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Republicans won in Arizona last night. But the margin should scare them.

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: Debbie Lesko
Republican U.S. Congressional candidate Debbie Lesko, right, celebrates her win with former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer at her home on April 24, 2018, in Peoria, Arizona. (AP Photo/Matt York)Matt York / AP

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WASHINGTON — Well, we told you to watch the margin in last night’s AZ-8 special election. And what happened? In a district that President Trump carried by 21 points in 2016 — and which Mitt Romney won by 25 in 2012 — Republican Debbie Lesko pulled off a 6-point win over Democrat Hiral Tipirneni, 53 percent to 47 percent.

Yes, a win is a win. But that 15-point Democratic overperformance from the 2016 presidential election is greater than the Dems’ 12-point average in the previous eight major contests of 2017 and 2018 (KS-4, GA-6, MT-AL, SC-5, NJ GOV, VA GOV, AL-SEN, PA-18).

And if Democrats are hitting 47 percent of the vote in a heavily GOP-leaning district like AZ-8 — without a scandal-plagued GOP nominee (like we saw in Alabama), without an exceptional candidate (like Conor Lamb in PA-18), and when the GOP outspends them by about $1 million to $0 in national party money — that suggests they’re set up well for November’s statewide Senate contest in Arizona, as well as dozens of House races across the country.

As the Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman put it: “There are 147 GOP-held House seats less Republican than #AZ08. It's time to start rethinking how many of those are truly safe in November.” Now that doesn’t mean that 100-plus GOP seats are in jeopardy – open seats are harder to defend than incumbents, and Republicans are going to have plenty of money to spend in the top-tier races.

But it does mean that the energy is on the Democrats’ side. And that energy matters in a midterm election. By the way, we also might want to rethink how safe Arizona’s gubernatorial race is…

Here are the results in the major races of 2017/2018:

  • KS-4 in 2016: Mike Pompeo 61%, Daniel Giroux 30% (R+31)
  • KS-4 in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 60%, Clinton 33% (R+27)
  • KS-4 in 2017: Ron Estes 53%, James Thompson 46% (R+7)
  • GA-6 in 2016: Tom Price 62%, Rodney Stooksbury 38% (R+24)
  • GA-6 in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 48%, Clinton 47% (R+1)
  • GA-6 in 2017 (initial round): Jon Ossoff 48%, Karen Handel 20%, Bob Gray 11%, Dan Moody 9%, Judson Hill 9%.
  • GA-6 in 2017 (runoff): Handel 52%, Ossoff 48% (R+4)
  • MT-AL in 2016: Ryan Zinke 56%, Denise Juneau 40% (R+16)
  • MT in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 57%, Clinton 36% (R+21)
  • MT-AL in 2017: Greg Gianforte 50%, Rob Quist 44% (R+6)
  • SC-5 in 2016: Mick Mulvaney 59%, Fran Person 39% (R+20)
  • SC-5 in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 57%, Clinton 39% (R+18)
  • SC-5 in 2017: Ralph Norman 51%, Archie Parnell 48% (R+3)
  • NJ GOV in 2013: Chris Christie 60%, Barbara Buono 38% (R+22)
  • NJ GOV in 2016 (presidential results): Clinton 55%, Trump 41% (D+14)
  • NJ GOV in 2017: Phil Murphy 56%, Kim Guadagno 42% (D+14)
  • VA GOV in 2013: Terry McAuliffe 48%, Ken Cuccinelli 45% (D+3)
  • VA in 2016 (presidential results): Clinton 50%, Trump 44% (D+6)
  • VA GOV in 2017: Ralph Northam 54%, Ed Gillespie 45% (D+9)
  • AL SEN in 2016: Shelby 64%, Crumpton 36% (R+28)
  • AL in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 62%, Clinton 34% (R+28)
  • AL SEN in 2017: Doug Jones 50%, Roy Moore 48% (D+2)
  • PA-18 in 2016: Tim Murphy (R) unopposed
  • PA-18 in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 58%, Clinton 38% (R+20)
  • PA-18 in 2018: Conor Lamb 49.9%, Rick Saccone 49.5% (D+0.4)
  • AZ-8 in 2016: Trent Franks 69%, Mark Salazar 31% (R+38)
  • AZ-8 in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 57%, Clinton 36% (R+21)
  • AZ-8 in 2018: Debbie Lesko 53%, Hiral Tipirneni 47% (R+6)

