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GOP governors rush to the right as primaries loom

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: Kay Ivey
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey gives the annual State of the State address at the Capitol in Montgomery, Ala., on January 9, 2018.Brynn Anderson / AP file

WASHINGTON — If it’s Wednesday ... President Biden calls Russian atrocities in Ukraine a genocide. ... The White House could announce a new military aid package for Ukraine this week … Nevada Democrats push to hold the first presidential primaries. ... And Donald Trump says who he won’t endorse for Pennsylvania governor.

But first: With primary season heating up, some candidates — particularly Republicans — are pushing boundaries as they try to win over the party faithful.

Take Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, who says in her new TV ad, “If Joe Biden keeps shipping illegal immigrants into our states, we're all gonna have to learn Spanish. My message to Biden: No way Jose.”

That spot comes after an Ivey ad where she said directly into the camera, “The fake news, big tech, and blue state liberals stole the election from President Trump.” (Trump has not yet endorsed in the race.)

In Oklahoma, Gov. Kevin Stitt, who has been getting hammered on the airwaves by dark money groups and picked up a primary challenger last week, signed a bill making it a felony to perform abortions in the state.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis is clashing with Disney, one of his state’s largest employers, over the company’s opposition to the so-called “don’t say gay” bill. DeSantis doesn’t face a primary challenger this year, but he could be eyeing a run for president in 2024.

Their moves all raise some questions: Just how far are candidates willing to go to please their party’s base? And could it backfire, even in ruby red states?

It did in Kansas, where Democrats are still trying to reap the benefits of the backlash to former GOP Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax cuts. Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s latest ad ties Attorney General Derek Schmidt to Brownback, calling Schmidt “Brownback’s top defender” and warning, “He will take Kansas back to Brownback.”

Data Download: The number of the day is … $9.5 million

That’s how much three Republican candidates for governor in Alabama have spent on ads so far in an increasingly competitive race, according to the ad tracking firm, AdImpact. And at this point, it’s a race to the right in the Republican primary as businessman Tim James and former U.S. Ambassador to Slovenia Lynda Blanchard seek to oust Gov. Ivey.

Blanchard has spent the most on ads so far, over $4.1 million. Meanwhile, Ivey has dropped $3.2 million on commercials and James has spent $2.2 million on ads. In recent weeks, all three candidates have touted right-wing stances on social issues in an attempt to woo as much of the Republican primary electorate as possible ahead of the May 24 primary election.

James, for example, found a target in an Alabama grade school that seeks to provide an affirming education to LGBTQ students. “Right here in Alabama, millions of your tax dollars are paying for the first transgender public school in the South,” James says in one recent ad. “Male and female. He created them,” James adds later in the spot.

The school James mentioned has had to increase security in the last few weeks, following the premiere of James’ ad.

Other numbers to know:

500 million: The number of confirmed Covid cases globally since the start of the pandemic, according to an NBC News tally.

8.5 percent: The amount prices rose in March, year over year, according to a new report out Tuesday from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s the highest rate since December 1981.

$750 million: The amount of money in a new aid package to Ukraine that the Biden administration could announce as soon as this week, according to NBC News’ Courtney Kube and Carol E. Lee.

80,653,415: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials.

991,256: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far.

Tweet of the day

Midterm roundup: Trumps stirs PA pot

Trump has yet to endorse in the GOP primary for governor in Pennsylvania, but he made it clear he won’t back former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain. Trump said in a statement Tuesday that McSwain “did absolutely nothing on the massive Election Fraud that took place in Philadelphia and throughout the commonwealth” (there is no evidence of massive election fraud in 2020).

State Sen. Jake Corman was moving to drop out of the race, but reversed course after reportedly receiving a call from Trump, per the Philadelphia Inquirer. Corman has pushed for a partisan investigation into the 2020 election results.

Elsewhere on the campaign trail:

Arizona Senate: Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich raised $765,000 in the first quarter of 2022 for his GOP Senate primary campaign. And Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly released a new TV ad highlighting his work as an astronaut.

Iowa Senate: At a town hall in Iowa on Tuesday, GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley said he would not be in favor of repealing the Affordable Care Act. Despite the fact that Grassley has voted to repeal parts of the ACA in the past, he reassured voters he would not do it again.

New Hampshire Senate: State Sen. Chuck Morse raised $750,000 in the first quarter in his race for the GOP Senate primary in New Hampshire, per WMUR, which also reported that former Londonderry town manager Kevin Smith raised $410,000. That means Hassan, who announced a $4.3 million haul, vastly outraised her GOP opponents.

Pennsylvania Senate: Former hedge fund manager David McCormick raised $4.3 million in the first quarter, per Axios, which cited a source close to the campaign who said McCormick will report “additional self-funding.” Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman defended his actions in 2013 when he pulled a gun on a Black man who was jogging, telling NBC10 “it’s impossible to say” if he would do the same today, and stressed he did not know the man’s race when he pursued him.

Wisconsin Senate: Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who is running for Senate, announced Tuesday that he opposes Biden’s plan to lift Title 42, which has been used to bar immigrants during the pandemic, because the administration does not have a plan for how to address asylum seekers, Barnes told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Vermont Governor: GOP Gov. Phil Scott said he has not decided if he’s going to run for re-election this year, but he’ll make a decision by mid-May.

Iowa 03: Biden’s low approval ratings have raised questions about whether vulnerable Democrats will steer clear of the president, but Rep. Cindy Axne appeared with Biden in Iowa yesterday as he touted the bipartisan infrastructure law, per the Des Moines Register).

Oregon 06: Democrats running in Oregon’s new congressional district criticized the Pelosi-aligned House Majority PAC’s decision to support Carrick Flynn in the race, backing a white man over women and candidates of color. Flynn has also garnered support from the crypto-funded Protect Our Future PAC, which has already spent over $2 million on ads backing his candidacy.

Ad watch: Beasley’s first TV spot

Democrat Cheri Beasley is launching her first TV ad of the North Carolina Senate race, highlighting her legal career as she focuses on the general election.

“This is the road I used to take to the Fayetteville courthouse,” Beasley says as she drives a white S.U.V. in the ad, shared first with NBC News.

“As a public defender, I represented North Carolinians who couldn’t afford a lawyer – because everyone has a right to representation, no matter who you are or where you’re from. As a judge and Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, I led with a commitment to justice and integrity,” adds Beasley, the first Black woman to lead that state’s high court.

“It’s the same approach I’ll take to the Senate, because Washington isn’t listening, and I’ll be a voice for all of North Carolina,” she says.

The ad is part of a six-figure buy on statewide broadcast networks. Her spot is also a sign that Beasley is focused on introducing herself to general election voters as Republicans battle it out ahead of the May 17 primary.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Nevada Democrats are waging a fierce campaign to host the first presidential primary, which would knock Iowa and New Hampshire out of their current first-in-the-nation spots.

In the case of a New York City subway shooting that injured ten on Tuesday, city police officials named a person of interest.

New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin resigned on Tuesday, following his arrest in a campaign finance fraud case.