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Here are the seven big midterm stories we're watching

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 /
Image: Rashida Tlaib celebrates at her campaign headquarters in Detroit after winning the Democratic primary race to succeed longtime Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) on Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018.
Rashida Tlaib celebrates at her campaign headquarters in Detroit after winning the Democratic primary race to succeed longtime Rep. John Conyers on Aug. 7.Anthony Lanzilote / The New York Times / Redux Pictures

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WASHINGTON — As Labor Day approaches — marking two months before Election Day 2018 — all eyes will be on the battle for control of Congress (Democrats need to pick up a net of 23 House seats and two Senate seats to flip those chambers), as well as the gubernatorial contests across the country. But there are seven other big midterm stories we’ll be watching from now until November:

1. The Trump Factor

Typically, midterms are referendums on the sitting president. And with just two modern-day exceptions (in 1998 and 2002), the midterms have been rough on the party controlling the White House. Polling shows that voters — especially independents — prefer an outcome that would “check and balance” Trump. The symbolic races to showcase this story: IN-SEN, KS-GOV, VA-10, CA-48.

2. The Year Of The Woman

No matter which party wins in November, this election season will usher in an unprecedented number of female senators, governors and members of Congress. Nineteen women have already won a Senate primary; 13 have won gubernatorial primaries; and a whopping 198 have already won their primary for the House — all smashing historical records. The symbolic races to showcase this story: AZ-SEN, MI-GOV, CA-39, IA-1, KY-6, WA-5.

3. The Year of Veterans For Office

We’ve also seen a slew of Democratic veterans — Conor Lamb in PA-18, Mikie Sherill in NJ-11, Gina Ortiz Jones in TX-23, MJ Hegar in TX-31, Elaine Luria in VA-2, Jason Crow in CO-6 and Jared Golden in ME-2 — running for Congress this season.

4. A Year Of More Firsts

This cycle could potentially see the election of the nation’s first transgender governor (Christine Halliquist in Vermont), the first female African-American governor (Stacey Abrams in Georgia), the first Native American governor (Paulette Jordan in Idaho), the first Muslim congresswomen (Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota), the first Native American women in Congress (Sharice Davids in Kansas and Deb Haaland in New Mexico) and the youngest women ever elected to Congress (Alexandria Ocasio Cortez in New York).

5. The Issues

In the battle for the House, Republicans are largely trying to paint Democratic opponents as too liberal — citing immigration policy and support from Nancy Pelosi. See: NV-SEN, ND-SEN, CA-45. Meanwhile, Democratic candidates have steered a lot of resources to the top issue for Democrats this cycle (per NBC/WSJ polling), which is health care. See: MO-SEN, NV-SEN, WV-SEN.

6. The Pelosi Factor

With more than 50 Democratic nominees and current incumbents saying they would NOT vote for Nancy Pelosi as speaker, according to NBC’s count, there is REAL uncertainty about who would be the Democrats’ leader in the House if they win control of the chamber in November.

7. The 2020 Factor

And then there’s how 2018 influences the next election cycle. A Democratic victory likely increases the chances that Trump gets a GOP primary challenger (John Kasich? Jeff Flake?). Potential 2020 Democrats (like Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders) have endorsed numerous ‘18 candidates, and they will campaign for them in the fall. And two 2020 possibilities — Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, Sanders in Vermont — are on the ballot in November.

It’s primary day in Alaska and Wyoming

Alaska holds one of the more interesting gubernatorial contests this cycle — a three-way race between incumbent Gov. Bill Walker (the nation’s only independent governor), Democrat Mark Begich (who lost his U.S. Senate seat in 2014) and the winner of Tuesday’s GOP primary (most likely former state Sen. Mike Dunleavy).

The three-way nature of the race presents some uncertainty: Are Republicans worse off with three candidates in this GOP-leaning state? Or better off? Does Walker drop out with his path to victory looking less than likely? (The deadline before the ballot is set is Sept. 4.) The Cook Political Report currently rates AK-GOV as a “toss up.”

In Wyoming, there are crowded Republican and Democrat fields to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. Matt Mead. (One of the headliners on the GOP side is megadonor Foster Friess.) Cook rates it “solid R.”

And Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., is getting primary challenge from a handful of Republicans.

Russian hackers targeted conservative groups that broke with Trump

As we wrote a few weeks ago, the REAL TELL about President Donald Trump’s commitment to stopping Russian interference is if he says or does anything about it. Well, what say you, Trump administration?

The New York Times: “The Russian military intelligence unit that sought to influence the 2016 election appears to have a new target: conservative American think tanks that have broken with President Trump and are seeking continued sanctions against Moscow, exposing oligarchs or pressing for human rights.”

“In a report scheduled for release on Tuesday, Microsoft Corporation said that it detected and seized websites that were created in recent weeks by hackers linked to the Russian unit formerly known as the G.R.U. The sites appeared meant to trick people into thinking they were clicking through links managed by the Hudson Institute and the International Republican Institute, but were secretly redirected to web pages created by the hackers to steal passwords and other credentials.”

Trump: 'I could run [the Mueller investigation] if I want'

“President Donald Trump says that he has chosen to stay out of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation — but he claimed that he is ‘totally allowed’ to be involved in the probe and could even ‘run it.’”

“‘I've decided to stay out,’ Trump said in an interview with Reuters published Monday. ‘Now, I don't have to stay out. I can go in and I could do whatever. I could run it if I want,’” per NBC News.

“‘I’m totally allowed to be involved if I wanted to be. So far, I haven’t chosen to be involved. I’ll stay out,’ Trump said.”

It looks like the Trump White House was able to change the subject away from Omarosa

By the way, notice who hasn’t been in the news lately — Omarosa. We’ve gotta guess that the Brennan-security-clearance story really did change the subject.

Trump heads to West Virginia for rally

At 7:00 p.m. ET, Trump holds a rally in Charleston, West Virginia, where he’ll campaign for Republican Patrick Morrisey and against incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., in the Senate contest.

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