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Republicans seize on culture debates, but sometimes it backfires

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: Anti-abortion activists at a \"March for Life\" event outside of Supreme Court
Anti-abortion activists at a March for Life event outside of the Supreme Court on Jan. 18.Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — Culture debates have united Republicans over the last two decades — more than policy, the economy, and certainly trade and tariffs.

And they’ve been punished when they go too far on culture (see Clinton’s impeachment, Terri Schiavo and those transvaginal ultrasound bills in Virginia).

That’s maybe the best way to view the news out of Alabama, whose state Senate last night approved legislation essentially banning abortion at every stage.

Additionally, states like Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio have passed laws effectively banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy — when a fetal heartbeat can be detected — ensuring that abortion will be a significant topic in 2020.

With the NRA hobbled right now, abortion has become even more important to Republicans in fighting the culture wars. Just listen President Trump in his campaign rallies.

But as the polling suggests, the country doesn’t like it when either party becomes too aggressive on abortion.

And that’s the danger for Republicans — whether it’s the legislation out of Alabama or Georgia.

Electability, yeah you know me

“Electability” means so many different things to different people — it’s difficult to gauge or define.

Still, it’s striking that none of the Top 5 2020 Democrats in the polls right now — Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg — has any past record of being able to win or even compete in a purple/red state in a general election.

Biden’s from Delaware and hasn’t been on the ballot by himself since 2008.

Sanders is a democratic socialist from Vermont.

Warren hails from Massachusetts — a graveyard of past failed Dem nominees (Dukakis, Kerry).

Harris is from California.

And Buttigieg lost his lone statewide race in Indiana by 25 points.

By contrast, outside of the Top 5 in polling are Amy Klobuchar (who won 60 percent of the vote in Minnesota last fall), new entrant Steve Bullock (who’s won statewide for governor twice in Montana), Beto O’Rourke (who narrowly lost in Texas in ’18) and Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper (who’ve won multiple statewide bids in Colorado).

Sure, folks like Biden and Sanders can point to early general-election polls to say they’re “electable.” And sure, Donald Trump — a former Democrat from New York City — proved that almost anyone has a puncher’s chance to win if they become the nominee.

But it’s notable — before the first debates, mind you — that Dem voters aren’t rewarding those who have actual records of being able to win or compete in purple/red states.

Is it simply because these voters aren’t aware of these records? Or that progressive Dems don’t find cross-partisan appeal all that compelling? Or that Biden — carrying the Obama banner — has become the standard-bearer for Dem voters who do care about cross-partisan appeal?

It’s going to be McCready vs. Bishop in NC-9 race

Well, we have our general election matchup in the NC-9 congressional race – the 2018 election that got rejected after fraud allegations.

GOP state Sen. Dan Bishop won the GOP primary on Tuesday night, and he will face Democrat Dan McCready on Sept. 10, the Charlotte Observer writes.

Speaking of culture wars: “As he had throughout the campaign, Bishop decried the ‘liberal crazy clowns’ in Washington. He described their agenda as ‘socialism, open borders (and) infanticide,’” the paper adds.

“In a statement, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee signaled its own attacks against Bishop: As the architect of House Bill 2, the so-called ‘bathroom bill,’ and the heir to what it called Republican election fraud.”

2020 Vision: Gillibrand heads to Georgia

This morning, Kirsten Gillibrand’s campaign announced that she will travel to Atlanta on Thursday to meet with women, patients and health-care providers in wake of that state passing an effective six-week abortion ban.

On the campaign trail today: Jay Inslee tours flooding damage in Iowa… And Kamala Harris holds a town hall in Nashua, N.H.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 50


That’s the number of years between Joe Biden’s first win to elected office (to the New Castle County Council in Delaware, in 1970) and the one he’s hoping to secure in 2020, for the Democratic nomination for president.

Ron Brownstein writes that that would be the longest stretch in American history.

“No candidate from any major party has captured a presidential nomination for the first time that many years after he or she first won elected office since the formation of the modern party system in 1828, according to a review I conducted of presidential races stretching back to then,” he reports.

The Lid: Epiphany controversy

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at Joe Biden’s comments about a Republican “epiphany” after Trump leaves office.

ICYMI: New clips you shouldn’t miss

Donald Trump Jr. will testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The New York Times reports on how the NRA is leaning on its foundation to keep it afloat.

The Trump Doral resort is in big financial trouble, according to company documents.

Republican senators are voicing concerns about Jared Kushner’s immigration overhaul plan.

Other news that’s out there…

Trump agenda: I-ran, I-ran so far away…

What exactly is Trump hearing on Iran?

The State Department has ordered non-emergency personnel in Iraq to leave their posts.

The Trump administration is facing a potential bottleneck with nominees.

The trade war is slowing global economic growth.

Here’s how Chinese commentators are taking aim at Trump amid the mounting trade conflict.

2020: Harris is running for president, not VP

Why do people keep talking about Kamala Harris as a potential VP pick?

And Harris is taking a tough stance on AR-15-style assault weapons.

POLITICO takes another look at Pete Buttigieg’s problems with black voters.

Hatch Act complaints against White House officials are growing.

Bernie Sanders is focusing on Biden as his favorite foil, per the AP.