Election Countdown: Kavanaugh allegations put GOP in tough spot | Republicans start to pull plug on candidates | Dems get early start in Iowa | O'Rourke defends Cruz after protesters interrupt dinner | Why Biden is the Democrat GOP most fears

Election Countdown: Kavanaugh allegations put GOP in tough spot | Republicans start to pull plug on candidates | Dems get early start in Iowa | O'Rourke defends Cruz after protesters interrupt dinner | Why Biden is the Democrat GOP most fears

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).


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We're 41 days until the 2018 midterm elections and 769 days until the 2020 elections.


Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the woman who alleges that he sexually assaulted her in high school will be in the spotlight tomorrow, less than six weeks out from the midterms.


Both Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the allegations, which have derailed the original timeline for the nominee's confirmation.

It's unclear just how the allegations and hearing could impact the November elections. Nevertheless, it has put Republicans in a difficult position: Do they side with Kavanaugh, and by extension President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump directed Cohen to lie to Congress about plans to build Trump Tower in Moscow during 2016 campaign: report DC train system losing 0k per day during government shutdown Senate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees MORE, who has questioned the accusers' accounts, and risk isolating female voters and moderates? Or do they take a more tentative approach to Kavanaugh's nomination and risk igniting conservative ire?


It also remains to be seen how red-state Democrats vote on the nomination. Sens. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampOn The Money: Shutdown Day 27 | Trump fires back at Pelosi by canceling her foreign travel | Dems blast 'petty' move | Trump also cancels delegation to Davos | House votes to disapprove of Trump lifting Russia sanction Gary Cohn criticizes the shutdown: 'Completely wrong' EPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks MORE (D-N.D.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate rejects government-wide ban on abortion funding Centrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter Bipartisan group of senators will urge Trump to reopen government for 3 weeks MORE (D-W.Va.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyEPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks Some Senate Dems see Ocasio-Cortez as weak spokeswoman for party Senate approves funding bill, preventing partial government shutdown MORE (D-Ind.) broke rank last year and voted to confirm Trump's first Supreme Court nominee, Justice Neil Gorsuch.

But Gorsuch's nomination, while opposed by most Democrats, did not carry the same kind of controversy as Kavanaugh's. Heitkamp, Manchin and Donnelly are already facing tough reelection bids in states that Trump won by wide margins in 2016, and how they handle Kavanaugh's nomination is sure to be watched closely.


The allegations against Kavanaugh come roughly a year after the start of the "Me Too" movement that exposed sexual misconduct allegations against many powerful men in business, politics and entertainment. That movement has helped energize female voters and ignited speculation of another "Year of the Woman," marked by a surge in female candidates.


Race for the White House

We're still 495 days away from the first-in-the-nation caucusues, but the 2020 presidential maneuvering in Iowa is already underway, reports The Hill's Amie Parnes. Rep. John DelaneyJohn Kevin DelaneyMoulton to visit New Hampshire amid 2020 speculation Delaney pledges sole focus on 'bipartisan proposals' in first 100 days of presidency Democratic dark horses could ride high in 2020 MORE (D-Md.) a little-known congressman, has made Iowa a high priority and has already run over 3,100 ads there. Same goes for billionaire Democratic donor Tom Steyer, who's launched more than 2,000 ads in the state in the past year calling for Trump's impeachment.


Also from Amie is a report that former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenLosing the fight against corruption and narco-trafficking in Guatemala Group aiming to draft Beto O’Rourke unveils first 2020 video Why Joe Biden (or any moderate) cannot be nominated MORE is the one Democrat that Republicans fear the most about 2020. With an emerging field of potential progressive candidates, Republicans see Biden as the biggest hurdle to Trump's reelection.


Former New York City mayor and billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg said he'll delay making a decision about whether to run for president in 2020 until after the November midterms. In the meantime, Bloomberg has committed himself to the midterms, pledging to donate millions to candidates around the country.


