BY CHUCK TODD, MARK MURRAY and CARRIE DANN, NBC News
(NBC News) - First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
NBC Battleground Map: Clinton Surges Past 270 Electoral Votes
After releasing our seven battleground-state polls last week -- and seeing several other state surveys -- we've updated our NBC battleground map. The states in Hillary Clinton's column now add up to 288 electoral votes, which exceeds the 270 needed to win the presidency. Donald Trump, meanwhile, is at 174 electoral votes, and an additional 76 are in the Tossup category. Our last map, back in July, showed Clinton with a 255-190 advantage -- so Clinton's tally has gone up since the conventions, while Trump's has declined.
The significant changes in our map: We've moved Colorado, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Nebraska's one electoral vote (Omaha area) from Tossup to Lean Dem. (And you could make a good case for placing Colorado and Virginia in Likely Dem instead of Lean Dem with Clinton's double-digit leads there.) We've also moved Florida from Lean Dem to Tossup. (While Clinton is ahead there, her margin in the NBC/WSJ/Marist poll is smaller than it was a month ago.) What's more, Georgia moves from Lean GOP to Tossup. And we've changed Kansas and South Carolina from Likely GOP to Lean GOP. Our regular caveat here, of course: These designations are subject to change as we get more poll numbers and reporting.
In case you missed them, here are the seven battleground-state polls we released last week. The percentages are among registered voters:
The polls also revealed four consistent gaps between Clinton and Trump -- the Education Gap (between Clinton's support among whites with college degrees and Trump's support among whites without), the Geographical Gap (Clinton ahead in the cities and suburbs, Trump ahead in the rural areas), the Gender Gap (Clinton leading among women by a bigger margin than Trump leading among men), and the Party Unity Gap (with Democrats backing Clinton by a larger margin than Republicans being behind Trump).
From Russia With Love?
Ahead of Donald Trump's national-security-themed speech in Ohio today, the New York Times reports that Trump Campaign Chair Paul Manafort received nearly $13 million in "undisclosed cash payments" from Ukraine's pro-Russia political party. "Handwritten ledgers show $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort from Mr. Yanukovych's pro-Russian political party from 2007 to 2012, according to Ukraine's newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau. Investigators assert that the disbursements were part of an illegal off-the-books system whose recipients also included election officials. In addition, criminal prosecutors are investigating a group of offshore shell companies that helped members of Mr. Yanukovych's inner circle finance their lavish lifestyles, including a palatial presidential residence with a private zoo, golf course and tennis court. Among the hundreds of murky transactions these companies engaged in was an $18 million deal to sell Ukrainian cable television assets to a partnership put together by Mr. Manafort and a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin."
Clinton Camp Pounces on the NYT Story; Trump Camp Pushes Back
The Clinton campaign pounced on the New York Times story. "Given the pro-Putin policy stances adopted by Donald Trump and the recent Russian government hacking and disclosure of Democratic Party records, Donald Trump has a responsibility to disclose campaign chair Paul Manafort's and all other campaign employees' and advisers' ties to Russian or pro-Kremlin entities, including whether any of Trump's employees or advisers are currently representing and or being paid by them," Clinton Campaign Manager Robby Mook said in a statement. The Trump camp pushed back on the NYT article, releasing this statement from Manafort, per NBC's Hallie Jackson: "The simplest answer is the truth: I am a campaign professional. It is well known that I do work in the United States and have done work on overseas campaigns as well. I have never received a single 'off-the-books cash payment' as falsely 'reported' by The New York Times, nor have I ever done work for the governments of Ukraine or Russia. Further, all of the political payments directed to me were for my entire political team: campaign staff (local and international), polling and research, election integrity and television advertising. The suggestion that I accepted cash payments is unfounded, silly and nonsensical."
Previewing Trump's National-Security Speech
As for Trump's national-security speech at 2:00 pm ET from Youngstown, OH, NBC's Hallie Jackson gets this preview from a senior Trump adviser: Trump will outline his plan to fight ISIS, arguing the terror group "spread dramatically" under President Obama and Hillary Clinton's leadership. "The reality we're headed for if we don't change our policies," this adviser warns. So what will Trump propose? He's expected to announce he'll formally declare an end to nation-building and regime change overseas. He'll likely reiterate the US should stop issuing visas to places where - in the view of his campaign -- the State Department and Homeland Security have demonstrated they cannot effectively screen. And he'll emphasize the need to explicitly state a goal of fighting "radical Islamic terrorism."
Clinton Stumps with Biden in Scranton, Pennsylvania
Also today, Hillary Clinton campaigns with Vice President Joe Biden in his hometown of Scranton, PA. A Biden spokesperson previews the vice president's remarks, per NBC's Kristen Welker: "You will see Vice President Biden -- a son of Scranton, PA -- make the case for Hillary Clinton as the only person in this race who understands the challenges facing the people in the kind of neighborhoods he grew up in… The Vice President will also argue that no major party nominee in the history of this nation has ever known less or has been less prepared to deal with our national security than Donald Trump. He will argue that he is unfit and unqualified to be Commander in Chief, and that the bluster and volatile rhetoric he's offering will make the people of Scranton, and the nation, less safe." But in another potential case of bad timing, CNN reports that Capitol Hill lawmakers could get notes (what are known as 302s) from Clinton's FBI interview as soon as today. A Clinton official tells Welker that the campaign has no knowledge of when the 302s might be released -- if at all. The campaign believes that if the 302s are going to be released, they should be released publicly for everyone to see, fearing that if the 302s are given only to House Republicans, they would mischaracterize them to the press.
On the Trail
Hillary Clinton campaigns with Vice President Joe Biden in Scranton, PA at 12:45 pm ET… Donald Trump delivers a national-security-themed speech in Youngstown, OH at 2:00 pm ET… And Tim Kaine campaigns in Asheville, NC.
Countdown to Election Day: 85 days