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).
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 McConnellFord to bolster electric vehicle production in multi-billion dollar push On The Money — GOP blocks spending bill to kick off chaotic week in congress Overnight Health Care — Presented by Alrtia — Booster shots get bipartisan rollout 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 SchumerChuck SchumerObama says US 'desperately needs' Biden legislation ahead of key votes Congress shows signs of movement on stalled Biden agenda Schumer gets shoutout, standing ovation from crowd at Tony Awards 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 ObamaObama says US 'desperately needs' Biden legislation ahead of key votes Obamas to break ground Tuesday on presidential center in Chicago A simple fix can bring revolutionary change to health spending MORE's selection of Judge Merrick GarlandMerrick GarlandAbbott promises to hire Border Patrol agents punished by Biden administration House passes bill to ensure abortion access in response to Texas law Delta pushes for national 'no fly' list of unruly passengers after banning 1,600 from flights 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 McCainWhoopi Goldberg signs four-year deal with ABC to stay on 'The View' Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid Meghan McCain: Country has not 'healed' from Trump under Biden 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 HeitkampWashington's oldest contact sport: Lobbyists scrum to dilute or kill Democrats' tax bill Progressives prepare to launch counterattack in tax fight Business groups aim to divide Democrats on .5T spending bill MORE (N.D.), Joe ManchinJoe ManchinProtesters demonstrate outside Manchin's houseboat over opposition to reconciliation package Security policy expert: Defense industry donations let lawmakers 'ignore public opinion' Manchin cast doubt on deal this week for .5T spending bill MORE (W.Va.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyRepublicans may regret restricting reproductive rights Sanders traveling to Iowa, Indiana to pitch Biden's spending package Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda 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.
Nearly 24 hours later, Washington is still buzzing about the biggest political upset of 2018.
The stunning defeat of Rep. Joe CrowleyJoseph (Joe) CrowleyProgressives eye shift in strategy after high-profile losses Ocasio-Cortez doesn't rule out challenging Schumer Cynthia Nixon backs primary challenger to Rep. Carolyn Maloney 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 SandersBernie SandersDo progressives prefer Trump to compromise? Texas House Republican tests positive for coronavirus in latest breakthrough case In defense of share buybacks 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 PelosiManchin cast doubt on deal this week for .5T spending bill Obama says US 'desperately needs' Biden legislation ahead of key votes Congress shows signs of movement on stalled Biden agenda 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 TrumpJan. 6 committee chair says panel will issue a 'good number' of additional subpoenas Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Pentagon officials prepare for grilling Biden nominates head of Africa CDC to lead global AIDS response 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.
Race for the White House
There's been a considerable amount of 2020 buzz this week about potential contenders. Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisNavarro rips 'dimwit' Trump Jr. on 'The View' for COVID-19 and obesity tweet Do progressives prefer Trump to compromise? Biden, Harris push big lie about Border Patrol MORE (D-Calif.) said she's "not ruling it out." Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) will decide this summer. Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — Senate Finance chair backs budget action on fossil fuel subsidies Top Democrat says he'll push to address fossil fuel tax breaks in spending bill Democrats revive filibuster fight over voting rights bill 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 BluntRoy Blunt has helped forge and fortify the shared bonds between Australia and America The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Biden jumps into frenzied Dem spending talks Congress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B 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
This photo is from Nov. 14, 2017. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 28, was then working as a bartender.— Jeff Stein (@JStein_WaPo) June 27, 2018
Less than a year later, she defeated the likely next Speaker of the House, and will almost certainly be the youngest woman ever elected to Congress pic.twitter.com/JgHjdQWAF6
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 BrownBiden sidesteps GOP on judicial vacancies, for now Senate poised to battle over Biden's pick of big bank critic Biden taps big bank skeptic to for top regulatory post MORE (D) both hold double-digit leads over their GOP challengers. Florida Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonTechnology is easy but politics is hard for NASA's Lunar Human Landing System Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by The American Petroleum Institute — Climate change turning US into coffee country Elon Musk mocks Biden for ignoring his company's historic space flight MORE (D) is up by just 4 points over Gov. Rick Scott (R).
Other notable Senate polls show Democratic Sens. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyBiden sidesteps GOP on judicial vacancies, for now Democrats urge Biden to go all in with agenda in limbo House passes bill to ensure abortion access in response to Texas law MORE (Pa.) and Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDemocrats urge Biden to go all in with agenda in limbo Panic begins to creep into Democratic talks on Biden agenda Congress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B MORE (Va.) leading their Republican opponents by double-digit margins. Meanwhile, Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump-backed challenger to Cheney decried him as 'racist,' 'xenophobic' in 2016: report FBI investigating alleged assault on Fort Bliss soldier at Afghan refugee camp The Memo: Biden's immigration problems reach crescendo in Del Rio MORE (R-Texas) leads Democratic Rep. Beto O'RourkeBeto O'RourkeAnti-Trump Republicans on the line in 2022 too Matthew McConaughey on potential political run: 'I'm measuring it' Anti-Greg Abbott TV ad pulled minutes before college football game: Lincoln Project 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 ComstockThe Memo: Never Trumpers sink into gloom as Gonzalez bows out Sunday shows preview: States deal with fallout of Ida; Texas abortion law takes effect The Memo: Trump pours gas on tribalism with Jan. 6 rewrite 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 CarterBottom line READ: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results House Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit 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 Democrat Danny O'Connor won't seek Portman's Senate seat The Hill's Morning Report - Biden argues for legislative patience, urgent action amid crisis Ohio New Members 2019 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 McCaskillRepublicans may regret restricting reproductive rights Sunday shows preview: States deal with fallout of Ida; Texas abortion law takes effect Giuliani to stump for Greitens in Missouri 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 BlackburnBig Tech should pay for damaging mental health Facebook to testify in Senate after report finds Instagram harms mental health House Oversight Democrat presses Facebook for 'failure' to protect users MORE (R-Tenn.) in the open-seat Tennessee Senate race.
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 RohrabacherNow someone wants to slap a SPACE Tax on Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, et al 'Blue wave' Democrats eye comebacks after losing reelection Former Rep. Rohrabacher says he took part in Jan. 6 march to Capitol but did not storm building 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 LoBiondoVan Drew-Kennedy race in NJ goes down to the wire Van Drew wins GOP primary in New Jersey Amy Kennedy wins NJ primary to face GOP's Van Drew 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.