Senate showdown

Rep. Beto O'RourkeRobert (Beto) Francis O'RourkeEx-Michelle Obama aide says O'Rourke's road trip is a 'listening tour' in form of a travel blog Howard Dean looking for a 'younger, newer' Democratic nominee in 2020 Former staffer accuses Jackson Lee of retaliation after rape claim MORE (D-Texas) defended Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGroup aiming to draft Beto O’Rourke unveils first 2020 video Howard Dean looking for a 'younger, newer' Democratic nominee in 2020 Congress can stop the war on science MORE (R-Texas) after Cruz and his wife were confronted by a group of protesters at a D.C. restaurant over Kavanaugh. "Not right that Senator Cruz and his wife Heidi were surrounded and forced to leave a restaurant last night because of protesters. The Cruz family should be treated with respect," O'Rourke tweeted.


Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerGOP senators would support postponing State of the Union Dems blast EPA nominee at confirmation hearing Hopes fade for bipartisan bills in age of confrontation MORE (R-N.D.), who's running against Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), raised eyebrows again for his comments about the sexual assault allegations levied against Kavanaugh. In a Monday interview, Cramer questioned whether the allegations should "disqualify" the judge "even if it's all true." But when asked if the allegations are true and proved that Kavanaugh lied, Cramer said that would be disqualifying.


Cramer also sought to clarify his remarks from last week that the allegations are "absurd." He said Monday that he was calling the timing of the allegations and comparisons to Anita Hill "absurd." In regards to his comment that "nothing happened" in the allegations that Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford described, Cramer explained, "My point was there was no type of intercourse or anything like that."


Phil Bredesen, the Democratic Senate hopeful in Tennessee, said Tuesday that he has no plans to back Senate Minority Leader Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDem senators debate whether to retweet Cardi B video criticizing Trump over shutdown William Barr's only 'flaw' is that he was nominated by Trump Cardi B expresses solidarity with federal workers not getting paid MORE (D-N.Y.) for a leadership post if he's elected in November. Bredesen said in a debate that Congress's current leaders make up "a lot of the problem" in Washington. "I can tell you right now that if I'm elected, and when I'm elected and go to Washington, I am not going to be voting for Chuck Schumer," he said.


The office of Montana state auditor Matt Rosendale, who is challenging Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterCentrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter Dems offer measure to raise minimum wage to per hour Some Senate Dems see Ocasio-Cortez as weak spokeswoman for party MORE (D-Mont.), dropped sanctions and fines against a Friedell LLC, a bail bond company, after meeting company representatives in 2017, the Montana Free Press reports. Friedell employees and family members had contributed nearly $13,000 to Rosendale's 2016 bid for state auditor and his 2014 campaign for Congress for the purpose of "debt retirement."

The chief counsel for the state auditor's office told the Free Press that she was the one who decided to drop the legal action against Friedell, but that she was not aware of the campaign donations.


Survey says...

There have been a number of good polls for Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonFlorida lawmaker diagnosed with pancreatic cancer Rick Scott threw party at Florida governor’s mansion after DeSantis and family had moved in: report Restoration of voting rights by felons marks shift in Florida MORE (D-Fla.). In a new Quinnipiac University poll, Nelson leads Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) by 7 points, 53 to 46 percent. Another poll from Marist College has Nelson up 3 points, 48 to 45 percent. Meanwhile, a poll by the Public Opinion Research Lab at the University of North Florida (UNF) shows the two tied at 45 percent.


Another poll by UNF released this week showed Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum leading Rep. Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisFlorida governor threatens Airbnb over West Bank settlements Florida governor announces sheriff's suspension over Parkland shooting DeSantis asks entire South Florida water management board to resign MORE (R-Fla.) by 4 points in the Florida gubernatorial race. It's only the latest in a series of polls that show Gillum, a progressive African-American candidate, ahead of his Trump-backed challenger.


And in Georgia, Democrat Stacey Abrams carries a 6-point lead over Republican secretary of State Brian Kemp in the state's closely watched gubernatorial race, according to an internal poll commissioned by Abrams's campaign released on Sunday.


The race to replace Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeSchumer recruiting top-notch candidate for McCain Senate seat The Hill's Morning Report — Trump eyes wall money options as shutdown hits 21 days Poll: Sanders most popular senator, Flake least MORE's (R) is heating up in Arizona. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) leads Rep. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyMark Kelly considering Senate bid as Arizona Dems circle McSally Schumer recruiting top-notch candidate for McCain Senate seat On The Money: Shutdown Day 26 | Pelosi calls on Trump to delay State of the Union | Cites 'security concerns' | DHS chief says they can handle security | Waters lays out agenda | Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions MORE (R) by just 3 points according to the latest NBC News/Marist poll.


