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GOP stumbles give Democrats a major break in Michigan’s race for governor

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.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer takes questions from the media on May 26 at Holland State Park. Cody Scanlan / USA Today Network

WASHINGTON — If it’s Friday ... The war in Ukraine enters its 100th day. ... “Enough, enough, enough”: President Biden demands action on gun control. ... More gun violence takes place in Iowa and Wisconsin. ... The monthly jobs report finds 390,000 jobs added in May and the unemployment rate unchanged at 3.6 percent. ... Biden is set to visit Saudi Arabia and will likely meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. ... Donald Trump makes endorsement picks in Arizona Senate (Blake Masters) and Wisconsin Governor (Tim Michels over Rebecca Kleefisch). ... And Democrat John Fetterman remains off the campaign trail in Pennsylvania Senate after his stroke.

But first: Arguably the most consequential political news this week — as it relates to November’s midterm elections — took place in Michigan.

That’s where multiple court rulings found three different Republican candidates for governor, including well-known former Detroit police chief James Craig, ineligible to be on the ballot after failing to submit 15,000 valid signatures.

And it represents a significant break for incumbent Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who most likely will face either businesswoman/conservative activist Tudor Dixon or businessman Kevin Rinke.

The GOP primary takes place on Aug. 2.

“Has this reshaped the race? Yes,” the Cook Political Report’s Jessica Taylor tells us. “Has it given the GOP a headache? Yes.”

But Taylor also argues that Whitmer isn’t completely out of the woods, given the rough national headwinds that Democrats face heading into November.

“Can the environment still hurt her? Absolutely.”

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 22

That’s the number of days since Pennsylvania Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the party’s Senate nominee, suffered a stroke. Fetterman remains off the campaign trail, and some Democrats are concerned about his prognosis and the lack of transparency surrounding his condition. 

Fetterman’s absence from the campaign trail hasn’t stopped Republicans from attacking him. The National Republican Senatorial Committee is launching a new TV ad today painting Fetterman as far-left.

Other numbers you need to know:

21: The number of Democrats who want House leadership to break up gun violence prevention legislation into stand-alone bills instead of one larger bill, a move they say will make it more likely the measures can pass. 

21: The minimum age to purchase a semi-automatic rifle in New York, set by a bill that passed the legislature and is expected to be signed into law. 

57 percent: That’s the share of adults in America in the new Wall Street Journal poll who say a woman should be allowed to have a legal abortion for any reason. That’s the highest share since its polling partner, NORC, began asking the question in 1977. 

$34 million: How much billionaire Rick Caruso has spent on his Los Angeles mayoral bid, virtually all from personal loans. 

4: The number of years lawyer Michael Avenatti has been sentenced to prison for stealing from former adult film actor and onetime client Stormy Daniels. 

Midterm roundup: Masters of one

Former President Donald Trump made endorsements in two key races Thursday, backing Republican Blake Masters, who runs billionaire Peter Thiel’s investment firm and foundation, for Senate in Arizona, and endorsing businessman Tim Michels in the Wisconsin gubernatorial race. 

Masters, a Tucson native, has made at least two trips to Mar-A-Lago in the last year, per NBC News’ Vaughn Hillyard, and he’s repeatedly echoed Trump’s lies about the 2020 election. The endorsement also further ties Trump to Thiel, who backed author JD Vance in Ohio’s Senate race. Just like in the Ohio race, Thiel has also sunk millions into a super PAC to boost Masters.

Of note, Trump’s Arizona endorsement included a broadside against Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who is also running for Senate, for not sufficiently contesting the election. 

Trump also backed Michels for governor over a field that includes former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, whom many establishment Republicans see as the candidate who would give Democratic Gov. Tony Evers the toughest general election fight. 

Elsewhere on the campaign trail:

Alabama Senate: Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst backed Alabama Republican Katie Britt in her Senate runoff. 

North Carolina Senate: Local television stations have pulled an NRSC ad that attacks Democrat Cheri Beasley’s judicial record after Democrats said the ad was inaccurate. The NRSC is pushing back on the decision and the stations said they would review the group’s claims. 

Washington Senate: Democratic Sen. Patty Murray is up with her first ad ,in which she speaks to workers about lowering costs and her promise to them and middle class families first. 

Arizona Governor: Trump stars in a new ad for his endorsed candidate, former journalist Kari Lake. 

Kansas Governor: The Republican Governors Association spending $330,000 on ads in the gubernatorial race over the next week. 

California-22: The GOP-aligned Congressional Leadership fund is dropping $284,000 as Republican Rep. David Valadao, who voted to impeach Trump after Jan. 6, looks to survive in next week’s top-two primary. 

Wyoming-At Large: Republican Rep. Liz Cheney is adding another $190,000 to her ad reservations after launching her first TV ad yesterday

Florida Redistricting: Florida’s Supreme Court ensured that Gov. Ron DeSantis’ favored congressional maps will stay in place for the midterm elections by declining to weigh in on the matter. 

Ad watch: Arrington attacks Mace

Ahead of South Carolina’s June 14 primary, former GOP state Rep. Katie Arrington is out with a new ad accusing GOP Rep. Nancy Mace for aligning with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. 

“The truth is, Nancy Mace is a liberal. She votes with woke New York City liberal AOC nearly 50 percent of the time,” a narrator in the ad says.

Later, the ad features a clip of former President Donald Trump, who has endorsed Arrington, saying, “In the 1st Congressional District, you have another horrendous RINO known as crazy Nancy Mace. She’s a terrible person and she has no idea what she’s doing.”

Mace blamed Trump for the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the Capitol, saying he should no longer lead the party, but has since quieted her criticism.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world 

White House Covid coordinator Ashish Jha said Thursday Covid vaccines could be available for children under 5 as early as June 21 if federal regulators approve them.

The Jan. 6 committee said that its first hearing will include “a summary of its findings about the coordinated, multi-step effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration moved to ban transition care for transgender youth and Medicaid recipients.