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Here are five spring primaries that could hurt Dems' chances to win back the House

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.
by Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann /
Rep. Brad Ashford
Rep. Brad Ashford, D-Neb., speaks during the House Democrats' news conference to discuss the post-9/11 GI bill at the Capitol on April 14, 2016.Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

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WASHINGTON — In their battle for control of the House, Democrats have caught some important breaks over the past few months. Pennsylvania’s new congressional map. The narrow win in PA-18. And key GOP retirements, including Paul Ryan’s.

But over the next month, Dems — and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, specifically — face at least five primary hurdles they need to clear. And if they trip on most (or all) of them, those failures will erase the potential gains they received from Pennsylvania’s new map, hurting their chances to win back the House.

Three of the five hurdles are in California, where the state’s “Top 2” primary system could shut out Dems from the general election in districts Hillary Clinton carried in 2016.

CA-39 (June 5 primary): In the race to succeed retiring Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., the conventional wisdom is that Republican Young Kim is assured of being in the Top 2, but the race for the other slot is a margin of error contest between Dem Gil Cisneros (whom the DCCC prefers), Republican Bob Huff and Dem Andy Thorburn. The DCCC is airing negative TV ads against Huff and another Republican, Shawn Nelson. The Cook Political Report currently lists CA-39 as LEAN D.

CA-48 (June 5 primary): Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., is potentially vulnerable, but Democrats are sweating making the Top 2 after former Orange County GOP Chair Scott Baugh got into the race in a district where Republican primary voters still outnumber Democrats. The top Democrats are Hans Keirstead and Harley Rouda. And the Los Angeles Times reports that the DCCC just named Rouda to its “Red to Blue” program. Cook has CA-48 as TOSS UP.

CA-49 (June 5th primary): This is the race to replace retiring Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and the top Democrats are Doug Applegate and Sara Jacobs; Dems feel good about Applegate’s chances to make the Top 2, and there’s a chance two Democrats could qualify for the general. The top Republicans are Diane Harkey and Rocky Chavez. Cook has CA-49 as LEAN D.

Outside of California, Democrats have two additional hurdles to clear later this month:

NE-2 (May 15): In the race to take on Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., Democrats have a primary between former Congressman Brad Ashford (who narrowly lost to Bacon in 2016) and Kara Eastman, who’s backed by progressive groups. Dems don’t believe Ashford will have a problem beating Eastman, but it’s a race worth watching. Cook has NE-2 as TOSS UP.

TX-7 (May 22): Earlier this year, the DCCC received plenty of criticism for dropping oppo on one of their own candidates — Laura Moser — because the committee thinks it disqualifies her as a general election candidate against incumbent Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas. Moser still advanced to the run-off against Lizzie Fletcher, but national Democrats have warned they won’t play in this expensive Houston district that Hillary Clinton won in 2016 if Moser is the nominee. The CW, however, is that Fletcher has a slight lead for the runoff. Cook has TX-7 as TOSS UP.

Bottom line: Democrats will consider it a success if they clear at least four of these five hurdles; it will be manageable (but not ideal) for them if they clear three; and it will be a near-disaster if they clear only two or fewer. So the next month of primaries — especially the ones in California — will be crucial for Democrats in their quest to take back the House.

WaPo: In the Midwest, Trump has lost sway with some of his supporters

The Washington Post’s Dan Balz writes about the conversations he’s had with Trump supporters over the last 15 months. “Among the president’s true loyalists, his grip remains strong. Among others who supported him, that hold has weakened. Almost no one, even his most ardent supporters, appreciates the president’s tweets, although for some it is less the content that offends them and more the worry that it reveals a volatile president unable to control his impulses.”

Balz adds, “But there is a deeper unease that filters through conversations with some of those who voted for him, a recognition that to gain something, they must give something — that to see policy changes they favor they must tolerate behavior they sometimes find inexcusable. For Trump, political risk lies in the degree to which dissatisfaction with the disorder and conduct outweigh any achievements that his voters expected to see. That holds implications for this November’s midterm elections but even more so for 2020.”

A trio of stories coming from the Trump White House

These three different stories came out in a single day:

White House aide mocks McCain’s cancer

“A top White House communications aide made fun of Sen. John McCain's brain cancer diagnosis on Thursday, sources with direct knowledge said — comments that enraged the senator's wife,” per NBC’s Kristen Welker, Ken Dilanian, Geoff Bennett and Alex Johnson. “The comments, which were first reported by The Hill, a Washington political newspaper, came during a meeting a day after McCain, R-Ariz., announced that he was opposing the nomination of Gina Haspel to be permanent director of the CIA. "He's dying anyway," said Kelly Sadler the White House's director of surrogate and coalitions outreach, according to three sources with direct knowledge of the meeting.” (NBC’s Kasie Hunt reports that Republican supporters of John McCain on Capitol Hill are privately livid about the remarks made about him.)

Chief of staff says undocumented immigrants “don’t integrate well; they don’t have skills”

And in an interview with NPR, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said this about undocumented immigrants: “Let me step back and tell you that the vast majority of the people that move illegally into United States are not bad people. They're not criminals. They’re not MS13. … But they're also not people that would easily assimilate into the United States into our modern society. They're overwhelmingly rural people. In the countries they come from, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-grade educations are kind of the norm. They don't speak English; obviously that's a big thing. … They don't integrate well; they don't have skills. They're not bad people. They're coming here for a reason. And I sympathize with the reason. But the laws are the laws. … The big point is they elected to come illegally into the United States, and this is a technique that no one hopes will be used extensively or for very long.” (As The Atlantic’s Andrew Exum points out, “Literally everything that Kelly says about this generation’s immigrants could have been said about the Irish who arrived in the 19th Century or the Italians who came over in the 20th Century.”)

DHS secretary almost resigns after being berated by Trump

“Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary, told colleagues she was close to resigning after President Trump berated her on Wednesday in front of the entire cabinet for what he said was her failure to adequately secure the nation’s borders, according to several current and former officials familiar with the episode,” per the New York Times. (NBC’s Pete Williams reports that Nielsen says she isn’t leaving her job.)

Rundown on the 2018 midterms

In case you missed them, here are some of the recent midterm developments we’ve chronicled on our Rundown blog: The 2018 generic ballot has been steadier than you think… Also: Independent voters are close to outnumbering Republicans in California… And Trump, in Indiana last night, stayed on message — and gave Joe Donnelly a new nickname.

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