IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Back to normal? Midterm environment reverts back to the fundamentals

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: Georgians Hit The Polls On State's First Day Of Voting For The Midterm Election
Voters turn out to cast their ballots as early voting begins on Oct. 17, 2022 in Atlanta.Megan Varner / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — If it’s Wednesday ... President Biden, from the White House, speaks about energy costs and the bipartisan infrastructure law. ... Marco Rubio and Val Demings tangle in fiery Florida Senate debate, NBC’s Shaq Brewster and Kailani Koenig report. ... Democratic TV ad hits Republican Ron Johnson over Jan. 6 in Wisconsin Senate, per NBC’s Natasha Korecki. ... And the most expensive midterm race in the country doesn’t even feature a candidate.

But first: We’ve listed the ways in which this political environment has often felt different than past midterms.  

Donald Trump’s outsized presence. The Supreme Court knocking down the status quo on abortion. Flawed GOP nominees. The sheer unpopularity of most candidates and political figures — left or right. 

But in the past few weeks, the 2022 environment seems a bit more normal, like your typical midterm election. 

Trump is no longer dominating headlines like he was in August or September (though today he’s being deposed in a defamation case). 

Gas prices — after months on the decline — are back up (though they’ve dropped a bit from the past week). 

And the economy and inflation are once again on the top of voters’ minds (after our NBC News poll showed “threats to democracy” being the No. 1 issue). 

What’s just as significant is how the Biden White House and Democratic campaigns are acting like it’s your normal midterm environment — with the White House once again tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, with Biden trying to fire up Democratic voters on abortion, and with campaigns returning to pocketbook issues

Will the 2022 midterms follow history? Or make history? 

Right now, it looks more like the former rather than the latter.  

But we’re also going to get our own check on the national environment soon with a brand-new poll in the next few days. 

So stay tuned. 

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … $60 million

That’s about how much billionaire Michael Bloomberg is expecting to spend on this year’s midterm elections, per the Washington Post. That figure includes a previously undisclosed $11 million donation to House Majority PAC, the main Democratic super PAC that plays in House races. 

The Washington Post report is a sign that Bloomberg has stepped up his political giving as Democrats have voiced concerns about a wave of GOP cash flooding competitive House races through outside groups. As we noted last month, Bloomberg and some other big Democratic donors had largely sat out the midterms through the middle of this summer.

Other numbers to know:

10.1%: The annual consumer price increase in Britain, per the New York Times, as inflation woes continue to sweep the globe. 

5: The number of Senate races, including contests in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Georgia and Nevada, where the Trump-aligned super PAC MAGA Inc made additional ad buys, per AdImpact.

3: The number of Senate Democratic candidates that will be rocking with the Dave Matthews Band. The band is playing at get-out-the-vote rallies for Pennsylvania’s John Fetterman, North Carolina’s Cheri Beasley and Ohio’s Tim Ryan.

15 million: How many barrels of oil the U.S. is releasing from its strategic reserve, President Joe Biden announced Tuesday. 

$84.5 million: How much money philanthropist McKenzie Scott, who is the ex-wife of Jeff Bezos, donated to the Girl Scouts. It’s the largest single donation in the history of the Girl Scouts

6 percentage points:  That’s Republican Herschel Walker’s edge with Latino voters in a new Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Georgia News Collaborative poll, which also shows Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams with support from 49% of Hispanics and Republican Gov. Brian Kemp at 48%. 

Midterm roundup: Rubio, Demings tangle in contentious debate

Another day, another contentious debate in a battleground state — this time, Tuesday night’s Florida Senate debate between Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic Rep. Val Demings. 

As NBC News’ Shaquille Brewster, Kailani Koenig and Zoë Richards reported, the two candidates repeatedly interrupted each other and landed personal attacks on a variety of issues, including the economy, immigration, their effectiveness as legislators and abortion. 

In one exchange that typified the night, Rubio blasted Demings as ineffective: “She’s never passed a single bill,” he said. “Not a single bill she’s passed has ever become law.” 

