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Five things to watch in tonight's midterm primaries and runoffs

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: Stacey Abrams
Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams speaks during the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 25, 2016.J. Scott Applewhite / AP file

WASHINGTON — It’s Primary Day in Arkansas, Georgia and Kentucky, while it’s Runoff Day in Texas (for the Top 2 candidates who didn’t surpass 50 percent of the vote back in March). And here are the questions we have heading into tonight’s contests:

1. How many women end up winning?

As we wrote yesterday, female candidates are playing a starring role in Tuesday’s races — from Stacey Abrams vs. Stacey Evans in Georgia’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, to Lizzie Fletcher vs. Laura Moser in TX-7 and Amy McGrath vs. Jim Gray in KY-6.

2. How strong do Democrats look in Georgia?

It’s going to be fascinating to compare the Democratic vs. Republican vote totals from tonight’s competitive gubernatorial primaries in Georgia — just to get a read on the Democrats’ chances here in the fall. By the way, if no Republican in the crowded GOP field surpasses 50 percent, the Top 2 head to a runoff that’s TWO MONTHS from now on July 24. The GOP frontrunners are Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

3. Do Houston-area Democrats go for the establishment choice or the progressive?

So far, last week’s result out of NE-2 — where progressive Kara Eastman upset the establishment-backed Brad Ashford – has been the exception rather than the rule. But it could start looking like a trend if progressive Laura Moser upsets the Dem establishment’s preferred candidate in Lizzie Fletcher in the TX-7 runoff. But as the Texas Tribune’s Abby Livingston has observed, this runoff has become a bit boring, with ideology and national politics taking a backseat to local issues.

4. Does the pro-Bernie Sanders group Our Revolution continue to lose more races?

Speaking of Moser, the pro-Bernie Sanders group Our Revolution has endorsed her, as well as Rick Trevino, who’s the underdog to Gina Ortiz Jones in today’s TX-23 runoff. But as Politico has written, the group is in disarray and it can’t claim any 2018 victories as its own (although the group has Stacey Abrams in Georgia, but so do almost all other national Dem groups).

5. Who wins out in the increasingly competitive KY-6 race?

In today’s Dem primary to challenge vulnerable Rep. Andy Barr, R-Ky., Lexington Mayor Jim Gray faces off against retired Marine Lt. Col. Amy McGrath. The contest has turned negative after Gray aired a negative TV ad against McGrath, highlighting how she recently moved to the district.

Two articles Monday undermined key Trump arguments from the 2016 campaign

In the 2016 election, Donald Trump made two arguments: 1) Hillary Clinton’s personal email server put U.S. security at risk, and 2) he was the person who was going to drain Washington’s “swamp.” Well, two stories released yesterday undermine the thrust of those Trump arguments.

Here’s Politico: “President Donald Trump uses a White House cellphone that isn’t equipped with sophisticated security features designed to shield his communications, according to two senior administration officials — a departure from the practice of his predecessors that potentially exposes him to hacking or surveillance. The president, who relies on cellphones to reach his friends and millions of Twitter followers, has rebuffed staff efforts to strengthen security around his phone use, according to the administration officials.”

And here’s the AP: “[Elliot] Broidy and his business partner, Lebanese-American George Nader, pitched themselves to the crown princes as a backchannel to the White House, passing the princes' praise — and messaging — straight to the president's ears… In return for pushing anti-Qatar policies at the highest levels of America's government, Broidy and Nader expected huge consulting contracts from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, according to an Associated Press investigation based on interviews with more than two dozen people and hundreds of pages of leaked emails between the two men. The emails reviewed by the AP included work summaries and contracting documents and proposals.”

More: “Broidy's campaign to alter U.S. policy in the Middle East and reap a fortune for himself shows that one of the president's top money men found the swamp as navigable as ever with Trump in office.”

Rubio: China is beating Trump in the trade negotiations

“On Sunday, the Trump administration surprised the business world by announcing it would pull back on its plan to impose tariffs on Chinese goods. After many months of threats and tweets about China's unfair trading practices, suddenly the U.S. was ‘putting the trade war on hold,’ in the words of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and it was not clear what, if anything, China had to give up in return,” NBC’s Martha White reports. “That led to charges that China had outmaneuvered President Donald Trump.”

Indeed, check out this tweet from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.: “#China is winning the negotiations. Their concessions are things they planned to do anyways. In exchange they get no tariffs, can keep stealing intellectual property & can keep blocking our companies while they invest in the U.S. without limits. #Losing.” Whoa.

The New York Times adds, “Ceaseless infighting and jockeying for influence on the White House’s trade team helped deprive Mr. Trump of a quick victory on his most cherished policy agenda, several people involved in the [U.S.-China] talks said. The deep internal divisions carried over into how officials characterized the agreement and muddied the outlook for the next phase of the negotiations between Washington and Beijing.”

Trump meets with South Korea’s Moon as that high-profile summit with North Korea appears to be unraveling

Sticking with the topic of foreign affairs, President Trump today meets at the White House with South Korean President Moon. And the visit comes amid news that the high-profile summit with North Korea appears to be unraveling. The Washington Post: “Trump advisers have expressed alarm at Pyongyang’s hostile rhetoric and actions over the past week, questioning whether Kim is committed to pledges to seriously discuss denuclearization. The president, who spoke to Moon late Saturday, is expected to further press the South Korean leader on his views of Kim’s willingness to change course on his nuclear program, a White House official said.”

Rundown on the 2018 midterms

In case you missed them, here are the recent developments in the 2018 midterms that we’ve chronicled on our “Rundown” blog: Female candidates will play as starring role in tonight’s primary and runoff contests… Per NBC’s Ali Vitali, Don Blankenship announced a third-party Senate bid in West Virginia (but that flies in the face of the state’s “sore loser” statute barring candidates from running again)… We now know who funded those anti-Blankenship TV ads… A Dem Super PAC is trying to help Bill Nelson in Florida with a new $2.2 million ad buy… And in CA GOV, Gavin Newsom is hitting his fellow Democrat in a new TV ad.