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.
WASHINGTON — For all the focus on tomorrow's special Senate race in Alabama, the contest comes down to this eye-opening reality: If Republican Roy Moore underperforms Donald Trump's winning 2016 margin in the state (+28) by 30 points, he loses. But if he underperforms by 25 points, he narrowly wins. That's the disadvantage that Democrat Doug Jones faces in this race.
But there's an advantage Jones holds that hasn't received the attention it should — Democrats have enjoyed a substantial edge in enthusiasm across the country in 2017. And that probably will play out in ruby-red Alabama, too, especially since the race is expected to be a low-turnout affair with no other key contests on the ballot.
Before tomorrow's election in Alabama, this year has featured six major contests — four which Republicans won and two which Democrats carried. And in almost every case (from Virginia to Kansas and South Carolina), Democrats overperformed their margin from that race's prior contest, as well as from the result of the 2016 presidential election in that area.
- KS-4 in 2016: Mike Pompeo 61%, Daniel Giroux 30% (R+31)
- KS-4 in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 60%, Clinton 33% (R+27)
- KS-4 in 2017: Ron Estes 53%, James Thompson 46% (R+7)
- GA-6 in 2016: Tom Price 62%, Rodney Stooksbury 38% (R+24)
- GA-6 in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 48%, Clinton 47% (R+1)
- GA-6 in 2017 (initial round): Jon Ossoff 48%, Karen Handel 20%, Bob Gray 11%, Dan Moody 9%, Judson Hill 9%.
- GA-6 in 2017 (runoff): Handel 52%, Ossoff 48% (R+4)
- MT-AL in 2016: Ryan Zinke 56%, Denise Juneau 40% (R+16)
- MT in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 57%, Clinton 36% (R+21)
- MT-AL in 2017: Greg Gianforte 50%, Rob Quist 44% (R+6)
- SC-5 in 2016: Mick Mulvaney 59%, Fran Person 39% (R+20)
- SC-5 in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 57%, Clinton 39% (R+18)
- SC-5 in 2017: Ralph Norman 51%, Archie Parnell 48% (R+3)
- NJ GOV in 2013: Chris Christie 60%, Barbara Buono 38% (R+22)
- NJ in 2016 (presidential results): Clinton 55%, Trump 41% (D+14)
- NJ GOV in 2017: Phil Murphy 56%, Kim Guadagno 42% (D+14)
- VA GOV in 2013: Terry McAuliffe 48%, Ken Cuccinelli 45% (D+3)
- VA in 2016 (presidential results): Clinton 50%, Trump 44% (D+6)
- VA GOV in 2017: Ralph Northam 54%, Ed Gillespie 45% (D+9)
Because this is Alabama, an advantage in enthusiasm isn't enough — by itself — for Doug Jones to overcome the state's Republican-leaning tilt (see the outcomes in Kansas and South Carolina). But that enthusiasm advantage, PLUS the allegations that have rocked Roy Moore's campaign, PLUS Jones' fundraising edge, PLUS the write-in-vote factor have turned this into a race that's become nearly impossible to predict.
Trump goes all in on Roy Moore, while Alabama's senior senator says GOP "can do better"
At a campaign-style rally Friday in Pensacola, Fla. - which is just across the Alabama border - President Trump went all in for Roy Moore. "We love our veterans; we want conservative judges like [Neil] Gorsuch on the Supreme Court; we want people who will protect your gun rights; great trade deals instead of the horrible deals; we want jobs, jobs, jobs. So get out and vote for Roy Moore. Do it."
And the president also has recorded a robo-call for Moore. "Hi, this is President Donald Trump, and I need Alabama to go vote for Roy Moore. It is so important."
By contrast, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., — the state's senior senator — repeated that he didn't vote for Moore. "I want to reiterate again I didn't vote for Roy Moore. I wouldn't vote for Roy Moore. I think the Republican Party can do better," Shelby told CNN.
