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The GOP has big top-of-ticket problems in key House battlegrounds

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: Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner celebrates his win over Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn in Chicago
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner celebrates his win over Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, on Nov. 4, 2014, in Chicago.Charles Rex Arbogast / AP

WASHINGTON — Since the Kavanaugh fight, Republican prospects for holding the Senate have brightened, but the situation for control of the U.S. House of Representatives hasn’t really changed. Why?

Here’s one explanation: The GOP has a top-of-the-ticket problem in at least seven states that are home to a combined 29 competitive Democratic pickup opportunities in the House — more than the number needed to flip control of the chamber. Consider:

  • In California, Democrat Gavin Newsom is the overwhelming favorite in the state’s gubernatorial contest, and you have two Democrats in the U.S. Senate race. Number of legitimate House pickup opportunities for Democrats identified by the Cook Political Report: seven (CA-10, CA-25, CA-39, CA-45, CA-48, CA-49, CA-50).
  • In Illinois, Democrat J.B. Pritzker has a double-digit lead over incumbent GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner. Number of legitimate House pickup opportunities for Democrats: four (IL-6, IL-12, IL-13, IL-14).
  • In Michigan’s gubernatorial race, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer is running ahead of Republican Bill Schuette. Number of legitimate pickup opportunities for Democrats: two (MI-8, MI-11).
  • In Minnesota, our new NBC/Marist poll shows Democratic Senate and gubernatorial candidates with clear double-digit leads over their GOP opponents. Number of legitimate pickup opportunities for Democrats: two (MN-2, MN-3).
  • In New York, incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo is the easy frontrunner against Republican Marc Molinaro. Number of legitimate pickup opportunities for Democrats: four (NY-19, NY-22, NY-24, NY-27).
  • In Pennsylvania, incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf and Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., are way ahead in their contests against GOP opponents. Number of legitimate pickup opportunities for Democrats under the state’s new congressional map: six (PA-1, PA-5, PA-6, PA-7, PA-10, PA-16).
  • And in Virginia, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., is lapping Republican Corey Stewart in the state’s Senate race. Number of legitimate pickup opportunities for Democrats: four (VA-2, VA-5, VA-7, VA-10).

By contrast, in the nine toss-up Senate races identified by the Cook Political Report (Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Tennessee and Texas), there are just a combined 10 House pickup opportunities for Democrats.

Bottom line: The races for the House and Senate are playing out on completely different turf. And many of Democrats’ pickup opportunities are taking place in states where Democrats have big advantages at the top of the ticket.

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Democrats up big in Minnesota, per NBC/Marist poll

Speaking of our NBC/Marist poll of Minnesota, here are the numbers from one of us: “The poll finds that 53 percent of likely voters prefer a Congress controlled by Democrats after the November midterm elections, while 41 percent prefer Republicans. Asked another way, if the midterm election was tomorrow, 54 percent of likely voters in the state say they would vote for the Democrat in their district, while just 40 percent choose the Republican.”

More: “Sen. Tina Smith, the Democrat appointed to [Al Franken’s former] seat, leads Republican Karin Housley among likely voters, 54 percent to 38 percent. In the governors’ race between Democrat Tim Walz and Republican Jeff Johnson, Walz leads 55 percent to 38 percent in a head-to-head contest among likely voters. And in Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s re-election race, which has not been considered competitive, Klobuchar is besting GOP opponent Jim Newberger by 30 percentage points, 63 percent to 33 percent, in a head-to-head matchup.”

Trump’s approval rating in Minnesota among likely voters: 38 percent.

And our final state NBC/Marist poll of the week comes out later this afternoon...

How Minnesota differs from Nevada when it comes to education levels

Yesterday, we noted how Nevada ranks near the bottom in adults with a college degree, underscoring how the state shouldn’t be considered a blue state. Well, how does Minnesota compare?

In at least one way, Minnesota looks more like a state like New York or New Jersey than its own neighbors. About 34 percent of adults in Minnesota over 25 have a bachelor’s degree or more, compared with 28.4 percent in Wisconsin, 28.2 in North Dakota and 27.2 percent in Iowa, according to 2017 estimates from the American Community Survey.

U.S. intercepts show crown price sought to lure journalist back to Saudi Arabia

“The crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, ordered an operation to lure Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia from his home in Virginia and then detain him, according to U.S. intelligence intercepts of Saudi officials discussing the plan,” the Washington Post writes. “The intelligence, described by U.S. officials familiar with it, is another piece of evidence implicating the Saudi regime in Khashoggi’s disappearance last week after he entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Turkish officials say that a Saudi security team lay in wait for the journalist and killed him.”

“The intelligence about Saudi Arabia’s earlier plans to detain Khashoggi have raised questions about whether the Trump administration should have warned the journalist that he might be in danger.”

And NBC’s Josh Lederman has this reporting: Missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi checked his cellphone just before entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week, but never read messages sent to him minutes later, screenshots obtained by NBC News show. The screenshots of WhatsApp messages sent to Khashoggi by a friend in the U.S. corroborate the timeline of his disappearance, providing further evidence that he did not leave the consulate, as Saudi Arabia's government has claimed.”

The new rules of the Trump Era: There are no rules when it comes to campaigning during hurricanes

As Hurricane Michael slammed into Florida, President Trump kept his political rally in Erie, Pa. (“It would be very, very unfair” to those waiting in line at the rally, Trump told reporters, per NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell.) But back in 2012, Trump tweeted this: “Yesterday Obama campaigned with JayZ & Springsteen while Hurricane Sandy victims across NY & NJ are still decimated by Sandy. Wrong!”

And in Florida’s gubernatorial contest, the Florida GOP kept its anti-Gillum TV ad on the air – when campaigns typically remove their negative advertising during hurricanes.

There are no rules of decorum. The campaign only goes on…

What Trump got wrong in his health care op-ed

Yesterday, we mentioned Trump’s USA Today op-ed hitting Democrats on “Medicare for All.” Well, as NBC’s Benjy Sarlin writes, there were some major factual errors in Trump’s piece.

The claim: "As a candidate, I promised that we would protect coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions and create new health care insurance options that would lower premiums. I have kept that promise, and we are now seeing health insurance premiums coming down."

The facts: This is false. The White House is actively trying to scale back current protections for pre-existing conditions in significant ways.

The claim: “We are now seeing health insurance premiums coming down.”

The facts: While the picture for individual insurance plans is looking better in 2019 than 2018, the claim is misleading. The administration has taken a variety of steps that independent analysts, including the CBO, say have raised premiums on individual insurance plans by a significant amount.

53,000 voter-registration applications on hold in Georgia

Finally, the AP writes that more than 53,000 voter-registration applications have been sitting on hold with Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is the GOP gubernatorial candidate running against Democrat Stacey Abrams.

“According to records obtained from Kemp’s office through a public records request, Appling-Nunez’s application —like many of the 53,000 registrations on hold with Kemp’s office — was flagged because it ran afoul of the state’s “exact match” verification process. Under the policy, information on voter applications must precisely match information on file with the Georgia Department of Driver Services or the Social Security Administration. Election officials can place non-matching applications on hold. An application could be held because of an entry error or a dropped hyphen in a last name, for example.”

“An analysis of the records obtained by The Associated Press reveals racial disparity in the process. Georgia’s population is approximately 32 percent black, according to the U.S. Census, but the list of voter registrations on hold with Kemp’s office is nearly 70 percent black. Kemp’s office blamed that disparity on the New Georgia Project, a voter registration group founded by Abrams in 2013. Kemp accuses the organization of being sloppy in registering voters, and says they submitted inadequate forms for a batch of applicants that was predominantly black.”