Election Countdown: Dems outraise GOP in final stretch | 2018 midterms already most expensive in history | What to watch in second Cruz-O'Rourke debate | Trump raises $100M for reelection | Why Dems fear Avenatti's approach

Election Countdown: Dems outraise GOP in final stretch | 2018 midterms already most expensive in history | What to watch in second Cruz-O'Rourke debate | Trump raises $100M for reelection | Why Dems fear Avenatti's approach
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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 21 days until the 2018 midterm elections and 749 days until the 2020 elections.


Democrats are on a fundraising tear.

Reports filed Monday with the Federal Election Commission show that more than 70 Democratic House hopefuls outraised Republican incumbents between July and September, continuing a trend of record-setting fundraising for the party in the final stretch before Election Day.

In several races, House candidates are matching fundraising numbers usually seen in Senate races. Three Democrats – Gil Cisneros and Andrew Janz in California and Scott Wallace in Pennsylvania – raised more than $4 million in the third quarter of 2018. But not all of that is from individual contributions: Cisneros loaned his campaign $3.5 million, while Wallace loaned his campaign $4 million.

Eight Democrats running for House seats raised more than $3 million in the same period, while 30 raised more than $2 million and 60 raked in more than $1 million, according to the filings.

Those numbers are likely to boost Democrats' hopes of a "blue wave" in November. Democrats have already spent much of 2018 holding the edge in voter enthusiasm, and the fundraising surge is the latest sign that the party's base is motivated.

Even Senate Democrats defending seats in states President TrumpDonald John TrumpCummings says Ivanka Trump not preserving all official communications Property is a fundamental right that is now being threatened 25 states could see severe flooding in coming weeks, scientists say MORE won in 2016 are leading their Republican opponents in the money race. Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillLobbying world Dem candidate has Hawley served subpoena at CPAC Annual scorecard ranks GOP environmental efforts far below Dems in 2018 MORE (D-Mo.) outraised her GOP challenger Josh Hawley by more than $5 million in the third quarter of 2018. But McCaskill spent more--$11.2 million--than she took in and Hawley ended September with slightly more cash on hand. Even Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampRed dresses displayed around American Indian museum to memorialize missing, murdered native women Lobbying World Lobbying World MORE (D-N.D.), who's considered one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats up for reelection, beat out her challenger, Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerOvernight Health Care: Dems demand answers on rule targeting Planned Parenthood | Senators tell FDA to speed approval of generic insulin | Nearly 8 in 10 say drug prices are 'unreasonable' in new poll Senators tell FDA to speed up approvals of generic insulin Trump applauded for walking away from 'bad' North Korea deal MORE (R-N.D.), by more than $2 million.

It's not all bad news for the GOP. In Indiana, Republican Mike Braun outraised incumbent Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyLobbying World Lobbying World Overnight 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 MORE (D) by roughly $2.5 million. And in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott (R) flexed his self-funding muscles once again, pumping more than $20 million into his Senate campaign against Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonEx-House Intel chair: Intel panel is wrong forum to investigate Trump's finances The Hill's Morning Report - Trump budget reignites border security fight 2020 party politics in Puerto Rico MORE (D-Fla.) between July 1 and Sept. 30, his most recent filings show.

But money doesn't always win elections, and both parties are eagerly watching for other signs of voter enthusiasm ahead of Election Day.

Check out our story on the latest fundraising reports for a more detailed breakdown who's ahead and who's behind.


The 2018 midterms have already cost more than $5 billion, smashing previous records to make this year the most expensive non-presidential contest in American history -- and there are still three weeks to go.

All told, candidates and outside groups trying to win seats in the House and Senate had raised $3.96 billion by the end of last month, according to Federal Election Commission data analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics.

At the state level, the tab for top races add more than a billion dollars to the total.

Don't forget: That money does not include the hundreds of millions poured into television, mail and phone advertising from outside groups. 

The Hill's Reid Wilson breaks down all the jaw-dropping numbers here.


