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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:

McConnell to launch radio ads calling for people to 'take advantage of this miracle and get vaccinated'

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will soon run radio ads in Kentucky to promote vaccination efforts, a source familiar with his plans confirmed to NBC News.

The new ads, paid for by McConnell's campaign account (he won reelection last year and doesn't face voters again until 2026), will connect McConnell's childhood polio diagnosis to the new fight against Covid, calling on Americans to "take advantage of this miracle and get vaccinated." 

"As a young boy, I faced a different disease. I contracted polio. Back then, it took decades for us to develop a vaccine. This time, thanks to American investment and ingenuity — and especially thanks to the tireless work of our scientists, doctors and health care heroes— it took less than a year for us to develop three highly effective Covid vaccines," McConnell says in the to-be-released ad. 

"This is not complicated. Ninety-seven percent of people hospitalized for Covid are not vaccinated. If you haven’t been vaccinated, do the right thing for you — for your family — and get vaccinated right now," he adds, directing listeners to the government vaccination website "Vaccines.gov." 

The push from McConnell comes as the highly contagious Delta variant spreads across the United States. Spikes in cases and hospitalization, as well as new developments in understanding the variant's effects, have led to new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that all people wear masks in areas with low vaccination rates, and that school children should too, regardless of vaccination status. 

The spikes are particularly acute in states with low vaccination rates, many of which are in America's South. Covid-related hospitalizations in Louisiana increased by 169 between Monday and Tuesday, an increase the state's Department of Health called the largest since March 2020. 

Many prominent Republicans have criticized vaccine mandates and some have questioned the vaccines themselves. 

But as the virus rages, particularly in his home state, Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy told NBC News that he's planning to release another public statement endorsing vaccines, and that he is listening to the recommendations of health care professionals when it comes to things like masking and vaccinations. 

"When a booster is available, I’m gonna take it. My wife’s taking it, my son’s taking it. And frankly, I’m so confident in it that [if] they told me, 'Kennedy, with the booster, you gotta take a shot in your eyeball,' I’d probably do it,” he said. 

"It scares the hell out of me, it’ll kill you dead as a doornail, I’ve seen it. And we’ve got a way to stop it. You don’t have to take it if you don’t want to — this is America — but it scares me to death."

Virginia governor ad watch: 'Election integrity' and puppies

It's a busy day on the airwaves in the Virginia gubernatorial race, with both candidates launching new ads in the race to define Republican Glenn Youngkin as the political newcomer seeks to upset former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe. 

The new spot from the McAuliffe campaign plays into a strategy they've centered on in recent days — using Youngkin's comments during the primary to connect him to former President Donald Trump's lies about the 2020 election, notably as the issue finds its way back into the headlines amid Congress' investigation into the attack on the Capitol. 

The ad quotes Youngkin talking about the "election integrity" task force he launched "on week one" of his campaign in the GOP primary. 

It comes one day after McAuliffe called on Youngkin to drop out of a local GOP event billed as an "election integrity" rally, accusing the Republican of "promoting Trump's dangerous lies." 

"Glenn, enough is enough. Stop embarrassing Virginia and stop promoting Trump’s dangerous lies. Withdraw from this event," McAullife said. 

The Youngkin camp responded in a statement, criticizing McAuliffe for opposing "requiring a photo ID to vote, which undermines the integrity of our elections and makes it easier to cheat."

And as the hits keep coming from the McAuliffe camp and its allies, Youngkin is out with a new TV ad of his own that aims to make light of the attacks and soften his image. 

In an ad reminiscent to the one Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock launched during his 2020 bid, the narrator castigates the Republican for a slew of tongue-in-cheek "crimes" like leaving dirty dishes in the sink before Youngkin says he's not focused on the negative campaigning. 

"Here come the negative attack ads. Terry McAuliffe is going to try to scare you with lies about me, because he doesn't want to talk about his own extreme views. What's next? I hate dogs?" Youngkin says in the ad. 

What the NBC/WSJ poll got wrong in 2020 — and what we are doing to fix it

Political polls of all stripes swung and missed in the 2020 presidential election.

In fact, according to a recent American Association for Public Opinion Research report, the cumulative error was the largest in 40 years.

