Election Countdown: Florida candidates face new test from hurricane | GOP optimistic about expanding Senate majority | Top-tier Dems start heading to Iowa | Bloomberg rejoins Dems | Trump heads to Pennsylvania rally

Election Countdown: Florida candidates face new test from hurricane | GOP optimistic about expanding Senate majority | Top-tier Dems start heading to Iowa | Bloomberg rejoins Dems | Trump heads to Pennsylvania rally
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This is Election Countdown, The Hill's 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 27 days from the 2018 midterm elections and 755 days until the 2020 elections.


Hurricane Michael is bearing down on the northeastern Gulf Coast of Florida, making it the first ever recorded Category 4 storm to make landfall in the panhandle.

While the focus in the coming days and weeks will (and should) be on the threat it poses to the region and its people, the storm amounts to a sort of October surprise for the midterms in Florida. In the days before the storm hit, candidates for statewide offices scrambled to show that they're ready to lead the state through trying times.

Andrew Gillum, the progressive mayor of Tallahassee who's running for governor, is seeking to overcome criticism over his handling of Hurricane Hermine in 2016, which left his city without power for days. He's spent recent days briefing local leaders and officials, covering the airwaves with news show appearances urging residents to prepare for the storm and filling sandbags.

Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisDeSantis formally asks Trump to base Space Command in Florida Florida secretary of state who resigned apologizes for blackface photos The Hill's Morning Report — Trump complicates border wall negotiations MORE, Gillum's Republican opponent, has been handing out emergency supplies in advance of Hurricane Michael. In a video posted on Twitter Monday, DeSantis warned that residents "need to be prepared" and "follow the local authorities and the state authorities."


Gillum slammed DeSantis in an interview on MSNBC on Wednesday after the Florida GOP declined to pull two attack ads off the air during the hurricane.

"We can't recall a time where candidates for statewide office have not pulled down negative ads during hurricane season," Gillum said. "You got a whole region of our state where people are fleeing for their lives, anticipating what is a life-threatening event impacting this state."

In the state's Senate race, Gov. Rick Scott (R) spent the days leading up to Hurricane Michael's landfall delivering briefings, holding emergency meetings and giving TV interviews warning of the dangers posed by the storm. His opponent, incumbent Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William Nelson2020 party politics in Puerto Rico There is no winning without Latinos as part of your coalition Dem 2020 candidates court Puerto Rico as long nomination contest looms MORE (D-Fla.), was among several lawmakers who urged President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump nominates Jeffrey Rosen to replace Rosenstein at DOJ McCabe says ‘it’s possible’ Trump is a Russian asset McCabe: Trump ‘undermining the role of law enforcement’ MORE to declare a state of emergency in Florida ahead of Hurricane Michael.

Hurricanes can carry political ramifications. The George W. Bush administration's widely panned handling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 drew nationwide scorn and helped fuel Democrats' takeover of the House a year later. Likewise, the Trump administration's response to Hurricanes Maria and Irma in Puerto Rico last year fueled intense criticism from territory officials and mainland Democrats.


Senate showdown

Republicans are growing increasingly optimistic about their chances of expanding their narrow Senate majority after the polarizing confirmation battle over Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughBudowsky: Roberts Court faces its own state of emergency The 10 Dems most likely to win the 2020 presidential nomination Five things to watch as Barr takes the reins of Justice, Mueller probe MORE. The GOP has seen candidates in Texas and Tennessee strengthen their position and make it less likely Democrats can pull of upsets in the red state strongholds. They are also bullish about their chances of knocking off Sens. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampOvernight Energy: Trump taps ex-oil lobbyist Bernhardt to lead Interior | Bernhardt slams Obama officials for agency's ethics issues | Head of major green group steps down Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary On 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 MORE (N.D.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillMcCaskill: Lindsey Graham 'has lost his mind' Trey Gowdy joins Fox News as a contributor The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump AG pick Barr grilled at hearing | Judge rules against census citizenship question | McConnell blocks second House bill to reopen government MORE (Mo.), two Democrats who voted against Kavanaugh.


Senate hopeful, Rep. Beto O'RourkeRobert (Beto) Francis O'RourkeO'Rourke mulling another Senate run as well as presidential bid The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sanders set to shake up 2020 race Barack, Michelle Obama expected to refrain from endorsing in 2020 Dem primary: report MORE (D-Texas), is convincing white evangelical women to go blue, according to The New York Times. Although strong opponents of abortion rights, these women approve of O'Rourke's character-- one they say contrasts with that of Trump.


