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The most important person to watch at Thursday's GOP debate

No one has more riding on a solid performance than the Republican's establishment standard-bearer, who has had a rough last week in this Summer of Donald Trump.

The most important person to watch at Thursday’s debate? Try Jeb Bush… Hillary punches Jeb -- again… The fine line between abortion and women’s health… Another day, another Hillary email story… Obama still trying to sell the Iran deal with 11:20 am ET speech… Examining the Latino vote in our NBC/WSJ/Telemundo oversample… And dispatches from the campaign trail from NBC’s campaign embeds.


*** The most important person to watch at Thursday’s debate? Try Jeb Bush: As the political world remains transfixed on Donald Trump, here’s maybe your most important storyline heading into tomorrow’s first GOP debate: No one has more riding on a solid performance than Jeb Bush does. After all, Bush has had a rough last week. There was his “I’m not sure we need a half a billion dollars for women’s health issues” line, which Hillary Clinton eagerly pounced on. There was the GOP criticism that Jeb didn’t fight back after Clinton attacked him on Medicare and Obamacare at last Friday’s National Urban League event. And there’s our recent NBC/WSJ poll, which not only showed Bush falling from first to third in the Republican horserace -- but which also found his personal ratings dropping among Republicans and very conservative voters.

Thursday night is going to be a big moment for Jeb, especially in this Summer of Donald Trump. Remember, Mitt Romney had plenty of challenges in his 2012 bid for the GOP nomination. But more often than not, he used solid debate performances to boost his position with Republican primary voters. Can Jeb do the same?

*** Hillary punches Jeb -- again: As for Bush’s comments yesterday on Planned Parenthood and women’s health, he later issued a statement saying he “misspoke” (though the original email statement omitted the “misspoke” part). “[T]here are countless community health centers, rural clinics, and other women’s health organizations that need to be fully funded. They provide critical services to all, but particularly low-income women who don’t have the access they need,” he said. But it was too late. First, Hillary Clinton tweeted to Bush, “You are absolutely, unequivocally wrong” -- about not needing half a billion dollars for women’s health issues. And then she used her campaign event in Denver to deliver another punch. “Now he’s got no problem giving billions of dollars away to super wealthy and powerful corporations, but I guess women’s health just isn’t a priority for him,” Clinton said, per NBC’s Monica Alba. “Now, I’d like to ask him, Gov. Bush, try telling that to the mom who caught her breast cancer early because she was able to get screened in time. Was her health not worth the money? Tell it to the teenager who avoided an unintended pregnancy because she had access to contraception. Tell it to everyone who was protected by an HIV test." Ouch.

*** The fine line between abortion and women’s health: As conservatives have declared war on Planned Parenthood (and remember that was the context of Bush’s remarks yesterday), it’s important to remember that there’s a fine line between abortion/Planned Parenthood and broader questions about women’s health. Don’t forget: In 2012, the Obama campaign absolutely crushed Mitt Romney with TV advertisements (like this one) in Northern Virginia and the Denver suburbs on the subject of women’s health and Planned Parenthood. And as our NBC/WSJ poll shows, while there’s considerable GOP opposition to Planned Parenthood, the rest of the country -- at least right now -- doesn’t share that same opinion. 

*** Another day, another Hillary email story: But it wasn’t just the Bush campaign that was playing defense yesterday. Last night, The Washington Post reported that the FBI is now looking into the security of Hillary Clinton’s email server. Per NBC’s Pete Williams, a government official familiar with the FBI’s involvement says the FBI is right now trying to get an understanding of how the system worked and how classified information was handled. The official added to Williams, “This is an investigation of the system, not of any person.” Indeed, it appears this is all part of the security-related referral that we already knew about late last month. What is new here is that the Justice Department/FBI is now looking into it and it has reached out to the Denver-based firm that set up Clinton’s server.

*** Obama still trying to sell the Iran deal: Outside the 2016 race, other top political story we’re watching is President Obama’s 11:20 am ET speech on the Iran deal at American University. As our recent NBC/WSJ poll found, the American public still hasn’t made up its mind on the issue -- 35% support the deal, 33% oppose it, and 32% don’t know enough to have an opinion. That’s why Obama is still trying to sell the deal and why Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is still trying to oppose it. That said, Sens. Tim Kaine, Bill Nelson, and Barbara Boxer endorsing the deal yesterday signals that the Democratic votes to override any Obama veto probably aren’t there. Yes, a couple of high-profile House Democrats (Steve Israel, Nita Lowey) said they were opposed to the Iran deal, but the New York Dems were never going to be swing voters here. By the way, Obama using American University to deliver today’s speech is noteworthy. As MSNBC’s Joy Wang writes, it’s “the same location where President John F. Kennedy outlined a plan to curb nuclear arms in a historic address delivered more than 50 years ago.”

*** Examining the Latino vote: While we reported Donald Trump’s numbers among Hispanics from our recent NBC/WSJ/Telemundo Latino oversample, here are all of the numbers from that poll of 250 Latinos:

  • Obama’s job approval is at 63% -- up from 57% in December
  • 67% of Latinos believe government should do more, versus 28% who believe it should do less
  • And 52% prefer a generic Democrat to be president, compared with 27% who want a generic Republican

What’s more, here are the fav/unfav among these Latino respondents:

  • Obama: 59%-25% (+34)
  • Clinton: 57%-28% (+29)
  • Democratic Party: 51%-22% (+29)
  • Rubio: 28%-21% (+7)
  • Bernie Sanders: 17%-10% (+7)
  • Bush: 30%-29% (+1)
  • Walker: 12%-13% (-1)
  • Paul: 18%-20% (-2)
  • Huckabee: 18%-22% (-4)
  • Ted Cruz: 22%-27% (-5)
  • Republican Party: 25%-43% (-18)
  • Trump: 13%-75% (-62)

*** Examining Donald Trump’s support: Donald Trump's support from Republican voters tends to come from men, seniors and those having a high school education or less, according to results from an online NBC News/SurveyMonkey survey of more than 3,000 GOP primary voters. Trump also has widespread ideological backing from Republicans - as he gets the most support of any candidate from moderate, conservative and very conservative GOP primary voters.

