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Pennsylvania Senate contests offer clearest examples of changing party politics

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: Dave McCormick
David McCormick, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, meets with attendees during a campaign event at the Round the Clock Diner in York, Pa., on April 4, 2022.Matt Rourke / AP file

WASHINGTON — If it’s Friday ... Audio reveals House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy saying he’d ask Donald Trump to resign after Jan. 6, contradicting McCarthy’s earlier denial. ... NBC’s Dasha Burns captures the explosive exchange at last night’s Pennsylvania Senate Democratic debate. ... President Biden delivers Earth Day remarks from Seattle. ... A new ad goes after Madison Cawthorn in N.C. 11. ... NBC’s Natasha Korecki reports on the progressive-vs.-establishment tensions inside the Nevada Democratic Party. ... And all eyes are on France’s presidential runoff on Sunday.

But first: In 2012, Conor Lamb (military vet, successful campaigner, moderate credentials) and David McCormick (West Point grad, Bronze Star, service in Bush 43 administration, wealthy self-funder) would have been sure bets to be their respective party’s nominees for Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat.

Yet in 2022, both are struggling before the May 17 primary, with Lamb trailing John Fetterman by double digits in the public polls, and with McCormick losing out on Donald Trump’s endorsement to Mehmet Oz.

It all reflects how much both political parties have changed, and it’s why Pennsylvania’s Senate race is arguably the most fascinating midterm contest to watch this year.

On the GOP side, celebrity now trumps — pun intended — everything. (See Trump’s endorsements of Oz, J.D. Vance and Herschel Walker.)

On the Democratic side, being the moderate in the race is now a liability rather than a strength — at least for right now. (Just look at the Fetterman vs. Lamb fundraising numbers below.)

And for both Fetterman and Oz, having outside-the-box brands and quirky demeanors are now worth their weight in political gold in today’s environment.

All that said, there’s still a month to go in these contests. As the Cook Political Report’s Jessica Taylor notes, McCormick has a geographical advantage (as the only GOP candidate from western part of the state) and plenty of money. And Fetterman had a shaky debate performance Thursday night.

But the two political parties ... they have been a-changing.

Data Download: The number of the day is … $2.6 million

That’s how much more Fetterman has spent on ads in the Democratic primary so far than Lamb has. Fetterman’s campaign has spent $4 million as of Thursday evening, per AdImpact, while Lamb has spent $1.4 million. But Lamb has also had support from the super PAC Pennsylvania Progress, which has spent nearly $1.1 million on ads. State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta has spent just $262,000.

The disparity is a product of Fetterman’s broader financial advantage in the race. So far, he’s raised $15.1 million, while Lamb has raised $5.7 million. Fetterman also had more cash on hand, with $4.2 million in his campaign account as of March 31, while Lamb’s campaign had $2.2 million.

Lamb’s campaign has reserved $1.8 million more in future airtime through the primary, which exceeds Fetterman’s $671,000 according to AdImpact’s tracking. But that can change fast, as the candidates set their strategies for the final stretch.

Other numbers you need to know today:

12: The number of Democrats in competitive races who have opposed the Biden administration’s decision to lift the Title 42 border rule, NBC News’ Adam Edelman reports.

3: How many Ohio GOP House members Trump endorsed yesterday, ahead of the state’s May 3 primary. Trump Backed Reps. Brad Wenstrup, Bill Johnson and Mike Carey.

4: That’s how many days Philadelphia’s latest indoor mask mandate was in effect for, starting Monday before the Board of Health voted to axe it by Thursday.

81,065,030: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials.

995,525: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far.

Tweet of the day

Midterm roundup: Debate clash over 2013 gun incident

Covering Thursday night’s Democratic Pennsylvania Senate debate in Harrisburg, NBC’s Dasha Burns reports that the most explosive exchange came after a question about a 2013 incident, when frontrunner John Fetterman chased an unarmed Black jogger with a shotgun after saying he heard gunshots.

