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 DeSantisTo win over Midwesterners, Democrats should rethink school choice stance DeSantis wants statue of civil rights activist to replace Confederate figure on Capitol Hill Florida couple wins right to plant vegetables in front yard after years-long legal battle 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 NelsonDemocrats target Florida Hispanics in 2020 Poll: Six Democrats lead Trump in Florida match-ups How Jim Bridenstine recruited an old enemy to advise NASA MORE (D-Fla.), was among several lawmakers who urged President TrumpDonald John TrumpAmash responds to 'Send her back' chants at Trump rally: 'This is how history's worst episodes begin' McConnell: Trump 'on to something' with attacks on Dem congresswomen Trump blasts 'corrupt' Puerto Rico's leaders amid political crisis 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 KavanaughLiberal, conservative Supreme Court justices unite in praising Stevens The Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment Former Justice John Paul Stevens dies at age 99 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 HeitkampTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand McConnell's Democratic challenger McGrath backtracks on Kavanaugh comments McConnell's Democratic challenger says she likely would have voted for Kavanaugh MORE (N.D.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Feds allow campaigns to accept discounted cybersecurity services GOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries MORE (Mo.), two Democrats who voted against Kavanaugh.


Senate hopeful, Rep. Beto O'RourkeBeto O'Rourke2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally Bullock makes CNN debate stage The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump digs in ahead of House vote to condemn tweet 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 CruzCruz calls for 'every penny' of El Chapo's criminal enterprise to be used for Trump's wall after sentencing Conservatives defend Chris Pratt for wearing 'Don't Tread On Me' T-shirt Google official denies allegations of ties to China 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 McSallyTrump angry more Republicans haven't defended his tweets: report Republicans scramble to contain Trump fallout On The Money: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency | Tech giants on defensive at antitrust hearing | Democrats ask Labor Department to investigate Amazon warehouses 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 RomneyTrump's no racist — he's an equal opportunity offender Lawmakers introduce bill to block U.S. companies from doing business with Huawei GOP put on the back foot by Trump's race storm 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 ClintonHillary Clinton slams Trump rally: 'The time has come again' to fight for democracy Trump blasts minority Democrats, rally crowd chants 'send her back' The Memo: Democrats debate Trump response – 'Being righteous and losing sucks' 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 GrassleyOvernight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Sanders mounts staunch defense of 'Medicare for All' | Biden, Sanders fight over health care heats up | House votes to repeal ObamaCare 'Cadillac Tax' | Dems want details on fetal tissue research ban Senate approves long-delayed tax treaties in win for business The peculiar priorities of Adam Schiff MORE (R-Iowa) says he will counter the $3 million raised for Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsHillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp Trump angry more Republicans haven't defended his tweets: report Republicans scramble to contain Trump fallout 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 HurdTrump primary challenger Bill Weld responds to rally chants: 'We are in a fight for the soul of the GOP' Democratic strategist on Trump tweets: 'He's feeding this fear and hate' Poll shows congresswomen attacked by Trump with weak favorability ratings 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 Booker2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally The Hill's Morning Report - Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP Democrats warm to idea of studying reparations MORE (D-N.J.) was in Iowa over the weekend for the first time since the 2016 election. Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi Harris2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally Biden's health care gaffe shows he's not ready for prime time The Hill's Morning Report - Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP MORE (D-Calif.) and Bernie SandersBernie Sanders2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally Cardi B posts message of support for Ilhan Omar #IStandWithIlhan trends after crowd at Trump rally chants 'send her back' MORE (I-Vt.) are both planning to travel to the Hawkeye State later this month. Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenNew CDC overdose estimates are nothing to celebrate 2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally Democratic Houston councilwoman announces Senate bid MORE (D-Mass.) and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe Biden2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally Can Biden's canceled cancer initiative be salvaged? Biden's health care gaffe shows he's not ready for prime time 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 FlakeFlake urges Republicans to condemn 'vile and offensive' Trump tweets Flake responds to Trump, Jimmy Carter barbs: 'We need to stop trying to disqualify each other' Jeff Flake responds to Trump's 'greener pastures' dig on former GOP lawmakers 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) LoveFormer GOP lawmaker: Trump's tweets have to stop Congressional Women's Softball team releases roster The 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority 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 - Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP Will Trump's racist tweets backfire? The real estate tycoon meets Iran MORE (D-N.Y.), who used to chair the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), dives into why Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Kentucky Democrat says primary challenge to McGrath 'might be helpful' 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) HaleyAmerican women can have it all State denies report ex-spokeswoman received Fox salary while in administration Trump rules out Haley joining 2020 ticket 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.