*** Dispatches from the campaign trail: Finally, don’t miss these two dispatches yesterday from two of our new embeds: NBC’s Ali Vitali: “Trump Says ‘Call Me’ After Phone Number Goes Public”; NBC’s Kailani Koenig: Christie Talks Border Security, Birth Control and Tom Brady at Town Hall.”

*** On the trail: Martin O’Malley is in Iowa, while Marco Rubio attends a “welcome to Cleveland” rally with Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, who has endorsed him.

OFF THE RACES: The 10 who made the cut

Here's who will be on the primetime debate stage on Thursday night: Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Chris Christie and John Kasich.

Some of the candidates left out of the major debate are crying foul, writes Andrew Rafferty.

This is not a great story for either candidate. From The Daily Beast: "More than 60 ultra-rich Americans have contributed to both Jeb Bush’s and Hillary Clinton’s federal campaigns, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission data by Vocativ and The Daily Beast. Seventeen of those contributors have gone one step further and opened their wallets to fund both Bush’s and Clinton’s 2016 ambitions."

BIDEN: Driving Biden coverage today, via The New York Times.  Some friends "fret that Mr. Biden, as well known for his undisciplined, sometimes self-immolating comments as he is for his charm on the trail, could endanger Mr. Obama’s own legacy by injuring Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy and causing his party to lose control of the White House."

BUSH: He released his personal financial disclosure last night, showing that he earned more than $1.8 million from speaking fees since the beginning of 2014 and about $7 million from his consulting and strategy firm. More from the AP: "The filings reveal that Bush has benefited from business relationships with some of the same people who now back his campaign. Bush reported earning an estimated $121,889 from Clinical Medical Services Inc., a Puerto Rican home health care services company. Raul Rodriguez, president and chairman of the company, appeared on a list released last week of million-dollar donors to the super PAC supporting Bush."

More from the Wall Street Journal: "For more than seven years, nearly the length of his two gubernatorial terms, Mr. Bush, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, spent as much as half of his working hours advising Lehman and later Barclays, which bought the collapsed investment bank’s U.S. business. He wasn’t an employee of the firms, said people familiar with the matter, but was paid to attend meetings, dinners and conferences where he spoke to clients and bank executives on such subjects as health care, education, immigration and energy—matters he has started taking up this year with voters. Mr. Bush earned about $1.3 million a year at Lehman and some $2 million from Barclays, his campaign said."

Here's a good roundup of his statement on women's health last night, the cleanup and the battle with Hillary Clinton.

CLINTON: Breaking overnight from The Washington Post: "The FBI has begun looking into the security of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s private e-mail setup, contacting in the past week a Denver-based technology firm that helped manage the unusual system, according to two government officials. Also last week, the FBI contacted Clinton’s lawyer, David Ken­dall, with questions about the security of a thumb drive in his possession that contains copies of work e-mails Clinton sent during her time as secretary of state." NBC's Pete Williams confirms the story.

Notes’s Alex Seitz-Wald: “Now, the gloves are off. Clinton’s team is going out of their way to scold, mock, shame, and slam Republican candidate by name. Gone are the veiled shots and subtle contrasts — instead, what’s in are the hit-you-over-the-head attacks on GOP presidential hopefuls.”

JINDAL: Bobby Jindal's super PAC is broadcasting an ad in Iowa during the GOP debate after missing the cut for the primetime debate.

WALKER: His superpAC is announcing a $7 MILLION ad buy in Iowa, writes CNN.

TRUMP: One of us(!) crunched the numbers from a new NBC/SurveyMonkey poll to find out just where Donald Trump's support is coming from.’s Jane Timm notes: “In the three days since his campaign insisted he’d be staying under the radar in order to prepare for Thursday’s Republican presidential debate, Trump did seven interviews.”

OBAMA AGENDA: Selling the Iran deal

He's going to full-court press to try to push the Iran deal in Congress. From The New York Times: "President Obama is rolling out a campaign of private entreaties and public advocacy over the next several weeks to build support in Congress for the nuclear deal with Iran, an effort to counter a well-financed onslaught from critics who have promised to use a monthlong congressional recess to pressure lawmakers to oppose the accord. In a speech at American University in Washington on Wednesday, Mr. Obama will seek to explain and defend the international agreement reached last month, which would lift some sanctions in exchange for restrictions on Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon."

In a lengthy interview with The Atlantic, John Kerry calls the Iran nuclear pact "as pro-Israel as it gets." MORE: "The ayatollah constantly believed that we are untrustworthy, that you can’t negotiate with us, that we will screw them,” Kerry said. “This”—a congressional rejection—“will be the ultimate screwing.”

The Washington Post reports on "impressions of an NSC bureaucracy whose size has come to symbolize an overbearing and paranoid White House that insists on controlling even the smallest policy details, often at the expense of timely and effective decisions."

CONGRESS: McConnell promises no government shutdowns

Via Roll Call: Mitch McConnell is promising no government shutdowns in September.  “Let me say it again: no more government shutdowns,” the Kentucky Republican said, when asked how he intended to adhere to his pledge made numerous times. “We have divided government. … At some point we’ll negotiate the way forward.”

Carrie Dann contributed reporting to this story.