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2019 bellwether elections kick off with Louisiana's jungle primary Saturday

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.
Image:
Eddie Rispone, left, responds to a question as Gov. John Bel Edwards, center, and Republican Rep. Ralph Abraham look on during a gubernatorial debate on Sept. 19, 2019, in Baton Rouge, La.Bill Feig / Pool, The Advocate via AP

WASHINGTON — Tomorrow brings us the first of the 2019 gubernatorial races — the jungle primary for Louisiana governor.

And the name of the game is whether Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards can clear the 50 percent threshold to avoid the Nov. 16 runoff.

Democrats eyeing the race believe they’re on the cusp of clearing 50 percent; a recent Mason-Dixon poll had Edwards at 45 percent among registered voters, with 10 percent undecided.

Republicans, on the other hand, are confident they’ll keep him below the threshold, which would force a runoff with either Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-La., or businessman Eddie Rispone. (The Mason-Dixon poll had Rispone at 22 percent and Abraham at 17 percent.)

And guess who’s coming to Louisiana today — President Trump, who holds a rally in Lake Charles at 8:00 pm ET.

But maybe the biggest storyline here is the totality of the three southern/red-state gubernatorial races of 2019: Louisiana, Kentucky and Mississippi.

They’re all competitive, and Republicans losing two out of three should send alarm bells inside the GOP, since we’re talking about three red states.

Winning all three would be a relief for the GOP given the current political climate.

And the GOP losing one — most likely Louisiana, either on Saturday or in the runoff — would represent the status quo.

By the way, Republicans are pleased with the early-vote numbers, which seem more GOP leaning than four years ago.

Then again, there’s maybe a reason why more Louisianans (and Republicans) have voted early: LSU plays Florida in Baton Rouge on Saturday night.

Data Download: The number of the day is … $31 million

$31 million.

That’s the total amount of money that’s been spent in Louisiana’s gubernatorial contest on TV and radio ads, as of Saturday’s contest.

Republican candidates and outside groups have spent $15.8 million, while Democrats have spent $15.2 million.

The top advertisers:

  • Edwards (D): $8.4 million
  • Rispone (R): $8.1 million
  • Pro-Edwards Gumbo PAC (D): $6.0 million
  • Republican Governor's Association: $4.6 million
  • Abraham (R): $2.0 million

Some GOP senators are having a hard time defending Trump

Vulnerable 2020 Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., was unable to give a simple yes-or-no answer on whether it’s appropriate for the president of the United States to ask a foreign leader to investigate a rival.

Ditto Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., released a statement saying that it was inappropriate for a president to be talking with a foreign government to investigate a political opponent. But Alexander added that impeachment would be a mistake, because it would divide the country.

“An election, which is just around the corner, is the right way to decide who should be president,” he said.

(But the hole in that logic: Isn’t the legitimacy of that election compromised when the president is using the powers of his office to hurt his opponents?)

The latest in the impeachment inquiry

NBC’s Geoff Bennett says that ousted Ukraine envoy Marie “Masha” Yovanovitch is scheduled to appear today for a closed-door deposition at 10:00 am ET before the House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs Committees.

While NBC News reports the committees still expect Yovanovitch to testify despite the White House vow not to cooperate with the ongoing probe, one source close to Yovanovitch says it’s assumed that she would have to first quit her role as a State Department foreign service officer in order to appear.

Also, NBC’s Josh Lederman, Carol E. Lee and Kristen Welker report that Fiona Hill, who had been Trump’s top aide on Russia and Europe, “plans to tell Congress that Rudy Giuliani and E.U. ambassador Gordon Sondland circumvented the National Security Council and the normal White House process to pursue a shadow policy on Ukraine, a person familiar with her expected testimony told NBC News.”

And the question we have after all of yesterday’s Rudy Giuliani/Giuliani business associate news: Is Rudy going to be set up as the fall guy here?

2020 Vision: Addressing LGBTQ issues

Nine presidential candidates spoke last night at an LGBTQ forum hosted by the Human Rights Campaign and CNN. NBC’s Marianna Sotomayor and Benjamin Pu have the highlights:

Joe Biden reminisced about getting out in front of President Obama when he went on “Meet the Press” in 2012, and said he was “absolutely comfortable” with gay marriage. Per Sotomayor and Pu, “Biden was also very blunt tonight, saying that as president he would constantly be reminding people about the hardships members of the LGBTQ community face because currently ‘homophobes’ are controlling ‘the agenda.’”

Pete Buttigieg was met by transgender and Black Lives Matter protestors the moment he stepped on stage, and he spoke about being a member of the LGBTQ community – but one not facing the discrimination that minorities and transgender minorities face.

Elizabeth Warren cleaned up an answer from 2012, when she said that gender reassignment surgery for a transgender inmate wasn’t a “good use of tax payer dollars.” Last night, Warren said “It was a bad answer. And I believe that everyone is entitled to medical care and medical care that they need and that includes people who are transgender who it is the time for them to have gender-affirming surgery.”

On the campaign trail

Today: Elizabeth Warren appears at a pride parade in Las Vegas… And Andrew Yang, Tulsi Gabbard and Steve Bullock are in New Hampshire.

Saturday: Pete Buttigieg speaks with the New Yorker’s David Remnick in New York City before holding a town hall in Des Moines, Iowa… Kamala Harris and Steve Bullock are also in Iowa… Yang and Gabbard remain in New Hampshire… And John Delaney is also in the Granite State, where he holds a town hall.

Dispatches from NBC’s embeds

Sotomayor and Pu have the LGBTQ performances for some of the other 2020 Democrats: Cory Booker was pressed on an op-ed he wrote as a college student where he wrote he was “disgusted by gays.” Booker said, “I wanted to try to push people to understand the absurdities of homophobia, and became a campus activist on those issues, and so I wrote this article to challenge people about their homophobia and about their hatred and to say the euphemisms we use for hatred is just wrong.”

Beto O’Rourke promised that under his administration organizations would lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage.

And per Sotomayor and Pu, “Kamala Harris raised eyebrows when she came on stage and introduced herself with the pronouns she wanted to be referred as — ‘she, her and hers.’”

Tweet of the day

The Lid: You’re as cold as ice

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at a new Pew Research Center poll that shows just how frosty the two parties are becoming toward each other.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

They knew all along? The Washington Post reports that at least four national security officials raised concerns before and after Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president.

Attorney General Bill Barr met privately with Rupert Murdoch this week.

Here’s what Trump had to say about Joe Biden and his son at last night’s Minneapolis rally.

A senior Pompeo aide is stepping down.

And some Trump allies are worried that they can’t count on Senate Republicans in the impeachment fight.

Trump Agenda: He takes my money when I’m in need

Trump asked Rex Tillerson to work with Giuliani to stop the prosecution of a Turkish Iranian gold trader who was one of Giuliani’s clients.

Here’s more on what we know about those two Giuliani business associates who were arrested yesterday.

Trump staffers are split on his abrupt Syria move.

Lindsey Graham was the target of a prankster’s phone call, and some of what he said has him in hot water.

2020: “Congressman 1”

“Congressman 1” could be in trouble.

Bernie Sanders says that voters have a “right to know” about his health.

Tom Steyer wants to use his ranch to talk about the next generation of climate-friendly farming.

The Wall Street Journal looks at the counties that have backed every single presidential winner since Ronald Reagan.

Will retiring GOP members of Congress break with Trump?