That includes the performance of our national NBC News/Wall Street Journal, which showed Joe Biden leading Donald Trump by 10 points in the final survey before the election, when Biden’s eventual popular-vote victory over Donald Trump was 4.5 points, 51.3percent to 46.8 percent.

In the months after the election, the bipartisan team of pollsters who conduct the national NBC News poll — the Wall Street Journal is no longer a partner — evaluated the poll and its 10,000 interviews in all of 2020 compared with actual voters from states’ voter files.

Some of the findings from the analysis:

  • The actual electorate was whiter and older than our poll showed: In our October merged surveys, 18 percent of voters were 65+ (when actual senior voters were 26 percent, per the modeled voter file), and 72 percent were white-non Hispanic (when they were actually 74 percent).
  • The poll overstated Biden’s support among seniors: One reason why is because of the percentage of Black seniors (versus white seniors) was higher than it turned out to be.
  • The poll overstated Biden’s support in urban areas (and also slightly in rural areas) compared with the actual results: "Our analysis of county-based data shows our over-estimation of Biden's margin over Trump was primarily concentrated in urban areas across geographies," the pollsters said.
  • The poll was slightly too Dem-leaning: The modeled party score from our voter file (D+9) and our October surveys (D+8) was more Democratic than the actual 2020 voters turned out to be (D+5).

The NBC pollsters found other complicating factors, including declining poll participation rates, the coronavirus pandemic (blue-collar voters made up 19 percent of registered voters for the poll in 2019 and 20 percent in the Jan. 2020 survey, but they were 17 percent for the rest of 2020), and Trump’s unique role (Biden was +10 on the ballot, but it was D+5 in congressional preference).

Going forward, here are the changes the pollsters are making:

  • They are adjusting samples to be slightly older and keep white non-Hispanics above 70 percent of registered voters.
  • They are incorporating additional quotas by age and ethnicity, and will use a geography-based sampling frame based on size and county type.
  • They will ask undecided voters again for a final preference between the Republican or Democratic candidate if forced to make a decision today.
  • And they will closely track the percentage of blue-collar workers in our surveys.

Tuesday marks election day in Texas House special election

Texans in the state's Sixth Congressional District will choose a new member of Congress Tuesday between two Republicans, Susan Wright and state Rep. Jake Ellzey. 

Democrats have no candidate on the ballot after Wright and Ellzey finished in the top slots of the first round of voting in May. Now, both Republicans are running for the right to replace the late former GOP Rep. Ron Wright, Susan Wright's husband. 

One major dynamic at play here has been the endorsement battle.

Wright has the backing of former President Trump (and a slew of other GOP voices like the Club for Growth, Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas, and Reps. Elise Stefanik, N.Y., Kay Granger, Texas, and Chip Roy, Texas. 

And Ellzey is supported by former Energy Secretary and Texas GOP Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas.

While fundraising data from the race lags by a few weeks because of federal campaign finance deadlines, through July 7, Ellzey had a significant fundraising lead. He had raised $1.74 million up to that point, spending $1.25 million with $490,000 in cash on hand. By comparison, Wright had raised $740,000, spending $577,000 with $164,000 in cash on hand. 

But Wright has had the advertising edge, thanks to air-cover from the Club for Growth, which has spent $420,000 on ads benefitting Wright, according to AdImpact (that's more than any other individual entity in the race). 

Trump has repeatedly reiterated his endorsement over the race's final weeks, and recorded a robocall for the Wright campaign down the stretch. A pro-Trump super PAC reportedly linked to Trump's 2016 campaign manager, Cory Lewandowski, dropped $100,000 on last-minute TV-ads to boost Wright. 

Progressive group buys $2 million in ads to push tax hikes on wealthy

The advocacy group Tax March is giving air cover to President Joe Biden’s push for higher taxes on wealthy Americans, buying $2 million worth of ads over the next three weeks in swing states and districts calling on upper earners to pay more.

“If you can afford to launch yourself in space, you can pay your fair share in taxes,” a narrator in the ad says, featuring footage of Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Richard Branson, who have dabbled in space exploration.

The ads will run on TV and digital platforms in Washington, D.C., NBC News has learned, as well as in Wisconsin (targeting Republican Sen. Ron Johnson), New York’s 24th district (targeting GOP Rep. John Katko) and Iowa’s 1st district (targeting GOP Rep. Ashley Hinson), said Maura Quint, the executive director of Tax March.

