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Republicans wave the flag in key Senate races. Is that their best message?

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: Martha McSally
Rep. Martha McSally is seeking the seat of retiring Sen. Jeff Flake. Matt York / AP


Here’s a TV ad that Republican Martha McSally’s campaign is airing against Democrat Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona:

“Combat explosion and IED explosions in Iraq left me paralyzed. I was proud to pay the price to defend America. But while I was overseas fighting them, Kyrsten Sinema was at home protesting my service and pushing for cuts to the military. Sinema’s actions are a slap in the face to everyone who has served, and her extreme liberal views would put us in danger.”

And here’s a similar TV ad that Ted Cruz is airing against Beto O’Rourke in Texas:

“Does Beto O’Rourke think refusing to stand for the National Anthem is disrespectful? [Video of O’Rourke] ‘No. I don’t think it’s disrespectful. And I can’t think of something more American than to stand up or take a knee’ [end of video]. Texan Tim Lee stepped on a landmine in Vietnam. ‘I gave two legs to this country. I’m not able to stand. But I sure expect you to stand for me when that National Anthem is being played.’”

This is tough stuff, taking direct aim at the issues of war, service, protest and patriotism. It’s also remarkable that these ads are taking place in the Trump Era — given the current president’s lack of military service, his opposition to the Iraq war during the 2016 campaign and his mocking of John McCain’s imprisonment in Vietnam.

But what does it say that McSally and Cruz are making patriotism — and not tax cuts, or health care, or the size of government — a top issue in these races? Is patriotism the one thing that can unite conservative, moderate and Trump voters in these traditionally GOP-leaning states? Remember, both McSally (over her past immigration views) and Cruz (due to the 2016 campaign) have their own problems with the base.

And in the case of McSally, what happens when a Democratic group airs footage of all of the ways Trump spoke about the Iraq war?

McCain family slams GOP group for using footage of him in campaign ads

Speaking of TV ads, patriotism and John McCain, don’t miss this from NBC’s Frank Thorp, Alex Moe and Daniel Arkin: “The family of John McCain sharply rebuked the National Republican Congressional Committee on Wednesday for releasing political advertisements that use footage of the late senator to attack Democratic candidates in Arizona and Michigan.”

“‘The McCain family believes it's unfortunate that the senator's image is being weaponized this election season,’ a family spokesperson told NBC News in a statement. ‘They hope that there would be more respect, especially so soon after his passing.’ The first ad goes after Ann Kirkpatrick, the Democratic nominee for Arizona's 2nd congressional district. The spot features a clip of McCain slamming Kirkpatrick over her positions on economic issues during her unsuccessful bid for his U.S. Senate seat in 2016… The second ad targets Elissa Slotkin, the Democratic nominee for Michigan's 8th congressional district. The clip features a video of McCain criticizing Slotkin during a Senate hearing at which she was a witness.”

Fox polls show five Senate races within the margin of error

Regarding the battle for the Senate, Fox News released FIVE state polls yesterday, all showing margin-of-error contests among likely voters:

  • Arizona: Sinema (D) 47 percent, McSally (R) 44 percent
  • Indiana: Mike Braun (R) 45 percent, Joe Donnelly (D) 43 percent
  • Missouri: Claire McCaskill (D) 44 percent, Josh Hawley (R) 41 percent
  • North Dakota: Kevin Cramer (R) 48 percent, Heidi Heitkamp (D) 44 percent
  • Tennessee: Marsha Blackburn (R) 47 percent, Phil Bredesen (D) 44 percent

A reminder of the states that AREN’T Senate battlegrounds in 2018

Given those five polls above, here’s a story that hasn’t gotten enough attention — the states that AREN’T Senate battlegrounds this year.

Polling shows that Democratic Sen. Bob Casey isn’t getting much of a race in Pennsylvania. Ditto Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown in Ohio. And throw in Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow in Michigan.

That these three states aren’t battleground — after the results in 2016 — is quite a story. And that has enabled Democrats to spend their resources in less expensive Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota.

Raimondo easily wins gubernatorial primary in Rhode Island

In a rare Wednesday primary, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo easily beat Democratic challenger Matt Brown, 57 percent to 34 percent, and she will face Republican Allan Fung in the general election— a rematch of their 2014 race.

NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald: “Brown ran as a Bernie Sanders-style change-agent, and he secured the backing of liberal groups like Indivisible and Our Revolution, which spun off of the Vermont Independent senator's presidential bid. But Raimondo refused to debate Brown while dominating the airwaves, outspending her challenger roughly 20-to-1.”

It’s Primary Thursday in New York

And in the final night of primaries for the 2018 season — for New York (for state and local office) — incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo is getting a challenge from his left from former “Sex and City” star Cynthia Nixon. A recent Siena poll showed Cuomo leading the race by more than 40 points. The GOP nominee for November is expected to be Marc Molinaro.

But the more competitive statewide race is for attorney general — with the Siena poll showing Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney at 25 percent, Letitia James at 24 percent and Zephyr Teachout at 18 percent.

And a rant from us: Could New York state’s voting laws and rules be any more complicated? There’s no early voting. And many counties – outside of New York City – have polling places that don’t open UNTIL NOON on Election Day. Talk about a state that discourages voter participation.