“That’s not true. I know the senator — look — and, and I’m really disappointed in you, Marco Rubio, because I think there was a time when you did not lie in order to win. I don’t know what happened to you. You know that is not true,” Demings replied.

Elsewhere on the campaign trail:

Georgia Senate: Republican Herschel Walker has slammed Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock over alleged evictions at an Atlanta apartment building owned by a company tied to Warnock’s church, Ebenezer Baptist Church. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that the company “maintained no recent evictions have taken place [but] there were eviction actions — called dispossessory warrants — filed against multiple residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

New Hampshire Senate: Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan and Republican Don Bolduc faced off in a debate on Tuesday morning. Bolduc, a retired general, just got a boost on the campaign trail from former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. And Politico reports on how Senate Republicans aren’t yet giving up on Bolduc despite spending millions in a failed bid to usher a more moderate candidate through the primary. 

Pennsylvania Senate: A new AARP poll showed a tightening race in Pennsylvania, with 48% backing Democratic John Fetterman and 46% backing Republican Mehmet Oz, per Politico. 

Wisconsin Senate: Democrats are going up with a new TV ad that includes a Wisconsin police officer criticizing Republican Sen. Ron Johnson on his comments about the Jan. 6 attack. 

Iowa Governor: Democrat Deidre DeJear is up with a new ad where she asks voters, “Are you sick of politics? Enough to surprise the so-called experts?”

Illinois Governor: Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker debated Republican state Sen. Darren Bailey Tuesday night for the final time, sparring over the 2020 election, abortion and crime. 

Texas Governor: GOP Gov. Greg Abbott was notably missing from a list of speakers for former President Donald Trump’s Saturday rally in Texas, which was released Tuesday. Abbott and former Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke released dueling TV ads on Tuesday, per AdImpact, with Abbott focusing on crime and O’Rourke releasing a spot that referenced the 2021 power grid failure, the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, and abortion.  

Kansas Governor: In a new ad, Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s campaign touts its endorsement from the state Fraternal Order of Police, which endorsed Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly last cycle. The president of the group calls her a “disappointment” in the spot. 

Nevada Governor: The Nevada Police Union voted that it had “no confidence” in Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, per the Nevada Independent. Sisolak’s campaign said the vote was part of the union’s “political stunts” amid contract negotiations. 

Oklahoma Governor: GOP Gov. Kevin Stitt, whose re-election is looking increasingly competitive, set a March 7 election for voters to decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana.

Florida-27: In a new Spanish-language ad, Republican Rep. María Elvira Salazar’s campaign features supposed voters approving of her helping the police, denouncing socialism, supporting a bill on wild horses, voting to raise the age to buy certain semi-automatic weapons and more. 

Kansas-03: Republican Amanda Adkins is out with a new ad that says “If you know [Democratic Rep.] Sharice Davids, you know she’s nice enough. But you also know she’s not working hard enough for you” to address economic issues.  

New York-17: Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney is getting some help from a super PAC as Republicans up their spending in the race, Politico reports. 

Ad watch: “Way more radical”

A new ad funded by the GOP-aligned American Crossroads in Pennsylvania is comparing two candidates in marquee races — Democratic nominee for Senate John Fetterman and Democratic nominee for governor Josh Shapiro.

“John Fetterman’s record on crime is crazy,” one woman in the ad says. “He’s not like most Democrats,” a man in the ad adds.

“225 times, Josh Shapiro voted against the criminals, but Fetterman voted to release them. That’s nuts. Fetterman is way more radical than Shapiro,” a series of voters says.

The ad comes as polling continues to show Shapiro polling ahead of Fetterman, and it appears to be trying to persuade Shaprio voters to not vote down the party line.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world 

In the trial of five Oath Keepers charged with seditious conspiracy for their role in the Jan. 6 riot, one testified he was ready to die to keep Donald Trump in office on that day.

A Russian analyst who was charged with lying to the FBI about a dossier detailing Trump’s alleged ties to Russia was acquitted on Tuesday.

NBC News’ Ali Vitali examines how third-party candidates are using political polarization as an opening to run for office.