Election Countdown: Stunning upset in Florida Dem primary for governor | DeSantis under fire for 'monkey this up' remark | Arizona gov faces pressure over McCain replacement | Koch group pours $5M into Senate ads

Election Countdown: Stunning upset in Florida Dem primary for governor | DeSantis under fire for 'monkey this up' remark | Arizona gov faces pressure over McCain replacement | Koch group pours $5M into Senate ads
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This is Election Countdown, The Hill's weekly newsletter from Lisa Hagen (@LA_Hagen) and Max Greenwood (@KMaxGreenwood) that bring 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 69 days until the 2018 midterm elections and 797 days until the 2020 elections.

 

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum notched a stunning win in the race for the Democratic nomination to replace Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R). Now, he's in for a potentially brutal fight in the general election.

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But its an open question on whether a progressive who touted "Medicare for All" and a $15-an-hour minimum wage in his primary campaign can win over a broader electorate that has a history of turning out for middle-of-the-road candidates.

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump to declassify controversial text messages, documents related to Russia probe Hypocrisy in Kavanaugh case enough to set off alarms in DC Clinton: Hard to ignore 'racial subtext of virtually everything Trump says' MORE beat Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersProtecting democracy requires action from all of us Kavanaugh hires attorney amid sexual assault allegations: report Amazon probes allegations of employees leaking data for bribes: report MORE (I-Vt.) handily in the Florida 2016 Democratic primary. What's more, Gillum's campaign has hinged more on town hall events, meet-and-greets and grassroots organizing than it has on the expensive TV ad buys that have been considered key in statewide Florida races.

While he won the backing of liberal billionaires Tom Steyer and George Soros during the primary season, Gillum was routinely outraised by his Democratic opponents. He has also been dogged by a slow-going FBI investigation into suspected corruption at his city hall, though he has said that he is not a target of that probe.

Geoff Burgen, a spokesman for Gillum's campaign, said the mayor has no plans of moderating his message ahead of the general election, arguing that Gillum's progressive message will ultimately resonate with Democrats statewide. But he conceded that paid advertising is likely to become a more prominent part of Gillum's general election bid.

 

The unabashedly progressive mayor will go up against Rep. Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisDeSantis 'hell bent' on debating Gillum in Florida governor race Trump stands by tweets questioning Puerto Rico death toll: 'NO WAY' Trump cites Geraldo Rivera on Puerto Rico: ‘When did people start dying?’ MORE (R-Fla.), a frequent Fox News guest who touts President TrumpDonald John TrumpOver 100 lawmakers consistently voted against chemical safeguards: study CNN's Anderson Cooper unloads on Trump Jr. for spreading 'idiotic' conspiracy theories about him Cohn: Jamie Dimon would be 'phenomenal' president MORE's endorsement, setting up a clash of populist ideologies from the two ends of the political spectrum. Trump was quick to dub Gillum as DeSantis's "dream" opponent on Wednesday, suggesting that he would effectively make the Republican lawmaker a shoo-in for the governor's mansion.

But it's not clear whether DeSantis' pro-Trump message will resonate with more moderate voters in a state where Trump won by less than 2 points in 2016, and he has done little to suggest that he will seek to broaden his appeal beyond the conservative base.

 

The race is already off to a bitter start. DeSantis turned heads on Wednesday when he said in a Fox News interview that voters should not "monkey this up" by electing Gillum. The remark prompted criticism that DeSantis was using a racist dog whistle to attack his opponent, who, if elected, would be Florida's first black governor. Gillum accused DeSantis of taking a page "directly from the campaign manual of Donald Trump."

 

 

Senate showdown

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) has begun considering a list of potential replacements for the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainAnother 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 To cure Congress, elect more former military members MORE (R-Ariz.), The Hill's Reid Wilson reports.

Speculation has swirled around three potential appointees, in particular: Maj. Gen. Michael McGuire, the director of the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs and the adjutant general of the state's Army and Air National Guards; Karrin Taylor Robson, a wealthy businesswoman whom Ducey appointed to the state Board of Regents in 2017; and Kirk Adams, a former state House Speaker who is now Ducey's chief of staff.

Others mentioned include former Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and former Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), according to several sources.

Ducey is facing re-election this year, meaning political circumstances are almost certain to factor into his pick to fill McCain's seat. He has said that he plans to wait until the late senator's funeral on Sept. 2 to announce his choice.

 

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, a Democratic city councilman endorsed Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDems urge tech companies to remove 3D-gun blueprints Dem senators introduce resolution calling on Trump to stop attacking the press Booming economy has Trump taking a well-deserved victory lap MORE's (D-N.J.) GOP challenger Bob Hugin. At a Monday event with Hugin, Brick Township councilman James Fozman (D) said he's backing Hugin to restore "honesty and integrity" to New Jersey. Menendez is facing a tougher-than-expected challenge in the deep-blue state.

 

Survey says…

As the Texas Senate race keeps getting attention, a new poll from Emerson College found the race in a dead heat. Rep. Beto O'RourkeRobert (Beto) Francis O'RourkeFEC: Cruz campaign didn't violate rules with fundraising letter labeled ‘summons’ Cruz criticizes O'Rourke on Dallas shooting: Wish he wasn't 'so quick to always blame the police officer' Dems gain momentum 50 days before midterms MORE (D-Texas) is trailing Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGrassley agrees to second Kavanaugh hearing after GOP members revolt FEC: Cruz campaign didn't violate rules with fundraising letter labeled ‘summons’ Cruz criticizes O'Rourke on Dallas shooting: Wish he wasn't 'so quick to always blame the police officer' MORE (R-Texas) by just 1 point. Cruz leads 38 to 37 percent, within the poll's margin of error.