Asked if he would do anything differently about the incident today, Fetterman said he’s “the only Democrat on this stage that has successfully confronted crime and gun violence.”

His top rival, Conor Lamb, responded, “Not only will John not admit that to pointing, he won't admit that he was pointing the gun at this person. He also won’t really answer your question as to whether he did anything wrong and should have done it differently. And I just think that's disqualifying for any of us who have to work hard to gain the trust of the black community.”

Then state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, who is Black, asked Fetterman if he would apologize for the incident.

Kenyatta: "Did you point a 20-gauge shotgun at the chest of a black man? And you have an opportunity, with all of Pennsylvania watching, to say 'I'm sorry.' Are you gonna say 'I'm sorry' today, John?"

Fetterman: "Alright, that never happened. That never happened."

Kenyatta: "So you still refuse to say I'm sorry? To this day?"

Fetterman: "I'm the only Democrat that successfully confronted gun violence."

Kenyatta: "You're the only Democrat who used a shotgun to chase down an unarmed black man."

Burns also reports that other contrasts emerged on suspending the federal gas tax (Fetterman for, the others against), the wealth tax (spurring Fetterman’s line of the night “you’ll know it when you see it” for who should pay more), marijuana legalization (Fetterman says let’s go, Lamb wants to take it slow).

Elsewhere on the campaign trail:

Alabama Senate: Republican Mike Durant is up with a new spot refuting an attack ad that includes his 2011 comments about gun control as a “false attack.”

Arizona Senate: The NRSC is launching a “seven-figure” TV ad buy aimed at Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, with a new ad tying Kelly to Biden on immigration

North Carolina Senate: Former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory is trying to paint GOP Rep. Ted Budd as liberal in a new ad by noting how billionaire George Soros invested in a family company. Meanwhile, Budd’s new spot features President Trump praising Budd at a recent rally.

New Hampshire Senate: The GOP primary to take on Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan got a little more crowded with investor and entrepreneur Vikram Mansharamani jumping into the race, per WMUR.

Illinois Governor: Bloomberg profiles billionaire Ken Griffin, who is sinking millions into an attempt to replace Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

South Carolina 01: GOP Rep. Joe Wilson endorsed Republican Katie Arrington in her primary bid against one of his own colleagues, fellow GOP South Carolina GOP Rep. Nancy Mace, per The State newspaper.

FL redistricting: The GOP-led Florida state House passed a new congressional map pushed by GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis Thursday, which gives Republicans an advantage and eliminates a Black-majority congressional seat, after a Democratic sit-in.

Silver State scramble: NBC’s Natasha Korecki has been reporting from Nevada, one of the most important states on the 2022 midterm map, and one where Democrats are at a crossroads.

Some Democrats have raised concerns infighting between moderates and progressives could hurt the party in a difficult midterm environment. But in a lengthy interview with NBC News, progressive state party chair Judith Whitmer didn’t sound like a revolutionary attempting to upend Harry Reid’s legacy. Instead, she downplayed spats that have unfolded in the past with the Reid Machine, the faithful operatives and politicians who broke into their own entity, Nevada Democratic Victory.

At the same time, she insisted that establishment Democrats also must come to the table, noting Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 caucus victory.

Ad watch: Cawthorn under attack

An outside group in North Carolina is attacking Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., ahead of his May 17 primary in the state’s 11th district.

Results for NC started running a new ad on Thursday, accusing Cawthorn of lying about his acceptance into the Naval Academy. “In perpetual pursuit of celebrity, Cawthorn will lie about anything,” the ad’s narrator says.

Though the ad doesn’t offer any alternative candidates, Results for NC backs state Sen. Chuck Edwards, a Republican seeking to oust Cawthorn in the primary. According to FEC filings, it’s funded by a variety of individuals in and out of North Carolina.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

President Joe Biden is losing the support of young voters, a group Democrats need to turn out in the 2022 midterms to retain control of Congress.

Vice President Kamala Harris’ chief of staff is leaving the White House.

Two men pleaded guilty on Thursday to misusing donations solicited to build a wall on the U.S-Mexico border.