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
© Getty Images

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 CruzCruz slams Jim Carrey's 'vicious, angry' painting of Alabama governor after abortion ban Eye-popping number of Dems: I can beat Trump 'SleepyCreepy Joe' and 'Crazy Bernie': Trump seeks to define 2020 Dems with insults MORE (R-Texas) and Rep. Beto O'RourkeBeto O'RourkeOvernight Energy: Warren wants Dems to hold climate-focused debate | Klobuchar joins candidates rejecting fossil fuel money | 2020 contender Bennet offers climate plan O'Rourke says he would 'absolutely' do Fox News town hall CNN announces four more town halls featuring 2020 Dems 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 ClintonThe Memo: Trump faces steep climb to reelection What the Mueller report tells us about Putin, Russia and Trump's election Steve Bullock puts Citizens United decision at center of presidential push 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 TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending Democrats wary of handing Trump a win on infrastructure 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 KavanaughSupreme Court sides with Native American hunter as Gorsuch joins liberals Clash with Trump marks latest break with GOP leaders for Justin Amash ACLU, Women's March to hold nationwide protests over abortion bans MORE will be "hugely motivating" to Republicans in the midterms. Hawley faces Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillBig Dem names show little interest in Senate Gillibrand, Grassley reintroduce campus sexual assault bill Endorsements? Biden can't count on a flood from the Senate 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 RyanAmash storm hits Capitol Hill Debate with Donald Trump? Just say no Ex-Trump adviser says GOP needs a better health-care message for 2020 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 SessionsHillicon Valley — Presented by CTIA and America's wireless industry — Lawmaker sees political payback in fight over 'deepfakes' measure | Tech giants to testify at hearing on 'censorship' claims | Google pulls the plug on AI council Lawmaker alleges political payback in failed 'deepfakes' measure As Russia collusion fades, Ukrainian plot to help Clinton emerges 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 TrottMeet the lawmakers putting politics aside to save our climate Michigan New Members 2019 Democrats flip Michigan seat in race between two political newcomers 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 HeitkampOn The Money: Stocks sink on Trump tariff threat | GOP caught off guard by new trade turmoil | Federal deficit grew 38 percent this fiscal year | Banks avoid taking position in Trump, Dem subpoena fight Fight over Trump's new NAFTA hits key stretch Former senators launching effort to help Dems win rural votes 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 CramerBolton emerges as flashpoint in GOP debate on Iran Trump's immigration push faces Capitol Hill buzzsaw Lawmakers introduce legislation to improve cyber workforce funding 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 WarrenThe Memo: Trump faces steep climb to reelection Feehery: A whole new season of 'Game of Thrones' Overnight Energy: Warren wants Dems to hold climate-focused debate | Klobuchar joins candidates rejecting fossil fuel money | 2020 contender Bennet offers climate plan 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 BidenThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget The Memo: Trump faces steep climb to reelection Trump: Foreign countries want Biden in office so they can continue 'ripping off' the US 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 SandersThe Memo: Trump faces steep climb to reelection California Democrats face crisis of credibility after lawsuits Fox's Brit Hume fires back at Trump's criticism of the channel MORE (I-Vt.) garnered 13 percent, while Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisThe Memo: Trump faces steep climb to reelection California Democrats face crisis of credibility after lawsuits Feehery: A whole new season of 'Game of Thrones' MORE (D-Calif.) got 9 percent.


Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDanielRonna Romney McDanielOvernight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — McConnell, Kaine offer bill to raise tobacco buying age to 21 | Measles outbreak spreads to 24 states | Pro-ObamaCare group launches ad blitz to protect Dems Romney expresses opposition to Alabama abortion ban GOP committees took 0K from Steve Wynn last month 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 DeSantisTrump officials not sending migrants to Florida after backlash Dem criticizes newest calendars for Trump Interior chief as 'fake' GOP gov pushes back on Trump plan to send migrants to Florida counties 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 BarlettaTrump's most memorable insults and nicknames of 2018 GOP trading fancy offices, nice views for life in minority Casey secures third Senate term over Trump-backed Barletta MORE (R-Pa.) is demanding incumbent Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyWhy Congress needs to bring back tax deduction for worker expenses Biden cements spot as 2020 front-runner The Hill's Morning Report - Biden's bid gets under Trump's skin 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.