Wisconsin's governor's race is also in a dead heat. Gov. Scott Walker (R) is trailing Democratic opponent Tony Evers by 2 points in a new Suffolk University poll.

 

Rep. Duncan HunterDuncan Duane HunterIndicted GOP lawmaker to stay on ballot in New York this fall: report Hoyer lays out government reform blueprint The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — McConnell warns of GOP `knife fight’ to keep Senate control MORE (R-Calif.) leads his Democratic challenger Ammar Campa-Najjar by 8 points, despite being indicted on charges of misusing campaign funds.

 

Paper chase

Americans for Prosperity, a top conservative group backed by billionaire donor Charles Koch is launching its latest salvo in three states with marquee Senate races. AFP is spending nearly $5 million on ads in Wisconsin, Missouri and Tennessee attacking the Democratic candidates for their records on taxes, spending and health care. The ads will target Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillDems gain momentum 50 days before midterms CBS Poll: Missouri, Montana Senate races in dead heats Dems play waiting game with Collins and Murkowski MORE (D-Mo.), Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinPrimary turnout soars in 2018 with Dems leading charge Senate rankings: 10 seats most likely to flip Five biggest surprises in midterm fight MORE (D-Wis.), and former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen.

 

On the Democratic donor side, billionaire Tom Steyer launched his latest $1 million ad buy that'll air nationwide. It warns that Trump could seek to pardon himself in the face of mounting legal pressure. The spot comes days after Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen plea deal.

 

With polls showing a tight race, O'Rourke and Cruz are also close in fundraising. Cruz has brought in $23.36 million, while O'Rourke has raised $23.33 million, according to OpenSecrets.

 

What we're watching for

Yesterday was the last multi-state primary night. But we're not completely done with primaries just yet.

 

Massachusetts holds its primaries on Sept. 4, with all eyes on Rep. Mike Capuano's (D-Mass.) primary in his Boston-area district. Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley is looking to pull off an upset similar to democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's upset in New York. Pressley recently scored an influential endorsement from the Boston Globe.

 

Here's the list of remaining primaries:

Delaware on Sept. 6 (Democratic Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperPrimary turnout soars in 2018 with Dems leading charge Cynthia Nixon camp partially blames high turnout for loss Raimondo beats back primary challenge in Rhode Island MORE faces a primary challenger running to his left); New Hampshire on Sept. 11; Rhode Island on Sept. 12; New York (statewide and local office only) on Sept. 13 (Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo faces a primary challenge from progressive and actress Cynthia Nixon).

 

Coming to a TV near you

Fresh off Tuesday's contentious primary in Arizona, Democrats are attacking Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) -- and using attacks from her former GOP rival against her. Democratic super PAC American Bridge is running an ad on social media that targets GOP voters, saying that Republicans "don't trust" her. McSally will square off against Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

 

After months of advertising from Gov. Rick Scott (R), Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonJuan Williams: America warms up to socialism Dems gain momentum 50 days before midterms Jeb Bush campaigns with Rick Scott in Florida MORE (D-Fla.) is up with his first statewide TV ads in Florida's pivotal Senate race. Nelson's ad is a positive spot that casts himself as a pragmatist and touts bipartisanship. Nelson is also out with a Spanish-language ad highlighting his military service and Senate career.

 

Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerPoll: Dean Heller running even against Democratic challenger Dems gain momentum 50 days before midterms California was once the epicenter of pollution — time to learn from its green transition MORE (R-Nev.) is out with the latest attack ad against Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenOvernight Health Care: Opioid legislation passes overwhelmingly | DOJ backs Cigna-Express Scripts merger | Senate passes ban on pharmacy gag clauses Poll: Dean Heller running even against Democratic challenger Dems gain momentum 50 days before midterms MORE (D-Nev.), taking aim at her congressional record. "Zero--that's the number of bills JR passed in Congress before announcing she was running for the Senate," the ad's narrator says.

 

And in Indiana, ads are flying on both sides of the aisle. Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyKavanaugh becomes September surprise for midterm candidates Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow MORE (D-Ind.) launched a statewide six-figure buy that touts how the senator has put "Indiana ahead of party." The ad also plays up how he's worked alongside Trump on border security. Meanwhile, Republican businessman Mike Braun launched an ad that only uses footage of Trump criticizing Donnelly and saying that Democrats will "raise your taxes." Trump won Indiana by 19 points in 2016.

 

Wave watch

Virginia Democrat Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA officer running for Congress, accused the GOP super PAC, Congressional Leadership Fund, of improperly obtaining her federal security clearance application and using it for political purposes. But CLF has denied that, saying that it obtained the document through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Spanberger faces Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) in a top House race that Democrats are targeting.

 

House Republicans aren't benefitting in the same way as Democrats in what's shaping up to be another "Year of the Woman," reports The Hill's Melanie Zanona and Juliegrace Brufke. Republicans have made an aggressive push to boost the number of female lawmakers, but in a cycle where the headwinds will be against them, their ranks in Congress could dwindle.

 

On Monday, a three-judge panel in North Carolina struck down the state's congressional maps. Top Republicans in North Carolina's General Assembly say they'll appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the federal court's ruling that would order new maps to be drawn a little over two months before the November midterms.

 

Round-up

Ex-coal CEO Don Blankenship's bid to appear on the November ballot in West Virginia's Senate race as a third-party candidate was denied Wednesday by the state's Supreme Court.

 

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) on Wednesday said Democrats will lose the November midterm elections if they make them "just a referendum" on President Trump.

 

The Texas Republican Party invoked a decades-old mug shot from Rep. Beto O'Rourke's (D-Texas) prior arrest to jab at the congressman for declining to debate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).