Election Countdown: GOP worries House majority endangered by top of ticket | Dems make history in Tuesday's primaries | Parties fight for Puerto Rican vote in Florida | GOP lawmakers plan 'Freedom Tour'

Election Countdown: GOP worries House majority endangered by top of ticket | Dems make history in Tuesday's primaries | Parties fight for Puerto Rican vote in Florida | GOP lawmakers plan 'Freedom Tour'

This is Election Countdown, The Hill's weekly newsletter from Lisa Hagen (@LA_Hagen) and Max Greenwood (@KMaxGreenwood) 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 Max at MGreenwood@thehill.com. with any questions, comments, criticisms or food recommendations (mostly the latter, please).

 

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We're 83 days from the 2018 midterm elections and 811 days from the 2020 elections.

 

In an era of big money and sophisticated campaigns, politics is increasingly becoming a team sport. A strong candidate at the head of a ticket can drive turnout in other contests on the ballot, and a weak candidate can hurt turnout in other races just as much.

Tuesday night was a bad night for a Republican squad hoping to defend its already-tenuous majority in the House, as voters opted for more conservative nominees in two battleground states over stronger and more traditional contenders expected to do well in the general election.

In Minnesota, those conservatives squelched former Gov. Tim Pawlenty's comeback bid, choosing Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson (R) as the Republican nominee for governor. And in Kansas, Gov. Jeff Colyer (R) conceded defeat to Kris Kobach, the lightening rod Kansas secretary of State who has President TrumpDonald John TrumpGiuliani says he is unaware of reported federal investigation Louisiana's Democratic governor forced into runoff Lawmakers focus their ire on NBA, not China MORE's backing.

Already aware of the treacherous terrain they face this year, Reps. Erik PaulsenErik Philip PaulsenTwo swing-district Democrats raise impeachment calls after whistleblower reports Hopes dim for passage of Trump trade deal Fight over Trump's new NAFTA hits key stretch MORE (R-Minn.) and Jason LewisJason Mark LewisTwo swing-district Democrats raise impeachment calls after whistleblower reports GOP Senate candidate said Republicans have 'dual loyalties' to Israel The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch MORE (R-Minn.) had urged Pawlenty to run for his old job, confident that a steady hand would mollify suburban voters who might otherwise want a change. Republicans had also hoped to pick up Democratic-held seats left vacant by Reps. Tim WalzTimothy (Tim) James WalzThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump grapples with Syria fallout Minnesota Democrat sets up rematch in competitive House race Overnight Health Care: CDC warns against using e-cigs after vaping-related deaths | Minnesota reports fourth nationwide death tied to vaping | Top Dem demands FDA chief take action | Marianne Williamson under fire over controversial health remarks MORE, the Democratic nominee for governor, and Rick NolanRichard (Rick) Michael NolanHold off on anti-mining hysteria until the facts are in Minnesota New Members 2019 Republicans pick up seat in Minnesota’s ‘Iron range’ MORE.

"They're both in more trouble with a weak gubernatorial nominee," one Minnesota Republican strategist said of Paulsen and Lewis. "And we can forget about picking up" the Walz or Nolan seats.

In Kansas, top aides to Rep. Kevin YoderKevin Wayne YoderK Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers Kansas Senate race splits wide open without Pompeo Mike Pompeo to speak at Missouri-Kansas Forum amid Senate bid speculation MORE (R) voiced private concerns that having Kobach at the top of the ticket would energize Democrats and independents who can't stand the firebrand conservative. Republicans are also concerned that a seat being vacated by Rep. Lynn JenkinsLynn Haag JenkinsFormer GOP Rep. Costello launches lobbying shop Kansas Republican dropping Senate bid to challenge GOP rep Anti-corruption group hits Congress for ignoring K Street, Capitol Hill 'revolving door' MORE (R) may be vulnerable.

"This race will be nationalized," said one Kansas Republican familiar with the internal discussions. "Kobach is hated by independents. He energizes the [Democrats] to get out the vote."

