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First Read: Clinton's message problem vs. Trump's demographic woes

The election could hinge on who has the more debilitating problem — Hillary Clinton's lack of message, or Donald Trump's poor performance among non-white males.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a town hall event in Rochester, N.H., Sept. 17, 2015. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a town hall event in Rochester, N.H., Sept. 17, 2015.

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.

Hillary's message problem vs. Trump's demographic problem

Less than six months before Election Day, the 2016 presidential contest could very well hinge on who has the more debilitating problem -- Hillary Clinton's lack of a message, or Donald Trump's poor performance among non-white males. Let's start with Clinton's message problem. By now, you know Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan or Bernie Sanders' "A Future You Can Believe In." But what is Clinton's simple message? Her campaign says its podium-sign version is "Breaking Down Barriers," but that isn't as central and identifiable as Trump's and Sanders' simple messages.

Meanwhile, Trump's problem is a demographic one: According to April's national NBC/WSJ poll, 69% of women, 79% of Latinos, and 88% of African Americans have a negative opinion of Trump, and those are the same demographic groups that Republicans insisted they needed to improve with after their loss to Obama in 2012. So that's your '16 contest in a nutshell: Which problem is worse to have - lacking a clear message or being toxic among minorities and women? We'll find out in November.

NBC|SurveyMonkey poll: Clinton leads Trump by 3 points

Clinton is ahead of Trump by just three points among registered voters, 48%-45%, per the latest NBC News|SurveyMonkey online weekly tracking poll -- down from her five-point advantage last week (49%-44%). Fueling Clinton's lead are those demographic groups mentioned above: "She wins black voters 84 percent to 9 percent — a 75 point gap — and wins Hispanics 65 percent to 28 percent. Trump is the preferred candidate among white voters by 14 points over Clinton — 53 percent to 39 percent. This is up slightly from last week's 11-point margin among white voters. There is also a significant gender gap with Clinton beating Trump by 15 points among women, while Trump carries men by a similar 11-percent margin." Sanders holds a 12-point lead over Trump, 53%-41%.

Photo Essay: The presidential campaign: Hillary Clinton

Trump hires pollster after once decrying them

Speaking of polls, Trump finally has a pollster, NBC's Alex Jaffe writes. The campaign has hired veteran GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio, "who most recently worked on Sen. Rand Paul's presidential campaign and Florida Gov. Rick Scott's campaign. He also conducted polling for then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry during the 2012 presidential race." More from Jaffe: "Trump's hiring of Fabrizio is a significant departure from the candidate's past statements decrying pollsters and dismissing the need for polling to guide his campaign… 'I don't have pollsters. I don't want to waste money on pollsters. I don't want to be unreal. I want to be me. I have to be me,' Trump said at the time. 'You know, we have enough of that in Washington with pollsters telling everybody what to say and everybody being controlled by the special interests, and the lobbyists, et cetera, and the donors.'" The news here to us: Much of Bob Dole's 1996 campaign team -- Fabrizio, Manafort -- has been reconstituted.

Clarifying Bill Clinton's role on the economy

By the way, the Clinton campaign is clarifying Hillary Clinton's call to give husband Bill Clinton an economic role in her administration, if she wins. The campaign tells us that this role is for DISTRESSED economic areas (read: coal country in places like Kentucky).

Primary Night in Kentucky and Oregon

It's primary night in Kentucky (for Democrats) and Oregon (for both parties). On the Democratic side, a total of 116 pledged delegates are up for grabs -- 55 in Kentucky and 61 in Oregon. And here's the current delegate math: Clinton is just 140 delegates away from the 2,383 magic number.

In pledged delegates, Clinton currently holds a lead of 282 delegates

  • Clinton 1,717 (54%)
  • Sanders 1,435 (46%)

Clinton must win 34% of remaining pledged delegates to get a majority in pledged delegates

Sanders must win 66% of remaining pledged delegates to get a majority in pledged delegates

In overall delegates (pledged + super), Clinton holds an overall lead of 768 delegates

Clinton must win 13% of remaining delegates to reach 2,383 magic number

Sanders must win 87% of remaining delegates to reach 2,383 magic number

Clinton picking Sherrod Brown or Elizabeth Warren as VP could cost Democrats a Senate seat

Turning to the veepstakes story, MSNBC's Alex Seitz-Wald makes an important point: There's a reason why Clinton picking Sherrod Brown, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker is problematic — a Republican governor would replace them in the Senate with a Republican. "If Clinton picked Warren, Massachusetts Republican Gov. Charlie Baker would choose a replacement until a special election could be called, which state law requires occur between 145 days and 160 days after the vacancy ... The situation is even worse if Clinton picked Brown. Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich's hand-picked senator would get to stay in office for nearly two years, until the midterm in November of 2018, according to the secretary of state's office."

Burlington, we have a problem

When supporters are threatening the chair of the Nevada state party, it's time to calm things down: Yesterday, we mentioned the tension/conflict/chaos from Saturday's Democratic state convention in Nevada. Well, the situation hasn't improved -- and that's putting it mildly. The New York Times: "Thrown chairs. Leaked cellphone numbers. Death threats spewed across the Internet. No, this is not the work of Donald J. Trump supporters, some of whom have harassed critics of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. It was angry supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders who were directing their ire at the Nevada Democratic Party — and its chairwoman, Roberta Lange — over a state convention on Saturday that they think was emblematic of a rigged political system. 'It's been vile,' said Ms. Lange, who riled Sanders supporters by refusing their requests for rule changes at the event in Las Vegas. 'It's been threatening messages, threatening my family, threatening my life, threatening my grandchild.'" More from the story: "Michael Briggs, a spokesman for Mr. Sanders, said the Vermont senator did not condone violence of any kind. However, he said the campaign was still determining whether it would challenge the Nevada results. 'The senator believes that the Democratic Party all over the country would serve its own interests better if it were to figure out a way to welcome people who have been energized and excited by his campaign into the party,' Mr. Briggs said. 'It would behoove the party to be more welcoming and engage those people.'" Remember, this is all over a contest Clinton won back in February, 53%-47%.

On the trail

Bernie Sanders holds an Election Night event in Carson, CA., while Bill Clinton stumps in Puerto Rico. 

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