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Democrats' path to retaking the Senate is getting narrower

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: Schumer speaks with reporters following weekly policy luncheons
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill on March 20, 2018.Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

WASHINGTON — In September, we said that Democrats had a clear path to picking up the net of two seats they need to retake the Senate — win in Arizona and Nevada, hold on to all of their seats, or lose just one seat but make up for it with win in Tennessee.

Easy? No. Doable? Yes.

A month later, especially after the Kavanaugh nomination dominated the political headlines for three weeks, that path still exists for Democrats. But it’s looking much more difficult than it did in early September.

Problem #1 for Democrats: Two recent public polls have showed Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., trailing by double digits. And a Democratic loss in North Dakota means that Democrats would have to run the table everywhere else to win the Senate majority.

Problem #2: Two more recent polls have Democrat Phil Bredesen trailing in Tennessee.

Problem #3: Nevada — one of the Democrats’ best pick-up opportunities — is essentially tied. From the NBC/Marist poll that we released yesterday: “[I]ncumbent Republican Sen. Dean Heller gets support from 46 percent of likely voters, while Democratic challenger Jacky Rosen gets 44 percent. When the matchup is expanded to include the Libertarian candidate and ‘none of these candidates,’ which is an option on the Nevada ballot, Heller continues to lead by 2 points, 44 percent to 42 percent. Both results are well within the poll’s margin of error of plus-minus 5.5 percentage points for likely voters.”

An important reminder, however: All of the U.S. Senate races are knife-fights, and it’s very possible that — once the Kavanaugh story fades away and others surface — the North Dakota and Tennessee contests could get closer. And as usually the case with midterm elections, the way the political winds are blowing will matter.

By the way, we will be releasing another state NBC/Marist poll later today…

Yes, Hillary won Nevada in 2016. But don't call it a slam-dunk blue state

Why is the Senate race in Nevada so close, despite the overall political environment that’s benefitting Democrats? Well, check out these statistics:

Just 23.2 percent of adults over 25 in Nevada have a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the American Community Survey’s estimates from 2016. There are just five states with a lower share — and all of them are Trump-friendly states in the American South: Louisiana (23 percent), Kentucky (22.7 percent), Arkansas (21.5 percent), Mississippi (21 percent) and West Virginia (19.6 percent)

And Nevada has the third-lowest share of women over 25 who have a bachelor’s degree or higher, also 23.2 percent. The others: Mississippi (22.6 percent), Arkansas (22.2 percent) and West Virginia (20.1 percent).

The recent Democrat success in Nevada — Obama in 2008 and 2012, Harry Reid in 2010 and Hillary Clinton in 2016 — has been due largely to the growing Latino vote in Nevada. But the college-educated white women that are fueling much of the Democratic resistance across the country? There aren’t as many of them in Nevada as there are in, say, the Midwest.

Without Latinos, Nevada would be a red state…

Trump’s near-silence on Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is deafening

President Trump has had no trouble condemning foreign countries and leaders he disagrees with (Iran, Venezuela, North Korea — before the détente on nuclear weapons). Which is why his near-silence and cautious words regarding journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s death/disappearance are so striking.

The Washington Post: “As Jamal Khashoggi prepared to enter the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, a squad of men from Saudi Arabia who investigators suspect played a role in his disappearance was ready and in place… By the end of the day, a 15-member Saudi team had conducted its business and left the country, departing on planes bound for Cairo and Dubai, according to flight records and the people familiar with the investigation. Turkish officials have previously said they believe that Khashoggi, a prominent journalist and critic of the Saudi government, was killed inside the consulate.”

The Post also has this: “Before Khashoggi’s disappearance, U.S. intelligence intercepted communications of Saudi officials discussing a plan to capture him, according to a person familiar with the information. The Saudis wanted to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia and lay hands on him there, this person said. It was not clear whether the Saudis intended to arrest and interrogate Khashoggi or to kill him, or if the United States warned Khashoggi that he was a target, this person said.”

On Monday, Trump was asked about Khashoggi, and here was his answer: “I am concerned about it, I don't like hearing about it, and hopefully that will sort itself out right now nobody knows anything about it, but there's some pretty bad stories going around, I do not like it.”

And yesterday, when asked about what he knows about Khashoggi’s death/disappearance, he added, “I know nothing right now. I know what everybody else knows — nothing.”

That’s it.

Trump in USA Today: “Medicare for All” will hurt seniors

Given the barrage of Democratic attacks on health care that 2018 Republicans are facing, this USA Today op-ed from President Trump is how the GOP is trying to respond:

“Throughout the year, we have seen Democrats across the country uniting around a new legislative proposal that would end Medicare as we know it and take away benefits that seniors have paid for their entire lives. Dishonestly called ‘Medicare for All,’ the Democratic proposal would establish a government-run, single-payer health care system that eliminates all private and employer-based health care plans and would cost an astonishing $32.6 trillion during its first 10 years.”


“The Democrats' plan means that after a life of hard work and sacrifice, seniors would no longer be able to depend on the benefits they were promised. By eliminating Medicare as a program for seniors, and outlawing the ability of Americans to enroll in private and employer-based plans, the Democratic plan would inevitably lead to the massive rationing of health care.”

In truth, however, many of the Democrats who are running in the most competitive districts and states are NOT supporting Bernie Sanders’ single-payer plan. Instead, they are calling for a public option or Medicare buy-in for those 55 and older.