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First Read: This Week in Politics, It's Primary-Palooza

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.
Sen. John McCain attends a Memorial Day Ceremony in Phoenix on May 30.Ralph Freso / AP file

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.

This week’s primary-palooza

As it normally happens during a presidential race, downballot Senate and House contests don’t get as much national attention as they normally would. But over the next 48 hours, the downballot will take center stage, especially with a prominent Republican (John McCain) and Democrat (Debbie Wasserman Schultz) receiving tough primary challenges Tuesday in Arizona and Florida, respectively. Both are expected to win, but the races are hardly easy for the two incumbents. A recent CNN poll had McCain leading GOP challenger Kelli Ward by a 55%-29% margin among likely voters, yet our understanding is that the contest is much closer than that. Ward raised the issue of McCain’s age, saying on MSNBC’s MTP Daily last week: "I want to wish him a happy birthday. He will be 80 years old on Monday." And in Florida, Wasserman Schultz -- who stepped down from her position as DNC chair after the WikiLeaks email dump right before the Democratic convention -- is getting a challenge from Bernie Sanders disciple Tim Canova. The one problem for Canova: South Florida is hardly Bernie Sanders country, given that Hillary Clinton defeated Sanders in Wasserman Schultz’s South Florida district, 68%-31%. The other big primaries we’ll be watching tomorrow also take place in Florida, with incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio (who changed his mind to run for re-election) getting a challenge from businessman Carlos Beruff, and Democrats Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson duking it out to be the Democratic nominee in that Senate race. A reminder: Four incumbents already have gone down to defeat this cycle: Renee Ellmers (R-NC), Randy Forbes (R-VA), Chaka Fattah (D-PA), and Tim Huelskamp (R-KS).

Trump camp goes up with its biggest TV ad buy yet -- and expands spending into five more states

Trump's campaign has announced its biggest ad buy to date, launching its newest TV spot in nine states at a price tag of about $10 million over the next week or so. The new TV ad highlights the GOP nominee's economic message, contrasting his vision with Clinton’s. The campaign had previously aired ads in Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida. The new buy also expands to New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada, Virginia and Colorado. Here’s a reminder of the previous ad-spending disparity between the Clinton and Trump camps -- as of last week. (We’ll update the numbers tomorrow after we get the full confirmation of Trump’s new buy.)

Ad spending to date:

  • Clinton campaign: $68.2 million
  • Pro-Clinton outside groups: $45.7 million
  • Total Team Clinton: $113.9 million

Trump campaign: $4.3 million

  • Pro-Trump outside groups: $14.4 million
  • Total Team Trump: $18.7 million
  • SOURCE: Advertising Analytics/NBC News

Team Trump’s confusion and contradictions on immigration

It’s a good thing that Trump has planned a big immigration-themed speech for Wednesday because, right now, we know less about Trump’s position on immigration -- his signature issue -- than we did a week ago. Here’s a sampling of the confusion and contradictions from yesterday’s Sunday shows:

  • VP running mate Mike Pence: “Nothing has changed about Donald Trump's position on dealing with illegal immigration,” he said on CNN.
  • Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway: “Now, the deportation force, I would like to address that. He hasn't mentioned that since last November,” she said, appearing to back away from Trump’s earlier method of how to remove the 11 million undocumented immigrants from the country.
  • RNC Chair Reince Priebus on Trump’s position is regarding the millions of undocumented immigrants: Well, I mean, you're going to find out from Donald Trump very shortly. He's going to be giving prepared remarks on this issue I think very soon,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press."

And then note the contradiction between Priebus and Pence on “birthright” citizenship, which Trump has called to end:

  • Pence: “Well, I think the whole question of anchor babies, as it's known, the whole question of citizenship, of natural-born Americans is a subject for the future. I think the American people ought to ask it. We look at our whole immigration system and see whether that works and makes sense. But under the laws today in the United States of America -- I think what Donald Trump was referring to is, this is part of the issue that we need to deal with in this country,” he said on CNN.
  • Priebus: “I'm comfortable with [birthright citizenship]. I'm comfortable with it. I'm comfortable with it. I'm comfortable with the Supreme Court rulings on the issue.”

Plouffe on Clinton Foundation: “I think there are legitimate questions”

Also on “Meet the Press” yesterday, former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said inquiries into the Clinton Foundation were legitimate. “I think there are legitimate questions, particularly what [Hillary Clinton] means if she's president. I think they've begun to answer that by saying Bill Clinton will step down from the board.” But Plouffe also stressed the compare that question with Trump’s taxes and business record. “I think there's legitimate questions about the Clinton Foundation, the press is clearly spending a lot of time on that. But I think if you look at both of these candidates in terms of who can you trust and some of these financial dealings, I don't think there's much of a comparison.”

Team Clinton’s debate prep

Finally, here is NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell on Team Clinton’s debate prep: “Ron Klain has served as Obama’s Ebola response czar, chief of staff to Vice Presidents Joe Biden and Al Gore and top lawyer for the Gore recount effort in 2000. Now Klain is at the helm of Hillary Clinton’s debate prep. Klain is working alongside prominent attorney Karen Dunn who served in the Obama White House counsel’s office and as an aide to Clinton in the Senate. Longtime Clinton policy adviser Jake Sullivan is described as ‘playing a big role’ as well. During Clinton’s debate prep sessions, a range of senior staff are welcome to attend and give feedback. Among the sideline coaches: John Podesta, Joel Benenson and Mandy Grunwald. In addition to carefully prepared briefing materials on policy, Clinton’s team has worked to refine her responses to meet debate time limits and to ready herself for the unpredictable. Democratic sources say they are mindful that Trump ‘systematically’ went after his rivals by using the GOP primary debate stage as the main venue to ‘target opponents.’ Clinton allies say the campaign is trying to calibrate expectations and therefore push the view that Trump is a ‘formidable adversary’ and a ‘highly successful TV personality.’ Given the game films from the GOP primary season, expect the Clinton campaign to argue that Trump will swing for the fences as a way to shake-up the dynamics of the race.”

On the trail

Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump don’t have public events today, while Mike Pence campaigns in Georgia… Later this week: Trump hits Washington state (on Tuesday), Arizona (on Wednesday for his immigration speech), and Cincinnati (on Thursday, where he addresses the American Legion convention)… And Hillary Clinton speaks to the American Legion the day before (on Wednesday).

Countdown to Election Day: 71 days