The ads will begin Tuesday and last until Aug. 15, she said. They come as Democrats prepare to advance a $3.5 trillion budget measure that will serve as the vehicle for Biden’s proposed economic safety net expansions and tax hikes on corporations and those making above $400,000.

“Increasing taxes on the wealthy is a beneficial thing across the board,” Quint said in an interview, describing it as a means to bridge income inequality, pay for Biden’s economic spending proposals and prevent billionaires from attempting to buy politics.

Quint cited the popularity of tax hikes on high earners in surveys and said it “will be very disappointing” if Democrats cannot achieve that while they control the White House and Congress. “We’re going to be fighting very, very hard to push these policies.”

The group also said it's planning to buy a billboard to promote the cause in Times Square, the home of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat.

Trump records robocall for Texas' Wright ahead of special election runoff

Former President Donald Trump has recorded a robocall for Republican Susan Wright ahead of her face-off against GOP state Rep. Jake Ellzey in Tuesday's runoff election. 

Wright tweeted audio of the robocall this past weekend, with Trump reiterating his endorsement of Wright and calling on supporters to vote for her. 

"I'm asking you to go out and vote for a great Republican, a great woman, Susan Wright," Trump says in the robocall. 

"She's outstanding. Like me, she's strong on immigration, she's tough on crime, and she's going to cut your taxes." 

Wright and Ellzey are running in the Texas Sixth District runoff after both were the top vote-getters in the May election to replace the late Rep. Ron Wright, who died earlier this year. Texas election laws have the top-two candidates in a special election move onto a general election unless one wins a majority of the vote on the first ballot.  

Trump went on to praise the former congressman in the robocall, saying that his wife will "carry on Ron's legacy." The call notes that its distribution will be paid for by the Wright campaign. 

The news of the robocall wasn't the only Trump-related development in the race over the weekend. Make America Great Again Action Inc, a super PAC reportedly helmed by former 2016 Trump campaign manager Cory Lewandowski, reported a last-minute, $100,000 TV-ad expenditure aimed at boosting Wright. 

McAuliffe launches first TV ad of general election

Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin has blanketed Virginia’s airwaves for months, and now his opponent, former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, is up with his first TV ad since clinching the Democratic nomination. 

The ad touts McAuliffe’s record as Virginia governor from 2014-2017, and it also ties Youngkin to former President Donald Trump.

“When I was governor last time, I worked with reasonable Republicans to get things done,” McAuliffe says in the ad. “We created thousands of new jobs, put billions into our infrastructure projects and a billion dollars into education.” 

“But let me be clear, Glenn Youngkin is not a reasonable Republican. He is a loyalist to Donald Trump.”

It's no surprise that Trump is a central figure in the ad — McAuliffe has, from even before he won the primary election, made Trump a centerpiece of his own bid, criticizing Youngkin and trying to tie him to the former president who lost the state in 2020 by 10 points. 

Youngkin even sought to push back at that messaging in a recent digital ad where he linked the Democrat to Trump. And on Wednesday night, Youngkin tried to frame McAuliffe as the partisan. 

The Republican nominee has had the airwaves largely to himself, at least in the general election, until today. From the day McAuliffe clinched the Democratic nomination (June 8), Youngkin has spent $3.6 million on TV and digital ads, according to AdImpact, compared to less than $300,000 in ad spending by McAuliffe, all on digital. But McAuliffe, a strong fundraiser, is expected to ramp up the TV spending in the months to come in the highest-profile race of 2021. 

Former Democratic Rep. Finkenauer running for Senate in Iowa

Former Iowa Democratic Rep. Abby Finkenauer is running for Senate, looking to win the seat currently held by longtime Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley. 

Finkenauer, 32, served one term in Congress after winning Iowa's First District in the 2018 midterms, but lost to now GOP Rep. Ashley Hinson in one of the top congressional races of 2020. An early endorser of President Joe Biden, Finkenauer emphasized the working class and those being "left behind" in her announcement video. She also includes a significant focus on the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, laying blame at the feet of Republicans like Grassley for not protecting democracy. 