How does a subpar top-of-the-ticket play out in down-ballot races? Look no farther than Virginia, where Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael Kaine2020 general election debates announced Senators call for Trump administration to testify on Syria Schumer: Transcript 'absolutely validates' Trump impeachment inquiry MORE (D) has spent this week campaigning with Abigail Spanberger, Elaine Luria and Jennifer Wexton, three Democratic candidates running for GOP-held House seats. Kaine has done more than 30 events with House candidates since the June primary, his campaign told The Hill.

By contrast, the Republican nominee facing Kaine, Prince William County Council chairman Corey Stewart, has based his pitch to voters on a pledge to defend Confederate statues -- even though he is a Minnesota native. Not exactly the pitch that suburban voters in an increasingly blue state want to hear.

A Virginia Commonwealth University poll released last week shows Kaine overwhelmingly leading Stewart. So don't expect to see Stewart campaigning alongside Rep. Barbara ComstockBarbara Jean ComstockGun debate raises stakes in battle for Virginia legislature Progressives face steep odds in ousting incumbent Democrats K Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers MORE (R-Va.) any time soon.

The Hill's Reid Wilson has more here on Republican worries that weak top-of-the-ticket candidates could cost them the House.

 

Primary recap

Two big things from Tuesday's primaries: Democrats chose history-making nominees in three states and establishment candidates flexed their muscles in the Midwest.

Democratic voters in Vermont chose Christine Hallquist as their gubernatorial nominee, making her the first openly transgender woman to be nominated for a governorship by a major political party.

In Connecticut's 5th District, voters handed former National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes the Democratic nomination to replace Rep. Elizabeth EstyElizabeth Henderson EstyConnecticut elects first black congresswoman Former aides alleging sexual harassment on Capitol Hill urge congressional action Rising Dem star in Connecticut says people like me ‘deserve a seat at the table’ in Congress MORE (D). If Hayes wins in November, she'll become the first black Democrat from Connecticut to serve in the House.

And in Minnesota's 5th District, Ilhan Omar took the Democratic nomination to succeed Rep. Keith EllisonKeith Maurice EllisonJudge threatens to put prison officials in same uncooled cells as inmates Minnesota students file federal lawsuit against school district alleging 'deliberate indifference' to racist incidents Former Sanders aides launch consulting firm MORE (D), likely setting her up to become one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress.

Tuesday was also a (largely) good night for establishment candidates, particularly in the two Midwestern primaries.

Leah Vukmir, who carried the endorsement of the Wisconsin GOP, overcame a challenge from Kevin Nicholson in the state's GOP Senate primary, handing a defeat to a candidate who billed himself as a political outsider.

And incumbent Sen. Tina SmithTina Flint SmithDemocrats urge Rick Perry not to roll back lightbulb efficiency rules Overnight Health Care — Presented by Coalition Against Surprise Medical Billing — Planned Parenthood charges into 2020 | PhRMA CEO warns against Pelosi drug pricing bill | Medicaid work requirements costing states millions Planned Parenthood issues first wave of 2020 House, Senate endorsements MORE (D-Minn.), a longtime player in Minnesota's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, easily advanced to the state's special Senate election in November, beating out Richard Painter, a former ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, in her primary.

 

Read our takeaways from Tuesday night.

 

Race for the White House

Michael Avenatti, the lawyer representing Stormy Daniels in her lawsuit against Trump, released his policy positions on Twitter as he weighs a 2020 bid. Among his positions, Avenatti supports "Medicare for All," which is gaining steam on the left flank of the party.

And while we're on the subject of Avenatti, The Hill's Amie Parnes and Mike Lillis take a look at how Democrats are embracing Avenatti's call to be more aggressive in the Trump era--making a notable switch from former first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaMaggie Rogers shares letter from 'huge fans' Barack and Michelle Obama Former Michelle Obama chief of staff Tina Tchen named new head of Time's Up Michelle Obama to release companion book to 'Becoming' MORE's call to "go high."

 

Senate showdown

Democrats and Republicans are vying for votes among Florida's burgeoning Puerto Rican population – a voting bloc that is expected to play a critical role in 2020 and beyond.

On the Republican side, party officials and outside groups are holding civics classes and resume-writing workshops to court Puerto Rican voters, The Hill's Rafael Bernal and Max Greenwood report. Meanwhile, Democrats are looking to field more diverse candidates as they seek to hold onto Puerto Ricans as reliable Democratic voters.

