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 McConnellDems think they're beating Trump in emergency declaration battle Sanders: 'Not crazy' about nixing the Senate filibuster McCabe: No one in 'Gang of Eight' objected to FBI probe into Trump 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 SchumerGOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats National emergency declaration — a legal fight Trump is likely to win House Judiciary Dems seek answers over Trump's national emergency declaration 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 ObamaThe Memo: Bernie Sanders’s WH launch sharpens ‘socialist’ question Obama spends Presidents Day at Ayesha Curry's San Francisco restaurant Government's misguided holiday to celebrate itself MORE's selection of Judge Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian GarlandGOP advances rules change to speed up confirmation of Trump nominees New battle lines in war over Trump’s judicial picks Mitch McConnell has shown the nation his version of power grab 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 McCainMellman: Where are good faith and integrity? GOP senator says Republicans didn't control Senate when they held majority Pence met with silence after mentioning Trump in Munich speech 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 HeitkampOvernight 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 On The Money: Shutdown Day 27 | Trump fires back at Pelosi by canceling her foreign travel | Dems blast 'petty' move | Trump also cancels delegation to Davos | House votes to disapprove of Trump lifting Russia sanction MORE (N.D.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDemocrats brush off GOP 'trolling' over Green New Deal Senate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general GOP wants to pit Ocasio-Cortez against Democrats in the Senate 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) CrowleyCrowley, Shuster moving to K Street GOP lawmaker: Amazon would be moving into NY if Ocasio-Cortez wasn't elected Crowley says he 'didn’t underestimate' Ocasio-Cortez in primary challenge 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) SandersSanders campaign reports raising M in less than a day The Memo: Bernie Sanders’s WH launch sharpens ‘socialist’ question Gillibrand uses Trump Jr. tweet to fundraise 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 PelosiOvernight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — Trump, Dems open drug price talks | FDA warns against infusing young people's blood | Facebook under scrutiny over health data | Harris says Medicare for all isn't socialism Dems think they're beating Trump in emergency declaration battle Steve King asks for Congressional Record correction over white supremacist quote 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 TrumpTrump nominates Jeffrey Rosen to replace Rosenstein at DOJ McCabe says ‘it’s possible’ Trump is a Russian asset McCabe: Trump ‘undermining the role of law enforcement’ 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 HarrisSanders campaign reports raising M in less than a day The Memo: Bernie Sanders’s WH launch sharpens ‘socialist’ question Gillibrand uses Trump Jr. tweet to fundraise MORE (D-Calif.) said she's "not ruling it out." Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) will decide this summer. Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyGOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats The border deal: What made it in, what got left out Lawmakers introduce bill to fund government, prevent shutdown 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 Blunt‘Contingency’ spending in 3B budget deal comes under fire GOP braces for Trump's emergency declaration The border deal: What made it in, what got left out 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 BrownOvernight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — Trump, Dems open drug price talks | FDA warns against infusing young people's blood | Facebook under scrutiny over health data | Harris says Medicare for all isn't socialism On The Money: Smaller tax refunds put GOP on defensive | Dems question IRS on new tax forms | Warren rolls out universal child care proposal | Illinois governor signs bill for minimum wage Michelle Obama would be tied with Biden as frontrunner if she ran in 2020, poll shows MORE (D) both hold double-digit leads over their GOP challengers. Florida Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William Nelson2020 party politics in Puerto Rico There is no winning without Latinos as part of your coalition Dem 2020 candidates court Puerto Rico as long nomination contest looms MORE (D) is up by just 4 points over Gov. Rick Scott (R).

Other notable Senate polls show Democratic Sens. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyGOP wants to pit Ocasio-Cortez against Democrats in the Senate Biden speaking to Dems on Capitol Hill as 2020 speculation mounts: report GOP senators: Trump should not declare border emergency during State of the Union MORE (Pa.) and Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDemocrats brush off GOP 'trolling' over Green New Deal Overnight Defense: Trump declares border emergency | .6B in military construction funds to be used for wall | Trump believes Obama would have started war with North Korea | Pentagon delivers aid for Venezuelan migrants Kaine asks Shanahan if military families would be hurt by moving .6B for border wall MORE (Va.) leading their Republican opponents by double-digit margins. Meanwhile, Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzO'Rourke mulling another Senate run as well as presidential bid Texas senator introduces bill to produce coin honoring Bushes Trump working on labels for 2020 Dems: report MORE (R-Texas) leads Democratic Rep. Beto O'RourkeRobert (Beto) Francis O'RourkeO'Rourke mulling another Senate run as well as presidential bid The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sanders set to shake up 2020 race Barack, Michelle Obama expected to refrain from endorsing in 2020 Dem primary: report 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: Sanders set to shake up 2020 race House Dems release 2020 GOP 'retirements to watch' for 5 House Dems likely to attract primary challengers 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 McCaskillMcCaskill: Lindsey Graham 'has lost his mind' Trey Gowdy joins Fox News as a contributor The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump AG pick Barr grilled at hearing | Judge rules against census citizenship question | McConnell blocks second House bill to reopen government 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 BlackburnTrump’s new Syria timetable raises concern among key anti-ISIS allies Dem lawmaker invites Parkland survivor to attend State of the Union Bipartisan senators press Trump for strategy to protect Syrian Kurds 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 RohrabacherExpanding Social Security: Popular from sea to shining sea Oregon Dem top recipient of 2018 marijuana industry money, study finds Democrats need a worthy climate plan 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 LoBiondoLoBiondo launches consulting firm Live coverage: House elects new Speaker as Dems take charge The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — George H.W. Bush lies in state | NRCC suffers major hack | Crunch-time for Congress 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.