Is Beto O'Rourke for real?

Image: U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX), candidate for U.S. Senate greets sup
Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-TX, candidate for U.S. Senate greets supporters at a campaign rally in Austin, Texas on Nov. 4, 2018. Copyright Mike Segar Reuters file
By Chuck Todd and Mark Murray and Carrie Dann with NBC News Politics
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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 — We'll soon find out if Beto O'Rourke is for real — maybe as soon as his first 72 hours of being a presidential candidate now that he's joined the 2020 race.

What made O'Rourke a star in 2018, and what gives him promise in 2020, was his ability to raise money ($80 million for a Senate candidate) and to draw big crowds.

So can he come close to the nearly $6 million Bernie Sanders raked in during his first 24 hours as a 2020 candidate? Can he exceed or double the $1.5 million Kamala Harris raised in her first day?

As for the crowds, O'Rourke will spend the next three days in Iowa, hitting Burlington and Muscatine (today), Mount Pleasant and Cedar Rapids (on Friday) and Waterloo and Dubuque (Saturday).

He's the first major 2020 candidate to immediately head to Iowa after announcing a bid. (Kamala Harris launched in Oakland before holding a CNN town hall in Iowa; Bernie Sanders held rallies in Brooklyn and Chicago before hitting the Hawkeye State.)

Do the crowds show up in Iowa? What about his first official rally in El Paso on March 30 - does it come close to Harris' 20,000-plus in Oakland, or Bernie's 10,000-plus in Brooklyn and Chicago?

No Democrat in the 2020 field is as boom-or-bust as Beto. He's either going to take off, justifying the Oprah appearance and Annie Leibovitz photo spread. Or he's going to fall flat, proving that his 2.5-point loss in Texas (compared with Hillary's 9-point defeat there in 2016 or Obama's 16-point loss) was lightning in a bottle.

Fair or not, there's no middle ground. Is he the spitting image of Ronald Reagan? Or John Edwards?

Outside of money and crowds, Beto is going to have to answer: Why him? Why now? What does he bring to the Democratic race that the others don't?

"This is going to be a positive campaign that seeks to bring out the very best from every single one of us; that seeks to unite a very divided country," he says in his announcement video.

Of course, we've heard that message before. And the challenge that Beto faces is a public and press corps that is much more cynical about bringing hope and change to Washington.

Senate set to rebuke Trump

The Senate today is poised to approve the House-passed resolution terminating President Trump's emergency declaration on the border, NBC's Frank Thorp and Marianna Sotomayor report.

Five GOP senators have said they back the resolution — Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Thom Tillis, R-N.C. (though he might be wavering), Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Mike Lee, R-Utah.

The question we have: Does five become 10? Per Thorp and Sotomayor, five additional GOP senators are undecided or haven't announced their decisions. They include Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Mitt Romney, R-Utah, Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Cory Gardner, R-Colo.

If the resolution gets a simple majority, it will head to President Trump's desk for the first veto of his presidency.

Stone cold

Roger Stone today heads to court, where he'll face "U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is overseeing his case and appears to be running out of patience with him," the L.A. Times writes.

Why he's in trouble:

"He first angered the judge last month with an inflammatory Instagram post that included a crosshairs symbol next to her head. In response, Jackson tightened her gag order and barred Stone from saying almost anything in public about the case."


"But Stone is in hot water again because he failed to tell Jackson about the imminent publication of a book called "The Myth of Russian Collusion," an updated version of a tome that was first released shortly after the 2016 election."

2020 Vision: Bernie's hoping for a better reception in South Carolina

In 2016, Bernie Sanders lost the South Carolina primary by a whopping 47 points.

And so if he's going to win the 2020 Dem nomination, he's going to need to do better than that in the Palmetto State, where he campaigns today.

On the campaign trail: In addition to Sanders stumping in South Carolina at 7:00 pm ET and Beto in Iowa, Cory Booker (at 11:00 am ET) and Kamala Harris (at noon ET) address an economic-security conference in DC.

Tweet of the Day

Data Download: And the number of the day is … 51 percent


Fifty-one percent.

That's the share of voters in Florida who say they definitely won't vote for Donald Trump in 2020, according to a new Quinnipiac poll.

Just 31 percent of Florida voters overall say they definitely WILL support him, including 75 percent of Republicans, 36 percent of seniors, 26 percent of women, 21 percent of independents and 21 percent of Hispanics.

In a state that Trump won by just more than a single percentage point, the president is significantly underwater with Florida voters, with a 40 percent favorable / 52 percent unfavorable rating.

The good news for Republicans: Most of the Democratic presidential candidates remain largely unknown in the Sunshine State, underwater on favorability, or both.


The exception? Joe Biden, whose favorability stands at 49 percent positive, 35 percent negative.

The Lid: No Country for Old Men

Don't miss the pod from yesterday, in which we wondered if maybe there's room in the field for someone NOT born in the 1940s?

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn't miss

The El Paso Times had the early scoop on O'Rourke's run, including his pledge to keep his campaign headquarters in El Paso.

Kamala Harris is talking about reparations as a public health issue in a new interview with NPR.

The Washington Post: Howard Schultz has talked about his "rags to riches" story, but residents of the development where he grew up call it "the country club of projects."


Some victims of gun violence are not happy with Democrats, saying that they're failing to walk the walk on reform.

Brexit drama continues, with a new push to delay the U.K.'s scheduled departure from the European Union.

Trump agenda: Desperado

Gary Cohn says Trump is "desperate" for a trade deal with China.

A new bipartisan bill would limit how Trump grants and revokes security clearances.

The Senate has confirmed Neomi Rao to replace Brett Kavanaugh.


The New York Times notes Trump's "older is better" approach to technology.

Paul Manafort has been sentenced to a total of 7.5 years in prison — and been charged with additional mortgage fraud in pardon-proof New York.

The Senate has again voted to end aid to the Saudi war in Yemen — another rebuke to Trump.

Dem agenda: Wilbur Ross in the hot seat

House Dems will question Wilbur Ross over the Census citizenship question controversy.

Democratic lawmakers are again warning the president about pardoning Paul Manafort.


Jerry Nadler says that Matthew Whitaker "did not deny" that Trump reached out to him about Cohen.

POLITICO has a deep dive into how Nancy Pelosi is dealing with sometimes rebellious new freshmen.

2020: Das Capital-ists

John Hickenlooper says he's a capitalist, but not a "Trump capitalist."

A ton of Democratic money is headed to four states: Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida.

Elizabeth Warren says that Mike Pence is "not an honorable person," contra Biden.


Swing-state senators are wielding a lot of power for 2020 these days.

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