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 TrumpMeet the lawyer Democrats call when it's recount time Avenatti denies domestic violence allegations: 'I have never struck a woman' Trump names handbag designer as ambassador to South Africa MORE won in 2016 are leading their Republican opponents in the money race. Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskill2020 politics make an immigration deal unlikely in lame-duck Mellman: The triumph of partisanship The Memo: Dem hopes for 2020 grow in midterms afterglow 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 Heitkamp2020 politics make an immigration deal unlikely in lame-duck Mellman: The triumph of partisanship GOP nerves on edge after Sinema takes lead over McSally 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 CramerRick Scott appears with GOP senators, ignores voter fraud question as recount continues How President Trump won last night The Hill's Morning Report — Split decision: Dems take House, GOP retains Senate majority 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 Donnelly2020 politics make an immigration deal unlikely in lame-duck Mellman: The triumph of partisanship The Memo: Dem hopes for 2020 grow in midterms afterglow 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 NelsonMeet the lawyer Democrats call when it's recount time Election Countdown: Hyde-Smith's 'public hanging' joke shakes up Mississippi runoff | New lawsuits in Florida | Trump wants Florida election official fired | Mia Love sues to stop Utah vote count | Republican MacArthur loses NJ House race Jeb Bush to Bill Nelson: 'Stop the lawsuits' and 'don’t tarnish your years of service' 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 FlakeFlake says he'll oppose judicial nominees until Mueller bill gets vote Bill to protect Mueller blocked in Senate Sinema: ‘I would have considered’ a challenger to Schumer MORE's seat is heating up as November nears. Arizona Senate candidates Reps. Kyrsten Sinema (D) and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyHouse GOP returns to Washington after sobering midterm losses Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — First lady's office pushes for ouster of national security aide | Trump taps retired general as ambassador to Saudis | Mattis to visit border troops | Record number of female veterans to serve in Congress Election Countdown: Lawsuits fly in Florida recount fight | Nelson pushes to extend deadline | Judge says Georgia county violated Civil Rights Act | Biden, Sanders lead 2020 Dem field in poll | Bloomberg to decide on 2020 by February 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 CruzO'Rourke receives invite to visit Iowa from Democratic Party in Des Moines O'Rourke and Cruz run into each other at Texas airport Texas congresswoman-elect says she would ‘love’ to see Beto run in 2020 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 StabenowSchumer reelected as Senate Democratic Leader Senate GOP readies for leadership reshuffle Battle looms over funding for Trump's border wall 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'RourkeTrump 'simply wants to keep people out' of US, says recently elected Texas Dem Incoming Dem lawmaker from Texas says Nielsen should be replaced as DHS chief Election Countdown: Lawsuits fly in Florida recount fight | Nelson pushes to extend deadline | Judge says Georgia county violated Civil Rights Act | Biden, Sanders lead 2020 Dem field in poll | Bloomberg to decide on 2020 by February 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) LoveElection Countdown: Hyde-Smith's 'public hanging' joke shakes up Mississippi runoff | New lawsuits in Florida | Trump wants Florida election official fired | Mia Love sues to stop Utah vote count | Republican MacArthur loses NJ House race Mia Love suing to stop vote count in Utah Defeated Republicans mocked by Trump fire back at president 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 CollinsElection Countdown: Lawsuits fly in Florida recount fight | Nelson pushes to extend deadline | Judge says Georgia county violated Civil Rights Act | Biden, Sanders lead 2020 Dem field in poll | Bloomberg to decide on 2020 by February Proposed House GOP rules would force indicted lawmakers to step down from leader roles: report GOP Rep. Chris Collins wins reelection in NY despite insider trading charges 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) MenendezPro-Israel organizations should finally seek payback against Iran deal Dems Trump lowers refugee goal to 30,000, he must meet it Blame Senate, not FBI, for Kavanaugh travesty 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 PelosiPelosi and her opponents voice confidence over Speakership battle House Dems split on how to tackle climate change Overnight Energy: House Dems at odds over how to handle climate change | Trump shows support to California over wildfires | Zinke calls fires worse than Iraq war zones 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

Debates:

--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 HurdMidterm results shake up national map Election Countdown: Lawsuits fly in Florida recount fight | Nelson pushes to extend deadline | Judge says Georgia county violated Civil Rights Act | Biden, Sanders lead 2020 Dem field in poll | Bloomberg to decide on 2020 by February How Republicans who voted against ObamaCare repeal fared in midterms 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 ClintonMeet the lawyer Democrats call when it's recount time Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Mattis defends border deployment during visit to troops | Bolton aide exits WH after clash with first lady | House blocks Yemen war resolution | Report warns of erosion in US military superiority Exit polls show more women breaking with Republicans MORE's 2008 presidential campaign, said.

 

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenMeet the lawyer Democrats call when it's recount time O'Rourke receives invite to visit Iowa from Democratic Party in Des Moines Nearly six in ten want someone other than Trump elected president in 2020: poll 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.