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There's a new twist in the political war over health care

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: Planned Parenthood And NOW Rally On Capitol Hill Against GOP Health Plan
A protester holds up a sign during a rally against the GOP health care plan on Capitol Hill on July 26.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Another political cycle, another fight over health care — but this time with a twist. Unlike in 2010, 2014 and even in 2016, Democrats are no longer playing defense on the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, with less than two months before Election Day.

“That’s me, shooting the cap-and-trade bill because it was bad for West Virginia,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V. says in his latest TV ad. “Now the threat is [Republican] Patrick Morrisey’s lawsuit to take away health care from people with pre-existing conditions. He’s just dead wrong, and that ain’t going to happen” — as Manchin fires a gun into what appears to be the lawsuit by Morrisey and 19 other state attorneys generals and states arguing that Obamacare is unconstitutional.

Here’s another Democratic TV ad airing in Missouri’s Senate race between Democrat Claire McCaskill and Republican Josh Hawley: “2.5 million Missourians have pre-existing conditions. Their attorney general, Josh Hawley, went to court to rip away health care, filing a lawsuit to allow insurance companies to deny care while taking big bucks from the insurance industry.”

Missouri and West Virginia aren’t exactly Blue America. But these TV ads come as polls show Americans’ attitudes about Obamacare at all-time highs, while opinions about GOP replacement plans are more negative.

Meanwhile, NBC’s Benjy Sarlin, Lauren Egan and Rebecca Shabad write how Republican TV ads are taking aim at Democrats over single-payer — from Colorado’s gubernatorial contest to House races across the country. Here’s the salvo from Rep. Andy Barr, R-Ky., in that marquee KY-6 congressional contest:

“Where does Amy McGrath stand on health care? [McGrath audio] ‘If we were to, build a health care system from scratch, single payer would be the way to go.’ [Audio ends] Amy McGrath’s single-payer socialist plan, government run health care, eliminates private plans, cost thirty two trillion dollars, doubles your federal taxes and ends Medicare as we know it.” (Note: McGrath, who says the U.S. health care system is NOT starting from scratch, doesn’t support a single-payer system and instead advocates a public option and Medicare buy-in for those over the age of 65.)

The health care wars — they never stop…

However, a consequence of Republicans messaging against single-payer is that they’re — intentionally or not — codifying Obamacare. They’re not attacking Dems for supporting the status quo. That’s a big deal.

This week’s final primaries of 2018

The 2018 primary season began back in March with Texas and Illinois — seems like an eternity ago, right? — and it ends this week with primaries in New Hampshire (Tuesday), Rhode Island (Wednesday) and New York (Thursday). Here are the primary races we’re watching:

Tuesday, Sept. 11

NH-1: This has been the ultimate swing House seat, with the district flipping between Dem Carol Shea-Porter or Republican Frank Guinta over the past decade. And in 2016, Porter beat Guinta, but Trump won the district — underscoring its bellwether status.

Shea-Porter’s decision not to run for re-election kicked off wide-open Dem and GOP primary races. The top Democrats are former VA assistant secretary and Iraq vet Maura Sullivan, Executive Council member Chris Pappas and Levi Sanders (Bernie Sanders’ son). The GOP side includes state Sen. Andy Sanborn and former police chief Eddie Edwards.

NH-GOV: The Democrats battling to challenge incumbent Gov. Chris Sununu in November are former state Sen. Molly Kelly and former Mayor Steve Marchand. The Cook Political Report rates the contest as “Likely R.”

Wednesday, Sept. 12

RI-GOV: Incumbent Dem Gov. Gina Raimondo is getting a challenge from the left from former secretary of state Matt Brown. The likely GOP nominee will be Allan Fung, who lost to Raimondo in 2014.

Thursday, Sept. 13

NY-GOV: 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.

NY-AG: 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.

NBC News: Russia is main suspect behind mystery attacks on U.S. personnel in Cuba and China

“Intelligence agencies investigating mysterious ‘attacks’ that led to brain injuries in U.S. personnel in Cuba and China consider Russia to be the main suspect, three U.S. officials and two others briefed on the investigation tell NBC News,” NBC’s Josh Lederman, Courtney Kube, Abigail Williams and Ken Dilanian report. “The suspicion that Russia is likely behind the alleged attacks is backed up by evidence from communications intercepts, known in the spy world as signals intelligence, amassed during a lengthy and ongoing investigation involving the FBI, the CIA and other U.S. agencies. The officials declined to elaborate on the nature of the intelligence.”

“The evidence is not yet conclusive enough, however, for the U.S. to formally assign blame to Moscow for incidents that started in late 2016 and have continued in 2018, causing a major rupture in U.S.-Cuba relations.”

Trump attends 9/11 memorial service

This morning, President Donald Trump attends a 9/11 memorial service in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. But he’s also spent more time this morning talking about the Russia investigation and the Justice Department than today’s anniversary. Here are his tweets (in order):

“We have found nothing to show collusion between President Trump & Russia, absolutely zero, but every day we get more documentation showing collusion between the FBI & DOJ, the Hillary campaign, foreign spies & Russians, incredible.” @SaraCarterDC @LouDobbs

#NeverForget #September11th

New Strzok-Page texts reveal “Media Leak Strategy.” @FoxNews So terrible, and NOTHING is being done at DOJ or FBI - but the world is watching, and they get it completely.

“ERIC Holder could be running the Justice Department right now and it would be behaving no differently than it is.” @LouDobbs

Rudy Giuliani did a GREAT job as Mayor of NYC during the period of September 11th. His leadership, bravery and skill must never be forgotten. Rudy is a TRUE WARRIOR!

North Dakota Dem releases TV comparing Congress to first-graders

NBC's Leigh Ann Caldwell: “Democrat Mac Schneider is releasing the first television ad in North Dakota's at-large congressional race Tuesday. Schneider's new spot, obtained by NBC News, introduces himself to voters with a six-figure network and cable television that spot that refers to the ‘chaotic’ partisanship taking place in Washington. The ad, titled "First Grade," also features his six-year old daughter, who, in fact, is in first grade.”

“‘Right now, Washington is a mess,’ Schneider says. His daughter Merritt, agrees. ‘They fight like little kids,’ she says before gently and playfully punching her dad's arm.”