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Sarah Palin returns to electoral politics but she's no slam dunk to make it to Congress

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.
Sarah Palin
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin leaves a courthouse in New York, on Feb. 14, 2022.Seth Wenig / AP file

WASHINGTON — If it’s Monday ... Zelenskyy makes a video appearance at Grammys, urging viewers to “tell our story, tell the truth about the war.” ... President Biden and Transportation Secretary Buttigieg speak on trucking and the U.S. supply chain. ... The Senate Judiciary Committee votes on Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination. ... Mass shooting kills six in Sacramento. ... Michigan GOP candidates repeat false claims about 2020 election, per NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard. ... And Barack Obama’s back at the White House on Tuesday.

But first: Sarah Palin is running for Congress, and she just picked up Donald Trump's endorsement.

Yet she's far from a slam dunk to win.

For starters, Palin is one of 51 total candidates who filed for the June 11 special primary to replace the late Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, and that includes Republican Nick Begich III (who hails from a famous political family in the state) — around whom many state GOPers had been coalescing before Palin's entry.

Then there's the state's new Top 4 primary system, where the Top 4 finishers in the June 11 primary — regardless of party — advance to the general election, NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard reports. That makes this a far different race than your traditional special election. (It’s a big reason why Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, remains a favorite to survive the Trump-led primary challenge against her in August.)

Next is the ranked-choice balloting when you get to the August general election. Alaska’s Top 4 primary, plus the ranked-choice voting, was designed to benefit candidates with crossover appeal and independent credentials (read: candidates not like Palin).

Then there’s the question of whether Palin — who famously (or infamously) resigned as the state’s governor — has the local juice to win a statewide contest in Alaska, where voters have tended to opt for stability and political dynasties.

The final complication for Palin, as Hillyard notes: This special election is just to fill the remaining days of Young’s term in Congress. The primary day for the full two-year term, beginning in 2023, is on Aug. 16, the same day as the special general election.

Palin’s got plenty of name ID and celebrity. But the other factors in this race present a big challenge for the former VP nominee.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 5

That’s how many lawmakers bucked their parties during Friday’s vote on a House bill to legalize marijuana. The legislation passed the House by a vote of 220-204, with Democrats largely supporting the bill, and Republicans voting against it.

Three Republicans — Tom McClintock of California, as well as Matt Gaetz and Brian Mast of Florida — voted for the bill, per NBC’s Rebecca Shabad. And two Democrats — New Hampshire’s Chris Pappas and Texas’ Henry Cuellar — voted against it.

Rep. Conor Lamb, D-Pa., who is running for Senate, voted for the measure after voting against the bill in 2020 while running for re-election in a competitive House seat. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review noted the new version of the bill included a Lamb amendment that would direct agencies to study the impact of marijuana on children and workplace safety. Lamb’s chief opponent in the Senate primary, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, is a well-known supporter of marijuana legalization.

Other numbers you need to know today:

$300 million: The estimated value of weapons, vehicles and other resources the U.S. is supplying to Ukraine to assist in its war against Russia.

$12,000: The amount of money former GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter and his wife agreed to pay in fines to the Federal Election Commission over the misuse of campaign funds.

18: The number of months a Florida man was sentenced to prison for making threatening phone calls to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, D-N.Y.

80,355,326: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials.

987,401: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far.

Midterm roundup: 20(20) questions

Former President Donald Trump rallied supporters in Michigan on Saturday, where he once again repeated false claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent and boosted his preferred candidates, NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard and PJ Tobia report from the rally in Washington Township.

Those candidates, and others vying for Trump’s endorsement, echoed Trump’s claims in interviews with NBC. Trump has not weighed in on the gubernatorial contest, but James Craig, a top candidate in the race, attended the rally and would not say whether he would have certified the 2020 election.

“I’ve already said that I would call for a forensic audit to understand the issue. So I’m not going to have you try to back me into a corner,” Craig said, dodging repeated questions from Hillyard.

Republican John Gibbs, the Trump-backed candidate taking on Michigan GOP Rep. Peter Meijer, who voted to impeach Trump after Jan. 6, told NBC that he believes Trump won the 2020 election.

Elsewhere on the campaign trail:

North Carolina 11: GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn responded to the outrage about his comments saying his colleagues used cocaine and invited him to sex parties by saying “the left and the media” used his comments “to disparage my Republican colleagues and falsely insinuate their involvement in illicit activities.” Cawthorn’s campaign, meanwhile, placed a $54,000 ad buy as he preps for a May 17 primary, per AdImpact. And Cawthorn is scheduled to speak at a Saturday Trump rally in North Carolina.

Pennsylvania Senate: Lt. Gov. John Fetterman didn’t attend yesterday’s Democratic Senate debate, but that didn’t stop Rep. Conor Lamb and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta from attacking the frontrunner, per the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Georgia 07: Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath placed her first TV ad spending tracked by AdImpact, spending $74,000 on the airwaves in her race against fellow Democratic Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux.

Georgia Senate: Former football star Herschel Walker, the top GOP Senate candidate, has “repeatedly misrepresented his academic credentials,” CNN reports.

Utah Senate: Trump endorsed Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, on Friday. Lee faces multiple challengers in his race, including the anti-Trump former presidential hopeful, Evan McMullin.

Ohio Senate: A new outside group in Ohio, Buckeyes for a Strong Ohio, has booked over $300,000 worth of time on the airwaves. The group is running spots attacking former state GOP Chair Jane Timken, who’s running for the Republican nomination for Senate.

Ad watch: Targeting RonJohn

A new TV ad from Opportunity Wisconsin, shared first with NBC News, targets Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., over his personal wealth. The spot features an Air Force veteran who says Johnson “is supposed to serve Wisconsin. Instead, he served himself,” and called Johnson’s actions “a dereliction of duty.”

The ad echoes other similar spots from the group that note Johnson doubled his wealth while in office and accuse him of personally benefiting from a loophole in the 2017 tax law. Johnson has said he pushed for the provision to help businesses remain competitive and it “had nothing to do with any donor or discussions with them.”

The anti-Johnson Opportunity Wisconsin has outspent every other group and campaign on the airwaves so far in the Senate race, dropping $5.8 million on ads. The latest spot is part of a nearly seven-figure campaign, per a statement from the group, and it will air on broadcast and cable networks, as well as digital platforms, in the Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, and Wausau media markets.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Starting May 23, migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. will once again be allowed to present at the border as the Biden administration lifts Title 42.

Former President Barack Obama will return to the White House on Tuesday to celebrate the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act.

Politico explores how the Wisconsin Democratic Party has built an energetic and formidable powerhouse ahead of the midterms.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will leave her post in May to take on a role at MSNBC, CNBC reports. NBC News and MSNBC share the same parent company, NBCUniversal.