Senate showdown

The fight over Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump's attacks on McCain exacerbate tensions with Senate GOP Schumer to introduce bill naming Senate office building after McCain amid Trump uproar Trump keeps tight grip on GOP MORE's seat is heating up as November nears. Arizona Senate candidates Reps. Kyrsten Sinema (D) and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyTrump's attacks on McCain exacerbate tensions with Senate GOP Republicans defend McCain amid Trump attacks Pentagon agrees to set up McSally's military sexual assault task force MORE (R), battled it out during their debate on Monday, exchanging barbs over President Trump, Sinema's past activism and the cost of beer after tariff hikes.


President Trump is heading to Texas to host a rally with Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzBiden-Abrams ticket would be a genius media move Families of Kenyan victims seek compensation for Ethiopian Airlines crash 737 crisis tests Boeing's clout in Washington MORE (R-Texas) next week. The president's campaign announced that the rally will be held at NRG Arena on Monday.


GOP Senate candidate John James, who seeks to replace Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowChris Evans talks NATO, Marvel secrets on Capitol Hill Overnight Health Care: Senators grill drug execs over high prices | Progressive Dems unveil Medicare for all bill | House Dems to subpoena Trump officials over family separations Senators grill drug execs over high prices MORE (D-Mich.), issued an apology for the brief appearance of a swastika in one of his campaign ads. James called the clip featuring the symbol "stock footage." "I will do everything in my power to make sure this never, ever happens again," he said.


Survey says…

Cruz is hanging on to his high single-digit lead over Rep. Beto O'RourkeRobert (Beto) Francis O'RourkeBannon says an O'Rourke-Harris ticket poses the greatest threat to Trump in 2020 Biden-Abrams ticket would be a genius media move The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump attacks on McCain rattle GOP senators MORE (D-Texas). A new CNN poll conducted by SSRS released Tuesday found Cruz leading by 7 points, 52 to 45 percent, among likely voters. The poll comes in the final three weeks of the midterms and as Cruz and O'Rourke are set to clash in a Tuesday night debate in San Antonio. Read more about what to watch in the debate from The Hill's Lisa Hagen, who's on the ground.


Rep. Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LoveThe 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority Juan Williams: Racial shifts spark fury in Trump and his base Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign MORE (R-Utah) is tied with Democratic Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams in the race for Utah's 4th District, according to a new survey released on Monday by the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics in partnership with The Salt Lake Tribune. Both candidates garnered 46 percent support, while 8 percent remains undecided.


Rep. Chris CollinsChristopher (Chris) Carl CollinsThe 23 Republicans who voted against the anti-hate resolution House passes anti-hate measure amid Dem tensions Don’t look for House GOP to defy Trump on border wall MORE (R-N.Y.), who's facing charges of insider trading, holds a slim 3-point lead over his Democratic challenger Nate McMurray in a new Siena College/Spectrum News poll. Collins leads McMurray 46 to 43 points.


A new Monmouth University poll shows Republican Carol Miller holding a slim lead over Democrat Richard Ojeda in the race for the open seat in the deep-red West Virginia 3rd congressional district. Miller holds a narrow 3-point lead over Ojeda among likely voters, 48 to 45 percent, which is within the survey's 7.4 point margin of error.


Paper chase

Trump raked in more than $18 million in the third fundraising quarter, bringing his total raised to north of $100 million for his 2020 reelection campaign, according to new FEC documents. Trump has about $35 million cash on hand.


Democratic outside groups are spending big to help Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Manafort sentenced to total of 7.5 years in prison Acting Defense chief calls Graham an 'ally' after tense exchange William Barr is right man for the times MORE (D-N.J.) beat back a challenge from Republican Bob Hugin in deep blue New Jersey, according to The Huffington Post. Senate Majority PAC will spend $3 million.


The Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF) will spend $1 million on a late advertisement to give a boost to Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa), one of the most vulnerable GOP incumbents this cycle. The ad seeks to draw a contrast with state Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D), and seeking to tie her to House Democratic Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump's intraparty feuds divide Republicans House leaders need to modernize Congress for the sake of America 4 in 5 Americans say they support net neutrality: poll MORE (D-Calif.).


