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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 ClintonHow Democrats can defy the odds in 2022 Close the avenues of foreign meddling Pelosi planned on retiring until Trump won election: report MORE beat Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersAmazon workers have spoken — are progressives listening? What's really behind Joe Biden's far-left swing? It's time to declare a national climate emergency 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 DeSantisRon DeSantisNikki Haley says if Trump runs for president in 2024 then she won't Florida newspaper blasts DeSantis's ban on COVID-19 passports: 'Makes no sense' Buttigieg hopes cruises will return by mid-summer MORE (R-Fla.), a frequent Fox News guest who touts President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump: McConnell 'helpless' to stop Biden from packing court Romney on NRSC awarding Trump: Not 'my preference' McConnell sidesteps Trump calling him 'dumb son of a b----' 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 McCainSylvester Stallone reportedly joins Trump's Mar-a-Lago The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden meets with bipartisan lawmakers for infrastructure negotiations Cindy McCain to be named Biden ambassador to UN program: report 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) MenendezThe Memo: Biden's five biggest foreign policy challenges Democrats gear up for major push to lower drug prices Biden under pressure to spell out Cuba policy 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'RourkeBeto O'RourkeO'Rourke clarifies remarks, leaves door open to gubernatorial bid O'Rourke says he's not planning on run for Texas governor O'Rourke slams Cruz for video of border visit MORE (D-Texas) is trailing Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzBoehner: 'There's a lot of leaders in the Republican Party' Biden picks vocal Trump critics to lead immigration agencies Boehner: Trump 'stepped all over their loyalty' by lying to followers 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 HunterTrump denies Gaetz asked him for blanket pardon Gaetz, on the ropes, finds few friends in GOP Trust, transparency, and tithing is not enough to sustain democracy 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 McCaskillThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden tasks Harris on border; news conference today Missouri Senate candidate Eric Greitens tangles with Hugh Hewitt in testy interview The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation - CDC news on gatherings a step toward normality MORE (D-Mo.), Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinMary Trump joining group that supports LGBTQ+ female candidates Johnson says leaving office after 2022 'probably my preference now' Democrats push Biden to include recurring payments in recovery package 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 CarperFive reasons why US faces chronic crisis at border Appeals court agrees to pause lawsuit over Trump-era emissions rule Five things to watch on Biden infrastructure plan 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 NelsonWhy does Rep. Johnson oppose NASA's commercial human landing system? Trump hands Rubio coveted reelection endorsement in Florida Overnight Defense: Top House Armed Services Republican talks National Guard at Capitol, Afghanistan, more | Pentagon chief visits Afghanistan amid administration's review | Saudis propose Yemen ceasefire 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 HellerOn The Trail: Democrats plan to hammer Trump on Social Security, Medicare Lobbying World Democrats spend big to put Senate in play MORE (R-Nev.) is out with the latest attack ad against Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenFighting cybercrime begins in the classroom Democratic senators call on CDC to boost accessibility of vaccine scheduling for seniors Bipartisan bill seeks to raise fees for public lands drilling 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 DonnellyEverybody wants Joe Manchin Centrist Democrats pose major problem for progressives Biden and Schumer face battles with left if Democrats win big 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).