O'Rourke will appear solo at a CNN town hall on Oct. 18 after Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzO'Rourke mulling another Senate run as well as presidential bid Texas senator introduces bill to produce coin honoring Bushes Trump working on labels for 2020 Dems: report MORE (R-Texas) declined CNN's offer. The town hall will be hosted in McAllen, Texas, right along the U.S.-Mexico border. CNN will hold other town halls this month including an Oct. 16 one featuring Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and his challenger, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), and an Oct. 21 forum for Florida's gubernatorial candidates: Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum.


Rep. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyArmy calls base housing hazards 'unconscionable,' details steps to protect families Poll shows McSally, Kelly tied in Arizona Senate race Mark Kelly's campaign raises over M in days after launching Senate bid MORE (R-Ariz.) will get help in the final weeks of the midterms from two political heavyweights: former President George W. Bush and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyCNN hires former DOJ spokesperson under Sessions as editor on 2020 campaign Congress closer to forcing Trump’s hand on Saudi support Trump tweets video mocking Dems not cheering during State of the Union MORE, who's currently running for a Utah Senate seat. The Arizona Republic reported that Romney, who is Mormon, will hold a rally on Friday in Arizona's East Valley, which has a sizable Mormon population. Bush will travel on Oct. 19 to host a private fundraiser.


Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) criticized Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSanders campaign reports raising M in less than a day The Memo: Bernie Sanders’s WH launch sharpens ‘socialist’ question Roger Stone invokes gag order in new fundraiser MORE for saying that Democrats couldn't be civil with Republicans. "That's ridiculous," Heitkamp said on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360". "I mean I can't imagine how you get anything done if you don't bring civility back into politics, and that goes for both sides." Heitkamp is running in a tough reelection race in a state Trump won by 36 points in 2016.


The U.S. Chamber of Commerce will launch new TV and digital ads in Arizona and Tennessee on Thursday, highlighting the Republican Senate candidates' votes to pass the GOP tax law.


House showdown

Democrats seeking to knock off Republican incumbents in two critical districts in the Twin City suburbs have put a dying art at the center of their campaigns: The town hall meeting, reports The Hill's Reid Wilson from Minnesota.


Survey says…

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) maintains a comfortable lead in his reelection, holding a 20-point lead in the race against his Democratic competitor, Ben Jealous, according to a poll from The Washington Post/University of Maryland.


Cruz leads O'Rourke by 9 points, 53 to 44 percent in a new New York Times/Siena College poll. The survey found that 3 percent remain undecided.


A new ABC15-OH Insights poll found that Rep. Martha McSally (R) leads Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) in Arizona's competitive Senate race. McSally holds a six-point lead with 47 percent of likely voters supporting her, according to the poll.


Sen. Claire McCaskill (D- Mo.) is in a close race with Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley (R), according to a new poll from Reuters/Ipsos/UVA Center for Politics. The poll found that 45 percent of likely voters back Hawley, while 44 percent back McCaskill.


According to a poll released by SurveyUSA for WXIA-TV, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R) leads the state's gubernatorial race narrowly. His Democratic competitor, former state House Democratic Leader Stacey Abrams (D) trails him by 2 points.


Paper chase

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOn The Money: Smaller tax refunds put GOP on defensive | Dems question IRS on new tax forms | Warren rolls out universal child care proposal | Illinois governor signs bill for minimum wage Smaller tax refunds put GOP on defensive High stakes as Trump, Dems open drug price talks MORE (R-Iowa) says he will counter the $3 million raised for Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTexas senator introduces bill to produce coin honoring Bushes GOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats On unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 MORE's (R-Maine) future Democratic opponent following her controversial vote to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh.


The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) has cancelled TV and radio ad reservations in Texas's 23rd District, where Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdWhite House, GOP defend Trump emergency declaration GOP rep: Trump emergency declaration puts US in 'uncharted territory' Immigration groups press for pairing Dreamer benefits with border security MORE (R-Texas) is running for reelection, from Oct. 16 through Election Day, according to National Journal. It's a signal that Republicans are feeling good about Hurd's reelection chances. A NYT/Siena poll from last month had Hurd up over Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones by 8 points, even though Clinton carried the district in 2016.


