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Biden takes heat from his own party over ‘democracy’ speech

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

WASHINGTON — If it’s Thursday ... President Biden calls the midterms a “ defining moment” for democracy amid threats of political violence. ... Barack Obama, campaigning in Arizona, blasts Republicans Kari Lake and Blake Masters, per NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard and P.J. Tobia. ... NBC’s Ryan Nobles and Julia Jester cover the New Hampshire Senate debate between Democrat Maggie Hassan and Republican Don Bolduc. ... Biden campaigns for Democrats this afternoon in New Mexico. ... VP Harris stumps for Gov. Kathy Hochul in New York Governor. ... And Donald Trump holds a rally tonight in Iowa.

But first: We don’t yet know the outcome of the 2022 midterms, but the blame game for Democrats is already underway. 

And we saw some of that aimed at President Biden’s speech Wednesday night on democracy. 

Here was Faiz Shakir, Bernie Sanders’ 2020 campaign manager, before Biden’s speech: “We’re in the last phase where I think you ought to be talking to a persuasion audience, and I hope there are some people at the White House watching, because when you think about this address he’s about to give tonight — I hope they’re re-writing it and focusing on cost of living,” he said on “Meet the Press NOW.”  

“If you’re going to vote on democracy ... and abortion, I’d posit to you that a lot of those people have made their decision,” Shakir added.  

Here was former Obama chief strategist David Axelrod on Twitter, questioning why Biden was putting himself (and his low approval ratings) front and center: “Issues of democracy are hugely important at this moment and in next week’s election. Totally appropriate for @POTUS to address them. Still, as a matter of practical politics, I doubt many Ds in marginal races are eager for him to be on TV tonight.” 

And here was the New York Times on Biden’s speech: “Mr. Biden seemed almost to be arguing with those voters who were not, in his view, prioritizing election legitimacy highly enough. Medicare, Social Security and the other issues were important, he said, ‘but there’s something else at stake: democracy itself.’ He added: ‘We can’t pretend it’s just going to solve itself.’”

Our NBC News poll shows “threats to democracy” as a top midterm issue, but it disproportionately fires up rank-and-file Democrats, not independents or persuadable voters. 

And it is striking to us that Biden — known for his empathy — is closing on democracy rather than feeling Americans’ economic pain with rising prices. 

“President Biden and the Democratic Party need to tell [voters in the middle] that not only do I feel and see your pain, every morning I wake up thinking about this, every night I go to sleep on it,” Shakir said. 

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 40%

That’s by how much ad spending increased in New York governor’s race between the week ending on Oct. 23 and the week ending on Oct. 30, per new NBC News Political Unit analysis of AdImpact data. 

Over that period, Democrats went from spending $2.7 million to more than $3.8 million, while Republicans went from spending $2.5 million to more than $3.5 million. 

And Republicans are poised to outspend Democrats in the race’s final days (new bookings notwithstanding) $5 million to $3.6 million. 

Read more on the Meet the Press Blog about this and other notable ad-spending changes on the gubernatorial map in these final weeks. 

Other numbers to know:

4: How many consecutive times the Federal Reserve raised interest rates by 0.75%, the most recent being Wednesday

$16 million: How much the Trump-backed super PAC Maga, Inc., has spent on the midterms so far, per AdImpact. 

45: The number of House seats that could be held by Latinos after this year’s elections, which would be a record, per NBC News’ Suzanne Gamboa. 

More than 100: How many state and local election jurisdictions are on a waitlist after requesting assistance from the federal government to bolster their cybersecurity, NBC News’ Julia Ainsley and Kevin Collier report.

21: The number of people arrested Wednesday as part of a national network stealing catalytic converters.

Midterm roundup: Catching up with the candidates

NBC News reporters have fanned out across the country, and they’ve been catching up with candidates on the campaign trail. 

In Wisconsin, GOP Sen. Ron Johnson told NBC News’ Shaquille Brewster and Kailani Koenig that he is “cautiously optimistic” about his re-election prospects, and slammed Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes as someone who shows “disdain” for America. A Marquette Law School poll released Wednesday found a close race, with 50% of likely voters surveyed backing Johnson and 48% backing Barnes. 

In Georgia, NBC News’ Blayne Alexander and Charlie Gile caught up with Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams, who said she is concerned about voter suppression. 

