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Five things to watch for in the next Democratic debates

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.
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Senator for Vermont Bernie Sanders and Senator for California Kamala Harris arrive on stage for part two of the first Democratic primary debate in Miami on June 27, 2019.Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — With less than two weeks to go before the second set of Democratic primary debates, hosted by CNN in Detroit on July 30 and July 31, we now know who will be on stage each night. Here’s the lineup, per CNN’s live draw last night.

Tuesday, July 30: Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Beto O'Rourke, Amy Klobuchar, Steve Bullock, Tim Ryan, John Hickenlooper, John Delaney and Marianne Williamson.

Wednesday, July 31: Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Julián Castro, Andrew Yang, Bill de Blasio, Michael Bennet, Tulsi Gabbard, Kirsten Gillibrand and Jay Inslee.

Knowing those lineups, here are the five storylines we’ll be watching for:

  1. The battle on the left: In June, Sanders and Warren appeared on different nights, giving each the opportunity to stake out ground on the left. Competitors seemed particularly reluctant to criticize Warren, which allowed her to occupy that space virtually unscathed on the first night of the first debate. But with Sanders losing ground in recent polls — and Warren rising in both polls and fundraising — both may be eager to create some differentiation between their brands when they share a stage.
  2. Biden v. Harris, round two: By far, the most memorable exchange of the first debates was Harris’ damaging attack on Biden over bussing and his past comments about segregationists. Biden didn’t seem well-prepared at all for that onslaught in June, but he’ll have to show he’s ready to revisit racial issues when he shares the stage with her again.
  3. O’Rourke and Buttigieg face off: Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s monster second quarter fundraising haul proved what we’d already had plenty of anecdotal evidence to show — that the South Bend mayor had replaced O’Rourke as the fresh young (white, male) face in the race with a strong donor base and compelling personal story. The two appeared on different nights in June, but Detroit could be O’Rourke’s last best chance to reclaim some of that status (if he still can.)
  4. One new face on the scene: Montana Gov. Steve Bullock will make his debate debut, replacing recent drop-out Eric Swalwell. But his pitch as a middle-of-the-country moderate who can work with Republicans will have competition from plenty of others on the stage who are eager to make a similar argument, including Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Hickenlooper.
  5. Night Two candidates probably have an advantage — again: One thing we learned from the first set of debates was that even a candidate who performs well on Night One (i.e. Warren or Castro) gets a maximum of 24 hours of positive coverage before being overshadowed by Night Two’s news. The burden will be on Night One’s contenders in Detroit to break through in a way that keeps them in the spotlight for as long as possible — especially with looming anticipation for Wednesday’s Biden/Harris rematch.

Fact-checking Trump’s apparent walk-back from “Send her back”

Our Hill and White House teams confirm reports that some GOP lawmakers made clear to Vice President Mike Pence yesterday that they were concerned about the “Send her back” chants targeted at Rep. Ilhan Omar during Trump’s North Carolina rally on Wednesday night.

And that message got through at least enough to prompt the president to tell reporters yesterday “I was not happy with it - I disagree with it.” And he argued that he “started speaking very quickly” over the chanting.

But NBC’s Monica Alba notes that Trump stopped speaking for about 13 seconds as the “Send her back” chant began, even stepping slightly back from the podium.

And, about 10 minutes later in the same speech, he hardly shied away from the talking point that started the chants in the first place.

“Tonight, I have a suggestion for the hate-filled extremists who are constantly trying to tear our country down,” he said to a cheering crowd. “They never have anything good to say. That’s why I say: hey, if they don’t like it, let them leave, let them leave. Let them leave! They’re always telling us how to run it, how to do this, how to what. You know what. If they don’t love it, tell them to leave it!”