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The Ronny Jackson episode epitomizes the chaos of the Trump Era

If you wanted a microcosm of the chaos and controversy of the Trump Era — over something that SHOULD be so easy — look at the difficult time Team Trump is having filling the position of VA secretary.

“President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he stood behind Dr. Ronny Jackson, his nominee to be Veterans Affairs secretary, who is facing allegations of drinking on the job, overprescribing drugs and creating an unprofessional work environment,” per NBC News. “But Trump added, ‘If I were him ... I wouldn't do it.’”

Controversy? Check. A lack of message discipline? Check (“If I were him … I wouldn’t do it”). The White House still defending him anyway? Check. All over a vacancy that necessarily didn’t have to happen in the first place? Check.

The Supreme Court to consider Trump’s revised travel ban

“President Donald Trump's restriction on travel to the United States from a handful of mostly Muslim countries returns to the Supreme Court on Wednesday, facing better prospects than the previous versions that were largely rejected by the courts,” NBC’s Pete Williams writes. “The case is a critical legal test for a pillar of Trump's immigration policy. And it marks the first time the court will give a full hearing to one of the president's initiatives.”

“The justices will decide whether this third try at a travel ban is legally acceptable — as the result of a deliberate process to identify high-risk countries whose nationals should largely be prevented from entering the country — or is merely a dressed up form of the Muslim ban promised during the Trump campaign.”

Another federal judge rules against Trump on DACA

Also from NBC News: “A third federal judge on Tuesday ruled against the Trump administration's campaign to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for undocumented immigrants, ordering the administration not only to continue processing applications but also to resume accepting new ones. U.S. District Judge John Bates of the District of Columbia was withering in his 60-page ruling, calling the administration's attempts to end the program, known as DACA, ‘arbitrary,’ ‘capricious,’ ‘virtually unexplained’ and ‘unlawful.’”

More: “Bates stayed the ruling for 90 days to give the Department of Homeland Security time to come up with better arguments for scrapping the program. If it doesn't, he wrote, he will enter an order reinstating DACA in its entirety.”

Mulvaney to bankers: When I was in Congress, I’d only consider meeting with lobbyists if they gave me money

So when it comes to draining that swamp, here’s what Trump’s acting head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — Mick Mulvaney — told a gathering of bankers on Tuesday, per the New York Times:

“We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress,” Mulvaney said at the American Bankers Association conference in Washington. “If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.” And: “If you came from back home and sat in my lobby, I talked to you without exception, regardless of the financial contributions.”

Talk about Kinsley gaffe. And talk about handing a powerful quote to the Democrats to use on the campaign trail.

Poll shows a competitive GOP race in WV SEN

A Fox News poll released Tuesday shows Evan Jenkins at 25 percent, Patrick Morrisey at 21 percent and Don Blankenship at 16 percent. “The race appears fluid,” Fox writes. “In addition to the sizable group of undecideds (24 percent), another 41 percent of those currently backing a candidate say they could change their mind before the May 8 primary.”

And speaking of Blankenship… The New York Times: “On Monday, responding to the attack ads, Mr. Blankenship brought up [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell’s marriage to Elaine Chao, the secretary of transportation, and questioned whether the majority leader faced a conflict of interest in foreign relations. Ms. Chao’s father is ‘a wealthy Chinaperson,’ Mr. Blankenship said, speaking on a West Virginia radio show, adding, ‘And there’s a lot of connections to some of the brass, if you will, in China.’”

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