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. 22 in Houston


--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

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is out with a handful of new ads attacking Democrats in eight districts stretching from California to New York. Here's a rundown of a few of them:

In California's 10th District, the NRCC is going after Democrat Josh Harder as a "Pelosi liberal," who "naturally supports a complete government takeover of health care." It's the group's latest ad hitting some Democrats for backing a so-called "Medicare for All" proposal.

Likewise, in Michigan's 8th District, the group is targeting Democrat Elissa Slotkin, alleging that she backs "Medicare for All." In fact, Slotkin does not support such a program, but has proposed allowing people to buy into Medicare.

In Colorado's 6th District, the NRCC is going after Democrat Jason Crow for taking money from "special interests," including "trial lawyers, liberal activists and even lobbyists – the very special interests he claims to oppose."

In New York's 22nd District, a new ad from the NRCC is hitting Democrat Anthony Brindisi over his record in the New York State Assembly on veterans issues. "It's shameful," a narrator says in the spot. "We owe them everything. But Anthony Brindisi puts politics over people."


On the other end of the spectrum, House Majority PAC (HMP), a super PAC backing Democratic House candidates, is rolling out a slew of ads in nine districts spanning Minnesota, Texas, Washington, Kansas, New Jersey, Iowa and Arizona.

In Texas's 23rd District, the group is attacking Rep. Will Hurd (R) for backing a GOP-led overhaul of the tax code. "Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdProperty is a fundamental right that is now being threatened The 25 Republicans who defied Trump on emergency declaration The 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority MORE says he's different," a narrator says. "But in Washington, he's just part of the herd, voting with his party for a tax giveaway that benefits the richest Americans and special interests."

In Kansas's 3rd District, HMP is hitting Rep. Kevin Yoder (R) for voting "to let insurance companies gut coverage for Kansans with pre-existing conditions" and to "allow insurance companies to charge older Kansans five times more for their premiums."

And in Kentucky's 6th District, the group is out with a new ad slamming Rep. Andy Barr (R) as "enthusiastic about special interests." The 30-second spot also accuses Barr of supporting a measure that would impose an "age tax" for senior citizens' health coverage.


Wave watch

Democrats are increasingly focusing their efforts to win control of the House on relatively small clusters of districts in states like Pennsylvania and California, The Hill's Reid Wilson reports. Both Democrats and Republicans are already spending tens of millions of dollars in those areas, which are likely to determine who holds the Speaker's gavel for the next two years.


Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam pumped $30 million into conservative groups in September in an effort to help stave off a Democratic "blue wave." CLF, a super PAC aligned with House GOP leadership, received $20 million in all from the couple, while another conservative super PAC, America First Action, got $10 million, Federal Election Commission filings show.


Race for the White House

Michael Avenatti, a lawyer for adult-film star Stormy Daniels, has repeatedly floated the notion that he could mount a bid for the White House in 2020. But some Democrats worry that the attorney's brash style and aggressive rhetoric could ultimately drag the party into the gutter," The Hill's Amie Parnes reports. "There's a difference between getting in the gutter and being tough, and I don't think Michael Avenatti understands that," Patti Solis Doyle, who managed Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBannon says an O'Rourke-Harris ticket poses the greatest threat to Trump in 2020 Biden-Abrams ticket would be a genius media move Assange lawyer says he's declined to cooperate with Nadler's document requests MORE's 2008 presidential campaign, said.


Former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenTrump has lost support from male voters since shutdown, analysis shows Biden-Abrams ticket would be a genius media move The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump attacks on McCain rattle GOP senators MORE is heading to Nevada, where he'll appear at the Culinary Workers Union, Politico reports. It will be the rumored 2020 contender's latest trip to a key early primary state. Biden paid a visit to South Carolina, another early voting state, last weekend.


Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro announced that he is "likely" to run for president in 2020. However, he will not commit until after the 2018 election cycle finishes, he clarified in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine.


The Hill's Election Countdown was written by Lisa Hagen, Max Greenwood, Rachel Cohen and Kenna Sturgeon.