 

Meanwhile, progressives are livid that Senate Democrats aren't doing enough to oppose Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, reports The Hill's Jordain Carney. Their frustrations come as vulnerable Senate Democrats o meet with Kavanaugh. They include Democratic Sens. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampThe Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same Trump wins 60 percent approval in rural areas of key states Pence to push new NAFTA deal in visit to Iowa MORE (N.D.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyWatchdog accuses pro-Kavanaugh group of sending illegal robotexts in 2018 Lobbying world Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand MORE (Ind.), Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillIranian attacks expose vulnerability of campaign email accounts Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity Ocasio-Cortez blasts NYT editor for suggesting Tlaib, Omar aren't representative of Midwest MORE (Mo.). He's already met with Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by USAA — Ex-Ukraine ambassador testifies Trump pushed for her ouster GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe Fallout from Kavanaugh confirmation felt in Washington one year later MORE (D-W.Va.).

 

Survey says…

Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonBottom Line Bottom Line Media and candidates should be ashamed that they don't talk about obesity MORE (D) holds a slight lead over Gov. Rick Scott (R) in Florida's Senate race, a poll commissioned by the nonpartisan Hispanic Federation and several progressive Latino groups finds. The poll finds Nelson up, 44 to 41 percent, among Latinos statewide. Scott leads among Cuban-Americans, who lean conservative, while Nelson is ahead among Puerto Ricans.

 

A new Monmouth University poll is showing the race for a competitive New Jersey House seat is a dead heat. Rep. Tom MacArthurThomas (Tom) Charles MacArthurRepublicans plot comeback in New Jersey Republicans spend more than million at Trump properties The 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority MORE (R-N.J.) leads his Democratic challenger Andy Kim, a former national security aide in the Obama administration, 41 to 40 percent, an edge within the survey's margin of error. Trump won MacArthur's district in 2016, but Obama carried in both 2008 and 2012.

 

New polling is out from Navigator Research and here are some of the highlights: Democrats are leading the generic ballot by 8 points, 45 to 37 percent. The group found that opposition to the family separation policy has grown even as the administration has stopped the policy. Now 69 percent oppose it. And on the Supreme Court, 15 percent say they have a favorable view of Trump's nominee Brett Kavanaugh, while 28 percent view him unfavorably.

 

Paper chase

Democratic mega-donor Tom Steyer announced Tuesday that he will spend $10 million on a get out the vote effort that he's calling "Need to Vote." The name is a play on his other initiative "Need to Impeach," which seeks to rally support for booting Trump from office. The Get-out-the-vote campaign will take out TV and digital ad spots, mail out handwritten letters encouraging supporters to vote and dispatch political operatives across the country.

 

Rep. Beto O'RourkeBeto O'RourkeO'Rourke raises .5 million in third quarter Conservatives slam Beto O'Rourke over threat to tax-exempt status for religious organizations The Hill's Campaign Report: Impeachment fight to take center stage at Dem debate MORE (D-Texas) is going up on the airwaves--and using the money he raised after Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSunday Show Preview: Trump's allies and administration defend decision on Syria O'Rourke raises .5 million in third quarter The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by USAA — Ex-Ukraine ambassador testifies Trump pushed for her ouster MORE (R-Texas) ran a negative ad against him. O'Rourke, who has an uphill fight in his Senate bid in ruby-red Texas, is spending $1.27 million on a "positive" ad campaign.

 

What we're watching for

Here's a list of the final primaries in August: Alaska and Wyoming hold primaries on Aug. 21 and Arizona and Florida have primaries on Aug. 28.

