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Will the Comey Bombshell Really Shake up the 2016 Race?

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign rally in Daytona Beach
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign rally in Daytona Beach, Florida, Oct. 29.BRIAN SNYDER / Reuters

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

After bombshell, does the remarkably stable ‘16 race stay stable?

There’s no hyperbole in stating that the 2016 Hillary Clinton-vs.-Donald Trump presidential race has been the craziest we’ve covered. Consider all of the jaw-dropping moments: Mexican rapists. WikiLeaks. Vladimir Putin. The Access Hollywood video. Alicia Machado. Trump's visit to Mexico. “Basket of Deplorables.” Birtherism. And the debates -- all of them. Despite them all, however, the race has been remarkably stable. Just look at the national NBC/WSJ poll numbers since Sept. 2015.

But does that stability change after FBI Director James Comey’s bombshell Friday that his organization learned of the existence of new emails that appear “pertinent” to its previous investigation into Clinton’s email practices? One the one hand, the polling we’ve seen -- so far -- suggests that voters remain in their partisan corners. According to this weekend’s Washington Post/ABC poll, 63% of voters said the FBI’s review makes no difference. And among the 34% who say it makes them “less likely” to back Clinton, those voters are disproportionately Republicans and GOP-leaning independents. What’s more, the post-Comey polls we’ve seen (here and here) haven’t really budged, at least not yet. On the other hand, it has never been a positive for Clinton throughout this entire presidential race when the focus has been on her, especially on the subject of emails. Eight days to go…

The latest developments in the Comey Surprise

Meanwhile, here are all of the latest developments in the Comey Surprise: The FBI obtained a warrant to search emails related to the probe of Hillary Clinton's private server that were discovered on ex-congressman Anthony Weiner's laptop... Also on Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid accused Comey of violating the Hatch Act, which bars government officials from using their authority to influence elections... Former Attorney General Eric Holder wrote a “scathing op-ed condemning FBI Director James Comey for his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server. ‘I fear he has unintentionally and negatively affected public trust in both the Justice Department and the FBI’”… And NBC’s Ari Melber has a piece concluding that newly discovered emails -- even if they contain classified information -- would unlikely change the earlier conclusion not to charge Clinton.

FBI’s review of the emails could be quick

Additionally, NBC's Pete Williams reports that it's possible the FBI's review of the emails could end quickly -- now that the FBI obtained a warrant to search them. "They'll narrow them down to look at just those dating from the time Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. Then they'll weed out any that are not about government business. Agents will use automated software to search what's left for duplicates they've already found during the investigation of the Clinton e-mail server. Any that remain will be checked for classified information,” Williams reported on “Today” this morning. “Officials say there's no way to tell how long that will take. But they say if it goes quickly, and nothing classified is found, the FBI could say so within the next few days. It largely depends on how many of the e-mails are duplicates and how many are new to the investigators.”

NBC/WSJ/Marist polls: Clinton up in NC, deadlocked race in FL

Over the weekend, we released brand-new NBC/WSJ/Marist polls of Florida and North Carolina (which were conducted before Friday’s bombshell news). The numbers:

  • In Florida, Clinton gets the support of 45% of likely voters, while Trump gets 44%. Libertarian Gary Johnson gets 5% and the Green Party's Jill Stein is at 2%. In an earlier NBC/WSJ/Marist poll this month, Clinton was ahead by three points in the four-person race in the Sunshine State, 45%-42%. When the contest is reduced to two candidates, Clinton and Trump are tied in the new poll at 46%.
  • In North Carolina, meanwhile, Clinton enjoys a six-point lead over Trump among likely voters, 47%-41%, with Johnson at 8%. (Stein isn't on the ballot in the Tar Heel State.) Earlier this month in the poll, Clinton was ahead by four points, 45%-41%. In a two-person race in North Carolina, Clinton's lead in this new poll is an equal six points, 50%-44%.

The polls (conducted Oct. 25-26) also measure early voting in these two states. Among the 36% of likely voters in Florida who say they've already voted, Clinton is ahead, 54% -37%. Among those who haven't voted in the Sunshine State, Trump is up, 51%-42%. And Clinton leads by a 61%-33% margin among the 29% of North Carolinians who say they've already voted.

Examining Trump’s charitable giving -- or lack thereof

It’s amazing when news about Donald Trump -- no matter how controversial -- gets drowned out by other events. Still, don’t miss this Washington Post piece into Trump’s charitable giving, or lack thereof: “For as long as he has been rich and famous, Donald Trump has also wanted people to believe he is generous. He spent years constructing an image as a philanthropist by appearing at charity events and by making very public — even nationally televised — promises to give his own money away. It was, in large part, a facade. A months-long investigation by The Washington Post has not been able to verify many of Trump’s boasts about his philanthropy. Instead, throughout his life in the spotlight, whether as a businessman, television star or presidential candidate, The Post found that Trump had sought credit for charity he had not given — or had claimed other people’s giving as his own.”

How violence and retaliation are constant themes in Trump’s rhetoric

Also, do read NBC’s Benjy Sarlin on how violence and retaliation are common themes in Trump’s rhetoric and in his events. “In his eyes, the world is an unforgiving place where cities are ‘war zones,’ where ‘rapists’ are streaming across the border and where jealous rivals are hatching plots to humiliate America and Trump personally. To prevail in such an environment, he suggests, the response to any slight must be swift and overwhelming. Dwelling on limits imposed by law or tradition is usually a secondary concern. This framework has expressed itself in policy, in which Trump has extolled the use of torture, threatened reprisals against the families of terrorists and pledged to jail Clinton, a former senator and secretary of state. It has expressed itself rhetorically in vicious insults against critics and in his encouragement of violence by supporters.”

First Read’s downballot race of the day: Florida Senate

Marco Rubio rode to Republicans’ rescue when he reversed his pledge not to seek re-election, although it’s not a complete slam dunk that he’ll hold onto his seat. The former presidential candidate faces challenges -- most notably his well-known national ambitions and his frustration with the Senate, as well as his tortured relationship with the GOP presidential nominee. But luckily for Rubio, his Democratic opponent, Rep. Patrick Murphy, is far from an ideal candidate. He’s taken heat for overselling parts of his resume and for his reliance on his wealthy family for campaign donations. Our NBC/WSJ/Marist poll has it Rubio 51%, Murphy 43%.

On the trail

Hillary Clinton spends her day in Ohio, campaigning in Kent (in the Cleveland-Akron area) at 2:45 pm ET and then in Cincinnati at 6:15 pm ET… Donald Trump is in Michigan, hitting Grand Rapids at noon ET and Warren at 3:00 pm ET… Tim Kaine stumps in North Carolina… And Mike Pence is in Florida.

Countdown to Election Day: 8 days