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Virginia’s Race for Governor Has Become 2016 All Over Again

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.

Virginia’s race for governor has become 2016 all over again

WASHINGTON — In this year’s race for Virginia governor, Democrat Ralph Northam — with his southern twang, rural roots and military background — is hardly Hillary Clinton. And Republican Ed Gillespie — with his past gigs on Capitol Hill, in the George W. Bush administration and as a lobbyist — is certainly no Donald Trump.

But one month before the November 7 election, both men are largely running like it’s 2016, all in an effort to fire up their bases.

Northam this week started airing this TV ad: “If Donald Trump is helping Virginia, I’ll work with him,” he says directly to the camera. “But Donald Trump proposed cutting Virginia’s school funding, rolling back our clean air and water protections and taking away healthcare from thousands of Virginians.”

Northam adds, “As a candidate for governor, I sponsored this ad because I’ve stood up to Donald Trump on all of it. Ed Gillespie refuses to stand up to him at all.”

And Trump himself helped Northam play this Trump card when the president tweeted that the Democratic candidate is “fighting for” criminal gangs. “Ralph Northam,who is running for Governor of Virginia,is fighting for the violent MS-13 killer gangs & sanctuary cities. Vote Ed Gillespie!”

Northam responded, “TBH I've been expecting this. Donate here.”

For his part, Gillespie — despite his work in the George W. Bush administration — has aggressively leaned into the issue of immigration, just like Trump did in 2016. “Northam cast the deciding vote in favor of sanctuary cities that let illegal immigrants who commit crimes back on the street, increasing the threat of MS-13,” a recent Gillespie ad goes. “Ralph Northam – weak on MS-13.” (Gillespie’s focus on immigration comes after he almost lost the GOP primary to ultra-right Republican Corey Stewart.)

Jennifer Duffy, who monitors gubernatorial races for non-partisan the Cook Political Report, isn’t surprised that both Northam and Gillespie appear to be re-litigating 2016. “I think there’s a habit in these races that happen a year after the presidential for candidates to fight the last war.”

But if this race is about re-litigating 2016, Northam probably has the upper hand, especially given that Hillary Clinton won Virginia by five points on Trump’s best day as general-election candidate. And the most recent Washington Post/Schar School poll has Trump’s job-approval rating in the state at 33 percent, with 28 percent saying their vote will be about opposing Trump, versus 17 percent who say it will be in support of him; 54 percent say Trump won’t be a factor.

Fact-checking Trump and Gillespie on MS-13

As the Washington Post wrote last month, Gillespie’s MS-13 ad “was based on a tiebreaking vote Northam cast in the state Senate this year, against a bill that would have prohibited the establishment of sanctuary cities, which are generally defined as localities that limit or ban cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Virginia does not have any sanctuary cities.”

“[In September’s] debate, Northam said he was proud of the vote but also said violent criminals should be locked up regardless of immigration status.”

Chuck Todd: Rex Tillerson's status in White House is 'untenable' 3:45

NBC News: Trump furious after report that Tillerson called him a “moron”

“John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, abruptly scrapped plans to travel with President Donald Trump on Wednesday so he could try to contain his boss’s fury and manage the fallout from new revelations about tensions between the president and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, according to six senior administration officials,” NBC reported last night.

“Vice President Mike Pence, meanwhile, was fuming in Phoenix, where he was traveling, seven officials told NBC News. He and Tillerson spoke on the phone before the secretary’s public appearance on Wednesday morning.”

“Pence was incensed upon learning from the NBC report that Tillerson’s top spokesman had said he once privately questioned the value of Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Officials said the spokesman, R.C. Hammond, fabricated an anecdote that Pence had asked Tillerson in a meeting whether Haley, who is seen as a possible successor to Tillerson, is helpful or harmful to the administration.”

Guns and Ruses: Asking the ATF to look at bump stocks is a way to avoid legislating any action

In an interview with one of us, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise said that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms should look at regulating so-called bump stocks. “There are people that want to rush to judgment. They've got a bill written already. And I mean, look, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi already said she wants it to be a slippery slope. She doesn't want to stop at bump stocks. They want to go out and limit the rights of gun owners. And so I do think it's a little bit early for people to say they know what to do to fix this problem. I know there are people that are asking the A.T.F. to go back and review their 2010 decision to authorize it.”

When asked if the ATF should review bump stocks, Scalise added, “I think they should, and they are.”

But asking the ATF to review bump stocks — as the NRA is now advocating — is also a way to avoid legislation. As NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald points out, the ATF has already reviewed bump stocks and concluded that they are legal under current law.

Oh my God, it’s a mirage… I’m telling y’all, it’s sabotage

“For months, officials in Republican-controlled Iowa had sought federal permission to revitalize their ailing health-insurance marketplace. Then President Trump read about the request in a newspaper story and called the federal director weighing the application,” the Washington Post writes. “Trump's message in late August was clear, according to individuals who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations: Tell Iowa no.”

More: “[W]ith the fifth enrollment season set to begin Nov. 1, advocates say the Health and Human Services Department has done more to suppress the number of people signing up than to boost it. HHS has slashed grants to groups that help consumers get insurance coverage, for example. It also has cut the enrollment period in half, reduced the advertising budget by 90 percent and announced an outage schedule that would make the HealthCare.gov website less available than last year.”

The nation grows even more divided in the Trump Era

There’s certainly been no shortage of professional worry about growing partisan divisions in the country during the last year, and a new survey from the Pew Research Center shows that, yes, things are getting worse.

The poll shows that, on nearly every measure of political values — from the social safety net to racial issues to the role of government — Republicans and Democrats are significantly further apart than in the past. Those divides are particularly acute when it comes to questions about whether the government should do more to help the needy (with 71 percent of Democrats now replying in the affirmative, versus just 24 percent of Republicans) and whether racial discrimination is a primary reason that many African-Americans can’t get ahead (with 64 percent of Democrats saying yes, but only 14 percent of Republicans agreeing).

Pew also found that Republicans and Democrats have more negative views of each other than ever before, with the share of each side evaluating the other party as “very negative” nearly tripling since 1994 (to 44 percent of Democrats and 45 percent of Republicans.)

Should Pelosi stay or go as House Dem leader? It’s a debate Democrats should have

What was striking about Rep. Linda Sanchez’s, D-Calif., remark that it’s “time to pass a torch to a new generation of leaders” is that this shot across the bow at Nancy Pelosi came from leadership (Sanchez ranks fifth), and that Sanchez also hails from California.

Democrats rushed to Pelosi’s defense. “The Democratic Caucus stands united behind our leadership team in the fight to make this country stronger,” Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., said, per NBC’s Alex Moe.

But with next year’s midterm elections approaching – and with Pelosi a likely target in House GOP ads (“A vote for Democrat X is a vote to put Nancy Pelosi back in charge”) — this generational debate is a debate Democrats NEED to have. With the distinct possibility that they could win back the House in 2018 and maybe the White House in 2020, the question becomes: Who should be leading the party? The same people they have now? Or a new generation?