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Meet the Press Blog: Latest news, analysis and data driving the political discussion

Smart political reporting and analysis, including data points, interesting national trends, short updates and more from the NBC News political unit.
Image: Illustration of photos depicting voters on line, voting booths, the Capitol, the White House and raised hands.
Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Youngkin drops new digital ad that tries to tie Democrat McAuliffe to Trump

Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin is trying to flip the script on his Democratic rival by trying to link former Gov. Terry McAuliffe to former President Donald Trump. 

Trump has endorsed Youngkin. And McAuliffe has spent much of his campaign trying to tie the two Republicans together after Trump lost the state by 10 percentage points. 

But in a new digital ad, the Youngkin campaign tries to push back on that frame by arguing that while McAuliffe "spends all his time attacking Donald Trump," he solicited money from Trump during his own political career. 

The ad points to a $25,000 donation from Trump to McAuliffe during his 2009 gubernatorial campaign (when Trump regularly donated to politicians of both parties, and well before his attacks on then-President Barack Obama's nationality). And it features comments both Trump and McAuliffe made during the 2017 National Governors Association dinner. At the time, McAuliffe helmed the NGA and attended the dinner at the White House, where Trump called him a "friend" and the Democrat toasted Trump as he called for governors to work together to make America stronger. 

"Come on, McAuliffe. Stop talking out of both sides of your mouth," the ad's narrator says. 

Christina Freundlich, a McAuliffe spokesperson, brushed aside the spot in a statement that needled the Republican over the ongoing debate negotiations in the race. 

"No amount of bogus advertising will hide Virginians from Glenn Youngkin's own words: that he is 'honored' to have Donald Trump's endorsement and 'Donald Trump represents so much' of why he's running. Glenn needs to buck up and face Terry McAuliffe in the Virginia Bar Association debate so they can hear him once again give praise to Donald Trump right from his own mouth," Freundlich said. 

McAuliffe's campaign has run digital ads amplifying Youngkin's comments about Trump as well as the former president's endorsement.

Trump also recently put out another statement praising Youngkin that included similar arguments to the one the Republican is making now. 

Kelly, Fetterman and Britt raise big money as 2022 Senate fundraising totals trickle in

Pennsylvania Democratic Senate hopeful Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, is out Thursday with his second-quarter fundraising total: $2.5 million. 

The Federal Election Commission’s second quarter ended in June, but campaigns have until July 15 to file their full fundraising reports. That means that any information about fundraising that trickles out before then comes from the campaigns themselves. 

One of Fetterman’s opponents, Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh, says she raised $1 million last quarter, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Other Democratic primary hopefuls, notably state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, have not yet released their fundraising totals. 

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman introduces Gov.Tom Wolf during an inaugural ceremony on Jan. 15, 2019, in Harrisburg, Pa.Mark Makela / Getty Images file

Ahead of that deadline, here’s what we know so far from some of the 2022 Senate campaigns themselves (note: Unless they publicly volunteer the information, there’s no way to know if a candidate is relying on any form of self-funding until seeing the FEC filings).

Arizona

Incumbent Sen. Mark Kelly raised an eye-popping sum in the second quarter, almost $6 million according to the campaign, which it says leaves Kelly with more than $7 million in the bank. Kelly is running in what could be one of the more competitive races of the cycle, but has been a prolific fundraiser as both a candidate and as a senator. 

Ohio

Two of Ohio’s top GOP Senate candidates have already released their fundraising figures, and they’re quite similar. 

Josh Mandel, the former Ohio state treasurer, says he raised $1.5 million over the quarter, just above the $1.4 million raised by former state GOP chairwoman Jane Timken

Businessman Mike Gibbons, who has loaned significant amounts of his own money to his political career, says he raised $6 million over the quarter. But the campaign also says it had about 1,500 donors over the quarter, which suggests he loaned millions more to his campaign as well. 

On the Democratic side, Rep. Tim Ryan says he raised almost $2.3 million last quarter for his Senate bid. 

North Carolina

Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley reported raising almost $1.3 million in the second quarter in her bid to win the Democratic Senate nomination, despite her launching her campaign almost a month into the quarter. 

State Sen. Jeff Jackson’s campaign announced he raised $700,000 over the second quarter, according to the Charlotte News and Observer

Alabama

Katie Britt, the former chief of staff to the retiring Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, says she has raised $2.2 million since she announced her campaign less than a month before the end of the fundraising quarter. 

One of Britt’s primary opponents, former Ambassador Lynda Blanchard, has loaned her campaign millions of dollars but hasn’t yet released new fundraising figures. Neither has GOP Rep. Mo Brooks, who is also running and has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump. 