Paper chase

Progressive group Acronym launched its "Knock the Vote" campaign on Monday. The group spent $3 million on the voter registration effort, targeting states that allow online registration.


With women expected to win a record breaking number of seats this fall, Michael Bloomberg announced he will donate to more women "than any individual ever has before." He didn't give a specific figure that he would contribute, but has previously said that he's committing to spend $80 million to help Democrats in this cycle.


Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDershowitz to The Atlantic: Do not violate Constitution to safeguard it Why Joe Biden (or any moderate) cannot be nominated GOP Rep. Tom Marino resigns from Congress MORE is hitting the fundraising circuit for Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezMore oversight of America’s international media networks a good idea Pro-Israel organizations should finally seek payback against Iran deal Dems Trump lowers refugee goal to 30,000, he must meet it MORE (D-N.J.) The former secretary of state and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee is slated to attend a fundraiser for the incumbent in Jersey City on Oct. 15, according to an invitation posted on Twitter by The New York Times' Nick Corasaniti.


What we're watching for

Trump will hold a rally in Wheeling, W.Va. on Saturday. He's slated to hold another rally in Johnson City, Tenn. on Oct. 1.


Texas will see its second Senate debate between Cruz and O'Rourke in Houston on Sunday.


Coming to a TV near you

Sen. Bill Nelson (D) is dropping two new TV ads in his hotly contested bid against Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R). One spot features Nelson recounting his experience aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia, while the other takes direct aim at Scott for his record in the governor's mansion. TV ads have been few and far between in Nelson's re-election bid and the latest spots signal that the three-term Democrat is ramping up his campaign.


Andrew Gillum (D) is out with the first attack ad of his general election bid against Ron DeSantis (R). The 30-second TV spot goes after his Republican opponent for supporting a rollback of protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions.


Giffords PAC, the political arm of the gun safety group founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), is pumping $1.5 million into an ad campaign opposing Rep. 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 first ad released in the campaign features a fictional text conversation between a mother and her daughter during a school shooting.


The ad war in North Dakota's Senate race is heating up. Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) released a new spot on Monday touting his economic record. A day later, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) debuted a new ad highlighting her work on legislation intended to crack down on websites that facilitate human trafficking.


The two spots underscore the increasingly competitive race between Cramer and Heitkamp, who is considered among the most vulnerable Senate Democrats up for re-election this year.


Wave Watch

Democrats see the controversy surrounding Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court and the GOP's "war on women" as playing in their favor ahead of the midterm elections, The Hill's Mike Lillis reports. They're betting that the saga could further energize women voters in November. "Beware of the wrath of women scorned, Mr. President and Majority Leader McConnell," Rep. Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierJuan Williams on Fox: Hannity, Limbaugh, Coulter are 'running this government' Coulter: Trump 'dead in the water' if he caves on wall Overnight Defense: Trump faces blowback over report he discussed leaving NATO | Pentagon extends mission on border | Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions MORE (D-Calif.) said. "It will be your party's downfall."


The National Republican Congressional Committee is beginning to pull its support from select races as it seeks to shift money and resources to districts that are more likely to help the GOP maintain its majority, The Hill's Melanie Zanona reports. In one example of the changing priorities, it pulled its remaining ad spending in the Pittsburgh area, where Rep. Keith RothfusKeith James RothfusTrump's most memorable insults and nicknames of 2018 Pennsylvania New Members 2019 Pennsylvania Dem: Trump has proven he's 'interested in negotiating' MORE (R-Pa.) is desperately fighting to hang on to his seat in a race against Rep. Conor Lamb (D).


Democrats once saw Florida's 27th District as one of their best pick-up opportunities in 2018. Rep. Ileana Ros-LehtinenIleana Carmen Ros-LehtinenYoder, Messer land on K Street Ex-GOP lawmaker from Washington joins lobbying firm Black Caucus sees power grow with new Democratic majority MORE's (R-Fla.) planned retirement opened a path for the party in the Democratic-leaning district. But Republican Maria Elvira Salazar, a well-known Cuban-American former broadcast journalist, is starting to give Democrat Donna Shalala a run for her money, The  Hill's Max Greenwood reports.


Kenna Sturgeon, Rachel Cohen and Maddie Rundlett contributed to this week's Election Countdown.