Election Countdown: Kennedy retirement shakes up midterms | Big primary night for progressives | Fallout from Crowley's defeat | Trump flexes his muscles in GOP primaries | The Hill's Latina Leaders spotlights 2018 candidates

Election Countdown: Kennedy retirement shakes up midterms | Big primary night for progressives | Fallout from Crowley's defeat | Trump flexes his muscles in GOP primaries | The Hill's Latina Leaders spotlights 2018 candidates
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This is Election Countdown, The Hill's new newsletter from Lisa Hagen and Ben Kamisar that brings you the biggest stories on the campaign trail.  We'd love to hear from you, so feel free to reach out to Lisa at LHagen@thehill.com and Ben at BKamisar@thehill.com with any questions, comments, criticisms or food recommendations (mostly the latter, please).

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We're 132 days until the 2018 midterm elections and 860 days until the 2020 elections.

 

Well, things just got even more interesting.

Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement announcement stunned Washington on Wednesday and set in motion a high-stakes midterm year fight that could impact the future of the Supreme Court for decades.

Kennedy's decision to step down from the court is a nightmare scenario for Democrats and liberal groups who fear what replacing the court's swing vote with a stalwart conservative could mean for future decisions on issues such a LGBTQ rights, abortion, gun control and ObamaCare.

For Republicans — despite differences with Trump on some issues — putting conservatives on the bench is a unifying goal.

The state of play: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP moves to rein in president's emergency powers Republicans up for reelection fear daylight with Trump Overnight Energy: Students around globe demand climate action | EPA bans consumer sales of deadly chemical in paint strippers | Green New Deal set for Senate vote MORE (R-Ky.) promised a vote "this fall."

Democrats, though, were quick to push back, arguing that any nomination fight should come after the midterms.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerWhy we need to build gateway now Campaign to draft Democratic challenger to McConnell starts raising funds Schumer congratulates J. Lo and A-Rod, but says 'I'm never officiating a wedding again' MORE (D-N.Y.) called it the "height of hypocrisy" for Republicans to vote on a replacement before the elections.

Schumer cited McConnell's own decision in 2016 to refuse to allow a vote on then-President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaOn The Money: Trump presses GM, union to start talks over closed plant | Trump renews call to cut arts, PBS funding | Alan Krueger, former Obama economic adviser, dies at 58 | Americans expected to bet .5B on March Madness Obama reminisces about visit to Ireland on St. Patrick's Day: 'It'll always be O'Bama' Klobuchar on Trump's rhetoric and hate crimes: 'At the very least, he is dividing people' MORE's selection of Judge Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian GarlandWarren, Harris, Gillibrand back efforts to add justices to Supreme Court Holder says next Dem president should consider packing courts GOP advances rules change to speed up confirmation of Trump nominees MORE to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. That allowed Trump to tap Justice Neil Gorsuch in 2017. Republicans pushed Gorsuch through after eliminating the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees.

Republicans have 51 seats in the Senate, but lately find themselves with only 50 votes with Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainSantorum: Trump should 'send emails to a therapist' instead of tweeting Meghan McCain: Trump obsessed with my father because he 'will never be a great man' CNN's Amanda Carpenter: Trump attacking McCain 'to distract' from 'questions about the Russia investigation' MORE (R-Ariz.) at home fighting brain cancer.

That means Republicans can afford only one defection without any Democrats on board.

The Senate stakes: A vote on a Supreme Court nominee could pose a tough challenge for vulnerable Senate Democrats.

A vote would give Democrats in red states an opportunity to show their bipartisan chops. Remember, Democratic Sens. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampAnnual scorecard ranks GOP environmental efforts far below Dems in 2018 Overnight Energy: Trump taps ex-oil lobbyist Bernhardt to lead Interior | Bernhardt slams Obama officials for agency's ethics issues | Head of major green group steps down Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary MORE (N.D.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinManchin says he won't support LGBTQ protection bill as written Senators offer bipartisan bill to fix 'retail glitch' in GOP tax law Murkowski, Manchin call for 'responsible solutions' to climate change MORE (W.Va.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyOvernight Energy: Trump taps ex-oil lobbyist Bernhardt to lead Interior | Bernhardt slams Obama officials for agency's ethics issues | Head of major green group steps down Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary EPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks MORE (Ind.) all voted for Justice Neil Gorsuch's confirmation. And their willingness to buck party lines is a centerpiece of all of their campaigns.

But they will also face unrelenting pressure from liberal groups to stick with their party and oppose any pick seen as too conservative.

The turnout game: Both sides are hoping to use the fight to mobilize their voters. Republicans have already shown that putting conservatives on the court is a popular rallying cry for their base.

Stay tuned...

 

Primary primer

Nearly 24 hours later, Washington is still buzzing about the biggest political upset of 2018.

