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In Tuesday's Arizona election, keep an eye on the margin

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: Dr. Hiral Tipirneni speaks with supporters
Democratic candidate for the Arizona 8th Congressional District special election Dr. Hiral Tipirneni, center, talks with supporters at a local restaurant in Sun City, Arizona, on April 10, 2018. Tipirneni is running against former Arizona Republican state Sen. Debbie Lesko in a special election to fill the seat vacated by Republican Rep. Trent Franks.Ross D. Franklin / AP

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WASHINGTON — Don’t bet on Democrats continuing their streak of special-election victories in districts/states Trump carried when Republican Debbie Lesko faces off against Democrat Hiral Tipirneni on Tuesday in the race to replace former Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz.

After all, more than 150,000 Arizonans have already cast ballots in early voting, and those voters are disproportionately older (the median age is 67) and Republican (49 percent vs. 28 percent Democrat) — so hardly a good sign if you’re a Dem.

But maybe the bigger story tomorrow, at least when it comes to judging if the political winds are still blowing at the Democrats’ backs, will be looking at the ultimate margin of Lesko vs. Tipirneni in this district Trump carried by 21 points in 2016. In the eight major contests of 2017 and 2018, Democrats have outperformed Hillary Clinton’s margin in these same districts/states by, on average, about 12 points (see below for the results).

So Democrats keeping the race to single digits would match that average over-performance. More importantly, the Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman says the margin could offer clues about Arizona’s key Senate race in November. “Really anything above ~41% in #AZ08 (R+13 PVI) would be consistent w/ Dems on track to win the House or a statewide AZ race,” he tweeted.

Here are the margins of the eight major contests 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)

No, North Korea hasn’t denuclearized — and experts doubt it ever will

Over the weekend, President Trump tweeted that North Korea agreed to denuclearize.

And on “Meet the Press” yesterday, top White House legislative aide Marc Short said that denuclearization means no longer possessing nuclear weapons.

CHUCK TODD: Denuclearization — what does that mean to the president, and what do you think that means to the North Koreans? Do you think you guys agree on what that word even means?MARC SHORT: I think there has to have a sit-down conversation to get to that point. But I think from our perspective, it means full denuclearization. No longer having nuclear weapons that can be used in warfare against any of our allies.

However, North Korea hasn’t said it will denuclearize, as the AP writes. “North Korea said Friday it would suspend nuclear tests and intercontinental ballistic missile launches ahead of summits with the U.S. and South Korea. Kim also said a nuclear test site would be closed and ‘dismantled’ now that the country has learned how to make nuclear weapons and mount warheads on ballistic rockets. But the North has stopped short of saying it has any intention of abandoning its nuclear arsenal, with Kim making clear that nukes remain a ‘treasured sword.’”

And Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker, R-Tenn., told ABC that he doubts Kim Jong-Un would give up his country’s nuclear weapons. “[H]e views having deliverable nuclear weapons as his ticket to dying as an old man in his bed. He saw what happened with Gaddafi. Gaddafi’s a dead man now because he gave up his nuclear weapons. And so to think that somebody’s going to go in and charm him out of that is not realistic. Is there some progress that can be made? I hope so.”

Macron, Merkel to begin 'tag-team effort' to convince Trump to stay in Iran deal

Here’s another wrinkle to consider on North Korea: Would it be willing to restrict its nuclear program — let alone denuclearize — if it sees Trump rip up the Iran nuclear deal? Well, France’s Macron and Germany’s Merkel are visiting the White House this week to convince Trump to remain in the Iran deal.

“French President Emmanuel Macron’s arrival in the U.S. kicks off a crucial week for European leaders in an uphill battle to convince Donald Trump to stay in the Iran nuclear deal,” per Bloomberg News. “Macron’s visit Monday and Tuesday — the first formal state visit of the Trump administration — will be quickly followed by Merkel’s working visit to the White House on Friday… ‘This will be a tag-team effort,’ said Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, who spent the days ahead of Macron’s U.S. visit in Brussels consulting with European officials about the deal. ‘It’s very crucial.’”

By the way, the April NBC/WSJ poll found 38 percent of Americans supporting the Iran deal, 11 percent opposing it and 50 percent who said they didn’t know enough. Then asked if Trump withdraws from the deal, 26 percent said they’d back his decision, and 32 percent said they’d oppose it.

It’s a big week for Mike Pompeo’s rocky road to Senate confirmation

NBC’s Rebecca Shabad and Frank Thorp: “CIA Director Mike Pompeo starts off a crucial week in his journey to Senate confirmation as secretary of state facing a Monday committee vote that's likely to be an unfavorable one, and a razor-thin margin of support in the full chamber. All Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as committee member Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., have announced their opposition to Pompeo's nomination. If all stick to that position at Monday's 5 p.m. ET vote, the nomination will not have enough support to be reported favorably to the full Senate.”

More: “Despite that lack of support at the committee level, Republican and Democratic leadership aides say that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., can still bring up his nomination for a floor vote and is expected to do so later in the week — regardless of the committee vote — after jumping over some procedural hurdles. The last Cabinet-level nominee to be reported unfavorably by a committee and still confirmed by the full Senate, according to the Senate Historian’s Office, was Henry Wallace, who was confirmed in 1945 to serve as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s commerce secretary.”

The ‘Invisible Primary’ watch for 2020

NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald looks at how potential 2020 Democratic hopefuls are racking up political chits by stumping for candidates this midterm season. “The 2020 pole position may belong to former Vice President Joe Biden, who has emerged as his party's ‘Everywhere Man’ — the rare national Democrat who can comfortably campaign in even the most conservative parts of the country. He began building up good will when he stumped for successful candidates like Doug Jones in the Alabama Senate race and Conor Lamb in the Pennsylvania House contest, even as both candidates kept the rest of their party at arm's length.”

“Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who was snubbed by all but one senator and a handful of congressmen during his 2016 primary run against Clinton, is working harder than ever, both for his adoptive Democratic Party, to sweep more ‘Berniecrats’ into office, and perhaps to [rack] up some IOUs that he could collect should he decide to run again.”

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