On "Meet the Press" yesterday, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., said this of Moore: "Well, the Constitution requires us to A) if he wins, and still an if, if he wins, if he wins we have to seat him. Then there will immediately be an ethics investigation. We'll have a greater opportunity for us to look into all the issues, the allegations, and perhaps even talk with some of the folks who are witnesses. That will give us a clear picture. I've always said that so far, as far as I can tell, the allegations are significantly stronger than the denial."
Nikki Haley says Trump's accusers should be heard, and they're speaking out today
Appearing on CBS yesterday, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said this when asked about the women who have accused President Trump of sexual misconduct: "Women who accuse anyone should be heard. They should be heard and they should be dealt with. And I think we heard from them prior to the election. And I think any woman who has felt violated or felt mistreated in any way, they have every right to speak up."
And guess what — they're speaking up today. As NBC's Kate Snow reported on "Today" this morning, a non-profit documentary-film company is hosting a press conference later today, where women will recount their allegations of sexual misconduct against the president and where they will demand a congressional investigation into the president.
Also, NBC's Megyn Kelly today will have a live sit-down interview with three of the president's accusers - Jessica Leeds, Samantha Holvey and Rachel Crooks.
18 Crucial Days: What did Trump know about Michael Flynn and when did he know it?
Turning to the Russia investigation, NBC's Carol Lee and Julia Ainsley report that special counsel Robert Mueller is trying to determine what happened inside the White House during the 18-day period when it was told former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was susceptible to blackmail to when Flynn was fired.
"The questions about what happened between Jan. 26 and Flynn's firing on Feb. 13 appear to relate to possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump, say two people familiar with Mueller's investigation into Russia's election meddling and potential collusion with the Trump campaign. Multiple sources say that during interviews, Mueller's investigators have asked witnesses, including White House Counsel Don McGahn and others who have worked in the West Wing, to go through each day that Flynn remained as national security adviser and describe in detail what they knew was happening inside the White House as it related to Flynn."
"Some of those interviewed by Mueller's team believe the goal is in part to determine if there was a deliberate effort by President Trump or top officials in the West Wing to cover up the information about Flynn that Sally Yates, then the acting attorney general, conveyed to McGahn on Jan. 26. In addition to Flynn, McGahn is also expected to be critical to federal investigators trying to piece together a timeline of those 18 days."
The conservative effort to undermine Mueller's investigation
Meanwhile, contrast that with the effort inside conservative media to undermine Mueller's investigation.
"Mueller is corrupt. The senior FBI is corrupt. The system is corrupt," former House speaker Newt Gingrich said on Fox News.
Fox's Jeanine Pirro has called for a "cleansing" at the FBI. "I for one am tired of investigations, politicians posturing. Something more has to be done," she said. "The stench coming out of the FBI and Justice Department is like that of a Third World country where money and boys and clubs decide elections."
And even the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page has called for Mueller to step down.
As the LA Times' Doyle McManus writes, "The anti-Mueller campaign isn't just noisy; it's dangerous. Gingrich, Hannity and Ruddy are people Trump listens to. Fox News is the channel he watches. Whether or not they persuade the president that he ought to fire Mueller, they are clearly paving the way — by convincing Trump's political base, the Fox News-watching public, that dismissing the prosecutor would be justified."
By the way, Mueller is a Republican who was first appointed to the FBI by a Republican president, and who was appointed as the special counsel in this case by the Trump administration's deputy attorney general.
And speaking of the president's viewing habits, here's the New York Times story that ran over the weekend: "People close to him estimate that Mr. Trump spends at least four hours a day, and sometimes as much as twice that, in front of a television, sometimes with the volume muted, marinating in the no-holds-barred wars of cable news and eager to fire back."
More from the article: "The ammunition for his Twitter war is television. No one touches the remote control except Mr. Trump and the technical support staff — at least that's the rule. During meetings, the 60-inch screen mounted in the dining room may be muted, but Mr. Trump keeps an eye on scrolling headlines. What he misses he checks out later on what he calls his "Super TiVo," a state-of-the-art system that records cable news. Watching cable, he shares thoughts with anyone in the room, even the household staff he summons via a button for lunch or for one of the dozen Diet Cokes he consumes each day."