Election Countdown: Cruz, O'Rourke fight at pivotal point | Ryan hitting the trail for vulnerable Republicans | Poll shows Biden leading Dem 2020 field | Arizona Senate debate tonight

Election Countdown: Cruz, O'Rourke fight at pivotal point | Ryan hitting the trail for vulnerable Republicans | Poll shows Biden leading Dem 2020 field | Arizona Senate debate tonight
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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 22 days until the 2018 midterm elections and 750 days until the 2020 elections.


Tuesday will be Cruz vs. O'Rourke, fight night 2. Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzDemocrats sharpen case on second day of arguments What to watch for on Day 3 of Senate impeachment trial Democrats' impeachment case lands with a thud with GOP — but real audience is voters MORE (R-Texas) and Rep. Beto O'RourkeBeto O'RourkeBiden calls for revoking key online legal protection Trump mocks Booker over suspended presidential campaign Julián Castro endorses Warren in 2020 race MORE (D-Texas) are set to square off for their second and potentially last debate in San Antonio on Tuesday night.

Their first debate in late September produced a number of memorable fireworks that highlighted their differences on hot-button issues like immigration, police shootings and guns in schools.


Tuesday's debate in San Antonio comes at a pivotal moment in the Senate race. O'Rourke raised an eye-popping $38 million in the third fundraising quarter. But he's also consistently behind in polling, with the latest public surveys showing Cruz with 8- and 9-point leads.

All eyes will be on whether O'Rourke can put Cruz on defense. At their last debate, Cruz, a seasoned debater, was largely on offense and aggressively went after his Democratic opponent's record. O'Rourke punched back, but he'll likely need to do more in Tuesday's debate to show he can dominate the issues.

Keep an eye on any follow-ups from the last debate. Culture war issues grabbed the spotlight last time. It was those issues that sparked the greatest attention--and divide--between the candidates. O'Rourke reiterated his defense of NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. And Cruz attacked the Texas Democrat, arguing that O'Rourke always "sides against the police."

National Democratic figures were also frequently mentioned during the debate. Cruz repeatedly sought to tie O'Rourke to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSchiff pleads to Senate GOP: 'Right matters. And the truth matters.' Hill.TV's Saagar Enjeti defends Tulsi Gabbard's lawsuit against Hillary Clinton Trump to hold rally on eve of New Hampshire primary MORE, especially when it came to the Supreme Court. Expect Cruz to bring up Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels who is considering a 2020 run in the Democratic primary, after he endorsed O'Rourke.

Tuesday will also be the first debate where the candidates will be asked about foreign policy. Cruz and O'Rourke will likely be asked about—and spar—over President TrumpDonald John TrumpSchiff pleads to Senate GOP: 'Right matters. And the truth matters.' Anita Hill to Iowa crowd: 'Statute of limitations' for Biden apology is 'up' Sen. Van Hollen releases documents from GAO investigation MORE's withdrawal from the Iran deal, relations with North Korea and Trump's summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Check back at The Hill tomorrow morning for the full rundown of what to watch in the debate and more Senate race coverage from our own Lisa Hagen who will be on the ground in Texas.


Senate showdown

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley (R) said that the contentious confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughCollins walks impeachment tightrope Supreme Court sharply divided over state aid for religious schools How Citizens United altered America's political landscape MORE will be "hugely motivating" to Republicans in the midterms. Hawley faces Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillHow Citizens United altered America's political landscape #MidnightMoscowMitch trends amid criticism of McConnell's proposed impeachment trial rules The most expensive congressional races of the last decade MORE (D-Mo.) in a state that Trump won by nearly 19 points. "They cannot believe the conduct of these Senate Democrats, they cannot believe the smear campaign that they launched, and by the way how they drug Dr. [Christine Blasey] Ford through the mud as well," Hawley said on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday.


Republicans entered 2018 optimistic about their chances of expanding their Senate majority across the industrial Midwestern states that handed Trump a string of victories two years earlier. But GOP candidates in races up and down the ballot have so far failed to launch in the way Republican leaders had hoped, The Washington Post reports. In states, like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, GOP Senate hopefuls are trailing Democratic incumbents in the polls. And in governor's races in Wisconsin and Iowa, surveys show dead heats.


