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Democrats Start Out With Advantage in Virginia's General Election

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: Ralph Northam
Virginia Democratic candidate for governor, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, with his wife Pam, left, son Weston, and daughter Aubrey celebrate his victory in the Democratic primary during an election party on June 13, 2017 in Crystal City, Virginia. Northam faced former congressman Tom Perriello in Tuesday's primary.Cliff Owen / AP

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.

Democrats start out with advantage in Virginia’s general election

We witnessed a highly competitive race in last night’s gubernatorial primaries — but it wasn’t on the closely watched Democratic side, where Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam beat former Rep. Tom Perriello by 12 points, 56%-44%. Instead, it was the Republican contest that turned out to be the nail-biter, with GOP frontrunner Ed Gillespie edging Prince William County Chair Corey Stewart by just 4,000 votes, 44%-43%. What was especially stunning is that Gillespie had the money, the establishment support, the higher name ID, and was facing a highly flawed challenger in Stewart (who had made protecting Confederate monuments a pillar of his campaign) — and he barely won.

Democrats start out with the advantage in this fall’s Northam-vs.-Gillespie general election. One, turnout suggests Democrats have enthusiasm on their side: There were more than 540,000 votes in the two-person Dem race, while the three-person GOP contest had 366,000 votes. (That turnout disparity looks like New Jersey, not Virginia.) Two, Democrats today hold a unity event with Northam and Perriello, while Republicans aren’t unified. “There is one word you will never hear from me, and that’s ‘unity,’” Stewart told supporters, per the Washington Post. And three, President Trump’s job approval rating in Virginia is in the 30s. Add them all up, and you’d rather be Ralph Northam than Ed Gillespie, although we still have five months to go.

Virginia is no longer a purple state

One way to look at the closer-than-expected Gillespie-vs.-Stewart race is that Trump’s wing of the party is one the rise; this is no longer your Bush 43 party in which Gillespie served. The other way is that GOP moderates fled the party, with Northern Virginia Republicans voting in the Democratic contest (Virginia voters can pick which primary they want to participate in). “There's a new name for the voters most people thought of as VA's moderate Republicans a few years ago: Democrats,” observed the Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman. “VA is not a swing state,” he added. Indeed, Republicans have now gone 1-9 in major Virginia statewide races (for president, governor, U.S. Senate) since 2004.

Yes, Trump was contemplating firing Mueller — until his staff stepped in

“Last month’s appointment of Robert S. Mueller III as a special counsel to investigate possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia enraged President Trump. Yet, at least initially, he holstered his Twitter finger and publicly said nothing,” the New York Times writes. “But behind the scenes, the president soon began entertaining the idea of firing Mr. Mueller even as his staff tried to discourage him from something they believed would turn a bad situation into a catastrophe, according to several people with direct knowledge of Mr. Trump’s interactions.”

So his staff and advisers were able to calm down the president. But what about next week? Next month? Next year? Bottom line: Trump clearly can’t compartmentalize the Russia probe, and that is a troubling development for a probe that’s not ending anytime soon.

Sessions helped himself personally, but he didn’t help Trump

That’s our takeaway from Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Senate testimony yesterday. Sessions got headlines for strongly denying that he colluded with Russians (even though no one was accusing him of collusion). NBC News: “Jeff Sessions: ‘Appalling and Detestable Lie’ to Accuse Him of Colluding With Russians.” But Sessions didn’t help Trump — by sticking by his earlier assertion that Comey was fired due to his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation (when Trump himself has said it was because of the Russia investigation), and by invoking executive privilege (even though President Trump hadn’t directly asserted it).

Trump calls GOP House health-care bill “mean”

NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell: “In a meeting with Republican senators Tuesday to discuss health care reform, President Donald Trump gave them support to move in a different direction from the House-passed version of the legislation which he described as ‘mean,’ according to two Senate aides whose bosses attended the lunch.”

GOP Whip Scalise shot

Finally, here’s the breaking news from NBC’s Alex Moe as we were publishing this morning: “I have two different senior level GOP aides who confirm to NBC News that GOP Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) was shot at the congressional baseball practice this morning. He is in stable condition. One source specifically referenced the hip. Two sources also say one to two Capitol police offices were also shot. More as we have it.” It’s a developing and horrifying situation.