“What I tell folks is that barriers to voting are very real, that voter suppression embedded in SB 202 is very real,” Abrams said. “And the only way to combat that voter suppression, one, is by overwhelming the polls with your turnout, and two is by voting early so that you can avoid and navigate the barriers to voting.”

In Michigan, NBC News’ Julie Tsrikin and Kyle Stewart spoke to GOP state Sen. Tom Barrett, who is locked in a competitive race against Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin. 

“I want to be a check against the Biden administration,” Barrett said. 

Elsewhere on the campaign trail:

Alaska Senate: NBC News’ Peter Nicholas, Carol E. Lee and Marc Caputo report on Alaska’s Senate race, which one GOP senator described as a “war” between former President Trump and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. 

Arizona Senate/Governor: Former President Barack Obama rallied for Arizona Democrats Wednesday, criticizing the GOP slate as “a whole cast of characters” who “want control over the next election.” 

Colorado Senate: Republican Joe O’Dea gave his campaign an additional $1 million, per a new FEC filing. The filing also showed donations from former President George Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush, who fundraised for him earlier this cycle

Georgia Senate: Republican Herschel Walker’s closing TV ad, a joint spot with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, ties Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock to President Joe Biden. “It’s time to take our country back, start thinking about greatness again,” Walker says in the ad. 

Iowa Senate: GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley launched a TV ad featuring actor and conservative commentator Ben Stein reprising his role from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

New Hampshire: The NRSC and Republican Don Bolduc are up with a new ad that includes the candidate speaking directly to camera to say “Here’s the deal: I won’t change New Hampshire’s abortion law or cut Social Security and Medicare for older Americans.” Bolduc and Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan participated in their final debate Wednesday

Pennsylvania Senate: A pair of surveys showed a close race between Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz. A Monmouth University survey found 48% of likely voters saying they will definitely or probably vote for Fetterman, and 44% saying the same of Oz. And a USA Today/Suffolk University poll found a close race, with 47% supporting Fetterman and 45% backing Oz. 

Kansas Governor: A Democratic group aligned with the Democratic Governors Association, is up with a new ad featuring a woman at a diner ordering a “Schmidt sandwich, the same thing as a Brownback burger,” the latest attempt to tie GOP gubernatorial nominee Derek Schmidt to former Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. 

Illinois Governor: President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will campaign for Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other House Democrats over the weekend.  

New York Governor: The New York Times delves into GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin’s political career as he’s in a closer-than-expected races against Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Wisconsin Governor: The Marquette Law School poll also found the race for governor in a dead heat, with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and GOP businessman Tim Michels both at 48% among likely voters. 

Pennsylvania-12: The DCCC and Democrat Summer Lee’s campaign are out with a new ad on how “Democrat Mike Doyle is not on the ballot, a different Republican Mike Doyle is.” 

Wisconsin-03: Politico reports on Democratic struggles in this rural district, struggles that could have broader implications for statewide races in Wisconsin

Ad watch: “Give Congress a kick in the butt”

In Virginia's 10th District, Republican Hung Cao is out with a new ad touting his record. But he’s got to do it quickly. 

“My name is Hung Cao. I’m running for Congress. Air time is expensive, so this commercial has to move fast,” Cao says at the beginning of the 15-second ad, before racing through his biography, like his Navy service and his time at Harvard and MIT.

“And I was a competitive kickboxer,” Cao says at the end of the ad, adding, “So if you want to give Congress a kick in the butt, let’s go.”

Cao is running to unseat Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton, who has served in Congress since 2019. This new ad accompanies another ad out this week attacking Wexton for her stance on education. Wexton, meanwhile, launched an ad a few days ago with “seven things you should know about about extremist Hung Cao.” 

The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter rates this race as competitive, but Likely Democrat.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

The body of an American who died in the war in Ukraine is being held for a potential war crimes investigation, NBC News’ Phil McCausland reports.

A federal judge issued a restraining order against a group monitoring ballot drop boxes in Arizona, restricting them to standing 75 feet away from drop boxes.

During the attack on Paul Pelosi last week, Capitol Police had a video feed of the Pelosi home, but it was not being monitored at the time, NBC News’ Garrett Haake and Rebecca Shabad report.

Former President Donald Trump settled a lawsuit with protesters who accused his security guards of assaulting them outside Trump Tower in 2015.