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GOP primary ads tell the story of party's shift over past decade

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: Dave McCormick
Dave McCormick, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania meets with attendees during a campaign event in Coplay, Pa., on Jan. 25, 2022.Matt Rourke / AP file

WASHINGTON — If it’s Monday… Ukraine’s Zelenskyy warns of new Russian attacks… Secretary of State Blinken says U.S. and European allies are discussing ban on Russian oil imports… Worldwide Covid deaths surpass 6 million… Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., states there are no formal legislative talks going on regarding Biden’s legislative agenda… GOP leads IA-GOV race, per new poll… Conor Lamb picks up congressional Dem endorsement in PA-SEN… And DC Beltway overpowers convoy truckers.

But FIRST… Want to see how much the Republican Party has changed since Donald Trump’s presidency?

Just compare the GOP primary TV ads of 2010, versus what we’re seeing now, especially in the biggest battleground states.

Here was Pat Toomey’s primary ad in Pennsylvania in 2010: “Trillion-dollar bailouts and deficits. Government-run health care. Record unemployment. Had enough?”

Now here’s a 2022 primary ad from David McCormick, one of the Pennsylvania Republicans vying to succeed Toomey in the Senate: “I'm anti-woke, anti-illegal immigration, anti-political correctness, anti-socialism and anti-Joe Biden and the radical left.”

Similarly, this primary ad from the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was one of the most controversial commercials of the 2010 cycle: “Complete the danged fence,” McCain says on a tour of the southern border.

Now check out this ad from Jim Lamon, one of the Arizona Republicans running for Senate in 2022: “If you are pissed off about the direction of our country, let's go. If you're ready to secure the border and stop the invasion, let's go... The time is now. Let's go, Brandon."

Finally, compare this 2010 TV ad from Ron Johnson in Wisconsin: "This 234-year-old experiment that we call America, it is something incredibly precious, and it is being squandered through unsustainable debt, unsustainable spending -- and my concern is we have reached that tipping point. And if we don't pull back from that tipping point we are going to lose the idea and the promise of America.”

Versus this 2022 ad from Johnson: “From open borders, increasing crime and rising inflation, Democrat policies are weakening America. When I ran in 2016, I intended to serve a second term and go home. But today our nation is on a very dangerous path.”

Spot a trend? GOP primary ads now lean heavily on culture-war battles and ramped-up rhetoric, rather than on fiscal policy. Yes, the GOP has changed in the past decade – at least when you watch their TV ads.

Data Download: The number of the day is … 6 million.

That’s the number of people who have died from Covid around the world, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. leads the world in deaths with almost 963,000, followed by Brazil’s 652,000; India’s 515,000; Russia’s 349,000; and Mexico’s 320,000.

There have been about 446.4 million global cases of Covid, with the U.S., India, Brazil, France and the United Kingdom having the most cases.

Other numbers you need to know today

More than 200,000: The estimated number of children who have lost a parent or caregiver to Covid in the U.S.

2.5: The average new Covid hospitalizations per 100,000, which former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb noted on Twitter is “the lowest level since last July.”

141 percent: That’s the increase in GOP primary turnout in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley between 2018 and 2022, an increase that came while Democratic turnout stayed largely stable. Read more from the Texas Tribune.

4: The number of days before the March 11 government funding deadline.

2,762: The number of children deliberately separated from their parents at the border under the Trump administration who have been reunited with their families, per NBC’s Jacob Soboroff. There are still more than 1,000 children who have not been reunited with their families.

57: The number of years since the Bloody Sunday march in Selma, Ala., and the second anniversary since the death of civil rights icon turned Georgia Democratic Congressman John Lewis.

Tweet of the day

Midterm roundup

Republicans are looking to expand the gains made among Hispanic voters in 2020, and they’re courting a growing voting bloc of Colombian Americans, NBC’s Carmen Sesin reports. Along those lines, a new Spanish-language conservative radio network with ties to former President Donald Trump’s campaign launches tomorrow, fueling Democratic fears of disinformation targeting Latino voters, per NBC’s Marc Caputo.

Former Vice President Mike Pence continues to carefully distance himself from Trump, telling GOP donors Friday night that Republicans “cannot win by fighting yesterday’s battles, or by relitigating the past.” And Pence’s advocacy group is planning to spend $10 million on ads targeting vulnerable House Democrats “on energy policy and Ukraine,” per Axios.

Democratic donors and super PACs are re-focusing on governors’ races this year, viewing the contests as part of an “existential” fight for the White House in 2024 and democracy writ large, Politico reports.

In Iowa’s race for governor, GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds had an 8-point lead over Democrat Deidre DeJear in a new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll — 51 percent to 43 percent.

Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., endorsed fellow Rep. Conor Lamb in the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary, becoming the first Democratic member of the congressional delegation to take sides in the contest.

The GOP-controlled Florida Senate recently passed a package of new voting laws, which included a provision requiring the governor to create a police force focused on election crimes. The state House is considering similar legislation.

Ad watch: Buckeye Brawl

The ad war in Ohio’s GOP Senate primary continues, as investment banker Mike Gibbons is out with a new ad hitting two of his opponents: author J.D. Vance and former state GOP party chair Jane Timken.

“They claim to be conservative, but under pressure, they break,” the ad’s narrator says, accusing Timken and Vance of opposing former President Donald Trump. Then, the narrator highlights Gibbons’ similarities to the former president, saying, “Trump and Gibbons are businessmen with a backbone.”

It’s the second time in less than a month where Gibbons is attacking Vance and Timken but notably leaving out others in the contest, like former state Treasurer Josh Mandel. Mandel himself is out with a new ad just this morning, highlighting his time as treasurer.

ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world

Russia is offering a ceasefire and safe passage out of Kyiv that allow civilians to flee to Russia and Belarus — an offer dismissed by Ukraine.

New satellite photos show the first construction in years at a North Korea nuclear test site, NBC News exclusively reports.

Former Trump Attorney General Bill Barr says he wouldn’t have prosecuted the former president over the 2021 riot at the Capitol or for taking classified documents.

The Washington Post reports that during a recent speech to donors, Trump mentioned the hypothetical of American planes flying Chinese flags to confuse Russia while bombing the country.

The Associated Press reports on the “unforced errors” that could complicate the GOP’s path back to the Senate majority.