Wave watch

Vulnerable House Republicans have signed onto bills supporting pre-existing conditions protections, a major wedge issue in this year's midterms. Thirty-two of the 49 GOP incumbents running in competitive races have backed congressional measures on pre-existing conditions in the past six weeks, according to an analysis by The Hill's Jessie Hellmann.


Republicans are worried that Trump and his aides may not be prepared for the political realities that await them if Democrats win control of the House in November, McClatchy DC reports. Multiple Republicans with ties to the White House said that Trump and his aides were busy dealing with controversies surrounding the administration than bolstering their defenses against a Democratic-controlled Congress.


House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHill.TV's Saagar Enjeti rips Sanders for 'inability to actually fight with bad actors' in party Biden fires back at Sanders on Social Security Warren now also knocking Biden on Social Security MORE (R-Wis.) is hitting the trail in an effort to boost more than two-dozen vulnerable Republicans, USA Today reports. The retiring Wisconsin Republican is set to crisscross a dozen states over the next three weeks, including New York, Kansas and North Carolina. The campaign swing is a final effort by Ryan to minimize the GOP's losses in November in the face of an anticipated "blue wave."


Survey says…

Democrats have regained their lead in the generic congressional ballot in the final weeks of the midterms. A Washington Post/ABC News poll from Sunday found Democrats with an 11-point lead over Republicans on a generic congressional ballot, 53 to 42 percent. A poll from CBS News/YouGov Battleground Tracker also found good news for Democrats. It projects that the party will hold 226 House seats compared to Republicans' 209 seats.


The New York Times/Siena College has a new poll that shows Republican Pete Stauber leading by 15 points in his race against Democrat Joe Radinovich for Minnesota's 8th Congressional District. Thirteen percent remain undecided. Radinovich led the race by one point in a September poll from NYT/Siena.


Paper chase

Rep. Pete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsTenth Congressional Black Caucus member backs Biden Giuliani held phone call with Maduro amid Venezuela crisis Texas GOP rep predicts heavy Democratic presence in state ahead of 2020 MORE (R-Texas) raised $1.3 million between July and September, bringing his total cash on hand to a solid $2.6 million, according to the Republican's latest federal filing. Sessions is facing a tough challenge from Democrat Colin Allred in Texas's 32nd District. Allred's most recent filing has yet to be posted by the Federal Election Commission.


Democrat Haley Stevens, who's challenging Republican Lena Epstein for the House seat being vacated by Rep. Dave TrottDavid Alan TrottFormer GOP Michigan congressman says Trump is unfit for office Pro-Trump Republican immigrant to challenge Dem lawmaker who flipped Michigan seat Meet the lawmakers putting politics aside to save our climate MORE (R-Mich.), raked in nearly $2 million in the third quarter of 2018, her campaign said Monday. That fundraising haul makes her the latest Democratic House hopeful to raise more than $1 million between July and October. She's left with about $1.1 million in cash on hand.


What we're watching for

Trump rallies:

--Oct. 18 at 8:30 p.m. ET in Missoula, Mont.

--Oct. 19 at 9 p.m. ET in Mesa, Ariz.

--Oct. 20 at 2 p.m. ET in Elko, Nev.



--Oct. 15: Michigan Senate debate, Arizona Senate debate at 9 p.m. ET

--Oct. 16: Texas Senate debate at 9 p.m. ET

--Oct. 18: Missouri Senate debate, North Dakota Senate debate at 8 p.m. ET

--Oct. 19: Nevada Senate debate at 9 p.m. ET, Wisconsin Senate debate

--Oct. 21: Minnesota Attorney General debate at 6 p.m.


Coming to a TV near you

Senate Majority PAC (SMP), the super PAC aligned with Senate Democratic leadership, is out with a new ad hitting Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) over his support for Trump's ongoing trade war with China. The trade war has emerged as one of the key themes in North Dakota's hotly contested Senate race and Cramer's opponent, incumbent Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampSusan Collins set to play pivotal role in impeachment drama Pro-trade group launches media buy as Trump and Democrats near deal on new NAFTA The Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same MORE (D-N.D.), has honed in on the Republican's remarks on the dispute.

