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 TrumpAverage tax refunds down double-digits, IRS data shows White House warns Maduro as Venezuela orders partial closure of border with Colombia Trump administration directs 1,000 more troops to Mexican border MORE's backing.

Already aware of the treacherous terrain they face this year, Reps. Erik PaulsenErik Philip PaulsenLawmakers beat lobbyists at charity hockey game The 8 House Republicans who voted against Trump’s border wall Minnesota New Members 2019 MORE (R-Minn.) and Jason LewisJason Mark LewisMLB donated to GOP lawmaker who made controversial comments about women, minorities Minnesota New Members 2019 Overnight Health Care — Presented by The Partnership for Safe Medicines — Medicaid expansion gets extra boost from governors' races | Utah's expansion to begin April 1 | GOP lawmaker blames McCain for Dems winning House 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 WalzThis is what leadership looks like Coalition urges Congress to pass bipartisan infrastructure bill As it applies to veterans, it is time for pay-go to go MORE, the Democratic nominee for governor, and Rick NolanRichard (Rick) Michael NolanMinnesota New Members 2019 Republicans pick up seat in Minnesota’s ‘Iron range’ How America’s urban-rural divide is changing the Democratic Party 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 YoderMike Pompeo to speak at Missouri-Kansas Forum amid Senate bid speculation Yoder, Messer land on K Street Bold, bipartisan action on child care will win plenty of friends 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 JenkinsPompeo seen as top recruit for Kansas Senate seat Exiting lawmakers jockey for K Street perch GOP seeks to ram through Trump’s B wall demand 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 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 (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 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.) 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 EllisonOvernight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — Top Dems call for end to Medicaid work rules | Chamber launching ad blitz against Trump drug plan | Google offers help to dispose of opioids Ilhan Omar defends 2012 tweet: 'I don't know how my comments would be offensive to Jewish Americans' States scramble to fill void left by federal shutdown 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 SmithContractor back pay not included in shutdown deal Push to include contractor back pay in funding deal hits GOP roadblock Dems seeking path to Senate majority zero-in on Sun Belt 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 ObamaFormer patients accuse ex-Fox News medical pundit of sexual exploitation Obama attends UNC-Duke basketball game Obama introduces himself as 'Michelle's husband' at leadership forum 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 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 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.), Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillPoll: 33% of Kentucky voters approve of McConnell McCaskill: Lindsey Graham 'has lost his mind' Trey Gowdy joins Fox News as a contributor MORE (Mo.). He's already met with Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOvernight Energy: Trump ends talks with California on car emissions | Dems face tough vote on Green New Deal | Climate PAC backing Inslee in possible 2020 run Dems face tough vote on Green New Deal Gabbard cites ‘concerns’ about ‘vagueness’ of Green New Deal MORE (D-W.Va.).

 

Survey says…

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) 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 MacArthur 10 things we learned from the midterms New Jersey New Members 2019 On The Money: Trump, Senate leaders to huddle on border wall funding | Fed bank regulator walks tightrope on Dodd-Frank | Koch-backed groups blast incentives for corporations after Amazon deal 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'RourkeRobert (Beto) Francis O'RourkeDems wish civil rights icon John Lewis happy birthday: 'We are stronger because of you' Trump endorses Cornyn for reelection as O'Rourke mulls challenge The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump escalates fight with NY Times MORE (D-Texas) is going up on the airwaves--and using the money he raised after Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzInviting Kim Jong Un to Washington Trump endorses Cornyn for reelection as O'Rourke mulls challenge O’Rourke not ruling out being vice presidential candidate 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 DeSantisFlorida governor suspends mayor over allegations of attempted murder Overnight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — Trump bans abortion providers from family planning program | White House doesn't back GOP governor on drug imports | HHS declines to provide witnesses for family separations hearing White House doesn't back DeSantis on drug importation from Canada MORE (R-Fla.) is set to campaign alongside Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanFive takeaways from McCabe’s allegations against Trump Jordan says Oversight should be more focused on McCabe, Rosenstein ahead of Cohen testimony White House, GOP defend Trump emergency declaration 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) GaetzHouse passes border deal, setting up Trump to declare emergency Parkland parents create anti-gun violence Valentine’s Day candies: ‘Don’t shoot,’ ‘he’s gone’ House conservatives blast border deal, push Trump to use executive power 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 Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiKids confront Feinstein over Green New Deal Can progressives govern? Dems plan hearing on emergency declaration's impact on military 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 SchumerDon’t look for House GOP to defy Trump on border wall GOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats National emergency declaration — a legal fight Trump is likely to win 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 ReichertYoder, Messer land on K Street Ex-GOP lawmaker from Washington joins lobbying firm Outgoing GOP rep says law enforcement, not Congress should conduct investigations 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 CollinsDon’t look for House GOP to defy Trump on border wall The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sanders set to shake up 2020 race House Dems release 2020 GOP 'retirements to watch' for 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.