Election Countdown: Trump confident about midterms in Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh controversy tests candidates | Sanders, Warren ponder if both can run | Super PACs spending big | Two states open general election voting Friday | Latest Senate polls

Election Countdown: Trump confident about midterms in Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh controversy tests candidates | Sanders, Warren ponder if both can run | Super PACs spending big | Two states open general election voting Friday | Latest Senate polls
© Greg Nash

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.comand Max at MGreenwood@thehill.com. with any questions, comments, criticisms or food recommendations (mostly the latter, please). If you don't receive our newsletter, click here to sign up.

 

We're 48 days until the 2018 midterm elections and 776 days until the 2020 elections.

 

Voters in Minnesota and South Dakota will become the first to vote in the midterm general election this Friday.

The states are the first in the U.S. to open up early in-person voting. They will be followed by South Dakota, Vermont and New Jersey on Saturday.

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Minnesota has one of the longest in-person voting period of any state – nearly a month and a half before Election Day. That policy began in 2013 with a "No Excuses" bill passed by the state legislature that allows people to vote without providing a written excuse for why they can't show up on Election Day.

The policy has been hailed as a success by state officials, who say it's made voting easier and helps boost voter turnout. In 2016, for example, voter turnout reached nearly 75 percent in Minnesota with approximately 1 in 5 voters casting their ballots early.

Voter turnout is typically lower in non-presidential election years. But if Minnesota's primary elections in August are any indication, turnout appears poised to surge in November. Last month, more than 900,000 voters cast their ballots--the most votes in a state primary election since 1982.

That fits into a larger trend of surging voter turnout in 2018. More than 40 million Americans voted in primaries this year, suggesting that the midterm elections have ignited virtually unprecedented voter enthusiasm.

This year, Minnesota is home to a number of key races. Four House seats in the state are considered toss-up races by The Cook Political Report, including two in districts that President Trump won in 2016. Also up for grabs is the governor's mansion. Gov. Mark Dayton (D) isn't running for re-election and Democrat Tim WalzTimothy (Tim) James WalzGun debate back in focus for states after mass shootings Minnesota program will pay homeowners to transform lawns into bee gardens as species inches closer to extinction Minnesota governor signs law making marital rape illegal MORE is vying against Republican Jeff Johnson to replace him.

At the same time, both of the state's Senate seats are up. Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharSenate Democrats push for arms control language in defense policy bill The Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes Harris to appear in CNN climate town hall after backlash MORE (D) is expected to easily win reelection in November. But Sen. Tina SmithTina Flint SmithReid says he wishes Franken would run for Senate again Senate Democrats introduce bill to combat foreign influence campaigns Durbin says he has second thoughts about asking for Franken's resignation MORE (D-Minn.), who was appointed earlier this year to replace former Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenNative American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment Reid says he wishes Franken would run for Senate again Al Franken urges Trump to give new speech after shootings: 'Try to make it sound like you're sincere, even if you're not' MORE (D-Minn.) in the chamber, faces a tougher challenge from Republican state Sen. Karin Housley.

 

Trump's interview with Hill.TV

President TrumpDonald John Trump Former US ambassador: 'Denmark is not a big fan of Donald Trump and his politics' Senate Democrats push for arms control language in defense policy bill Detroit county sheriff endorses Booker for president MORE expressed confidence in Republicans' chances in the midterm elections, telling Hill.TV in an exclusive interview on Tuesday that economic growth would push the GOP to outperform expectations in November. 

"I think we're gonna do much better than anyone thinks because the economy is so good, and people do like the job I'm doing," he said.

Trump again pointed to his own personal success in 2016.

"I beat the Bush dynasty, the Clinton dynasty, 17 people, and I never left center stage once, you can check. I never left center stage, meaning I had the lead in Republican primaries from day one," he added.

 

But a word of caution: Midterm elections are often seen as referenda on the administration in power, and the president's party historically loses seats in Congress in midterm years.

 

Click here for the full transcript from Trump's interview.

 

Race for the White House

Is there enough room in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary for both Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenSenate Democrats push for arms control language in defense policy bill Top adviser on Sanders: 'He's always been underestimated' 'The Simpsons' pokes fun at Trump's feud with 'the squad' MORE (D-Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersSenate Democrats push for arms control language in defense policy bill Top adviser on Sanders: 'He's always been underestimated' 'The Simpsons' pokes fun at Trump's feud with 'the squad' MORE (I-Vt.)? According to The Hill's Amie Parnes, that's the question both progressive senators are facing yet again. Warren and Sanders are expected to sit down and discuss 2020 some time after the midterms.

 

With the presidential race looming, more potential White House hopefuls are launching political action committees. The latest: term-limited Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D). His leadership PAC, "Giddy Up," comes amid a report from The Colorado Sun that Hickenlooper spent the summer talking with donors and strategists about a potential run.

 

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who is campaigning for 2018 candidates in Iowa, wouldn't rule out a 2020 presidential run, according to The Associated Press. He said he'll make a decision about his future plans after the November elections.