In a new ad of his own, Cramer is touting his accessibility as a lawmaker. "You can call him, talk to him, you can hear Kevin CramerKevin John CramerThe Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' Collins walks impeachment tightrope Senate Republicans muscle through rules for Trump trial MORE on the radio, answering every question," a narrator says in the 30-second spot. "Or have coffee with Cramer in person."


Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) is out with a minute-long ad emphasizing her commitment to working across party lines. "The world we live in is really complex and so we're all going to have slightly different opinions as we go forward," Sinema says in the spot. "And I know Arizonans deserve a senator who just solves problems – not in a Republican way or a Democratic way, but just solves the problems."


Race for the White House

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenHarris weighing Biden endorsement: report Biden, Sanders contend for top place in new national poll Biden leads Democratic primary field nationally: poll MORE (D-Mass.) released the results of a DNA test, which a researcher says "strongly support" the senator's claim of Native American ancestry. The test results, published Monday by the Boston Globe, amounted to a jab at Trump, who has mocked Warren's claims about her heritage, and were the latest signal that the Massachusetts Democrat may be gearing up for a potential 2020 White House bid.


Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSchiff pleads to Senate GOP: 'Right matters. And the truth matters.' Anita Hill to Iowa crowd: 'Statute of limitations' for Biden apology is 'up' Sen. Van Hollen releases documents from GAO investigation MORE is leading a crowded Democratic field of potential 2020 presidential hopefuls, according to a new poll from CNN and SSRS. A third of Democrats and independents who lean Democratic support Biden to take on Trump. Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden, Sanders contend for top place in new national poll Biden leads Democratic primary field nationally: poll Warren calls for Brazil to drop charges against Glenn Greenwald MORE (I-Vt.) garnered 13 percent, while Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHarris weighing Biden endorsement: report California Democrat Christy Smith launches first TV ad in bid for Katie Hill's former House seat Steyer spokesperson: 'I don't think necessarily that Tom has bought anything' MORE (D-Calif.) got 9 percent.


Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDanielRonna Romney McDanielWalsh plans protest at RNC headquarters over 'nakedly anti-Democratic' primary cancellations Trump campaign, RNC raise 4M in fourth quarter of 2019 RNC chairwoman slams NYT opinion piece declaring GOP women 'on the brink of extinction' MORE will serve as the GOP's chief through the 2020 election, the Associated Press and CNN report. The move reportedly comes at the request of Trump himself. According to CNN, the president wants a woman leading the party into the next presidential election to help close the growing gender gap between Democrats and Republicans.


Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is expected to head to Iowa on Oct. 22, Politico reports. Her upcoming visit has strengthened speculation that she may vie for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 presidential election. Harris previously said she will "seriously take a look at" 2020 when the 2018 election cycle ends.


In case you missed it

Andrew Gillum, the progressive Tallahassee mayor running for Florida governor, said Saturday that he would remain off the campaign trail until Thursday as he tends to the damage wrought on his city by Hurricane Michael. In doing so, he'll miss a scheduled debate against his Republican opponent, former Rep. Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisFlorida Supreme Court rules convicted felons must pay fines, fees before voting Florida moves to purchase land to protect Everglades from oil drilling Top Latino group: Trump is about to hold a 'fake Christian campaign rally' MORE, on Tuesday. "In times like these, campaigning has to take a backseat to governing," Gillum said in a statement.


Pennsylvania Senate candidate Rep. Lou BarlettaLouis (Lou) James BarlettaEx-GOP congressman to lead group to protect Italian products from tariffs Head of Pennsylvania GOP resigns over alleged explicit texts Trump's most memorable insults and nicknames of 2018 MORE (R-Pa.) is demanding incumbent Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseySenate Democrats launch investigation into Trump tax law regulations Advocates call for ObamaCare open enrollment extension after website glitches The US needs to lead again on disability rights MORE (D-Pa.) remove an attack ad claiming that Barletta wants to strip health insurance from children with cancer. Barletta deemed the ad "insensitive" given its release after he revealed that his own grandson currently has cancer.


The Hill's Election Countdown was written by Lisa Hagen, Max Greenwood, Madeline Rundlett, Kenna Sturgeon and James Wellemeyer.