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 WalzEight newly elected Dem governors miss meeting with Trump Incoming Minnesota governor says he's too busy to meet with Trump Governors helping governors 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 KlobucharKlobuchar on 2020: ‘I do think you want voices from the Midwest’ Warren unveils bill to lower drug prices by letting government manufacture them Klobuchar moves up in Iowa poll of 2020 Dems MORE (D) is expected to easily win reelection in November. But Sen. Tina SmithTina Flint SmithAl Franken reflects on 'the experience of women in this country' in Thanksgiving note Minnesota New Members 2019 Senate GOP beats expectations with expanded majority MORE (D-Minn.), who was appointed earlier this year to replace former Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenCongress sends bill overhauling sexual harassment policy to Trump's desk Senate approves bill reforming Congress's sexual harassment policy Kamala Harris to keep seat on Judiciary Committee 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 TrumpREAD: Transcript of James Comey's interview with House Republicans Klobuchar on 2020: ‘I do think you want voices from the Midwest’ Israel boycott fight roils Democrats in year-end spending debate 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 WarrenKlobuchar on 2020: ‘I do think you want voices from the Midwest’ Warren calls for probe into Trump name change for consumer bureau Warren unveils bill to lower drug prices by letting government manufacture them MORE (D-Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersKlobuchar on 2020: ‘I do think you want voices from the Midwest’ Dem pollster says it's 'misstated wisdom' to assume competitive primaries damage presidential nominees Group launches campaign to 'Draft Beto' for 2020 White House bid 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 CruzGroup launches campaign to 'Draft Beto' for 2020 White House bid Look out ‘losers’ — Trump focused on ‘winning’ The Memo: GOP frets as Trump shutdown looms MORE (R-Texas) criticized Rep. Beto O'RourkeRobert (Beto) Francis O'RourkeDem pollster says it's 'misstated wisdom' to assume competitive primaries damage presidential nominees Group launches campaign to 'Draft Beto' for 2020 White House bid Kamala Harris top 2020 choice in poll of women of color 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 McSallyThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Flynn awaits sentencing | White House signals it wants to avoid shutdown Arizona gov taps McSally for McCain Senate seat Juan Williams: The GOP's worsening problem with women MORE (R-Ariz.) in Arizona's Senate race for retiring Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeArizona gov taps McSally for McCain Senate seat The Hill's Morning Report — What a shutdown would mean for the government Corker dodges on Trump primary question 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 RosenLeading contenders emerge to replace Zinke as Interior secretary Schumer walking tightrope with committee assignments 10 things we learned from the midterms MORE (D-Nev.) with 47 percent support and Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerThe Hill's Morning Report — What a shutdown would mean for the government Leading contenders emerge to replace Zinke as Interior secretary How to reform the federal electric vehicle tax credit 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 BrownKlobuchar on 2020: ‘I do think you want voices from the Midwest’ Five challenges facing new consumer bureau chief Dem senator: Trump 'seems more rattled than usual' MORE (D-Ohio) is up 17 points over Rep. Jim RenacciJames (Jim) B. RenacciGOP rep: If Mueller had found collusion, ‘investigation would have wrapped up very quickly’ House Ethics Committee extends probe into Renacci Sherrod Brown says he has 'no real timetable' for deciding on 2020 presidential run 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 CordrayFive challenges facing new consumer bureau chief Mulvaney will stay on as White House budget chief Trump names Mulvaney acting chief of staff 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 DeSantisGoogle's most-searched politician of 2018 is Stacey Abrams Republicans are winning minority voters to make difference in 2020 Gillum to speak at gathering of top Dem donors: report 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 RohrabacherRohrabacher eyes new career as a screenwriter after losing reelection Ryan casts doubt on 'bizarre' California election results Democratic gains erasing House GOP in California 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 ComstockTrump attorney general pick a prolific donor to GOP candidates, groups: report Virginia New Members 2019 Defeated Republicans mocked by Trump fire back at president 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 RyanThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Flynn awaits sentencing | White House signals it wants to avoid shutdown Missing: Fiscal sanity in Washington On The Money: Latest on border wall fight | Dems prep for long shutdown | Trump finds himself isolated | Stocks sink ahead of Fed meeting, funding deadline | Trump offers new round of farm aid 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 HorsfordWHIP LIST: Pelosi seeks path to 218 Another Dem to oppose Pelosi Nevada New Members 2019 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 CoffmanGardner gets first Dem challenger for 2020 Senate race The 5 most competitive Senate races of 2020 10 things we learned from the midterms 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 HeitkampHatch warns Senate 'in crisis' in farewell speech Dem senators Heitkamp, Donnelly urge bipartisanship in farewell speeches House passes bipartisan bill aimed at reversing rising maternal mortality rates MORE (D-N.D.) is hitting her Republican opponent, Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerDem senators Heitkamp, Donnelly urge bipartisanship in farewell speeches North Dakota New Members 2019 Rick Scott appears with GOP senators, ignores voter fraud question as recount continues 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 McCaskillThe Year Ahead: Tech braces for new scrutiny from Washington McCaskill: 'Too many embarrassing uncles' in the Senate FEC votes to allow lawmakers to use campaign funds for personal cybersecurity 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 CollinsGM layoffs show Congress played Americans with corporate tax cut Election Countdown: Florida Senate race heads to hand recount | Dem flips Maine House seat | New 2020 trend - the 'friend-raiser' | Ad war intensifies in Mississippi runoff | Blue wave batters California GOP Election Countdown: Lawsuits fly in Florida recount fight | Nelson pushes to extend deadline | Judge says Georgia county violated Civil Rights Act | Biden, Sanders lead 2020 Dem field in poll | Bloomberg to decide on 2020 by February 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.