 

Senate showdown

The sexual assault allegations levied against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh have brought a September surprise less than 50 days from the midterms. It is putting Republicans in top races in a tough place. They want to send another conservative justice to the high court but could risk backlash from female suburban voters that are trending away from the party. They aren't the only ones with a tough decision. The spotlight will also be on centrist Democrats in Trump states and how they ultimately vote.

The Supreme Court was always expected to be a central issue in competitive midterm races, but is now a political curveball in a year when women voters and candidates are making history along the backdrop of the "Me Too" movement.

 

Over in Texas, the knives are out as the candidates in the state's fierce Senate race gear up for their first debate on Friday. Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGOP strategist predicts Biden will win nomination, cites fundraising strength 3 real problems Republicans need to address to win in 2020 The Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters MORE (R-Texas) criticized Rep. Beto O'RourkeBeto O'RourkeThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes Harris to appear in CNN climate town hall after backlash Castro qualifies for next Democratic primary debates MORE's (D-Texas) response to a Dallas police officer shooting an unarmed man. O'Rouke said at a rally last week that officer Amber Guyger should be fired. Cruz is pushing back, saying he wished O'Rourke and Democrats "weren't so quick to always blame the police officer."

 

Survey says…

new CNN poll released Monday found Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) expanding her lead over Rep. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyAnti-gun violence organization endorses Kelly's Senate bid The Hill's Morning Report - Trump searches for backstops amid recession worries Arizona poll shows Kelly overtaking McSally MORE (R-Ariz.) in Arizona's Senate race for retiring Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeAnti-gun violence organization endorses Kelly's Senate bid Arpaio considering running for former sheriff job after Trump pardon Overnight Energy: Warren edges past Sanders in poll of climate-focused voters | Carbon tax shows new signs of life | Greens fuming at Trump plans for development at Bears Ears monument MORE's (R-Ariz.) seat. Sinema hits 50 percent in the poll, while McSally takes 43 percent.

 

In Minnesota, Tina Smith (D-Minn.) holds a 7-point lead over Karin Housley, according to a new Star Tribune/MPR News Minnesota poll. In the special election, Smith takes 44 percent, while Housley has 37 percent support, with 15 percent of likely voters undecided.  

 

And in Nevada, the Senate race is still in a dead heat. The latest poll from Gravis Marketing found Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenHillicon Valley: Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract | FTC weighs updating kids' internet privacy rules | Schumer calls for FaceApp probe | Report says states need more money to secure elections Senators introduce legislation to boost cyber defense training in high school Key endorsements: A who's who in early states MORE (D-Nev.) with 47 percent support and Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerThis week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary MORE (R-Nev.) with 45 percent, which is within the survey's margin of error.

 

Ohio is showing some surprising results in the latest poll from Baldwin Wallace University. Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownBank watchdogs approve rule to loosen ban on risky Wall Street trades Dayton mayor assigned extra security following verbal spat with Trump The Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape MORE (D-Ohio) is up 17 points over Rep. Jim RenacciJames (Jim) B. RenacciMedicare for All won't deliver what Democrats promise GOP rep: If Mueller had found collusion, 'investigation would have wrapped up very quickly' House Ethics Committee extends probe into Renacci MORE (R-Ohio). Republicans have the edge though in the governor's race, where Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) leads Democrat Richard CordrayRichard Adams CordrayWatchdog agency must pick a side: Consumers or scammers Kraninger's CFPB gives consumers the tools to help themselves House rebukes Mulvaney's efforts to rein in consumer bureau MORE, the former director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), 41.8 to 37 percent.

 

Democrat Andrew Gillum is leading former Rep. Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisFlorida first lady to miss Women for Trump event due to planned execution Florida governor orders criminal investigation into handling of Jeffrey Epstein case Groups ask court to block ex-felon voting law in Florida MORE (R) in Florida's closely watched governor's race and Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas) has edged ahead out Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in the Texas Senate contest, according to new Reuters/Ipsos/University of Virginia Center for Politics polls. In Florida, Gillum carries a 6-point lead over DeSantis, a staunch Trump ally, with the poll showing him ahead 50-44 percent. And in Texas, O'Rourke is narrowly leading Cruz 47-45 percent, boosting Democrats' hopes that the Lone Star State could flip in 2018.

 

Paper chase

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced its best August fundraising haul ever, with more than $15.4 million raised, with $7 million of that coming from online donations. That brings the DCCC's total fundraising to over $206 million. The committee ends August with $69.7 million in the bank.

 

EMILY's List will hit a spending high in the 2018 cycle. The group's independent expenditure arm plans to spend a total of $37 million, with $14 million of that already used to compete in the primaries. The additional $23 million will go to spending on digital and TV advertisements as well as mailers in the final weeks of the midterms.