The stunning defeat of Rep. Joe CrowleyJoseph (Joe) CrowleyBeto could give Biden and Bernie a run for their money Ocasio-Cortez's favorable, unfavorable ratings up: poll Feehery: Dems' embrace of socialism makes a Trump reelection look inevitable MORE (D-N.Y.), the House Democratic caucus chairman, renewed questions about the Democratic Party's direction and the future of its House leadership.

Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old former Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersWarren calls for abolishing Electoral College Biden weighing an early announcement of running mate: report Poll: Biden leads among millennial voters MORE organizer, ran on generational change and bucking the political establishment.

Beyond Crowley's defeat, progressives had other big victories in Maryland's gubernatorial primary and two New York swing seats in the House.

Now, Democrats are searching for answers about what it all means. Liberals are taking a victory lap, claiming that voters are eager to move the party further to the left. But Democratic leaders are pumping the brakes on the broader political implications of Crowley's loss. House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiHillicon Valley: Social media faces scrutiny after New Zealand attacks | YouTube removed 'tens of thousands' of shooting videos | DHS chief warns of state-backed cyber threats | House Dems plan April vote on net neutrality Republican senators who voted against Trump have no excuses Manchin says he won't support LGBTQ protection bill as written MORE (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that the win shouldn't be viewed as a sign of larger issues in the party.

Republicans meanwhile are seizing on any signs of a leftward shift for Democrats. A new campaign ad targets the left as "unhinged."

Meanwhile, President TrumpDonald John TrumpWarren: 'White supremacists pose a threat to the United States like any other terrorist group' National Enquirer paid 0,000 for Bezos texts: report Santorum: Trump should 'send emails to a therapist' instead of tweeting MORE played a critical role in getting two incumbents over the finish line. Rep. Dan Donovan (R-N.Y.) prevailed over former Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) in a vicious primary. Trump warned that a Grimm victory could cost Republicans a top seat. And in South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster (R) defeated businessman John Warren in a primary runoff. Trump held an election eve rally for McMaster, who was an early Trump supporter in 2016.

Read more takeaways here from last night's primaries.

 

Race for the White House

There's been a considerable amount of 2020 buzz this week about potential contenders. Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBiden weighing an early announcement of running mate: report Poll: Biden leads among millennial voters O'Rourke faces sharp backlash from left MORE (D-Calif.) said she's "not ruling it out." Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) will decide this summer. Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyBusiness groups urge Congress to combat LGBTQ discrimination in workplace Overnight Energy: EPA moves to raise ethanol levels in gasoline | Dems look to counter White House climate council | Zinke cleared of allegations tied to special election Will Washington finally do something about high drug prices? MORE (D-Ore.) is "exploring the possibility." And Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is reportedly mulling a run.

But we know one thing for sure -- Democrat Jason Kander, who came close to defeating Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP senator disinvited to Republican event over vote against Trump's emergency declaration Trump keeps tight grip on GOP Dems shift strategy for securing gun violence research funds MORE (R-Mo.) in 2016, won't be making a dark horse run, instead opting to run for mayor of Kansas City.

In wonkier 2020 news: The Hill's Reid Wilson reports that several states are looking to swap party caucuses for primary elections.

And from The Hill's Avery Anapol: A Democratic National Committee (DNC) panel voted Wednesday to move forward with a plan to limit the power of superdelegates in picking future presidential nominees.

 

Tweet of the Week

 

Survey says…

A trio of NBC News/Marist polls show some good news for Senate Democrats. Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) and Ohio Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownCongress must break its addiction to unjust tax extenders Appeals court upholds Ohio law to defund Planned Parenthood clinics It is Joe Biden's time — 10 reasons MORE (D) both hold double-digit leads over their GOP challengers. Florida Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonEx-House Intel chair: Intel panel is wrong forum to investigate Trump's finances The Hill's Morning Report - Trump budget reignites border security fight 2020 party politics in Puerto Rico MORE (D) is up by just 4 points over Gov. Rick Scott (R).

Other notable Senate polls show Democratic Sens. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyOvernight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Trump health chief reveals talks with states on Medicaid block grants | New head of FDA faces tough test | Trump officials defends work requirements in court Trump health chief reveals talks with states on Medicaid block grants The Hill's 12:30 Report: Manafort sentenced to total of 7.5 years in prison MORE (Pa.) and Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDem senator wants Trump to extend immigration protections to Venezuelans Pentagon sends Congress list of projects that could lose funds to Trump's emergency declaration The Hill's Morning Report - 2020 Dems grapple with race, gender and privilege MORE (Va.) leading their Republican opponents by double-digit margins. Meanwhile, Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzO'Rourke faces sharp backlash from left Dem strategist says South Carolina will be first 'real test' for O'Rourke MSNBC's Scarborough hits O'Rourke on his message: 'It's all goop' MORE (R-Texas) leads Democratic Rep. Beto O'RourkeRobert (Beto) Francis O'RourkeBiden weighing an early announcement of running mate: report Poll: Biden leads among millennial voters Overnight Health Care: CDC pushes for expanding HIV testing, treatment | Dem group launches ads attacking Trump on Medicare, Medicaid cuts | Hospitals, insurers spar over surprise bills | O'Rourke under pressure from left on Medicare for all MORE by 5 points in a University of Texas/Texas Tribune survey. And another Florida poll from YouGov poll for CBS has Scott in the lead over Nelson, 46 to 41 percent.