Florida

The Florida Senate race is also shaping up to be expensive. Democratic Rep. Val Demings' campaign announced Thursday it raised $4.6 million, while Republican Sen. Marco Rubio told Fox News he raised $4 million. 

Early voting begins in two Ohio special House elections

Voters can begin voting today in two special House elections in Ohio to fill seats vacated by former Reps. Steve Stivers and Marcia Fudge, a Republican and a Democrat respectively. 

Neither district is expected to be competitive in the general election, making the primaries the biggest game in town. And early voting ahead of the Aug. 3 primaries begins Wednesday. 

Here's a glimpse of the state of play in both districts, Ohio's 11th (formerly held by the Democrat Fudge) and 15th (formerly held by the Republican Stivers): 

Ohio's 11th Congressional District 

The Cleveland-area district has turned into a two-candidate race between Democrats Nina Turner and Shontel Brown. 

Turner is a former state senator who made headlines when she shifted allegiances in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary from Hillary Clinton to Bernie Sanders. Turner emerged as one of Sanders' most vocal surrogates, helming his allied political group Our Revolution and serving as his 2020 campaign co-chair.

She's won the backing of national progressives like Sanders, Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ed Markey, the four members of "The Squad," and the co-chairs of the Progressive Caucus, Democratic Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Mark Pocan. But Turner has also won over prominent local endorsements from politicians like Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, former state party chairman David Pepper and the Cleveland Plain Dealer. 

Turner has already spent about $1.2 million on television and digital ads, according to data from AdImpact, and through March (the most recent campaign fundraising deadline) had raised almost $1.6 million. 

Brown, a Cuyahoga County Council representative who lead's the county's branch of the Democratic Party, has won the backing of people including Clinton, Ohio Rep. Joyce Beatty (who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, whose PAC has also endorsed Brown), California Rep. Pete Aguilar (a member of House leadership), and Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan. 

She's spent about $500,000 in digital and television ads, per AdImpact, with the allied Democratic Majority for Israel spending another $180,000. She had raised $640,000 through March

No other candidate had raised over $25,000 through March, and the winner of the primary will be a heavy favorite in a district President Joe Biden won with 80 percent of the vote (according to DailyKos' data). 

Ohio's 15th Congressional District 

The field is a bit wider in the Republican-leaning 15th district. Because Stivers announced his retirement  in April, after the first campaign fundraising deadline of 2021, there's no current information on how much money candidates are raising. 

So far, businessman Thomas Hwang has spent the most of any candidate on television ads, just under $150,000 per Advertising Analytics. Mike Carey, the coal executive backed by former President Donald Trump, has spent the second most, just under $100,000. 

While Jeff LaRe, the state representative endorsed by Stivers, has barely spent on the airwaves, Stivers has spent almost $290,000 with an ad asking voters to support LaRe. 

This is another race where the primary winner will be heavily favored — Trump won the district in 2020 with 56 percent of the vote. 

Fauci says uneven vaccination rates could lead to regional Covid spikes

Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation’s foremost infectious disease experts, told “Meet the Press” that while he's not expecting a new, more transmissible Covid-19 variant to lead to another nationwide spike, he worries that uneven vaccination rates could mean regional spikes in infections. 

"I don't think you're going to be seeing anything nationwide because, fortunately, we have a substantial proportion of the population vaccinated. So it's going to be regional," Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during an interview for a special edition of "Meet the Press" airing Sunday. 

"We're going to see, and I've said, almost two types of America. You know, those regions of America which are highly vaccinated and we have a low level of dynamics of infection. And in some places, some states, some cities, some areas, where the level of vaccination is low and the level of virus dissemination is high. That's where you're going to see the spikes."

The World Health Organization has warned that the new delta variant of Covid-19 is "the most transmissible" yet, leading Fauci to warn previously it's the "greatest threat" to America's attempts to stamp out the virus. Health officials are particularly concerned that the delta variant could wreak havoc on communities where vaccination rates are low. 

Two Senate hopefuls take the plunge

Two Senate hopefuls are taking the plunge on Thursday, announcing their candidacies in the hopes of winning a spot in the U.S. Senate next year. 

Charles Booker, the former Kentucky state lawmaker who narrowly lost Kentucky's Democratic Senate primary in 2020, is running again this cycle in the hopes of dethroning Republican Sen. Rand Paul. 

Booker had previously announced he was exploring a bid, but he made his campaign official in a new video released Thursday. 

"For so many people across Kentucky and across the country, freedom hasn't been freedom for us," Booker says in the video, before evoking Breonna Taylor, the Kentucky woman who was killed in a police raid on her house last year. 

