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Election Countdown: What to watch in final primaries | Dems launch $21M ad buy for Senate races | Senate seats most likely to flip | Trump slump worries GOP | Koch network's new super PAC

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). Click here to sign up.

 

We're 55 days until the 2018 midterm elections and 783 days until the 2020 elections.

 

Primary season is wrapping up this week, and just in time, with less than two months to go until the midterms. One notable takeaway from many of those contests is that many women and minority candidates are making history -- and poised for big gains in November. Plus, progressive energy is building.

In the final two state primaries, some Democratic challengers are hoping to continue that trend, though upsets appear unlikely.

Rhode Island holds its primaries tonight. All eyes will be on Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo, who is facing a tough challenge on the left from Matt Brown, a one-term secretary of State who left office more than a decade ago.

There's been no polling on the primary, but the knives are out. Brown, who has support from a slew of national progressive groups, has called Raimondo a "corporatist Democrat." Raimondo's campaign ran an attack ad calling Brown a "failed politician" and highlighting his unsuccessful 2006 Senate campaign.

And on the final primary day of 2018 -- New York's primaries for state and local office are on Thursday -- the big contest is the primary between Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and actress Cynthia Nixon, which has drawn a lot of media attention. The race has been nasty and polling shows Cuomo poised to prevail by big numbers.

But Nixon points to the progressive energy of candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley, who knocked off longtime incumbents in New York and Massachusetts respectively. And progressive Zephyr Teachout is hoping for similar momentum in a tight three-way contest for the Democratic nominee for New York attorney general.

  

Senate showdown

Republicans have found themselves increasingly on the defensive as they work to protect their Senate majority. 2018 handed Democrats a largely unfavorable Senate election map; the party is defending more than two-dozen seats, including several in states won by Trump in 2016. Now, Democrats see a narrow path to reclaiming the majority in the chamber. But that path isn't an easy one. We also ranked the seats most likely to flip in November.

 

Also on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned that Republicans are facing a "very challenging" midterm election in their quest to retain control of the Senate.

 

Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) and other GOP candidates in Arizona are warning voters that crime and immigration will skyrocket if Democratic hopefuls win in November, The Hill's Reid Wilson reports. That claim flies in the face of a downward trend in crime nationwide. But in a border state like Arizona, crime and immigration carry outsize weight in campaign politics.

 

Former President George W. Bush is set to headline a pair of fundraisers in Tampa and Palm Beach, Fla. on Friday for Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who's looking to unseat Sen. Bill Nelson (D), the Palm Beach Post reports. In Palm Beach, one fundraiser starts at $50,000 per person and benefits New Republican PAC, a Scott-aligned super PAC. Another advertises a $1,000-to-$25,000-per-person fundraiser to benefit both Scott and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC).

 

After launching an ad targeting Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the National Rifle Association has endorsed his GOP challenger, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. The NRA previously backed Manchin in his 2012 race. It's a top Senate race this cycle since President Trump won West Virginia by more than 40 points in 2016.

 

Survey says...

There's been a burst of new polling, so here's some highlights for some top House battlegrounds:

 

In Iowa's 1st District: Democratic state Rep. Abby Finkenauer leads Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa) by 5 points, 43 to 38 percent, according to an Emerson College poll.

 

In Minnesota's 3rd District: Democratic businessman Dean Phillips is ahead of Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.) by 9 points, 51 to 42 percent, according to NYT Upshot/Siena poll.

 

In New York's 19th District, Democrat Antonio Delgado leads Rep. John Faso (R-N.Y.) by 2 points, 45 to 43 percent, according to a Monmouth University poll.

 

And in the generic ballot question, Democrats hold a narrow lead over Republicans on which party they want to have control the House, 34 to 32 percent, according to a Economist-YouGov poll.

 

And in Senate race polling:

 

In Nevada, Sen. Dean Heller (R) and Rep. Jacky Rosen (D) continue to be locked in a tight race. The latest polling from Suffolk University has the two essentially tied, with Heller taking 41.2 percent of likely voters and Rosen with 41.6 percent. Nearly 10 percent are still undecided.

 

Republican Rep. Martha McSally holds a slight edge over Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona's Senate race. The latest poll from OH Predictive Insights shows McSally ahead of Sinema 48.6 to 45.5 percent. That suggests that McSally may be consolidating support among GOP voters after a bitter and contentious primary season that divided the state's conservative base. Another poll from Gravis Marketing had McSally and Sinema in a dead heat, with McSally up 1 point.

