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.
A win for Roy Moore could spell trouble for Trump and the GOP
In today’s Republican Senate runoff in Alabama, former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore is the clear favorite over appointed Sen. Luther Strange. And a Moore win could be a problem for President Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other GOP leaders who all have backed Strange.
1. Democrats would have a puncher’s chance to win this seat in December: Given all of Moore’s controversies (see here), given how Karl Rove has already compared him to Todd Akin (here) and given how Strange himself has said that Moore would be “an anchor around the neck of the party,” Democrats could have a small chance – 20 percent? 30 percent? – to pull off a Scott Brown-esque upset in the December 12 general. Make no mistake, Democrat Doug Jones would be the serious underdog in this state that Trump won 62 to 34 percent in 2016. But Moore as the GOP nominee gives Democrats a better shot.
2. Moore, if he makes to the Senate, would be a nightmare for McConnell and GOP leaders: If you think Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has been a wildcard for McConnell, just wait if Moore makes it to Washington. Moore, like Paul, has been opposed to the Graham-Cassidy health-care bill. “If Graham/Cassidy is anything less than a full repeal, Judge Moore will not vote for it,” a Moore spokesperson told MSNBC’s Garrett Haake.
3. It could strengthen the GOP’s populist revolt in 2018 primaries: If Moore is victorious tonight – and if he wins the general in December – that will only strengthen the Steve Bannon/Breitbart/Nigel Farage forces in future GOP primaries. Think Arizona (where Sen. Jeff Flake is incredibly vulnerable), Nevada (ditto Sen. Dean Heller) and even Colorado (where Rep. Mike Coffman has dared Tom Tancredo to primary him). “Strange’s backers, including Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, ‘are the same people that have tried to destroy Donald J. Trump since the first day he announced for office,’ Bannon said last night at a rally for Moore, per NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald. And The Daily Beast is reporting that Team Trump is planning to blame McConnell for losing Alabama and health care.
Now it’s possible that Strange pulls off the upset, giving Senate leaders and party strategists the opportunity to breathe a sigh of relief. But the reality is that Moore is in the driver’s seat. As the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel observed, “You know what Sen. Luther Strange really needs? GOP primary voters going to the polls thinking McConnell failed on ACA repeal again.”
Alabama’s final poll-closing time is at 8:00 pm ET.
Trump Party vs. the Republican Party
As we’ve remarked before, this Moore-vs.-Strange contest is striking, because Trump is backing the ESTABLISHMENT party guy (Strange) instead of the INSURGENT candidate. In other words, Trump is behind the Republican Party’s candidate over the more Trump Party guy. Just how different are these two parties? Here’s the split among Republicans in last week’s NBC/WSJ poll who said they considered themselves more of a supporter of Trump versus a supporter of the GOP:
Views of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
- Trump supporters: 13 percent positive, 34 percent negative
- Party supporters: 36 percent positive, 14 percent negative
Views of House Speaker Paul Ryan
- Trump supporters: 35 percent positive, 33 percent negative
- Party supporters: 71 percent positive, 9 percent negative
Satisfied with GOP leaders
- Trump supporters: 27 percent
- Party supporters: 51 percent
Support birthright citizenship — that all children born in U.S. should be granted citizenship
- Trump supporters: 30 percent
- Party supporters: 47 percent
- Trump supporters: 15 percent
- Party supporters: 32 percent
Approve of Trump’s pardon of Joe Arpaio
- Trump supporters: 73 percent
- Party supporters: 50 percent
Approve of Trump’s handling of race relations
- Trump supporters: 72 percent
- Party supporters: 38 percent
Approve of Trump’s use of Twitter
- Trump supporters: 50 percent
- Party supporters: 31 percent
Approve of Trump’s handling of Charlottesville
- Trump supporters: 55 percent
- Party supporters: 31 percent
Strange and allies have outspent Moore by nearly a 5-to-1 advantage
If Moore wins, he’ll do so despite being outspent over the TV airwaves. Strange has enjoyed nearly a 5-to-1 advantage in TV ad spending, with his top ally — the Mitch McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund — spending nearly $3.5 million for commercials backing him since the August primary election.
Data provided to NBC News by Advertising Analytics LLC show that Strange and his allies have booked a total of about $4.7 million on Alabama airwaves during the runoff, compared with just $1 million for Roy Moore and his backers.
Strange also has about a 4-to-1 advantage on spots aired. About 8,800 pro-Strange ads — compared to 2200 pro-Moore ads, have aired in the state during the runoff.
Other races to watch today
In addition the GOP Senate runoff in Alabama, there are a handful of state special elections worth keeping an eye on tonight.
Florida SD-40: For this Miami-area state Senate seat, Democrat Annette Taddeo (whose name you may recognize from unsuccessful congressional runs in past years as well as her spot on Charlie Crist’s 2014 ticket) is up against Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz — a onetime contestant on “The Apprentice.” The area went for Clinton by nearly 20 points in 2016, but it was also carried by Marco Rubio. The seat was previously held by a Republican who was forced to resign earlier this year after using racist slurs in front of black colleagues. More on the race here.
Florida HD-116: State Senate candidate Jose Felix Diaz (above) had to resign his House seat to run. The district went narrowly for Clinton in 2016, but backed Romney by 11 points in 2012.
NH-Rockingham 4: Both Trump and Romney won by double digits in this district, which is an open Republican seat.
South Carolina HD-31: This open Democratic House seat in Spartanburg has gone for Democratic presidential candidates 3-1 in the last two cycles.
Susan Collins deals a potential death blow to the GOP health care bill
Meanwhile… “The GOP's last-ditch effort to repeal and replace Obamacare received what appeared to be a fatal blow Monday evening when Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, announced her decision not to support the bill, becoming the crucial third Republican to oppose it,” NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell writes. “Collins joins Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Rand Paul of Kentucky as GOP "no" votes. Unless one of them switches their position, Republicans can't muster the 50 voted needed to pass it.”
Trump: Puerto Rico “is in deep trouble”
In a trio of tweets last night, President Trump commented on the devastation in Puerto Rico.
Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble......It's old electrical grid, which was in terrible shape, was devastated. Much of the Island was destroyed, with billions of dollars.......owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with. Food, water and medical are top priorities - and doing well. #FEMA
Trump holds a news conference with Spain’s prime minister at 1:45 pm ET.
It’s not just Jared Kushner who was using private email
“At least six of President Trump’s closest advisers occasionally used private email addresses to discuss White House matters, current and former officials said on Monday,” the New York Times writes.
“The disclosures came a day after news surfaced that Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and adviser, used a private email account to send or receive about 100 work-related emails during the administration’s first seven months. But Mr. Kushner was not alone. Stephen K. Bannon, the former chief White House strategist, and Reince Priebus, the former chief of staff, also occasionally used private email addresses. Other advisers, including Gary D. Cohn and Stephen Miller, sent or received at least a few emails on personal accounts, officials said.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded, “All White House personnel have been instructed to use official email to conduct all government related work. They are further instructed that if they receive work-related communication on personal accounts, they should be forwarded to official email accounts.”