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Minnesota is the land of 10,000 political races in 2018 (well, almost)

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: Rep. Keith Ellison meets supporters after a town hall meeting
Rep. Keith Ellison meets supporters after a town hall meeting at the Church of the New Covenant-Baptist on Dec. 22, 2016 in Detroit.Sarah Rice / Getty Images, file

WASHINGTON — Minnesota, which holds its primary contests on Tuesday, might not feature the buzziest Senate race, the No. 1 gubernatorial matchup or the most talked-about House contests for this November. But it holds the distinction of hosting the MOST notable contests — up and down the ballot — we’ll see for any one state in 2018, especially for its size.

Two vulnerable GOP House incumbents (Jason Lewis in MN-2 and Erik Paulsen in MN-3). Two competitive open House seats currently held by Democrats (MN-1 and MN-8). Two U.S. Senate races, including the seat once held by former Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn. An open-seat gubernatorial contest, where former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty is trying to make a comeback. And you can even throw in the race for state attorney general, where Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., is running (and finds himself in controversy).

That’s a total of eight Minnesota races to watch in November. And you could argue that whichever party wins a majority of these contests will probably hold the upper hand in the 2018 midterms. It’s possible that Democrats could run the table in Minnesota — or close to it. And it’s also possible that Republicans could pick up two Democratic-held House seats, as well as Minnesota’s governor’s mansion.

So in which direction are the political winds currently blowing in Minnesota? Well, according to last month’s NBC/Marist poll of the state, Democrats hold a double-digit lead in congressional preference; President Trump’s job rating among registered voters is below 40 percent; and Democrats lead in the competitive Senate and gubernatorial races.

Five takeaways from Omarosa’s interview on “Meet the Press”

1. She has a recording of Chief of Staff John Kelly — in the Situation Room, of all places — appearing to threaten her if her departure from the Trump White House isn’t “friendly”

“I think it's important to understand that if we make this a friendly departure we can all be, you know, you can look at your time here in the White House as a year of service to the nation. And then you can go on without any type of difficulty in the future relative to you reputation,” Kelly says in the tape recording.

2. She produced a document from Trump’s 2020 campaign offering her $15,000 a month in return for no disparagement

"During the term of your service, and at all times thereafter, you hereby promise and agree not to demean or disparage publicly, in any form or through any medium, the Campaign, Mr. Trump, Mr. Pence, any Trump or Pence Company, any Trump or Pence Family Member, or any Trump or Pence Family Member Company, or an asset any of the foregoing own..."

3. She says the president is “mentally declined” and can’t process complex information

“I was complicit with this White House deceiving this nation. They continue to deceive this nation by how mentally declined he is, how difficult it is for him to process complex information, how he is not engaged in some of the most important decisions that impacts our country. I was complicit and for that I regret.”

4. She alleges she’s heard tape of Trump using the N-word

“After I closed the book, I had an opportunity to go out in Los Angeles and sit down with the person who actually has a copy of the tape. And I heard his voice, as clear as you and I are sitting here… And I know it exists. And, what I regret is that these people are probably trying to leverage it as this October surprise and I don't want to be a part of that.”

5. She says Trump never used the N-word in her presence

“I was in his presence when he said inappropriate things but he has never said the n-word in my presence. Ever.”

Omarosa’s other tape: Trump expressing surprise that she was fired

And on “Today” this morning, Omarosa released a recording of President Trump – after the day she was fired – expressing surprise about her departure from the White House.

“‘Omarosa? Omarosa what’s going on? I just saw on the news that you’re thinking about leaving? What happened?’ Trump is heard saying on the tape, which Newman said was made one day after her termination in December 2017 when Trump called her.”

“Newman responds, ‘General Kelly—General Kelly came to me and said that you guys wanted me to leave.’”

“‘No…I, I, Nobody even told me about it,’ Trump replies.

“Newman then says, ‘Wow,’ before Trump reiterates his shock.”

“‘You know they run a big operation, but I didn’t know it,’ Trump is heard saying on the tape. ‘I didn’t know that. Goddamn it. I don’t love you leaving at all.’”

“NBC News does not know what was said before or after that exchange. The White House had no comment when asked about the exchange between Trump and Newman.”

White House struggles to name a single senior African American working in the West Wing

NBC’s Kristen Welker: “Seven months after Omarosa Manigault Newman departed the Trump administration under a cloud, the White House struggled on Sunday to identify any African-American serving in a senior role in the West Wing. After two days of questions to communications officials from NBC News, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Sunday that Henry Childs II, a Commerce Department official on loan to the White House’s Office of Public Liaison since May, is carrying out many of the duties Manigault Newman had as an assistant to the president and director of communications for that office.”

“Separately, Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to President Donald Trump, could not name a single senior official working today in the West Wing who is African-American. Pressed by ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl in an interview on ‘This Week,’ Conway at first pointed to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, who does not work at the White House. She did not mention Childs but talked instead about a staff member she identified as ‘Ja'Ron,’ who she said helps Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, on prison reform policy. She acknowledged that Ja'Ron, whose last name is Smith, does not work in the West Wing and noted that ‘we have a number of different minorities’ working at the White House.”

Counter-protesters outnumbered white nationalists who arrived in DC

“The hundreds of counter-protesters who congregated in Lafayette Park on Sunday, just steps away from the White House, dwarfed the fewer than 20 people who showed up for the second Unite the Right rally, a gathering aimed to bring together multiple white nationalist organizations. In total thousands took to the streets to protest the group's presence and purpose,” per NBC News.

“Jason Kessler, the white nationalist organizer of the Unite the Right rally, was accompanied by a few dozen people when he arrived at the Vienna, Virginia, subway station at about 2 p.m. ET. There they boarded three train cars and went to the Foggy Bottom stop in Washington. But when they arrived, their number appeared to have dwindled to fewer than 20 individuals — though Kessler acquired a permit that allowed for up to 400. The entire event appeared haphazard, disorganized and did not carry a clear message. First it began well before the intended 5 p.m. ET start time, then organizers decided to depart early when it started to rain across the nation's capital.”

Rudy Giuliani says Trump and Comey did NOT have a conversation about Michael Flynn — even though Giuliani acknowledged the Flynn conversation last month

“Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s lead personal lawyer, said on Sunday that the president never had a conversation last year with James B. Comey, then the F.B.I. director, about ending the investigation into the fired national security adviser Michael T. Flynn, contradicting a memo Mr. Comey wrote at the time,” the New York Times writes.

“Mr. Giuliani’s statement, made during an appearance on CNN’s ‘State of the Union,’ also appeared at odds with his own previous comments… Last month, when pressed on ABC News by George Stephanopoulos about whether Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey he hoped he could see his way to ending the Flynn case, Mr. Giuliani interrupted him to say that Mr. Trump did not say that. ‘What he said to him was, “Can you give him a break?”’ Mr. Giuliani said in that interview.”