In the battle for the House, there's more good news for Democrats. In a top House race just outside of the nation's capital, Democrat Jennifer Waxton leads Rep. Barbara ComstockBarbara Jean ComstockGOP lawmaker introduces bill to stop revolving door Ex-lawmakers face new scrutiny over lobbying Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign MORE (R-Va.) by 10 points, according to a Monmouth University poll. And in the latest generic House ballot poll, Democrats hold a 7-point lead over Republicans, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll.

 

Coming to a TV near you

Viral ad alert: That prize goes to Texas Democrat MJ Hegar whose campaign ad, "Doors" garnered nearly 2 million views. The former Air Force pilot used the metaphor of opening and closing doors to take viewers through her life. While she made quite the splash, Hegar still faces the tough feat of unseating Rep. John CarterJohn Rice CarterThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems aim to end anti-Semitism controversy with vote today Dem campaign chief: Medicare for All price tag 'a little scary' Overnight Defense: US reportedly easing demands over North Korean nukes | Trump optimistic for deal | Dems rip plan to use military funds for wall | Pentagon urges India, Pakistan to calm tensions MORE (R-Texas) in a red district.

Ohio special election ad blitz: We're less than 2 months out from a special election to replace ex-GOP Rep. Pat TiberiPatrick (Pat) Joseph TiberiOhio New Members 2019 Many authors of GOP tax law will not be returning to Congress GOP Rep. Balderson holds onto seat in Ohio MORE and ads are starting to blanket the district from both sides. Democrat Danny O'Connor and Republican Troy Balderson both launched positive spots that highlight their records. Meanwhile, Republicans' Congressional Leadership Fund launched two ads -- one positive ad about Balderson and one negative spot dubbing O'Connor "Dishonest Danny."

Outside groups go up on the air: The GOP's Senate Leadership Fund reserved $24 million in fall TV ads in Missouri, Nevada and North Dakota. Democrats' Senate Majority PAC launched its latest salvo attacking Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley (R). That brings SMP's total investment to protect Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillLobbying world Dem candidate has Hawley served subpoena at CPAC Annual scorecard ranks GOP environmental efforts far below Dems in 2018 MORE (D-Mo.) to $6 million. Democrats' House Majority PAC launched a $3 million digital ad campaign in 12 GOP-held seats focusing on Republicans "disastrous economic agenda." They'll run for 10 weeks on major video and music streaming platforms.

Former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) launched his latest TV ad attacking Trump's tariffs (while sneaking in a quick compliment about Trump's North Korea summit). Bredesen faces Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnTaylor Swift says she wants to get more involved in politics Bipartisan lawmakers introduce resolution supporting vaccines Hillicon Valley: Cohen stuns Washington with testimony | Claims Trump knew Stone spoke to WikiLeaks | Stone, WikiLeaks deny | TikTok gets record fine | Senators take on tech over privacy MORE (R-Tenn.) in the open-seat Tennessee Senate race.

 

Wave Watch

We finally have a winner in California's 48th District primary! After weeks of counting absentee and provisional ballots, Democrat Harley Rouda eked out a victory over fellow Democrat Hans Keirstead to take on Rep. Dana RohrabacherDana Tyrone RohrabacherProgressives come to Omar's defense Expanding Social Security: Popular from sea to shining sea Oregon Dem top recipient of 2018 marijuana industry money, study finds MORE (R-Calif.) in the Orange County district. That means the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee got their preferred candidate across the finish line in a seat they believe is ripe for victory.

In another swing district on the opposite side of the country, CNN uncovered past remarks from Republican House candidate Seth Grossman, who has a history of making racist and anti-Muslim comments on social media. This comes after it was revealed that he called diversity "a bunch of crap." Grossman is running to succeed retiring Rep. Frank LoBiondoFrank Alo LoBiondoThe 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority LoBiondo launches consulting firm Live coverage: House elects new Speaker as Dems take charge MORE (R-N.J.).

 

In case you missed it

The Hill unveiled its "Latina Leaders" for 2018 on Wednesday. It spotlights Latinas who are running for office this cycle, including two women who are poised to make history this fall as the first Latinas elected to Congress from Texas. You can read all 11 profiles here.

The New York Times's Adam Pearce and Alex Burns looked through all the big House primaries this year and mapped out how Democrats are seeing a big bump in voter turnout compared to that of the 2014 midterms.

McClatchy's Alex Roarty dives into why women are doing so well in primaries. And pollsters he interviewed said there isn't just one reason, but a series of factors like health care and Trump.

Kyrstal Ball, a co-host of Hill.TV's morning news show "Rising," argues that Ocasio-Cortez win is the latest sign of a "working-class takeover" of the Democratic Party.