"The politicians who have been there for decades don’t really want people like us there. They think they own democracy and they were silent when it was attacked. It’s politicians like Sen. Grassley and Mitch McConnell who should know better, but are so obsessed with power they oppose anything that moves us forward. Since the Capitol was attacked, they’ve turned their backs on democracy and on us," she said. 

Grassley hasn't said whether he'd run or not, but if the 87-year-old seeks re-election, he'd be the heavy favorite in a state former President Trump won twice and where he's been the senator for more than 40 years. 

In a statement, National Republican Senatorial Committee spokeswoman Katharine Cooksey framed Finkenauer as too liberal for the state.

“Abby Finkenauer and her far-Left positions are indistinguishable from those of Bernie Sanders, AOC, and the socialist squad, so it’s not surprising Iowans fired her just last year," she said.

Right now, Finkenauer is the highest-profile Democrat in the race. Rep. Cindy Axne hasn't ruled out a bid and former county supervisor Dave Muhlbauer is the other Democrat running right now.

New fundraising totals show how party committees are gearing up for crucial midterms

The Democratic National Committee edged out the Republican National Committee in fundraising over the first six months of the year, even as Republican congressional committees edged out their Democratic rivals over the same time period. 

The DNC raised $87.1 million through June, with $63.1 million left in the bank, new Federal Election Commission reports show. By comparison, the RNC raised $85 million but ended June with significantly more money, $81.7 million, in the bank, than the DNC. National party committees 

At the congressional-committee level, both the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Congressional Campaign Committee outraised their Democratic counterparts, with both parties flush with cash as the battle for control of Congress begins. 

The NRCC closed its June books having raised $79.3 million this year and with $55 million in the bank. The DCCC finished with $70.7 million and $44.3 million in cash on hand. 

The NRSC raised $51.2 million through June and banked $25.1 million, with the DSCC raising $46.6 million and banking away $11.6 million. 

The congressional committees are largely more flush with cash than they were ahead of the 2018 midterms, as Democrats' narrow majorities in the House and Senate mean that both chambers will be up for grabs in the 2022 midterms 

Early voting begins in Texas House special election

Monday marks the beginning of early voting in Texas’ 6th Congressional District special election runoff, as voters get ready to choose the Republican who will fill the empty seat. 

The seat’s been vacant since January, when GOP Rep. Ron Wright passed away. His widow, Susan Wright, and state Rep. Jake Ellzey are running against each other in a runoff because they were the two highest vote-getters in the first round of voting in May, but neither was able to win the race outright with the majority of the vote. 

Susan Wright, widow of GOP Rep. Ron Wright, and Rep. Jake EllzeySusan Wright for Congress; Jake Ellzey for Congress

Susan Wright is running with the backing of former President Donald Trump, Reps. Stefanik, Granger, Roy, Gohmert, Sen. Ted Cruz and more. She’s raised $740,000 for her bid, but has spent a little more than $576,000. 

While he lacks the marquee national endorsements, Ellzey is backed by former Texas Republican Gov. (and former Energy Secretary) Rick Perry, Texas GOP Rep. Dan Crenshaw and the Dallas Morning News’ Editorial Board. Plus, he’s the leading fundraiser in the race, having raised $1.7 million and spent almost $1.3 million. 

While Wright has been significantly outspent on the airwaves by Ellzey, she has received some significant air cover from a powerful ally: the conservative Club for Growth Action. The Club has spent almost $350,000 on ads for Wright, making the group the largest ad spender in the race, according to AdImpact, and pushing the combined pro-Wright spending above that of pro-Ellzey forces. 

What we learned from the second campaign fundraising deadline of 2021

Thursday marked the Federal Election Commission's 2nd Quarter deadline, covering fundraising for federal candidates largely from April through June (political action committees either file monthly, quarterly, or semi-annually and not included in this deadline).

While it’s still early in the 2022 election cycle, the reports are an important gauge as to how these key contests are shaping up. And that’s particularly important ahead of this cycle, where both the House and the Senate majorities are in play.

Here’s a look at some of what we learned from the 2nd Quarter FEC reports.

The battle for the Senate is drawing big money

With the balance of power in Congress up for grabs in 2022, Senate incumbents and top challengers are already hauling in eye-popping amounts of money.  