 

Paper chase

Senate Leadership Fund, the super PAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), is dropping $6.4 million on an ad blitz to boost Republicans, signaling the party's growing concern that Democrats could make inroads in the chamber despite an unfavorable election map.

 

The spending includes $1.4 million to help Republican businessman Mike Braun, who is challenging Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) for his Indiana Senate seat, The Hill's Alex Bolton reports. Donnelly's running for re-election in a state that Trump won by nearly 20 points in 2016 and is seen as one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats. But recent polls show the first-term incumbent leading Braun.

 

The Koch Network is launching a new super PAC to boost GOP candidates aligned with their brand of libertarian-leaning conservatism, The Hill's Jonathan Easley reports. The network's political arm, Americans for Prosperity, created AFP Action to "advocate for candidates who share our commitment to breaking internal and external barriers that prevent people from realizing their full potential." 

 

What we're watching for

Here are the last two dates on the primary calendar: Rhode Island votes in primaries tonight and New York voters head to the polls on Thursday to choose party nominees for state offices. 

 

Coming to a TV near you

The ad war is now in overdrive. Ads are popping up everyday as things get down to the wire. On the Republican side, the National Republican Congressional Committee launched a dozen new ads in top House races, including an ad targeting N.Y. Democratic House candidate Antonio Delgado over his rap career. And Congressional Leadership Fund continues to churn out fall TV ads including in Minnesota's 8th District and Kansas's 2nd District.

 

For Democrats' part, House Majority PAC is out with a new ad taking aim at Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), claiming that he puts special interests before constituents. And Senate Majority PAC and Priorities USA Action are launching a $21 million digital ad buy in top Senate races. Nearly $18 million of that will be for backing Democrats in Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota. The other $3 million will be for Democrats in Montana, Nevada, Tennessee and West Virginia. The groups note that the ads will largely focus on health care, which is becoming a theme in Democratic ads this cycle.

 

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) debuted an ad spot showing him blasting an anti-ObamaCare lawsuit with a shotgun. The lawsuit, which seeks to block the implementation of former President Barack Obama's signature health-care law, is backed by 19 state attorneys general, including Manchin's Republican opponent Patrick Morrissey.

 

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) is launching a new spot outlining his vision for affordable health care. The ad slams "politicians who claim we can't afford to lower the cost of health care or help our seniors retire with dignity."

 

Wave watch

President Trump's approval rating has fallen in a series of recent polls and that has Republicans worried that an already tough election is turning worse. In the RealClearPolitics polling average, Trump's approval rating has dropped nearly 2.5 percentage points over the past three weeks while his disapproval has risen almost 2 points. The Hill's Jordan Fabian looked at how the Trump slump is fueling GOP fears.

 

The Democratic PAC Red to Blue California is out with a series of parody ads and mailers attacking Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) over his friendly posture toward Russia. The ads, which are running in English and Russian, announce a mock endorsement of Rohrabacher by Moscow. Rohrabacher's spokesman dismissed the ads, saying voters care about local issues.

 

Rep. Mia Love's (R-Utah) campaign said it'll refund or redesignate some of the campaign funds that the FEC says were raised improperly, which was first reported by CNN's KFile. Love's campaign sent a statement to The Hill, calling KFile's figures biased and "grossly exaggerated." The campaign said it'll redesignate about $370,000 and may refund under $10,000. Love will face Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams (D) in November.

 

New Hampshire Executive Council member Chris Pappas handily won the Democratic primary on Tuesday to succeed Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D) in the state's 1st District. He'll go up against Republican Eddie Edwards, a Navy veteran, in November's election. One of the candidates Pappas beat in the primary was Levi Sanders, the son of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

 

In case you missed it

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) resigned his north Central Florida House seat on Monday, telling Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in a letter that he expected to be absent most of the remaining session days, because of his gubernatorial campaign against Democrat Andrew Gillum.

 

The Hill's Reid Wilson has another great story about how nonpartisan redistricting proponents are turning to ballot initiatives in Michigan, Missouri, Colorado and Utah to tranfer the authority of drawing political boundaries from legislative leaders to independent commissions.

 

The Hill's Rafael Bernal spoke with Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló (D), who said that he'll support congressional candidates that back the island territory's statehood and funding for reconstruction. He's endorsed Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.), who fended off a primary challenge, and Cuomo. But he's staying out of Florida's Senate race

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