examine the state of election reform legislation in the Senate.