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An upset in Omaha and five key takeaways from Tuesday's primaries

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 /  / Updated 
Image: Kara Eastman is hugged by her campaign manager
Democratic 2nd District House candidate Kara Eastman is hugged by her campaign manager Ben Onkka, in Omaha, Nebraska, on May 15, 2018.Nati Harnik / AP

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WASHINGTON — Yes, last night’s primary contests in Idaho, Nebraska, Oregon and Pennsylvania maybe didn’t offer the same kind of high-profile races that last week’s races in Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio and West Virginia did.

But the results last night still told us five important stories:

  1. It was a big night for Democratic women: Currently, there’s not a single woman in Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation. But after last night, we could see as many as four Democratic women from the Keystone State become members of Congress (Madeleine Dean in PA-4, Mary Gay Scanlon in PA-5, Chrissy Houlahan in PA-6 and Susan Wild in PA-7). And in arguably the biggest stunner of the night, progressive Kara Eastman defeated establishment-backed former Congressman Brad Ashford in the Nebraska congressional district representing Omaha.
  2. Does NE-2 come off the board for Democrats? Speaking of Eastman defeating Ashford, we said this primary was a hurdle that Democrats needed to clear in their bid to win back the House. And guess what — national Dems’ preferred candidate (the former congressman who narrowly lost re-election in 2016) was defeated. Can someone like Eastman (progressive, supporter of Medicare for All) win in Omaha? Or does ideology not matter much in a wave? We’re about to find out.
  3. It’s not a benefit to be a member of Congress (or former member): Last week, we observed that those with the title “Congressman” lost (Luke Messer and Todd Rokita in Indiana; Evan Jenkins in West Virginia; incumbent Robert Pittenger in North Carolina). And what happened last night? Another current “Congressman” (Raul Labrador) lost in the GOP primary for Idaho governor; another current “Congressman” (Lou Barletta) underperformed in winning Pennsylvania’s GOP Senate primary; and a former “Ex-Congressman” (Ashford) lost in Nebraska.
  4. Republicans aren’t showing strength in Pennsylvania: Two years after Donald Trump shocked the political world by winning Pennsylvania in the general election (and after Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., surprisingly won re-election, too), the GOP isn’t showing the same kind of strength — at least from last night’s primary returns. The competitive GOP Senate primary between Barletta and James Christiana got fewer votes (a combined 681,000) than incumbent Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., got in running unopposed (743,000). Additionally, more Democrats turned out to vote in PA-1 (49,000 vs. 47,000) and PA-7 primaries (45,000 vs. 31,700), which will be competitive general-election races come November.
  5. Progressives (and socialists) flex their muscles: Finally, it wasn’t just Eastman winning Nebraska. Two members of Pittsburgh’s chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America defeated incumbent Democratic state representatives in Pennsylvania.

Trump voters and detractors have widely different views on Mueller, McCain

A focus group of six Trump voters and six Clinton voters outside of Milwaukee, Wis. on Tuesday night laid bare the deep rifts between Trump's backers and his detractors, with his voters steadfastly repeating the president's claims that the investigation is a political "witch hunt."

"I think this investigation is ongoing because people aren't happy that Trump is in power and they're looking for any way to get him out," said Meredith, a 36 year-old physician assistant who backed Trump in 2016. Other Trump supporters in the group called Mueller's work "a witch hunt to overturn the election" and "a farce created by the Deep State," while those more skeptical of the president suggested that the investigation should run its course.

"They are still investigating. We have to be patient. When we had the Ken Starr investigation, that ran for four years. That went all over the place," said Atanu, a 48 year-old independent in marketing who voted for Hillary Clinton. "We have to give them time until the facts come out and then we can dispute it."

Perhaps the most vivid illustration of Trump's impact on partisanship, though, came not in the discussion about Mueller but in a routine word-association exercise. Asked to think of a single word or phrase to describe Arizona Sen. John McCain, who is currently gravely ill with cancer, the group's Clinton voters called the onetime POW "strong" and "a hero." But those who most vociferously supported Trump, who has famously clashed with McCain, referred to the 2008 GOP presidential nominee as "petty," "old," "a turncoat.”

North Korea threatens to call off summit

So about that call for Trump to win the Nobel Peace Prize before the summit with North Korea has already taken place… NBC News: “North Korea canceled high-level talks with South Korea on Wednesday and threatened to walk away from a historic summit with President Donald Trump to protest ongoing military exercises involving the U.S. The surprise move, which was announced by North Korean state media and confirmed by Seoul, came just hours before a planned North-South meeting at a border village.”

Per NBC’s Kristen Welker, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the U.S. is still “hopeful” the summit will take place next month. And if the summit doesn’t happen, Huckabee Sanders added, the U.S. will continue its maximum-pressure campaign.

Just about everything about Trump’s support of ZTE is odd

From Heather Long in the Washington Post: “It's odd that Trump, who campaigned on saving millions of U.S. jobs, suddenly says he cares about a few thousand Chinese jobs. It's odd that Trump, who championed ‘America First,’ is worried about a single Chinese firm.”

More: “It's odd that Trump, who has spent months berating the Chinese for stealing U.S. intellectual property, is coming to the rescue of a Chinese telecom firm that's trying to compete with American companies such as Apple. It's odd that Trump, who wants a strong U.S. military and business climate, is ignoring a House Intelligence Committee report from 2012 that concluded that ZTE “cannot be trusted to be free of foreign state influence and thus [poses] a security threat to the United States and to our systems.”

And: “It is odd that Trump, who has put extensive sanctions on Iran and North Korea, seems to be willing to forgive ZTE, a company that admitted it illegally shipped telecom equipment to Iran and North Korea.”

*** And maybe here’s your answer why Trump is backing ZTE: HuffPost: “Trump did not mention in that tweet [about ZTE] or its follow-ups that on Thursday, the developer of a theme park resort outside of Jakarta had signed a deal to receive as much as $500 million in Chinese government loans, as well as another $500 million from Chinese banks, according to Agence France-Presse. Trump’s family business, the Trump Organization, has a deal to license the Trump name to the resort, which includes a golf course and hotels.”

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