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Hurricane Ian poses major tests for DeSantis and Biden

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: Ron DeSantis
Ron DeSantis, left, with Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, during a news conference, on Sept. 26, 2022, in Largo, Fla.Chris O'Meara / AP

WASHINGTON — If it’s Wednesday ... Hurricane Ian strengthens to Category 4 as it nears Florida. ... Today's scheduled Jan. 6 committee hearing gets postponed due to storm. ... The Senate  advances bill to fund government through December. … Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell backs bipartisan effort to reform Electoral Count Act. ... New York Gov. Kathy Hochul leads GOP challenger Lee Zeldin 54%-37%, per new Siena poll. ... Senate Democrats play defense on crime. ... And it’s officially debate (and forum) season.

But first:  Hurricane Ian is shaping up to be a historic storm. 

It’s already knocked out all the power in Cuba; it’s brought storm-surge flooding to the lower Florida Keys; and more than 2 million Floridians are under evacuation orders, NBC’s Tim Stelloh writes

And with a historic storm come saving lives, rebuilding, leadership and — inevitably — politics. 

Especially when it involves one of America’s most important battleground states. 

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Hurricanes have upended presidencies (see Katrina and George W. Bush). 

They’ve also turned politicians into instant presidential frontrunners (see Sandy and Chris Christie) — before, of course, scandal took them down. 

The challenge for Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who’s already in the discussion when it comes to 2024 and who’s facing re-election in November, is whether he can be a unifying figure during the storm and its aftermath. 

When so much of his political persona and governorship has been anything but unifying in this politically divided state. 

And don’t forget the challenge for President Biden, either — with the midterms and his possible re-election campaign approaching. 

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 7

That’s how many Senate Republicans voted to approve a bill amending the Electoral Count Act in the Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, NBC News’ Frank Thorp and Sahil Kapur Report. The bill is aimed at preventing future efforts to overthrow presidential elections. 

The other GOP members of the Rules Committee who supported the bill were Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer and Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde Smith, who objected to 2020 Electoral College votes on Jan. 6, 2021. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was the only GOP committee member to oppose the bill. 

The bipartisan committee vote is a sign that the bill could have broad support on the Senate floor (a full vote on the measure is not expected until after the November elections). Some House Republicans who opposed a different version in the House last week signaled that they are open to the Senate version.  

Other numbers to know:

155 miles per hour: How fast the maximum sustained winds of Hurricane Ian were as of Wednesday morning, per the National Hurricane Center.

86 months: The length of the prison sentence for a Jan. 6 rioter who assaulted police

29%: The decrease in mortgage applications compared to this week last year as mortgage rates continue to skyrocket

125,000: The Biden administration’s refugee cap for 2023, which is the same target as this past year.  

23 percentage points: Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s edge over Republican Gov. Greg Abbott among likely Latino voters (54%-31%) in a new Telemundo Station Group poll of the gubernatorial race.

Midterm roundup: Time for sweaters — and debates

In an election year, fall doesn’t just mean football, cooler weather and pumpkin spice season. 

It’s also debate season. 

Last night, Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut, faced his GOP challenger, Bob Stefanowski and an independent candidate in a televised debate.

On the other side of the country, three women running for governor in Oregon sparred over abortion, gun rights and homelessness. 

And Republican nominee for Maryland governor Dan Cox addressed a forum at Morgan State University, where he spoke about his position on HBCU funding, K-12 education and abortion (his Democratic opponent, Wes Moore, declined an invitation to attend the forum). 

Across the country, Senate, House and gubernatorial candidates have set a rigorous debate schedule for this fall, finally agreeing to step off the airwaves and face each other in person, so that voters can draw a fair contrast between candidates.

Elsewhere on the campaign trail:

Arizona Senate: The New York Times reports on what’s behind a trend in recent polling in the race — Blake Masters’ struggles with independent voters

Ohio Senate: In a new ad, Ohio Democratic Rep Tim Ryan emphasizes: “I voted with Trump on trade.” It comes shortly after Republican J.D. Vance dropped a new spot on the difference between “TV Tim Ryan” and “D.C. Tim.” 

Oklahoma Senate: Former President Donald Trump endorsed Republican Sen. James Lankford in his Senate bid, after conspicuously not endorsing the GOP incumbent in his primary. 

Wisconsin Senate: The Milwaukee Police Association is backing Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, an endorsement Johnson unveiled this week as he continues to focus on criticizing his opponent, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, on crime.  

Michigan Governor: Trump announced that GOP gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon will join the former president, his endorsed candidates for attorney general and secretary of state, and congressional hopeful John James for a rally this Saturday in Warren. 

Kansas Governor: The issue of transgender students in school sports continues to be a central issue on the airwaves in this race, with the RGA up with a new ad criticizing Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly for vetoing legislation on the issue about a week after Kelly took to the airwaves on it herself

Pennsylvania Governor: State Sen. Doug Mastriano, the GOP gubernatorial nominee, said in 2019 that women who got abortions in violation of a proposed “heartbeat bill” should be charged with murder, NBC News’ Allan Smith reports. Also on Tuesday, Mastriano joined Trump in a tele-rally

Ohio-09: Almost a week after national Republicans slashed their ad reservations in the district, Republican J.R. Majewski is going up on air with his first ad buy of the general election, pegged at $30,000 by AdImpact. 

Ad watch: Democrats play defense on crime

Democrats in two crucial Senate races are taking to the airwaves to defend themselves against allegations that they’re soft on crime.

In Pennsylvania and in New Hampshire, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Sen. Maggie Hassan are out with ads this week featuring law enforcement officers making direct-to-camera appeals to voters.

“Hassan’s done the opposite of defunding the police in every budget as governor, passing increased funding for police and it’s no different with Maggie in the Senate,” one officer says in Hassan’s ad.

Fetterman’s ad, which is funded by his campaign and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, features a law enforcement officer praising the Democrat and attacking his opponent, Republican Mehmet Oz, on crime.

“John Fetterman has the courage to do what’s right. Dr. Oz doesn’t know a thing about crime,” the officer says.

These ads come the same day Herschel Walker, the Republican nominee for the Senate in Georgia, attacked Sen. Raphael Warnock over crime in his own ad.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Europe is investigating leaks on Russian pipelines amid allegations they were the result of attacks. 

During a visit to Japan, Vice President Kamala Harris criticized “disturbing” actions by China.