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New House map in Pennsylvania is a big win for Dems

The new map gives Democrats a shot at picking up as many as six congressional seats in the state.
Image: Pennsylvania Capitol Building
A flag flies near the exterior of the Pennsylvania Capitol building on Oct. 7, 2015 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.Matt Rourke / AP file

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

WASHINGTON — The first seven weeks of 2018 brought good news for Republicans heading into November’s midterms. President Trump’s job rating ticked up (though Gallup yesterday found he’s back down to 37 percent); the tax law is more popular; and Rep. Kevin Cramer’s, R-N.D., entry into North Dakota’s Senate race gives them, at least, a 50-50 shot at taking down Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, R-N.D.

Despite that good news for the GOP, however, Monday produced arguably one of the most important midterm developments of 2018 — and it favors the Democrats. Big time.

Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court released its new congressional map, redrawn by Stanford’s Nathaniel Persily, and it gives Democrats a shot at picking up as many as six congressional seats in the state — when they need a net 24 to win back the House.

“If this map had been in place in 2016, President Trump would have won 10 congressional districts, two fewer than he actually won. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton would have taken the remaining eight districts, although the tally in one district would be so close as to be essentially a toss-up,” the Philadelphia Inquirer writes.

The Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman looks at the new map this way: The six Dem pick-up opportunities became even stronger pick-up opportunities when it comes to the Cook Report’s Partisan Voting Index.

The six most vulnerable GOP seats under the old map, per Wasserman:

  • PA-6: R+2
  • PA-7: R+1
  • PA-8: R+2
  • PA-15: R+4
  • PA-16: R+5
  • PA-18: R+11
  • Median: R+3

But under the new map:

  • PA-1: R+1
  • PA-5: D+13
  • PA-6: D+2
  • PA-7: D+1
  • PA-10: R+6
  • PA-17: R+3
  • Median: Even

This new map is the most consequential midterm development of 2018, and it’s going to produce a chain of events (members hunting for new districts, member-vs.-member races, possible retirements, even more lawsuits) that we’ll be following all year long.

As President Trump tweeted this morning, “Hope Republicans in the Great State of Pennsylvania challenge the new ‘pushed’ Congressional Map, all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary. Your Original was correct! Don’t let the Dems take elections away from you so that they can raise taxes & waste money!”

The new map is good news for Democrat Conor Lamb, who’s running in next month’s special congressional election

So how does the new congressional map affect next month’s competitive special election in PA-18? Well, per the New York Times’ Nate Cohn, it makes the district more Republican leaning, which is good news for the GOP — especially if Democrat Conor Lamb beats Republican Rick Saccone on March 13.

The bad news for the GOP is that it moves Lamb’s home to PA-17, which goes from Trump +21 to Trump +3 — so it’s a much more winnable seat for him. “Keith Rothfus, the Republican incumbent, will now find himself in a very difficult race,” Cohn writes.

So win or lose on March 13, Conor Lamb is going to be a name to watch in November.

Parkland students head to Florida’s capital to demand changes to gun laws

The Miami Herald: “The students and about 15 parent chaperones will travel to Tallahassee by bus on Tuesday in advance of small-group meetings with legislators that are planned for Wednesday, then return later that day. They leave following a Tuesday morning funeral of Carmen Schentrup, 16, who was among the victims when their former classmate, Nikolas Cruz, killed 17 students and teachers with an AR-15 on Valentine’s Day.”

“This time will be different...because the people who were deeply affected by the shooting, the people who saw it are the people speaking out,” organizer Cameron Kaskey said in NBC’s Kristen Welker’s “Today” package.

Washington Post/ABC poll: 58 percent say stricter gun laws could have prevented Parkland shooting

“More than 6 in 10 Americans fault Congress and President Trump for not doing enough to prevent mass shootings, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, with most Americans continuing to say these incidents are more reflective of problems identifying and addressing mental health issues than inadequate gun laws,” the Post says. “In the poll conducted after a gunman killed 17 people at a Florida high school last week, more than three-quarters, 77 percent, said they think more effective mental health screening and treatment could have prevented the shooting.”

“The Post-ABC poll also finds that 58 percent of adults say stricter gun control laws could have prevented the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, but there is no rise in support for banning assault weapons compared with two years ago and the partisan divide on this policy is as stark as ever.”

Corker expected to decide by Friday if he’ll re-enter Tennessee’s Senate race

“Per two sources, Sen. Bob Corker is expected to announce before Friday whether he will seek re-election for the U.S. Senate and take on fellow Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, who announced her own candidacy after Corker said in September that he would not seek another term,” NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard reports. “Corker and Blackburn are both expected to attend the Shelby County GOP Lincoln Day Dinner on Friday. The county is the state's most populated and encompasses Memphis — it's a good 330-mile drive from Corker's home of Chattanooga.”

Remember, the more contentious a GOP primary is, the easier it is for a Democrat to win in a red state.

Trump endorses Romney in Utah’s Senate race

Last night, President Trump fired off this tweet: “@MittRomney has announced he is running for the Senate from the wonderful State of Utah. He will make a great Senator and worthy successor to @OrrinHatch, and has my full support and endorsement!”

And Romney thanked Trump. “Thank you Mr. President for the support. I hope that over the course of the campaign I also earn the support and endorsement of the people of Utah.”

Of course, as the AP notes, “Trump has not always been so positive about Romney the political candidate. In 2016 Trump said the former Massachusetts governor had ‘choked like a dog" during his failed 2012 bid against President Barack Obama. For his part, Romney gave a scathing critique of then-candidate Trump during the GOP primary that year, calling him a ‘phony’ who was unfit for office.” And Romney said this in March of 2016: “If Trump had said 4 years ago the things he says today about the KKK, Muslims, Mexicans, disabled, I would NOT have accepted his endorsement.”