Race for the White House

Top-tier Democratic presidential hopefuls are quickly making their way to Iowa--which holds the first-in-the-nation caucuses on Feb. 3, 2020--reports The Hill's Amie Parnes. Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSanders campaign reports raising M in less than a day Gillibrand uses Trump Jr. tweet to fundraise Trump: Bernie Sanders 'missed his time' for White House MORE (D-N.J.) was in Iowa over the weekend for the first time since the 2016 election. Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisSanders campaign reports raising M in less than a day The Memo: Bernie Sanders’s WH launch sharpens ‘socialist’ question Gillibrand uses Trump Jr. tweet to fundraise MORE (D-Calif.) and Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersSanders campaign reports raising M in less than a day The Memo: Bernie Sanders’s WH launch sharpens ‘socialist’ question Gillibrand uses Trump Jr. tweet to fundraise MORE (I-Vt.) are both planning to travel to the Hawkeye State later this month. Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenSanders campaign reports raising M in less than a day The Memo: Bernie Sanders’s WH launch sharpens ‘socialist’ question Gillibrand uses Trump Jr. tweet to fundraise MORE (D-Mass.) and former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenBiden slams Trump immigration policies: 'It’s about xenophobia' GOP pollster says Michelle Obama one of Democrats' best surrogates Meghan McCain: 'Don't underestimate' Bernie Sanders MORE, though, currently have no scheduled visits to Iowa on the horizon.


Speaking of Biden, he said he doesn't plan to run for president in 2020 "at this point." "I think there are many people in the Democratic Party who can defeat Trump," he said when asked whether he would have better foreign policy than Trump. "And not a single aspiring candidate that I can think of for the nomination--and I am not one at this point--does not have a better understanding and formulation of American foreign policy than President Trump, in my view."


Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who's been a political independent, re-registered on Wednesday as a Democrat. He has previously said he will consider running for president in 2020, but will make that decision after the November midterm elections.


What we're watching for

Senate Debate schedule:

--Friday night debate in Wisconsin

--Sunday night debates in West Virginia, Ohio and Michigan

Trump rally schedule:

--Wednesday rally in Erie, Pa. at 7 p.m. ET (Trump is going ahead with the rally despite Hurricane Michael pounding the Florida coast.)

--Friday rally in Lebanon, Ohio at 7 p.m. ET

--Saturday rally in Richmond, Ky. at 7 p.m. ET


Coming to a TV near you

Democrats' House Majority PAC partnered with Ady Barkan, who's been diagnosed with ALS and made national headlines when he confronted Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union Sasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger MORE (R-Ariz.) to oppose the tax bill last year. Barkan and his wife appear in an ad backing Democrat Katie Hill who is looking to unseat Rep. Steve Knight (R) in California's 25th congressional district.


The GOP's Congressional Leadership Fund launched a new TV and digital ad campaign to elevate Rep. Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LoveTrump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trey Gowdy joins Fox News as a contributor Gillum joining CNN as political commentator MORE (R-Utah), who's running against Salt Lake City Mayor Ben McAdams (D). "The choice is clear: Mia will help grow the economy, McAdams will grow government."


What they're saying

In an op-ed for The Hill, former Rep. Steve IsraelSteven (Steve) J. IsraelThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine - Will there be any last-minute shutdown drama? The unlikely legislative duo that joined together on immigration A tale of two Trumps MORE (D-N.Y.), who used to chair the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), dives into why Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDemocrats brush off GOP 'trolling' over Green New Deal Senate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general GOP wants to pit Ocasio-Cortez against Democrats in the Senate MORE (D-W.Va.), a conservative Democrat up for reelection in a state Trump won by 42 points, was the only Democrat to vote for Kavanaugh's confirmation.


Dov S. Zakheim, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and vice chairman of the board for the Foreign Policy Research Institute, explores outgoing UN ambassador Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyNikki Haley slams media for Smollett coverage: 'He played them all for fools' Four names emerge for UN position: report Heather Nauert withdraws her name from consideration for UN ambassador job MORE's political future in an op-ed for The Hill.


Election Countdown was written by Lisa Hagen, Max Greenwood, Rachel Cohen, Kenna Sturgeon and James Wellemeyer.