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.

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The state of play: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers outline proposals for virtual voting Overnight Health Care: Trump calls report on hospital shortages 'another fake dossier' | Trump weighs freezing funding to WHO | NY sees another 731 deaths | States battle for supplies | McConnell, Schumer headed for clash Phase-four virus relief hits a wall 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 SchumerHealth care workers account for 20 percent of Iowa coronavirus cases Pressure mounts on Congress for quick action with next coronavirus bill Schumer names coronavirus czar candidates in plea to White House 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 ObamaMore than 400,000 people barred from becoming citizens due to coronavirus: report Poll finds public evenly split on delayed Supreme Court ObamaCare decision Samantha Power: UN covering up Russia's role in Syria bombings MORE's selection of Judge Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian GarlandDC wine bar loses appeal in lawsuit against Trump hotel Mitch McConnell may win the impeachment and lose the Senate The Trumpification of the federal courts 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 McCainEsper faces tough questions on dismissal of aircraft carrier's commander Democratic super PAC targets McSally over coronavirus response GOP senator suspending campaign fundraising, donating paycheck amid coronavirus pandemic 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 Heitkamp70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents Susan Collins set to play pivotal role in impeachment drama Pro-trade group launches media buy as Trump and Democrats near deal on new NAFTA MORE (N.D.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinPoliticians mourn the death of Bill Withers Pressure mounts for national parks closure amid coronavirus White House, Senate reach deal on trillion stimulus package MORE (W.Va.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyEx-Sen. Joe Donnelly endorses Biden Lobbying world 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents 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) CrowleyStimulus price tag of .2T falls way short, some experts say Ocasio-Cortez set to make her first appearance on Fox News Progressive organizations throw support to Sanders ahead of Michigan primary 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 SandersDrugmaker caps insulin costs at to help diabetes patients during pandemic The Hill's Campaign Report: Wisconsin votes despite coronavirus pandemic Sen. Brown endorses Biden for president 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 PelosiLawmakers outline proposals for virtual voting Mattis defends Pentagon IG removed by Trump Overnight Health Care: Trump calls report on hospital shortages 'another fake dossier' | Trump weighs freezing funding to WHO | NY sees another 731 deaths | States battle for supplies | McConnell, Schumer headed for clash MORE (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that the win shouldn't be viewed as a sign of larger issues in the party.

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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 TrumpCDC updates website to remove dosage guidance on drug touted by Trump Trump says he'd like economy to reopen 'with a big bang' but acknowledges it may be limited Graham backs Trump, vows no money for WHO in next funding bill 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 HarrisHillicon Valley: Schiff presses intel chief on staff changes | Warren offers plan to secure elections | Twitter's Jack Dorsey to donate B to coronavirus fight | WhatsApp takes steps to counter virus misinformation WhatsApp limiting message forwarding in effort to stop coronavirus misinformation The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Dybul interview; Boris Johnson update 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: Oil giants meet with Trump at White House | Interior extends tenure of controversial land management chief | Oil prices tick up on hopes of Russia-Saudi deal Oil giants meet at White House amid talk of buying strategic reserves Democrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus MORE (D-Ore.) is "exploring the possibility." And Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is reportedly mulling a run.

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But we know one thing for sure -- Democrat Jason Kander, who came close to defeating Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP senators begin informal talks on new coronavirus stimulus Five things being discussed for a new coronavirus relief bill Hillicon Valley: Apple rolls out coronavirus screening app, website | Pompeo urged to crack down on coronavirus misinformation from China | Senators push FTC on price gouging | Instacart workers threaten strike 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 BrownThe Hill's Campaign Report: Wisconsin votes despite coronavirus pandemic Sen. Brown endorses Biden for president Senate Democrats propose ,000 hazard-pay plan for essential workers MORE (D) both hold double-digit leads over their GOP challengers. Florida Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonLobbying world The most expensive congressional races of the last decade Lobbying world MORE (D) is up by just 4 points over Gov. Rick Scott (R).

Other notable Senate polls show Democratic Sens. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseySenate Democrats propose ,000 hazard-pay plan for essential workers Democrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus Democratic senators call on domestic airlines to issue cash refunds for travelers MORE (Pa.) and Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDemocratic senator rips Navy head's 'completely inappropriate' speech on ousted carrier captain Biden's pick for vice president doesn't matter much Students with disabilities could lose with COVID-19 stimulus package MORE (Va.) leading their Republican opponents by double-digit margins. Meanwhile, Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzLawmakers announce legislation to fund government purchases of oil Overnight Energy: Oil giants meet with Trump at White House | Interior extends tenure of controversial land management chief | Oil prices tick up on hopes of Russia-Saudi deal Oil giants meet at White House amid talk of buying strategic reserves MORE (R-Texas) leads Democratic Rep. Beto O'RourkeBeto O'RourkeO'Rourke slams Texas official who suggested grandparents risk their lives for economy during pandemic Hispanic Caucus campaign arm unveils non-Hispanic endorsements Five Latinas who could be Biden's running mate 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 ComstockLive coverage: House holds third day of public impeachment hearings Gun debate raises stakes in battle for Virginia legislature Progressives face steep odds in ousting incumbent Democrats 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 CarterHegar advances to Democratic runoff in Texas Senate race The 14 other key races to watch on Super Tuesday Gun control group plans to spend million in Texas in 2020 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 McCaskillGOP lukewarm on talk of airline bailout Claire McCaskill: Ron Johnson is an 'embarrassing tool' To winnow primary field, Obama and other Democrats must speak out  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 must cut our dependence on Chinese drugs — whatever it takes Senate passes House's coronavirus aid bill, sending it to Trump Nikki Haley expected to endorse Loeffler in Senate race 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 RohrabacherDemocrat Harley Rouda advances in California House primary Lawyers to seek asylum for Assange in France: report Rohrabacher tells Yahoo he discussed pardon with Assange for proof Russia didn't hack DNC email 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 LoBiondoStimulus price tag of .2T falls way short, some experts say Democratic challenger on Van Drew's party switch: 'He betrayed our community' Trump announces Van Drew will become a Republican in Oval Office meeting 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.