"We can make freedom ring true, we could make it ring for everybody. We can build a future where Breonna's door isn't kicked in."

If Booker wins the Democratic nomination, he'll face Paul in an uphill battle. Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell won his re-election last year by almost 20 points, and Kentucky hasn't elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1992. That said, Democrat Andy Beshear won the governor's race in 2019.

There's also another candidate expected to jump into a Senate field today — author J.D. Vance, who has been eying a run for Senate in Ohio.

Vance is hosting a Thursday evening rally where he's promised a "special announcement," and filed documentation with Federal Election Commission to ready for a Senate bid.

Assuming he runs, the Republican will join a crowded field that's looking to replace the retiring Sen. Rob Portman. On the right, former state GOP treasurer Jane Timken, former secretary of state Josh Mandel and businessmen Bernie Moreno and Mike Gibbons are among the candidates looking for the GOP nomination, while Rep. Tim Ryan is the frontrunner among Democrats. 

Garcia defends ranked-choice voting after NYC errors mar mayoral primary vote count

Kathryn Garcia, the New York City Democratic mayoral hopeful, defended the ranked-choice voting process the city is using for its mayoral primaries after a Board of Elections error threw the vote count into chaos.

During an interview on Wednesday's "MTP Daily," Garcia said that "ranked choice isn't that complicated to do once you have the data." 

"The challenges we had yesterday were not related to rank choice voting, that was a human error, but ranked-choice voting does allow you to really be able to have a positive campaign, and to talk about issues rather than trying to tear down your opponent," she said.

"And so I was very pleased to have ranked-choice voting be part of this, because it's the campaign I wanted to run, was one where I got to talk about the things that were impacting New Yorkers, because we’ve got a lot of work to do."

A look at Texas' border counties as immigration fights heat up

As Republican lawmakers and governors repeatedly attack President Joe Biden's border policies, former President Donald Trump travels to the Texas-Mexico border with Gov. Greg Abbott, R-Texas, on Wednesday. 

Texas' heavily Hispanic border counties (as designated by the state) have seen some strong political shifts over the last decade and are home to some interesting demographic trends. Here's a look at some of the dynamics on the ground in these counties, which are at the center of the immigration debate. 

GOP gains serious ground from 2008 to 2020

Republicans improved their vote share at the presidential level in 20 out of the 32 Texas border counties between 2008 and 2020. The largest gains (of at least 10 percentage points) came in McMullen, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis, Kenedy, Dimmit and Jim Hogg counties. Those counties are all relatively small, with less than 10,000 people (two, Kenedy and McMullen, are among the 10 smallest counties in the state).

While McMullen saw the largest shift toward the GOP over that period — an almost 19-percentage-point improvement of vote share — the few Democratic gains were significantly smaller. In Sutton, the border county with the largest Democratic-vote-share improvement, Democrats gained just 5 percentage points. 

The largest counties in the state — Hidalgo, El Paso, Cameron and Webb all saw single-digit vote-share gains for Republicans over that period. 

Border counties are largely Hispanic, have lower rates of higher education

These counties are also heavily Hispanic — according to 2019 data from the Census' American Community Survey, 28 of the 32 are majority Hispanic, and the majority of households speak Spanish in 25 of the counties.

In fact, 13 of these counties have among the largest share of Hispanics in America compared to any county.

These counties also have other demographic trends in common too. In all 32 counties, less than half the population has a Bachelor's degree or higher, but the majority has graduated high school in all but one of the border counties. 

In all but five counties, the majority of the population are not U.S. citizens.  

And 23 counties, the population increased between 2010 and 2019, compared to nine counties that saw a decrease in population. 

Median household income in all 32 counties in 2019 ranges from $25,000 (Presidio County) to $62,000 (McMullen County). The median household income in the state is just under $62,000.

Covid-19 hits border counties hard, but they have high vaccination rates 

Western Texas, especially many counties along the border, was hit hard by the coronavirus. According to data from the New York Times, 25 percent of all Dimmit County residents had the virus; and 1 in 163 residents of Maverick County died because of it, for example. 

But many of these counties also have among the highest rates of people vaccinated for the coronavirus in the state. For example, 85 percent of those at least 12 years old in Presidio County are fully vaccinated; 71 percent are fully vaccinated in Starr County; 70 percent are fully vaccinated in Webb County; and 65 percent are fully vaccinated in El Paso County. 

Newsom sues California secretary of state to have his party ID included on recall ballot

Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom is favored to defeat the eventual recall election against him.

