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 of the attention that Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin get - due to President Trump's surprising victories in those states in 2016 — don't forget that North Carolina (with its 15 electoral votes) remains an important battleground state in 2020.
That's the 30,000-foot reminder when it comes to today's NC-9 congressional do-over election, where Democrat Dan McCready faces off against Republican Dan Bishop in a district that Trump won by 12 points in '16.
Trump carried the Tar Heel State by 3.7 points in 2016, and the polling (especially before the Comey letter in the last two weeks) had it even closer than that.
So in addition to North Carolina being a presidential battleground state in 2020, it also features a competitive Senate race (with vulnerable Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., up for re-election), a competitive gubernatorial race (with Dem Roy Cooper up for re-election) and the GOP presidential convention (which will take place in Charlotte).
Oh, and the state is going to have new state legislative district lines - after state judges ruled that the current ones are illegal partisan gerrymanders.
So don't sleep on North Carolina over the next 14 months.
Data Download: The number of the day is … 905 votes
That was the margin in the original NC-9 race last November, when Republican Mark Harris received 139,246 votes and Democrat Dan McCready got 138,341.
The results were thrown out after the state discovered illegal ballot harvesting.
But given that close margin, here are the major county-by-county percentages — if you want to see how McCready is performing in tonight's NC-9 do-over compared with 2018.
McCready: 54 percent
Harris: 44 percent
Harris: 59 percent
McCready: 39 percent
McCready: 51 percent
Harris: 47 percent
Harris: 58 percent
McCready: 41 percent
NYT: Commerce secretary threatened to fire NOAA officials after Trump's hurricane tweets
Sharpie-gate has produced plenty of laughs, but yesterday's report by the New York Times wasn't funny.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross "threatened to fire top employees at the federal scientific agency responsible for weather forecasts last Friday after the agency's Birmingham office contradicted President Trump's claim that Hurricane Dorian might hit Alabama, according to three people familiar with the discussion," the paper writes.
"Mr. Ross phoned Neil Jacobs, the acting administrator of NOAA, from Greece where the secretary was traveling for meetings and instructed Dr. Jacobs to fix the agency's perceived contradiction of the president," the Time adds.
And: "Dr. Jacobs objected to the demand and was told that the political staff at NOAA would be fired if the situation was not fixed, according to the three individuals, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the episode."
A Commerce Department spokesperson disputed the NYT report in a statement to NBC News. "The New York Times story is false. Secretary Ross did not threaten to fire any NOAA staff over forecasting and public statements about Hurricane Dorian."
Boris Johnson loses — again
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson failed to convince Parliament to call for snap elections, per NBC News.
Just 293 members supported the motion - far short of the at least 434 needed.
That defeat for Johnson came on the same day as a new law went into effect blocking him from pursuing a "no deal" Brexit withdrawal from the European Union.
Tweet of the day
2020 Vision: Ossoff is Oss-on in Georgia
Failed 2017 GA-6 candidate Jon Ossoff announced his bid for Georgia Senate.
Importantly, however, Ossoff is running for Sen. David Perdue's, R-Ga., seat - not the one that Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., will be vacating at the end of the year, triggering a second 2020 Senate race in Georgia.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Ossoff announced his Senate bid in tandem with an endorsement from Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.
"Like the many thousands Jon has already organized and inspired, I am ready to work tirelessly to elect him," Lewis said. "Georgia and America need Jon."
On the campaign trail today
Pete Buttigieg (at 3:45 pm ET), Julian Castro (at 4:10 pm), Amy Klobuchar (at 4:25 pm) and Cory Booker (at 4:45 pm) speak at a Congressional Hispanic Caucus presidential forum in DC… And Elizabeth Warren holds a town hall in Austin, Texas.
Dispatches from NBC's embeds
Bernie Sanders held a rally yesterday in Denver, where he pulled in a larger-than-average crowd, per NBC's Gary Grumbach: "The Sanders campaign rarely holds rallies of this magnitude. When asked why Denver, the campaign says this is part of their outreach to not just the earliest states, but to the Super Tuesday states as well." Campaign officials estimated the crowd size at 10,000 attendees. Fittingly for Colorado, Sanders focused on the need to legalize marijuana, "Thank you, Colorado, for leading the way to the legalization of marijuana. And that is what we have got to do nationally. And what we also have to do is expunge the records of those people arrested for possession."
Julián Castro spent time at his Houston rally discussing the upcoming Democratic debate on Thursday. NBC's Deepa Shivaram reports that Castro says "there's nothing particularly new he's doing to prepare," but, "he hopes ABC and Univision will ask questions about topics that aren't always in the news, like housing. Before he wrapped, Castro called on ABC to enforce equal speaking times for the candidates." Castro went all to say that if candidate don't receive equal time, ABC and Univision should have to explain why.
The Lid: Nothin' could be finer
Don't miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at why the stakes are so high for tonight's special election in North Carolina.
ICYMI: News clips you shouldn't miss
A new Washington Post-ABC poll finds Trump with a 38 percent approval rating.
Blast from the not-so-distant past: Jon Ossoff says he's running for Senate in Georgia against David Perdue.
The president says that negotiations with the Taliban are "dead."
The plot thickens with those claims of Air Force flight crews staying overnight at a Trump property in Scotland.
Here's the latest on the Brexit chaos after Parliament again rejected Boris Johnson's call for a new election.
Trump Agenda: Raising the stakes in NC-9
The president is putting his political capital on the line in North Carolina.
Trump warned of "very bad people" among those fleeing destruction in the Bahamas and hoping to enter the U.S. on humanitarian grounds.
A former Russian government official with access to secrets is now living openly in the D.C. area.
Senate Democrats will force another vote against Trump's border emergency declaration.
The NRA is suing San Francisco after the city passed a resolution calling it a "domestic terrorist organization."
2020: Stacey Abrams' playbook
Stacey Abrams has sent a Georgia "playbook" to every presidential campaign.
2020 Democrats are trying to mobilize college students in Iowa.
Ad-makers say the 2020 Democrats are being too boring.
Diplomats from the Obama administration are throwing their support to Pete Buttigieg.
Is Beto O'Rourke's no-hold-barred style a new phase — or a sign that he's giving up?
We've got a new GOP frontrunner in the Tennessee Senate Race.
Valerie Plame is running for Congress. Here's a look at her claim that Scooter Libby leaked her identity as a CIA operative.