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The May primary wars are about to begin

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: Don Blankenship
Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Don Blankenship speaks at a town hall meeting at West Virginia University on March 1, 2018 in Morgantown, West Virginia.Spencer Platt / Getty Images file

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WASHINGTON — It seems like an eternity since the last 2018 midterm primaries — in Texas and Illinois — took place back in March, right? But the intraparty contests restart beginning next week. And the ones that occur in the month of May are some of the most competitive and fascinating races we’ll see all year.

Here are the five primary fights we’ll be watching in May:

  • Bloody Indiana (May 8): The Republican race to take on vulnerable Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., began with a pair of GOP congressmen – Luke Messer and Todd Rokita – whose own personal feud dates back to their days in college. And now it involves a third candidate, wealthy former state Rep. Mike Braun, who voted as a Democrat until 2012. “Drunken driving, self-dealing and false advertising,” NBC’s Jonathan Allen and Ali Vitali write. “Those are just some of the charges voters here are sifting through in a brutal three-way Republican primary that will determine who gets to take on … Donnelly.”
  • The Mountaineer State Melee (May 8): The dynamics of the GOP primary in West Virginia for the right to challenge Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., are pretty similar to the Indiana race — but with one BIG difference. Republican Congressman Evan Jenkins, R-W.V., and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey have been running for a while to take on Manchin. Then Don Blankenship, who was sentenced to prison for violating mine-safety standards, jumped into the race. Unlike in Indiana, where national Republicans aren’t resistant to Braun, GOP groups have been trying to sink Blankenship. And a recent Fox News poll showed him running third.
  • Ohio’s Obama-Era progressive vs. the Bush-Era progressive (May 8): The Democratic gubernatorial primary in Ohio has largely come down to a battle over who is more progressive — former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau head Richard Cordray, who was put into that role by Barack Obama, and former Congressman and 2004/2008 presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich. As the New York Times asks, “Who has the truest claim to progressivism in 2018, when both candidates can credibly grab at the label? Is it better to be liberal on guns (Mr. Kucinich) or the bane of the banks (Mr. Cordray)? To be a fire-breather or a bit of a square?” Kucinich, however, has come under Dem fire for receiving $20,000 for a speech to a pro-Assad group and for praising Trump’s inaugural address.
  • The race to forget John Kasich (May 8): The winner of the Cordray-vs.-Kucinich race will take on the victor of the GOP primary to replace term-limited Republican Gov. John Kasich — between state Attorney General (and former U.S. Senator) Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor. The hitch here is that Taylor, Kasich’s No. 2, has criticized the outgoing governor. “Asked to evaluate Kasich's legacy as governor, Taylor said she feels Kasich started off OK, but eventually "walked away from conservative principles,” Taylor said at a quasi-debate earlier this month.
  • Stacey vs. Stacey (May 22): The Democratic gubernatorial primary in Georgia between former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (who is African American) and former state Rep. Stacey Evans (who is white) has been perhaps the nastiest Democratic primary contest of 2018. The winner faces a competitive GOP field including Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

Trump crows about the news coming out of North Korea. But it only raises expectations on the upcoming summit

On Friday, we wrote that Korean peace could be a real accomplishment for Trump and his administration. And at his rally in Michigan on Saturday, the president crowed about the potential achievement. “What do you think President Trump had to do with it? I'll tell you what. Like, how 'bout everything?” he said.

But also over the weekend, the New York Times reminded us that this story is FAR FROM resolved. “While the two Korean leaders pledged to rid the heavily armed peninsula of nuclear weapons, they put no timeline on that process, nor did they set out a common definition of what a nuclear-free Korea would look like. Instead, they agreed to pursue a peace treaty this year that would formally end the Korean War after nearly seven decades of hostilities.”

“The talk of peace is likely to weaken the two levers that Mr. Trump used to pressure Mr. Kim to come to the bargaining table. A resumption of regular diplomatic exchanges between the two Koreas, analysts said, will inevitably erode the crippling economic sanctions against the North, while Mr. Trump will find it hard to threaten military action against a country that is extending an olive branch.”

“‘This summit has put even greater expectations, greater hype and greater pressure on Trump,’ said Victor D. Cha, a Korea scholar at Georgetown University who was considered by the Trump administration to be ambassador to Seoul. ‘He hyped this meeting with his tweets, and now the entire focus is going to be on his negotiating prowess.’”

Comey: House Intel release was a “political document”

“Former FBI Director James Comey on Sunday dismissed the findings of a GOP report claiming there is no evidence President Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russians during the 2016 election. He added that, as a former prosecutor, he has ‘serious doubts’ about Trump’s credibility as a potential witness. Comey called the recently released report by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee “a political document” during an interview on ‘Meet The Press,’” per NBC’s Kailani Koenig.

“‘That is not my understanding of what the facts were before I left the FBI and I think the most important piece of work is the one the special counsel's doing now,’ Comey added.”

Ronny Jackson won’t return to his old job at the White House

President Trump spent the weekend criticizing — and attacking — Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., for Ronny Jackson’s withdrawal as the nominee to be VA secretary. “Secret Service has just informed me that Senator Jon Tester’s statements on Admiral Jackson are not true. There were no such findings. A horrible thing that we in D.C. must live with, just like phony Russian Collusion. Tester should lose race in Montana. Very dishonest and sick!” Trump tweeted.

But it’s worth pointing out that 1) Senate Republicans didn’t object to Tester’s public campaign against Jackson, and 2) Jackson won’t be returning to his old job at the White House. Politico: “White House physician Ronny Jackson will not return to his role as the president’s personal physician, according to two senior administration officials, after a string of allegations caused the Navy rear admiral to withdraw his nomination last week to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. Sean Conley, a Navy officer who took over Jackson’s role as the president’s personal doctor last month, will continue in the role, the officials said.”

Mystery solved: We now know why that Trump-Macron tree went missing

This was a curious story yesterday:“A mystery is brewing at the White House about what happened to the oak tree President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron planted there last week,” per the AP. “The sapling was a gift from Macron on the occasion of his state visit. News photographers snapped away Monday when Trump and Macron shoveled dirt onto the tree during a ceremonial planting on the South Lawn. By the end of the week, the tree was gone from the lawn. A pale patch of grass was left in its place.”

“The White House hasn’t offered an explanation.”

But now we have an answer: France's ambassador to the U.S. tweeted, “It is in quarantine which is mandatory for any living organism imported to the US. It will be replanted afterwards.”

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