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Democrats might have a better chance to flip the Senate than you think

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.
Phil Bredesen, Claude Ramsey
Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen speaks at a ceremony in Chattanooga on Oct. 29, 2015.Erik Schelzig / AP file

WASHINGTON — Here’s a question to ponder: Who would you rather be right now — Republican Josh Hawley in Missouri’s Senate race or Democrat Phil Bredesen in Tennessee's? If your answer is Bredesen (who has a slight lead in the polls) over Hawley (who’s essentially tied as Missouri looks to impeach the state’s GOP governor), then it’s not all that hard to see how Democrats could gain the net of two seats they need to win the Senate in November.

Here’s our latest Top 10 Senate takeover list ranked in order of most likely to flip parties (the number in parentheses is the rank from our last list in March):

  1. Nevada – R (1)
  2. Arizona – R (3)
  3. North Dakota – D (2)
  4. Tennessee – R (9)
  5. Missouri – D (4)
  6. Indiana – D (6)
  7. West Virginia – D (5)
  8. Florida – D (8)
  9. Wisconsin – D (7)
  10. Montana – D (unranked in March)

So if the first two Senate races on our list flip parties (Nevada and Arizona) and nothing else does, then Democrats net their two-seat pickup. Ditto if just the first four seats (Nevada, Arizona, North Dakota, Tennessee) switch hands.

The problem for Democrats is that if Republicans win in Missouri, Indiana and West Virginia, that would ensure that the GOP keeps control of the Senate.

And remember, our Top 10 list is what these races look RIGHT NOW. After all, it’s very possible that the GOP gains ground in red Tennessee after likely nominee Marsha Blackburn consolidates Republican support. What’s more, the GOP could be stronger in Indiana and West Virginia after their divisive primaries end on Tuesday. And Florida bears watching as Republican Rick Scott pours millions of dollars into that Senate contest. (If you think Florida at #8 is too low on our list, you’d still probably want to be Democrat Bill Nelson in purple Florida than Joe Manchin in red West Virginia.)

But right now — with Election Day 2018 exactly six months away this Sunday — Democrats have a much better shot of winning the Senate than you might think.

Giuliani to NBC: Trump only recently found out he reimbursed Cohen

“President Donald Trump only recently found out that he reimbursed his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, for a $130,000 nondisclosure agreement with adult performer Stormy Daniels just days before the 2016 election, his lawyer Rudy Giuliani claimed Thursday,” per NBC’s Kristen Welker.

“In a telephone interview with NBC News, Giuliani insisted he only shared details of the payment with Trump about a week ago. ‘I don't think the president realized he paid him (Cohen) back for that specific thing until we (his legal team) made him aware of the paperwork,’ he said.”

“Giuliani said the president responded, ‘Oh my goodness, I guess that's what it was for.’”

Trump addresses an NRA that’s less popular after Parkland

President Trump today heads to Dallas, where he speak at the National Rifle Association’s leadership forum at 1:45 pm ET. And as our March 2018 NBC/WSJ poll shows, the NRA’s popularity has declined after the tragic Parkland shooting.

Per the poll, 37 percent view the NRA positively, versus 40 percent who see it negatively — the first time it’s been underwater in our poll since 1999.

And don’t forget that the NRA has potential exposure to the Russia investigation. Here was McClatchy from earlier this year: “The FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency, two sources familiar with the matter have told McClatchy. FBI counterintelligence investigators have focused on the activities of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA, the sources said. It is illegal to use foreign money to influence federal elections.”

Ousted House chaplain gets his job back

Remember that story of the ousted House chaplain that we said was emblematic of our polarized political times? Well, that chaplain got his job back. NBC’s Rebecca Shabad and Alex Moe: “Speaker Paul Ryan reversed himself Thursday and said that the Rev. Patrick Conroy, the chaplain of the House of Representatives whom Ryan forced out of his position last month, can keep his job. Ryan's announcement came shortly after Conroy told Ryan that he was rescinding his resignation.”

“The move comes a week Ryan's move to push him out created a firestorm among lawmakers on Capitol Hill. By Friday of last week, more than 100 House members had signed onto a letter to the speaker's office demanding an explanation for Ryan's decision. ‘I have accepted Father Conroy's letter and decided that he will remain in his position as Chaplain of the House,’ Ryan, R-Wis., said in a statement Thursday.”

More: “The move came roughly two hours after Conroy released a letter stressing his intent to stay in his position. ‘I have never been disciplined, nor reprimanded, nor have I ever heard a complaint about my ministry during my time as House chaplain,’ Conroy wrote in a two-page letter to Ryan that was obtained by NBC News. Conroy also claimed in the letter that Ryan chief of staff Jonathan Burks told him, when asked why he was being let go, ‘something like “maybe it's time that we had a Chaplain that wasn't a Catholic.”’ Ryan himself is Catholic.

Missouri calls special legislative session to consider Greitens’ impeachment

So it sure looks like there is going to be an impeachment in 2018 — in Missouri. “The Missouri General Assembly has taken the historic step of calling itself back into special session to decide whether to impeach Gov. Eric Greitens,” The Kansas City Star writes. “According to the petition signed by 138 House members and 29 senators — both more than the three-fourths required in each chamber to call a special session — lawmakers will consider the findings and recommendations of a House committee investigating Greitens, ‘including, but not limited to disciplinary actions against Gov. Eric R. Greitens.’”

“The special session would begin at 6:30 p.m. on May 18, immediately after the legislature adjourns its regular session for the year. It will mark the first time in Missouri history that lawmakers have called a special session themselves instead of relying on the governor to do so,”

Blankenship is under fire for another anti-McConnell ad

Finally, Republican Don Blankenship, who is running for the Senate in West Virginia, is under fire after releasing an ad that attacks Mitch McConnell’s “China family.” Asked about the ad by NBC’s Ali Vitali last night, Blankenship responded: “In order to have a racist statement you have to mention a race or a derogatory comment about a race. What country a person resides in or was born in has nothing to do with that. ... It’s about countries. ... It’s not about race.”