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 McConnellSanders hits Feinstein over Kavanaugh allegations: Now it’s clear why she did nothing for months On The Money: Senate approves 4B spending bill | China imposes new tariffs on billion in US goods | Ross downplays new tariffs: 'Nobody's going to actually notice' McConnell tamps down any talk of Kavanaugh withdrawal 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 SchumerHouse Dems push to delay Kavanaugh vote for investigation Democrats should end their hypocrisy when it comes to Kavanaugh and the judiciary Celebrities back both Cuomo and Nixon as New Yorkers head to primary vote 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 ObamaTime for sunshine on Trump-Russia investigation Getting politics out of the pit To cure Congress, elect more former military members MORE's selection of Judge Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian GarlandHirono: Dems could keep SCOTUS seat vacant for two years Kavanaugh understands a good judge is an umpire — not a diva Budowsky: If Dems win control of Congress 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 McCainTrump administration weakens methane pollution standards for drilling on public lands Another recession could hit US in 2019, says credit union association chief R-E-S-P-E-C-T: One legacy of Franklin and McCain is up to us 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 HeitkampThe Memo: Kavanaugh firestorm consumes political world Kavanaugh becomes September surprise for midterm candidates Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday MORE (N.D.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinThe Memo: Kavanaugh firestorm consumes political world Kavanaugh becomes September surprise for midterm candidates Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday MORE (W.Va.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyThe Memo: Kavanaugh firestorm consumes political world Kavanaugh becomes September surprise for midterm candidates Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday 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) CrowleyFor Capuano in Massachusetts, demography was destiny Carper fends off progressive challenger in Delaware primary Election Countdown: Fallout from Massachusetts stunner | In Delaware, Carper looks to avoid next progressive upset | Dem 2020 primary already in full swing | How a Dem ex-governor hopes to take red-state Tennessee | GOP challengers hit Dems over tax votes 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 joins Sanders in support of striking McDonald's workers Kavanaugh allegations could be monster storm brewing for midterm elections      Senate approves 4B spending bill 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 PelosiDem lawmakers slam Trump’s declassification of Russia documents as ‘brazen abuse of power’ Russia probe accelerates political prospects for House Intel Dems Pelosi calls on Ryan to bring long-term Violence Against Women Act to floor 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: I hope voters pay attention to Dem tactics amid Kavanaugh fight South Korea leader: North Korea agrees to take steps toward denuclearization Graham calls handling of Kavanaugh allegations 'a drive-by shooting' 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 HarrisSenate Democrats: Kavanaugh’s classmate must testify Kamala Harris on Kavanaugh accuser: ‘I believe her’ Senate Dems sue Archives to try to force release of Kavanaugh documents MORE (D-Calif.) said she's "not ruling it out." Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) will decide this summer. Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyOvernight Energy: Warren bill would force companies to disclose climate impacts | Green group backs Gillum in Florida gov race | Feds to open refuge near former nuke site Warren wants companies to disclose more about climate change impacts DHS transferred about 0M from separate agencies to ICE this year: report 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 BluntMurkowski echoes calls for Kavanaugh, accuser to testify Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow 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: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens Bipartisan group wants to lift Medicaid restriction on substance abuse treatment New polling shows Brown, DeWine with leads in Ohio MORE (D) both hold double-digit leads over their GOP challengers. Florida Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Kavanaugh controversy consumes Washington | Kavanaugh slated to testify Monday | Allegations shake up midterms Florida governor booed out of restaurant over red tide algae issues Juan Williams: America warms up to socialism MORE (D) is up by just 4 points over Gov. Rick Scott (R).

Other notable Senate polls show Democratic Sens. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyObama to hit campaign trail in Pa. for gubernatorial, Senate candidates Trump is wrong, Dems are fighting to save Medicare and Social Security Five biggest surprises in midterm fight MORE (Pa.) and Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KainePoll: Kaine leads GOP challenger by 19 points in Va. Senate race GOP offers to ban cameras from testimony of Kavanaugh accuser Corey Stewart fires aide who helped bring far-right ideas to campaign: report MORE (Va.) leading their Republican opponents by double-digit margins. Meanwhile, Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGOP candidate scores upset win in Texas state Senate runoff McConnell tamps down any talk of Kavanaugh withdrawal Cornyn takes on O'Rourke over AR-15s MORE (R-Texas) leads Democratic Rep. Beto O'RourkeRobert (Beto) Francis O'RourkeGOP candidate scores upset win in Texas state Senate runoff Cornyn takes on O'Rourke over AR-15s Poll: Cruz wins 3 percent of black vote, but 45 percent from Hispanics 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 ComstockVirginia reps urge Trump to declare federal emergency ahead of Hurricane Florence The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — 2020 hopefuls lead the charge against Kavanaugh Trump retweets GOP Senate candidate upset by federal pay freeze 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 CarterTexas House hopeful shows off her tattoos in new ad Dems eyeing smaller magic number for House majority Senate must approve Justice Served Act to achieve full potential of DNA evidence 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 TiberiAP: Balderson wins hotly contested Ohio special election House Dems to invest in South Carolina race Ohio Dem candidate knocks Trump: He doesn’t know what he’s talking about 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 McCaskillOvernight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens Bipartisan senators unveil proposal to crack down on surprise medical bills The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh and his accuser will testify publicly 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 BlackburnThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh and his accuser will testify publicly The Memo: Kavanaugh firestorm consumes political world Kavanaugh becomes September surprise for midterm candidates 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 RohrabacherGreen group targets California GOP House candidates in new ads Over 100 lawmakers consistently voted against chemical safeguards: report Hillicon Valley: Manafort to cooperate with Mueller probe | North Korea blasts US over cyber complaint | Lawmakers grill Google over China censorship | Bezos to reveal HQ2 location by year's end 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 LoBiondoJordan hits campaign trail amid bid for Speaker On The Money: Broad coalition unites against Trump tariffs | Senate confirms new IRS chief | Median household income rose for third straight year in 2017 | Jamie Dimon's brief battle with Trump Blue-state Republicans say they will vote against 'tax cuts 2.0' if it extends SALT cap 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.