 

With that in mind, super PACs are leading the way as the biggest spenders of the midterms--far outpacing campaign committees which have traditionally the biggest, reports The Hill's Reid Wilson. The 10 largest outside groups have already spent more than $150 million on things like advertising, paid canvassing, mailers and polling research. Meanwhile, both parties' campaign committees in the House and Senate have collectively spent $57 million thus far.

 

The League of Conservation Voters' (LCV) Victory Fund is targeting three Republican House candidates from southern California--Reps. Steve Knight and Dana RohrabacherDana Tyrone RohrabacherThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Biden go toe-to-toe in Iowa Ex-GOP lawmakers are face of marijuana blitz Former GOP Rep. Rohrabacher joins board of cannabis company MORE as well as candidate Diane Harkey--in a new six-figure advertising campaign that focuses on the state's unusually active wildfire season and criticizes the candidates' environmental positions.

 

What we're watching for

The first of three Senate debates between Cruz and O'Rourke is scheduled for Friday. Expect fireworks in a race that has surprisingly captured national attention as the parties battle for control of the Senate.

 

Also on Friday, Rep. Barbara ComstockBarbara Jean ComstockProgressives face steep odds in ousting incumbent Democrats K Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers GOP lawmaker introduces bill to stop revolving door MORE (R-Va.) and Democratic nominee Jennifer Wexton will square off in a debate for the hyper-competitive northern Virginia seat.

 

Trump will be holding a Friday rally in Springfield, Mo., where he'll make the case for Republican state Attorney General Josh Hawley's Senate bid.

 

Coming to a TV near you

The ads keep coming. The Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC aligned with Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan moving family to Washington Embattled Juul seeks allies in Washington Ex-Parkland students criticize Kellyanne Conway MORE (R-Wis.), pumped out a slew of new spots this week and announced that it is reserving $1.5 million in Wisconsin's 1st District as the GOP works to keep the seat out of Democratic hands. The PAC released two ads in the district this week targeting Democrat Randy Bryce, including one that features the candidate's brother endorsing his GOP opponent, Bryan Steil.

 

The National Republican Congressional Committee is also out with new ads going after three Democrats: Xochitl Torres Small in New Mexico's 2nd District, Antonio Delgado in New York's 17th District and former Rep. Steven HorsfordSteven Alexander HorsfordKey endorsements: A who's who in early states T.I., Charlamagne Tha God advocate for opportunity zones on Capitol Hill Dems warn against deporting former Trump golf course workers MORE in Nevada's 4th District.

 

On the Democratic side, the DCCC is out with new ads in California and Colorado, going after Reps. Steve Knight (R-Calif.) and Mike CoffmanMichael (Mike) Howard CoffmanBottom Line Koch political arm endorses Colorado Sen. Gardner 20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform MORE (R-Colo.). The spot targeting Knight hits the two-term Republican over four Hawaii vacations that the committee says were paid for by the pharmaceutical industry.

 

The Coffman spot attacks him for voting in line with Trump's agenda 96 percent of the time. "Mike Coffman didn't stand up to Donald Trump, plain and simple," a narrator says in the ad.

 

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is taking aim at Sen. Dean Heller's (D-Nev.) record on health care in its first ad in the Nevada Senate race. The ad features a cancer patient accusing Heller, a top target of Democrats in 2018, of breaking his promise to preserve protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

 

Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampPence to push new NAFTA deal in visit to Iowa Al Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand MORE (D-N.D.) is hitting her Republican opponent, Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerCastro, Steyer join pledge opposing the Keystone XL pipeline EPA proposes rolling back states' authority over pipeline projects GOP senator held up Trump aide's confirmation to get info on border wall contracts MORE (N.D.), in a new ad accusing him of ignoring concerns over the intensifying trade war between the U.S. and China. On the flip side, Cramer launched a new ad spot talking up his record on energy production in North Dakota. The state Republican Party also fired back in an ad of its own accusing Heitkamp of using North Dakota farmers to score political points.

 

Josh Hawley is out with a new digital ad ripping Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillEx-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity Ocasio-Cortez blasts NYT editor for suggesting Tlaib, Omar aren't representative of Midwest Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand MORE (D-Mo.) for accepting contributions from the insurance industry. The 15-second spot features McCaskill saying that insurance companies "already have too many senators on their side," before a narrator accuses her of being a "hypocrite."

 

Wave watch

Indicted Rep. Chris CollinsChristopher (Chris) Carl CollinsNate McMurray launches second challenge against GOP Rep. Chris Collins Michael Caputo eyes congressional bid House ethics panel renews probes into three GOP lawmakers MORE (R-N.Y.) will remain on the ballot in his congressional district this November, the Buffalo News reported Monday. Collins, who was arrested on insider trading charges, has announced that he won't run for reelection. But on Wednesday, Collins said he plans to be "actively campaigning."

 

Monday marked 50 days out from the midterm elections and The Hill's Max Greenwood reports that Democrats have the momentum. This comes as Democrats maintain a comfortable lead in the generic ballot and bad headlines pile up for Trump as his approval ratings take a hit.