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., leads the pack among incumbents raising money for their re-election — he raised $9.6 million in the second quarter, ending June with a $14.4 million warchest. Scott isn’t seen as particularly vulnerable, as the state hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1998 and Democrat Jaime Harrison ended up losing his 2020 Senate challenge to Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham by about 10 points.

Ohio Republican Mike Gibbons raised more than any other challenger with $6.2 million, but almost $5.7 million of that was in loans. 

Not including personal loans, Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., raised the most of any Senate challenger with $4.7 million raised and $3.1 million in cash on hand. Her would-be GOP opponent (assuming she wins the primary, in which she’s heavily favored), Sen. Marco Rubio, also had a strong quarter and raised $4 million to leave his cash on hand at $6.3 million.  

Ten other incumbents facing re-election raised more than $2 million this past quarter: 

  • Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., ($7.2 million)
  • Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., ($6 million)
  • Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., ($3.3 million)
  • Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., ($3 million)
  • Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-N.M., ($2.8 million)
  • Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., ($2.7 million)
  • Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., ($2.4 million)
  • Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., ($2.2 million)
  • Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., ($2 million)
  • Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., ($2 million).  

Other incumbent senators to note include:  

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., hasn’t announced whether or not he’s seeking re-election, but he raised $1.2 million last quarter should he opt to run again in this battleground state.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who former president Donald Trump has publicly pledged to defeat, raised $1.1 million and is running in a field that includes a Trump-backed Republican challenger.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla. who is facing a primary challenger, raised under $800,000

Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., who just drew a primary challenger, raised less than $900,000.

Senate challengers who raised over $1 million include: Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio,  ($3.1 million); Pennsylvania Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman ($2.5 million); Ohio Republican Bernie Moreno ($2.3 million); Arizona Republican Jim Lamon ($2.2 million); North Carolina Democrat Cheri Beasley ($1.3 million); former North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory ($1.2 million); Pennsylvania Democrat Val Arkoosh ($1 million); and Pennsylvania Republican Jeff Bartos ($1 million).  

Corporate spigot beginning to turn on again, even among those who paused donations after Jan. 6

Many corporations that decided to re-evaluate their political donation policies after the vote on certifying the Electoral College results, as well as the attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters, are still sitting on the sidelines. But others have re-started their giving.  

Toyota has become one of the most prominent companies in this saga — after initially saying they would reassess their giving and then returning to donate to Republicans who voted against the certification, they reversed course and announced they’d no longer donate to lawmakers who objected to that Electoral College count.  

Cigna, American Airlines, Bloomin Brands, Boeing, and UPS are among the companies who expressed concerns about their political donations after Jan. 6 and have since begun donating to those who objected to the Electoral College count again.  

Even so, many of the Republican lawmakers who objected reported little to no corporate donations in the second quarter of 2021.

Anti-Trump Republicans can still raise good money, but so can Trump’s biggest allies 

For the handful of Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in January, their vote may have frustrated many within their party. But it hasn’t necessarily made a dent in their fundraising capacity.  

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., raised $1.9 million last quarter, more than all but six members of Congress. And Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., raised more than $800,000, a significant uptick from his previous fundraising.  

Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio, facing a primary challenger blessed by Trump himself, raised over $600,000 last quarter, more than double what he raised during the same three-month stretch in 2020, months before an election.  

But tying yourself to Trump is still lucrative for a Republican. Rep. Jim Jordan’s, R-Ohio, $1.6 million raised was more than all but seven members of Congress. And Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., finished one just behind Jordan with almost $1.6 million raised, followed by Rep. Matt Gaetz’s, R-Fla., $1.4 million and Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., who raised $1.2 million as she successfully ran to take over Cheney’s spot in GOP House leadership.  

Other odds and ends 

As first reported by the Daily Beast, embattled Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz is burning some serious cash on consulting (and $15,000 to a firm linked to Trump ally Roger Stone.  

A handful of senators with presidential ambitions are filling their campaign coffers despite not having to worry about a race in 2022. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, raised almost $4.7 million last quarter, more than any incumbent senator besides Scott, despite not having to run again until 2024. And Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., raised $2.1 million last quarter and won’t face re-election until 2024 as well.  

Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, also had a huge quarter for a House incumbent, raising more than $3 million, the most of any House member who isn't in leadership or running for Senate.