Tweet of the day

2020 Vision: Favorite flicks

Our friends at E! surveyed the 2020 presidential candidates on some of their pop-culture favorites.Here are their favorite movies:

Kamala Harris: "My Cousin Vinny"

Pete Buttigieg: "The Godfather," "Gangs of New York"

Julian Castro: "The Breakfast Club"

Cory Booker: "Star Wars," "Rocky," and "In the Heat of the Night"

Michael Bennet: "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

Jay Inslee: "The Wizard of Oz"

Bill de Blasio: "Seven Days in May"

Steve Bullock: "Fletch"

Marianne Williamson: "The Mission"

On the campaign trail

Today: Elizabeth Warren and Beto O’Rourke participate in the AARP forum in Iowa… Steve Bullock also remains in the Hawkeye State, stumping in Ottumwa (his mother’s hometown), Oskaloosa and Winterset… And Julian Castro is in New Hampshire.

Saturday: Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, O’Rourke and Bullock are in Iowa… Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bennet stump in New Hampshire… And Joe Biden is in Nevada.

Sunday: Sanders remains in Iowa… Buttigieg attends the NAACP convention in Detroit.

Dispatches from NBC’s embeds

Several NBC campaign embeds spoke with voters on the trail about Trump’s comments about “the squad” and the “send her back” chants this week.

  • A Trump voter in South Carolina told Jordan Jackson: “Those comments are very insensitive and inappropriate, and I feel like the leader of our country in supposed to be unifying people as opposed to tearing them apart.”
  • Julia Jester reports a millennial woman’s reaction in New Hampshire: “We have a lot of work to do not in the Oval Office but in the hearts and minds and opinions of everyone in this country.”
  • Priscilla Thompson spoke with a teacher in Indiana: “When things are wrong, you need to correct them, regardless of what party or where you're from, or how much money you make.”
  • Maura Barrett spoke with an immigrant in North Carolina: “Ilhan Omar is as much a citizen as everyone in that crowd chanting. There is no plausibility legally to do that, it is quite frustrating to see people who once legalized immigration talk about something that is not legally possible.”

Data Download: The number of the day is… 54 percent

54 percent.

That’s President Donald Trump’s approval rating in the American South, according to a new NBC News|SurveyMonkey regional poll.

The poll — which included 4,203 respondents who are registered voters in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia — found that 38 percent strongly approve of the job the president is doing, with another 16 percent saying they somewhat approve.

That’s virtually unchanged from a similar poll last September, which found 36 percent of Southern respondents strongly approving of the president and 16 percent saying they approve “somewhat.”

The Lid: Waffle House

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at how many Democratic primary voters are still far from a decision on 2020.

Another Shameless Plug: New Chuck ToddCast!

Still hankering for more details about the second fundraising quarter? We’ve got you covered with the newest episode of the Chuck ToddCast, featuring your First Read team.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

The Washington Examiner reports on a 2013 plea deal by Kamala Harris’ office involving a San Diego mayor accused of serial sexual harassment.

NBC’s Alex Moe previews next week’s much-anticipated testimony from former special counsel Robert Mueller on the Hill.

New court documents show that Trump spoke repeatedly with Michael Cohen as the lawyer worked to keep the Stormy Daniels allegations quiet.

House Democrats are trying to deescalate the internal war that exploded last week.

Rep. Ilhan Omar’s constituents stood by her at a Minneapolis town hall last night.

Trump agenda: More tensions with Iran

The president says the U.S. shot down an Iranian drone yesterday in the Strait of Hormuz. (Iran denies that claim.)

Trump says he’ll nominate Eugene Scalia — son of the late Supreme Court justice — to head the Labor Department.

POLITICO reports that the Trump administration wants to slash refugee admissions to zero.

2020: Minimum wage fight

Workers on Bernie Sanders’ campaign are demanding a $15 hourly wage.

Joe Biden is out with a new plan to help revitalize rural America.

John Delaney is taking on Joe Biden for having no “new ideas.”

Kamala Harris is headed to Iowa for five days.

Hollywood stars are giving big money to Pete Buttigieg.