 

Rep. Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisThe Hill's Morning Report — Arrest of Giuliani associates triggers many questions McCarthy will return money donated by indicted associates of Giuliani Florida law allowing some school teachers to carry guns on campus goes into effect MORE (R-Fla.) is set to campaign alongside Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanIn testimony, Dems see an ambassador scorned, while GOP defends Trump Ex-Ukraine ambassador arrives to give testimony Graham threatens to call Volker to testify if Democrats don't release testimony MORE (R-Ohio) on Aug. 18 in a trio of events the lawmakers are dubbing the "Freedom Tour." Jordan is mounting a bid for House Speaker and DeSantis is Trump's choice for Florida governor. They'll be joined by another avid Trump supporter, Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzGOP, Trump look to smother impeachment inquiry GOP lawmaker: 'Chairman Schiff is acting like a malicious Captain Kangaroo' Gaetz: Some lawmakers reviewed transcript at White House MORE (R-Fla.).

 

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will debate progressive challenger, former "Sex and the City" star Cynthia Nixon, on Aug. 29 in the state's Democratic gubernatorial primary.

 

Coming to a TV near you

Less than 24 hours since the Wisconsin primary, Democrats and Republicans leapt out of the gate with new ads in the Senate and governor's races.

 

In the Senate primary, Democratic super PAC American Bridge is running an ad targeting newly minted GOP nominee Leah Vukmir. And Gov. Scott Walker (R) is also out with a new TV ad touting his agenda. Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Republican Party launched an ad targeting Walker's Democratic opponent, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers.

 

Meanwhile, the Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF) launched a flurry of new ads this week tarring Democratic candidates in competitive House races. The ads take Democrats to task over local issues as well as continuing to tie them to House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiWhy calls for impeachment have become commonplace The Constitution doesn't require a vote to start the impeachment process Louisiana voters head to the polls in governor's race as Trump urges GOP support MORE (D-Calif.). CLF is running ads in competitive GOP-held seats in California, New Jersey, Illinois, Wisconsin, New York and Maine.

 

Mike Braun, the Republican challenging Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) in Indiana, is out with a new digital ad campaign seeking to put pressure on Donnelly to support Kavanaugh's nomination. One ad questions whether Donnelly will get "permission" from Democratic leaders to confirm him, while another demands that Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump defends 'crime buster' Giuliani amid reported probe Louisiana voters head to the polls in governor's race as Trump urges GOP support Trump urges Louisiana voters to back GOP in governor's race then 'enjoy the game' MORE "allow Joe to confirm Judge Kavanaugh today."

 

 

Wave watch

About a week after Washington state's primary, we finally know who Republican Dino Rossi will face in November. Democrat Kim Schrier, a physician won the second spot on the general election ballot in Washington's top-two primary. Rossi and Schrier will compete in the race to replace Rep. Dave ReichertDavid (Dave) George ReichertLymphedema Treatment Act would provide a commonsense solution to a fixable problem Yoder, Messer land on K Street Ex-GOP lawmaker from Washington joins lobbying firm MORE (R-Wash.), whose seat Clinton carried by more than 3 points.

 

Pelosi is going back to a familiar strategy from 2006--painting Republicans as corrupt in the wake of Rep. Chris CollinsChristopher (Chris) Carl CollinsOn The Money: Economy adds 136K jobs in September | Jobless rate at 50-year low | Treasury IG to probe handling of Trump tax returns request | House presses Zuckerberg to testify on digital currency Two Collins associates plead guilty in insider trading case On The Money: Trump blames Fed as manufacturing falters | US to join Trump lawsuit over NY subpoena for tax returns | Ex-Rep. Chris Collins pleads guilty in insider trading case MORE's (R-N.Y.) arrest on insider trading charges. Democrats are looking to hit home that strategy in the run-up to the midterms, linking the party to Collins and the scandals that have swept up White House officials. It's unclear how effective those attacks will be, but Democrats--and Pelosi--believe it can be a powerful campaign message like in 2006.

 

And speaking of Collins, Democrats are threatening to sue to keep the New York congressman on the November ballot, which they believe will help them flip a deep-red Buffalo seat. Meanwhile, a dozen local Republicans are expressing interest in Collins's seat.

 

Also today... A new poll also shows Democrats up 11 points over Republicans on a generic House ballot. The Cook Political Report is moving four GOP races to the toss up category. And President Trump praised the results of Tuesday night's primaries, claiming that Republicans have "the team we want" heading into the midterms.

 

The Hill's Election Countdown was written by Reid Wilson, Lisa Hagen, Max Greenwood, Jasper Goodman and Caroline Gardner.