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First Read: Hillary Clinton Steps on the Gas

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
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First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

Hillary steps on the gas

In the last few days, Hillary Clinton has been, well, everywhere. On Saturday, she addressed the pro-gay-rights Human Rights Campaign, picked up the endorsement of the National Education Association, and appeared on “Saturday Night Live.” On Monday, she sat down with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie in New Hampshire and unveiled her gun-control proposals. Today, she campaigns in Iowa. It’s remarkable to contrast all of this Clinton activity -- coming as Joe Biden still mulls a presidential bid and as she trails in New Hampshire (but leads in Iowa and elsewhere) -- with her campaign pace in the spring and early summer, when she was going about 5 mph. Now she’s hitting 70 mph and picking up speed. Clinton’s poll position hasn’t improved in the early states (see our NBC/WSJ/Marist polls from the weekend), but she is now running with a different sense of urgency. As Democratic pollster Peter Hart said of Clinton on “Meet the Press” back in August, “She's a terrible frontrunner, but she's a marvelous candidate when she gets into the middle of the race.”

And she seizes -- once again -- on McCarthy’s Benghazi committee comments

Her campaign also is out with a new a national cable TV ad that seizes on House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s comments from last week that the House Benghazi committee was all about hurting Clinton’s poll numbers. And Clinton channeled her “Shame on you, Barack Obama” from 2008 to hit the House Republicans in her interview with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie yesterday. “This committee was set up, as they have admitted, for the purpose of making a partisan political issue out of the deaths of four Americans. I would have never done that, and if I were president and there were Republicans or Democrats who were thinking about that, I would have done everything to shut it down.” Make no mistake: McCarthy’s comments have only benefited Clinton -- and they’ve also made life miserable for McCarthy.

Time isn’t Kevin McCarthy’s friend right now

Speaking of McCarthy, with the leadership elections now set for Oct. 29, time isn’t his friend as he runs to succeed John Boehner as speaker. Think about it: His opponents now have three weeks to thwart his bid. And maybe more importantly, if the Benghazi hearing on Oct. 22 doesn’t go well for Republicans (with Hillary using McCarthy’s comments as a shield), you might have PLENTY of upset House Republicans. So that’s the danger for McCarthy. The good news perhaps is that the additional three weeks gives him more time to shore up his position. But those three weeks could also make things worse.

Politico: It was Joe Biden himself who spoke to Maureen Dowd

Politico reports, citing multiple sources, that it was Joe Biden himself who talked to Maureen Dowd – for Dowd’s column in the New York Times that Biden was thinking about running in 2016 to fulfill his son Beau’s dying wish. Here’s that Aug. 1 Maureen Dowd column: “Beau was losing his nouns and the right side of his face was partially paralyzed. But he had a mission: He tried to make his father promise to run, arguing that the White House should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values.” NBC News hasn’t yet confirmed that Biden himself was Dowd’s source. But this isn’t a good story for Biden. Why? Biden’s biggest political strength, by far, has been his emotional authenticity. But this story kind of undercuts that. Who appears to be the calculating politician now?

Why the current gun debate isn’t a good issue for Bernie Sanders

While Mr. Sanders has outflanked Hillary Rodham Clinton by appealing to liberals, his record on gun-related issues could be a potential vulnerability in a Democratic contest in which he is not accustomed to facing doubts about his liberal credentials,” the New York Times says. “Mr. Sanders voted against the Brady Bill in the 1990s, requiring background checks, when he was in the House of Representatives. And in 2005, he voted in favor of a bill to shield gun manufacturers and dealers from lawsuits. (Mrs. Clinton, then a senator from New York, voted against that bill, and is pledging to repeal it as part of her gun control plan.) After the Newtown, Conn., shootings, Mr. Sanders, by then a senator, voted for expanding background checks and banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.” And guess what: The gun debate is going to continue at least through Friday, when President Obama travels to Oregon to visit with the families of the victims of last week’s tragic shootings.

Is Marco Rubio now the favorite in the GOP race?

“A series of strong performances on the campaign trail and missteps by other candidates have helped improve Marco Rubio's presidential prospects, and some top party operatives say the Florida senator is for now the favorite to win the GOP presidential nomination,” NBC’s Perry Bacon writes. And Rubio was on “Today,” where he said that gun control measures would have done nothing to prevent the Oregon shooting. And he deflected criticism about his missed votes in the Senate, saying that “the majority of the job of being a senator isn’t walking onto the Senate floor and lifting your finger on a non-controversial issue and saying which way you’re going to vote. The majority of the work of a senator is the constituent service.” So being a senator isn’t about voting?

Trump -- so far -- hasn’t been spending his money

Finally don’t miss this piece by MSNBC’s Ari Melber: Donald Trump has BARELY been spending money. “Trump campaign officials say he has only spent about $2 million – far less than fellow GOP candidates Dr. Ben Carson and Sen. Ted Cruz, for instance. each spent $5.5 million just through July, according to the latest FEC reports. Hillary Clinton’s campaign, meanwhile, spent $18 million in the same period; that’s nine times Trump’s entire spending to date.” We’ll see what the next campaign filing says come Oct. 15.

On the trail

Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are both in Iowa… So are Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee…. Marco Rubio and George Pataki campaign in New Hampshire… And Martin O’Malley hits Nevada.