But he might have to deal with this hurdle: His political party — as of now — won’t be listed on the recall ballot thanks to what amounts to a small paperwork error back in 2020, when organizers were beginning the latest effort to recall him. 

According to Courthouse News, which first reported on the lawsuit, Newsom is suing California's secretary of state to argue he should be able to amend that paperwork, and that California voters have a right "to be accurately and fully informed about the recall election," which his legal team claims includes noting the governor's political party on the ballot. 

The Newsom recall is a two-question ballot: The first asks voters if they want to recall the governor, and the second asks them to choose from a (likely lengthy) list of replacement candidates if the governor is in fact recalled by a majority vote on the first question. 

While the party preference of the incumbent facing recall hadn't always been listed on ballots (it wasn't during the 2003 recall of then-Gov. Gray Davis, who was a Democrat), the law has since been changed to include it. 

There's no set date for the recall election, but the secretary of state confirmed last week that there are enough valid signatures to move forward with scheduling one. 

Youngkin begins Virginia general election with big spending advantage

Three weeks after the Democratic primary and the start of Virginia’s gubernatorial general election, Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin has jumped out to a 40-to-1 ad-spending advantage over Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe, according to data from Adimpact.

Youngkin has spent more than $2.2 million in ads from June 9 (the day after McAuliffe’s primary win) through Monday, June 28, including more than $1.5 million over the Washington, D.C. area’s pricey airwaves to target Northern Virginia voters. (Here’s one of the new TV ads Youngkin has been airing.)

Glenn Youngkin makes his closing remarks during a GOP gubernatorial candidate forum in Lynchburg, Va., on April 19, 2021.Kendall Warner / The News and Advance via AP file

By comparison, McAuliffe has spent just $55,000 on ads during that same time period — all of the amount on digital ads.

The wealthy Youngkin, the former executive of the Carlyle Group, has promised to raise and spend $75 million for his campaign, which the Washington Post says is more than the $66 million the Democratic and GOP campaigns spent, combined, four years ago in this race. 

As the fall general election gets closer, the traditionally well-financed McAuliffe will certainly narrow this spending gap and the former governor spent $5.9 million on ads during the Democratic primary.

But money is going to be one advantage Youngkin will enjoy throughout the course of this campaign.

Nearly 9-in-10 Americans say U.S. is more divided now than before pandemic outbreak

An overwhelming 88 percent of Americans believe the country is more divided now than it was before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, which is up 11 points from a year ago, according to newly released results from a Pew Research Center poll.

Americans believe their country is more divided now than residents of every other advanced nation where Pew asked this question, including in the Netherlands (where 83 percent said their country was more divided than before the pandemic), Germany (77 percent), Spain (77 percent), France (68 percent), Italy (63 percent) and the United Kingdom (54 percent).  

The online poll was conducted Feb. 1-7 of nearly 2,600 U.S. adults — a month after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol — and has a margin of error of plus-minus 2.7 percentage points.The Pew polls for the other nations were conducted this spring.  

To underscore the U.S. political divide over the pandemic, the survey found just 7 percent of liberals thinking there should have been fewer restrictions on public activity during the pandemic, compared with 52 percent of conservatives who said that.  Overall, 56 percent of all Americans surveyed said there should have been more restrictions on public activity during the pandemic over the course of the pandemic.   

Braun: Moment of 'Euphoria,' but long way to go on bipartisan infrastructure deal

Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., celebrated the new, bipartisan infrastructure deal on Thursday's "MTP Daily" even as he warned that lawmakers will still need to do a lot of work to get the bill passed with 60 votes. 

"Clearly, our roads and bridges, and even when you expand infrastructure further to include rural broadband, water, sewer treatment plans, it's a big need for investment," Braun said. 

"What we saw a moment ago was a moment of euphoria before a lot of behind-the-scenes work. I've never seen so many senators laughing in the same spot since I've been here." 

Braun, who was not one of the five Republican and five Democratic senators who decamped to the White House Thursday for negotiations, added that he thinks the deal has a "shot of making it through" if the bill has clear ways to pay for the new spending. But he questioned whether Republicans may balk at the deal because of Democratic promises to seek a second bill, which could be passed only with Democratic support, that includes costly Democratic wish-list issues that were left out of the agreement, like climate change mitigation. 

"It will beg the question: Is this just a way to get our attention by separating the stuff we like out of the bigger reconciliation? Believe me, you'll have many on my side of the aisle that may not be for the hard infrastructure part of it if they think it's just a gimmick to get, in two steps, what we probably would have been against if it had been its entirety," he said. 

"I want to give it the benefit of the doubt. I'm a fiscal hawk. As long as there are hard pay-fors, we need the infrastructure investment.