High-profile runoffs in Alabama and Texas will set the stage for November

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: Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks after results are announced for his candidacy in the Republican Party U.S. Senate primary in Mobile, Alabama
Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks after results are announced for his candidacy in the Republican Party U.S. Senate primary in Mobile, Alabama, March 3, 2020.Elijah Nouvelage / Reuters file

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Carrie Dann and Melissa Holzberg

WASHINGTON — It’s Runoff Tuesday in Alabama and Texas, where Democratic and GOP runoffs will decide the nominees for key Senate and House contests in November.

The marquee matchup today is Alabama’s Republican Senate runoff, where former Sen. and Attorney General Jeff Sessions hopes to win back his old seat — but faces a tough fight against Trump-endorsed former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville. The two men advanced to Tuesday’s runoff after no candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote in the March primary.

Runoffs will also decide several high-profile intraparty contests in the Lone Star State.

Air Force veteran MJ Hegar and state Sen. Royce West will face off to determine which of the two Democrats will take on incumbent Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. (You may remember Hegar, who has the backing of the DSCC and EMILY’s List, from her viral ad “Doors” during her unsuccessful 2018 bid for Congress.) A CBS/YouGov poll out this weekend found both candidates trailing Cornyn in a head-to-head contest.

In the open seat for TX-13, former White House physician and onetime VA Secretary nominee Ronny Jackson is battling against cattle industry lobbyist Josh Winegarner. President Donald Trump is backing Jackson, while retiring GOP Rep. Mac Thornberry has endorsed Winegarner.

There’s also an intriguing GOP runoff in TX-23 to replace retiring Republican Rep. Will Hurd, where Raul Reyes is running with Ted Cruz’s support against Tony Gonzales, who has the backing of Kevin McCarthy, President Trump, Marco Rubio, Steve Scalise, Will Hurd and Rick Perry. The winner faces off against Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones, who narrowly lost to Hurd in 2018 in a district that Hillary Clinton won in 2016.

Runoffs will also decide the field for two open Texas House seats that Democrats hope to flip to blue in November

In TX-22, Republicans are picking between GOP donor (and prolific self-funder) Kathaleen Wall and Fort Bend County sheriff Troy Nehls as the GOP nominee to replace retiring GOP Rep. Pete Olson, who barely avoided defeat two years ago. The winner will face Democratic foreign-service officer and 2018 candidate Sri Preston Kulkarni.

And in TX-24, Democrats will choose their nominee in the seat formerly held by Republican Rep. Kenny Marchant. Retired Air Force colonel Kim Olson is up against school board member Candace Valenzuela, an Afro-Latina whose tale of growing up in poverty has gotten viral attention. The winner will face former Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

3,316,989: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 60,839 more cases than yesterday morning.)

136,402: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 356 more than yesterday morning.)

41.00 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

About 30,000: The number of new cases recorded just yesterday in California, Texas and Florida alone.

5.4 million: The number of Americans who lost their health insurance coverage this spring, according to a new study from Families USA.

51 percent: The share of non-white adults in America who say they are “very worried” that they or a family member will be exposed to coronavirus, compared with just 29 percent of whites who say the same, according to a new NBC News|SurveyMonkey poll.

About 75,000: The number of employees of the unified Los Angeles public school district, which announced yesterday that it will not open for in-person classes in August.

17 years: How long it’s been since the last federal execution. The Supreme Court last night cleared the way for four more.

Talking policy with Benjy: Spiking cases scuttle school reopening plans

President Trump’s efforts to tweet schools into reopening is hitting some major roadblocks. It’s not that state and local officials aren’t trying, Benjy Sarlin writes, it’s that even more ambitious reopening efforts are being rapidly overtaken by the pandemic.

The White House has so far not provided a clear plan as to how it intends to advise and support schools in reopening. But even assuming schools check every box on an airtight safety plan, some public health experts who have advocated for full reopenings warn that getting the virus under control is likely a prerequisite.

Now we’re starting to see consequences of that failure to lower infection rates. On Monday, Los Angeles and San Diego announced the school year would start online-only. San Diego until recently had been pushing for a five-day week of physical attendance, but with cases spiking in California and no sign of new federal aid, that’s off the table.

