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Meet 2022's most important swing state — Georgia

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.
Georgia Residents Cast Ballots As Early Voting For U.S. Presidential Election Begins
Residents wait in line outside an early voting polling location for the 2020 Presidential election in Atlanta, on Oct. 12, 2020.Elijah Nouvelage / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — If it’s Wednesday ... President Biden holds a news conference this afternoon capping his first year as president. ... The White House announces it’s making 400 million N95 masks free. ... The Senate is set to vote on voting-rights legislation later this evening. ... NBC’s Benjy Sarlin reports on how Democrats are quietly laying the groundwork for a scaled-back “Build Back Better” bill. ... And New York’s Attorney General says the office's investigation into Trump found “significant evidence” suggesting fraud.

But first: MSNBC’s “Meet the Press Daily” is reporting live from Georgia today, because no other 2022 state can tell as many important political stories as the Peach State will this year. (Arizona, by the way, is a close second here.)

Competitive Senate race that could decide control of that chamber? Check.

Super-important gubernatorial contest? Yup.

Presidential battleground that was decided by fewer than 12,000 votes in 2020? Uh-huh.

Trump-fueled GOP primaries for governor and secretary of state? Most definitely.

The voting rights story? Absolutely.

Maybe the two most important parts of the Biden coalition — African-American voters and the growing suburbs? Yep.

A Democrat member-on-Democrat member primary after redistricting. Yes.

And a criminal investigation of the former president? You betcha.

When it comes to Georgia, the question we have this morning is did Donald Trump and his unpopularity in Atlanta’s gigantic suburbs make the state more competitive than it should have been?

Or did Trump just accelerate ongoing demographical and political trends that were already evident in the Peach State.

Whatever the answer, Georgia isn’t just going to be a must-watch state in 2022.

It also will be near the center of the political universe in 2024 (next presidential), in 2026 (when Sen. Jon Ossoff is up for re-election), and 2028.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 400 million

That’s how many N95 masks the Biden administration is distributing across the country as more experts argue that the widespread availability of high-quality masks is an important tool in fighting the omicron variant.

Tom Inglesby, the White House’s Covid testing coordinator, bluntly told NBC in an interview that "we know that these masks provide better protection than cloth masks.” Last week, the CDC put out new guidance saying N95 and KN95s offer the “highest protection” while stopping short of recommending people wear them.

Other numbers you need to know today:

156,914: The seven-day average of Covid hospitalizations in America, up 47 percent in the last two weeks, per an NBC News analysis.

5: The number of consecutive days that child hospitalizations have declined, from a peak of 5,473 to 4,569.

774,139: The seven-day average of new, daily Covid cases reported in America, per an NBC News analysis.

1,883: The seven-day average of Covid deaths in America.

2: That’s how many House Democrats announced yesterday they are not running for re-election. Rhode Island Rep. Jim Langevin and California Rep. Jerry McNerney are heading for the exits, bringing the total number of retiring House Democrats to 28.

Talking policy with Benjy: Can Democrats Build Back ‘Build Back Better’ Better?

Build Back Better may have fallen out of the conversation for now, but the Senate is still quietly laying the groundwork to try and revive talks with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., after its voting rights push.

Leadership and committee chairs are discussing a new scaled-back version of BBB that’s in line with Manchin’s stated demands, according to a Democratic source familiar with talks, most notably his call for any new spending programs to be paid for on a permanent basis. The White House denied a Reuters report on Tuesday that they were working on a similar package of their own.

One new feature that Senate Democrats are considering to lure Manchin back to the table is reserving a portion of the plan’s revenue for deficit reduction, the source said, to help address his concerns about inflation. Manchin’s initial offer in July, which he outlined in a letter to Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, called for “any revenue exceeding $1.5 trillion” to be used to help pay down debt.

Democratic leaders may be reluctant to endorse a slimmed-down bill publicly, however, unless Manchin shows significant interest and it can be presented as a “take it or leave it” deal on his behalf. Without him acting as a shield, they risk making themselves a target for members and interest groups upset that their priorities were dropped.

“No senator wants to put their name on something that throws half the bill overboard without a real commitment he goes along with this,” the source said. “As much as every member realizes what needs to happen, no one wants to be the person to say ‘Here’s our revised proposal: Paid leave is gone, child care is gone, the Medicare benefits are gone.’”

A potential iteration could include climate spending in line with the $550 billion discussed in prior versions, universal pre-K (but not child care), Affordable Care Act subsidies, home care funding, and a smaller Child Tax Credit with a requirement to show a W-2 form.

Spending may not be the only area of concern. The source noted that Manchin was skeptical of the revenue side of BBB as well, which was largely written to meet demands from Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz not to raise tax rates. Manchin called for raising the corporate tax rate in his July letter and has reportedly considered a tax on billionaires that was left out of the House bill.

Manchin’s level of interest in a deal is still unclear — he’s denied being involved in new talks — and there are still numerous potential hurdles even if he were to approve a new bill.

But even if there is movement, it may not be quick. The House and Senate face a Feb. 18 deadline to fund the government with a bipartisan spending bill, which could be complicated by a new burst of activity around BBB. An optimistic scenario for Democrats might mean securing a breakthrough with Manchin ahead of Biden’s March 1 State of the Union, and then using the momentum from the speech to pass it shortly afterwards.

Midterm roundup

Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz, aren’t up for re-election until 2024, but they’re already facing primary threats as Democrats squabble over the path forward on voting rights. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said he’d consider backing their primary challengers. And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer dodged a question about whether he’d support the two senators in primaries. Manchin’s response? “Bring it on.”

EMILY’s List announced yesterday it would not endorse Sinema if she doesn’t back a filibuster change to advance voting rights legislation. The group’s independent expenditure arm spent $1.4 million on Sinema’s 2018 race, per OpenSecrets.

Fundraising reports are due this month in a slew of competitive governor's races. In Texas, GOP Gov. Greg Abbott raised $18.9 million in the last six months, ending the year with a whopping $65 million on hand. Democrat Beto O’Rourke raised $7.2 million in six-and-a-half weeks, according to The Texas Tribune. Former Maine GOP Gov. Paul LePage nearly matched Democratic Gov. Janet Mills’ six-month haul, but Mills still had more cash-on-hand, per the Portland Press Herald.

In New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul raised $21.6 million last year, a record breaking sum according to The New York Times. Former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also said yesterday he won’t run for governor.

And here’s what some of our NBC News reporters have been tracking on the campaign trail: Natasha Korecki told MTP Daily, “even Democrats are admitting to me, [Ron Johnson] is the frontrunner” in the Wisconsin Senate race. This comes as Democratic candidate and partial Milwaukee Bucks owner Alex Lasry spent over $1 million on a new ad buy in the state, Korecki reported Tuesday.

And NBC’s Dasha Burns broke down a recent straw poll conducted by Pennsylvania’s Republican Central Caucus in the race for the state’s open Senate seat. Real estate developer Jeff Bartos finished first, with activist Kathy Barnette and former hedge fund executive David McCormick the only other candidates who finished in double digits.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

The New York Attorney General says her investigation into Trump and his business found ‘significant evidence’ suggesting fraud.

The Jan. 6 committee subpoenaed Rudy Giuliani and three other Trump allies, accusing them of pushing election lies.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki is warning of an “extremely dangerous situation” between Ukraine and Russia.

University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban and other sports elder statesmen signed a letter supporting the Democrats’ voting bill.