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 CruzSenate panel deadlocks in vote on sweeping elections bill Senate descends into hours-long fight over elections bill Ocasio-Cortez hits Yang over scrapped Eid event: 'Utterly shameful' MORE (R-Texas) and Rep. Beto O'RourkeBeto O'RourkeO'Rourke clarifies remarks, leaves door open to gubernatorial bid O'Rourke says he's not planning on run for Texas governor O'Rourke slams Cruz for video of border visit 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 ClintonSchumer: 'The big lie is spreading like a cancer' among GOP America departs Afghanistan as China arrives Young, diverse voters fueled Biden victory over Trump 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 TrumpKinzinger, Gaetz get in back-and-forth on Twitter over Cheney vote READ: Liz Cheney's speech on the House floor Cheney in defiant floor speech: Trump on 'crusade to undermine our democracy' 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 KavanaughConservative justices split in ruling for immigrant fighting deportation Supreme Court weighs whether to limit issuance of exemptions to biofuel blending requirements The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - GOP makes infrastructure play; Senate passes Asian hate crimes bill MORE will be "hugely motivating" to Republicans in the midterms. Hawley faces Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillDemings asked about Senate run after sparring with Jordan on police funding Republicans fret over divisive candidates Greitens Senate bid creates headache for GOP 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 RyanBiden's relationship with top House Republican is frosty The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Facebook upholds Trump ban; GOP leaders back Stefanik to replace Cheney Budowsky: Liz Cheney vs. conservatives in name only 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 SessionsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Facebook upholds Trump ban; GOP leaders back Stefanik to replace Cheney Ex-Trump aide Pierson planning run for Congress READ: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results 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 HeitkampEffective and profitable climate solutions are within the nation's farms and forests Bill Maher blasts removal of journalist at Teen Vogue Centrist Democrats pose major problem for progressives 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 CramerSenate passes bipartisan B water infrastructure bill Biden administration faces big decision on whether to wade into Dakota Access fight OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Supreme Court declines to hear challenge to Obama marine monument designation | Interior reverses course on tribal ownership of portion of Missouri river | White House climate adviser meets with oil and gas companies 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 WarrenThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Congress drawn into pipeline cyberattack, violence in Israel The Memo: Outrage rises among liberals over Israel The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Infrastructure, Cheney ouster on deck as Congress returns 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 BidenKinzinger, Gaetz get in back-and-forth on Twitter over Cheney vote Cheney in defiant floor speech: Trump on 'crusade to undermine our democracy' US officials testify on domestic terrorism in wake of Capitol attack 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 SandersWyden: Funding infrastructure with gas tax hike a 'big mistake' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Congress drawn into pipeline cyberattack, violence in Israel The Memo: Outrage rises among liberals over Israel MORE (I-Vt.) garnered 13 percent, while Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisRepublican Sean Parnell jumps into Pennsylvania Senate race Biden sees Trump rematch as real possibility Ode to Mother's Day MORE (D-Calif.) got 9 percent.


Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDanielRonna Romney McDanielDetroit police chief planning GOP gubernatorial run against Whitmer New York Post deletes story alleging Kamala Harris book given to migrant children Virginia GOP reverses course, will let those with religious obligations cast absentee votes for Saturday convention 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 DeSantisRon DeSantisOvernight Health Care: FDA authorizes Pfizer vaccine for adolescents | Biden administration reverses limits on LGBTQ health protections DeSantis to hold Newsmax town hall DeSantis signs bill banning gun regulations by local governments 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 BarlettaFormer Trump officials eye bids for political office 10 bellwether counties that could signal where the election is headed Bottom Line MORE (R-Pa.) is demanding incumbent Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyA historic moment to truly honor mothers Democrats face big headaches on Biden's T spending plan The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - GOP makes infrastructure play; Senate passes Asian hate crimes bill 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.