Similar online-only reopenings appear likely in places like Atlanta and Nashville, which are also facing outbreaks, and they’re threatening to affect other school districts, from Texas to Virginia. Meanwhile more states and metro areas are weighing plans for a hybrid of online and in-person classes to start, with Milwaukee joining places like New York City and Maryland.

Part of the problem, as Dallas’ superintendent explained on MSNBC, is that parents and staff alike are unlikely to go along with any reopening plan if they’re afraid to leave their house amid a raging pandemic. It’s worth asking what the White House and Congress might do to reassure them, but whatever it is, publicly attacking the administration’s own health officials seems unlikely to be the answer.

Tweet of the day

2020 Vision: Climate control

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will deliver remarks at 1:30 pm ET today on climate change, clean energy and infrastructure, per NBC’s Marianna Sotomayor.

Biden’s focus on clean energy is the second part of his “Build Back Better” economic recovery plan that he debuted last week by proposing changes to strengthen U.S. supply chains and keeping jobs in America by reinvesting in manufacturing and technology, Sotomayor adds.

And the Washington Post previews the big policy announcement for Biden’s speech today: The Democrat “plans to outline a proposal Tuesday that would transform the nation’s energy industry with a new pledge to eliminate carbon pollution from power plants by 2035, according to a person briefed on his proposal.”

Ad watch from Ben Kamisar

Today’s watch looks at the overwhelming spending discrepancy in Texas’ Democratic Senate primary runoff, which takes place today.

MJ Hegar and her allies have flooded the airwaves in recent months, leaving Royce West in the dust. Hegar’s campaign, Women Vote! (the EMILY’s List super PAC) and the DSCC have combined to spend $2.2 million on behalf of Hegar on TV and radio, according to Advertising Analytics.

West’s campaign has spent a paltry $22,000 since the two advanced to the runoff, for an ad-spending ratio between the two campaigns of about 102:1.

That spending disparity, plus Hegar’s big-name backers and significant fundraising advantage, has given her an advantage going into the runoff as she runs a race reminiscent of the strategy that helped win Democrats many pivotal House seats in 2018, leaning on health care and her military experience.

But West, a longtime state senator, has bristled at Hegar’s support from outside groups like the DSCC, and has played up his legislative career and work on issues like police reform amid the national upheaval on policing and racial injustice.

So you’re telling me there’s a chance on police reform

After the Senate Republicans’ police reform bill failed to advance passed a procedural vote in June, GOP Sen. Tim Scott — the bill’s architect, and one of three Black senators — said he’s still hopeful reform legislation will happen. House Democrats passed their version of reform already, and many Democrats have said that the Republican version didn’t hold much water. Democrats have called for Republicans to adopt their qualified immunity standards and to ban no-knock warrants in drug cases.

Here’s Scott’s back-and-forth with our Hill team on Monday:

Q: "Are you working with the House on your police reform proposal?"

Scott: "Still working with them."

Q: "Have you actually had discussions with I know you said with Karen Bass, just suggested she may be willing to go half way Is she really suggesting that you can go compromise on a deal with you on this?"

Scott: "Well, I think what she suggested is that she's willing to continue the conversation of it, the question is what is halfway? I think the bill in and of itself is two thirds of the way. And so the question is can we rustle ourselves together around three or four of those key issues. I think there's a chance that we can. We'll just see if she can get enough folks on my side of the senate versus just having a conversation with house people but I'm encouraged that she's still working on it. I just had a conversation with some members on the phone, before I went to preside. So, there's still a lot of activity around it I hope that activity blossoms into an actual signed piece of legislation."

The Lid

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we previewed some of today’s high-stakes primaries.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

A federal judge has given the green light to Mary Trump’s book, scheduled for release today.

NBC’s Sahil Kapur checks in with the downballot Republicans who can’t live with Trump, but can’t live without him either.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis might have the final word on whether the RNC can hold its large-scale festivities in Jacksonville next month — and that’s putting him in a bit of a pickle.

Can Congress investigate the president’s move to commute Roger Stone’s sentence?

Pro-Trump super PAC America First Action is planning a new $23 million ad blitz.