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The final big contest of 2018 all comes down to turnout

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: Mike Espy and Cindy Hyde-Smith
Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democrat Mike Espy during their televised debate in Jackson, Mississippi.Rogelio V. Solis / Pool via AP

WASHINGTON — Tuesday is the Senate runoff in Mississippi between appointed Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., and Democratic challenger Mike Espy. And, not surprisingly, this race — taking place five days after Thanksgiving and with control of the U.S. Senate already settled — all comes down to turnout.

Hyde-Smith’s path to victory in this state that President Donald Trump won by 18 points in 2016 is by getting Republican voters to the polls, which is why the president campaigned there yesterday.

Espy’s path to an upset is by turning out African-American voters — who made up 33 percent of voters in the initial free-for-all primary on Nov. 6 — winning just enough white voters, and making sure that other Republicans simply don’t vote.

As the Cook Political Report’s Jennifer Duffy put it: “Democrats hope that Hyde-Smith’s missteps will energize African-American and non-Republican white voters and that these two groups will turn out in high enough numbers to topple Hyde-Smith. Sound familiar? It should as it is the same proposition that Democrats used to win the special election in Alabama in December of 2017.”

But: “If there are similarities, there are also differences. The most important is that Hyde-Smith is not former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, the GOP nominee in the Alabama special election. Hyde-Smith may be proving to be an inept candidate, but unlike Moore, no one is stepping forward to accuse her of being a pedophile, nor has she been suspended from the state Supreme Court twice for ignoring the Constitution.”

Some numbers to keep in mind:

  • In the initial primary, Hyde-Smith got more than 41 percent of the vote, Espy got nearly 41 percent and Republican Chris McDaniel got 16 percent.
  • Among white voters (who made up 63 percent of the electorate on Nov. 6), Hyde-Smith got 60 percent, McDaniel 24 percent and Espy 15 percent.
  • Among African-American voters (who made up a third of the electorate), Espy got 91 percent, Hyde-Smith got 4 percent and McDaniel 1 percent.
  • Trump’s job rating in the state, per the exit poll: 59 percent.

Polls close in Mississippi at 8:00 p.m. ET.

Mississippi’s racial history is the backdrop for Senate runoff

NBC’s Jonathan Allen and Vaughn Hillyard: “Racial tension permeates the air in [Mississippi] like humidity — thick and stifling at certain times, less noticeable at others, but always present… Hyde-Smith ensured that racial issues would be a consideration when she was captured on video earlier this month saying that she would be "on the front row" if one of her supporters was somehow involved with a "public hanging" and invited her to attend.’”

More: “Since then, Hyde-Smith has insisted there was no ‘negative connotation’ to what she said, offered a qualified apology at a debate, and watched as video of her encouraging voter suppression, a photo of her in a Confederate cap and a news story about her attendance, and that of her daughter, at private white ‘segregation academies’ have made the rounds in the state.”

And: “For most black voters and more than a few whites here, her original remark was an all-too-familiar echo of a political, economic and social history characterized by oppression and injustice: slavery, mob lynchings, Jim Crow laws, segregation and the bloody battles over civil and voting rights for non-whites. Some Democrats saw it as yet another sign that some whites feel far less constrained since the election of President Donald Trump in 2016.”

Democrats are now on the verge of winning 40 House seats

Yesterday, Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, conceded in UT-4, and NBC News and other media organizations retracted their calls for Rep. David Valadao as the winner in CA-21 after Democratic challenger TJ Cox took a narrow lead in that race after more votes had been counted.

That now puts Democrats at 39 net House pickups, and it could reach 40 if Cox ends up winning in CA-21.

The uncalled House races (one)

CA-21 (NBC retracted its call of GOPer David Valadao as the winner; Dem TJ Cox leads by some 400 votes)

— UT-4 (NBC declared Dem Ben McAdams the apparent winner)

Mueller: Manafort lied, breaking his plea agreement

“Federal prosecutors asked a judge on Monday to sentence former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, saying he broke his plea agreement by lying to the FBI and investigators for special counsel Robert Mueller,” per NBC’s Alex Johnson and Tom Winter. “Manafort, 69, was convicted of eight counts of tax evasion and bank fraud in August. In September, he agreed to cooperate with Mueller's investigation when he pleaded guilty to two new counts and admitted his guilt to 10 counts outstanding from the earlier trial in Virginia.”

“On Monday, prosecutors with Mueller's office told the court that ‘after signing the plea agreement, Manafort committed federal crimes by lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Special Counsel's Office on a variety of subject matters, which constitute breaches of the agreement.’”

If Manafort did indeed lie, why — and on what subject matter? How does Mueller know Manafort lied? And is Manafort banking on a presidential pardon?

One other thing to consider, per sharp-eyed legal eagles: Mueller’s move on Manafort comes AFTER Trump turned in his answers on Russia’s interference. Given that Manafort and Trump have a joint-defense agreement that allows them to share confidential information about the Russia probe, what if Mueller is signaling something about Trump’s own answers?

As Jeffrey Toobin said on CNN last night, "If I were Trump, I would be unnerved that Mueller's office knows enough about the facts of this case to say 'You're lying.' How do they know that? Who told them? What documents do they have? What tapes do they have? That has got to be unnerving.”

Make no mistake: GM's layoffs are bad news for Trump

After Trump promised to bring back automotive jobs in the industrial Midwest and gave businesses big corporate tax cuts, this isn’t good news for the president…

The Washington Post: “Amid global restructuring, General Motors announced Monday it would reduce its North American production and salaried and executive workforce. The Detroit-based automaker said it would not be allocating any production to Oshawa Assembly in Ontario, Lordstown Assembly in Ohio and Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly in Michigan after December 2019. It will also stop allocating production at propulsion plants in White Marsh, Md., and Warren, Mich., after December 2019. The company will also be discontinuing production of low-selling models made at those plants throughout 2019, including the Chevrolet Impala, Cruze and Volt, the Cadillac CT6 and the Buick LaCrosse."

Trump criticized GM’s move. "I spoke with her when I heard they were closing, and I said: 'You know, this country’s done a lot for General Motors, you better get back in there soon. That’s Ohio,'" he said yesterday, per NBC’s Jonathan Allen. "I have no doubt, but in the not-too-distant future, they’ll put something else. They better put something else in.”

But Democrats put the blame on Trump. Said Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio: “You're the president of the United States. You made promises to workers, you did well in this area because you promised that you'd be different than both Democrats and Republicans over the years, and you didn't lift a damn finger to help out.”

Added Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, on MSNBC’s “Hardball”: “He gave a 50 percent-off coupon in the tax bill he jammed through Congress to these companies to move.”

Trump on the hostilities between Russia and Ukraine: 'Not good'

On Monday, we noted that Trump hadn’t tweeted/commented about the news that Russia had seized Ukrainian vessels in the Black Sea.

He finally commented on it Monday when departing to campaign in Mississippi.

QUESTION: Will you have any response to Russia firing on the Ukraine, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: Not good. We're not happy about it at all. Not at all. We've let our position be known, and we're not happy about it.

Compare that response on Russia to how Trump tweeted about Robert Mueller this morning: “The Phony Witch Hunt continues, but Mueller and his gang of Angry Dems are only looking at one side, not the other. Wait until it comes out how horribly & viciously they are treating people, ruining lives for them refusing to lie. Mueller is a conflicted prosecutor gone rogue....”