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 TrumpCensus Bureau spends millions on ad campaign to mitigate fears on excluded citizenship question Bloomberg campaign: Primary is two-way race with Sanders Democratic senator meets with Iranian foreign minister MORE won in 2016 are leading their Republican opponents in the money race. Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillDemocrats criticize Medal of Freedom for Limbaugh as 'slap in the face' Kansas City, Kan., responds to Trump tweet: We root for the Chiefs, too Trump mocked for Super Bowl tweet confusing Missouri for Kansas 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 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.), who's considered one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats up for reelection, beat out her challenger, Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerTrump Fed nominee stirs controversy ahead of hearing Senators, bruised by impeachment, hunt for deals Plan to probe Bidens sparks GOP divisions 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 DonnellyGinsburg health scare raises prospect of election year Supreme Court battle Watchdog accuses pro-Kavanaugh group of sending illegal robotexts in 2018 Lobbying world 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 NelsonThe most expensive congressional races of the last decade Lobbying world Bottom Line 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 FlakeMcSally launches 2020 campaign Sinema will vote to convict Trump Senate drama surrounding Trump trial starts to fizzle MORE's seat is heating up as November nears. Arizona Senate candidates Reps. Kyrsten Sinema (D) and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyErnst endorses bipartisan Grassley-Wyden bill to lower drug prices Eleventh Democratic presidential debate to be held in Phoenix The Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats brace for New Hampshire results 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 CruzTed Cruz takes aim at Alabama vasectomy bill: 'Yikes' 'Medicare for All' will turn into health care for none Cruz 'impresses' his daughter with Chris Evans meeting 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 StabenowGAO launches investigation into Trump aid for farmers Democrats worried about Trump's growing strength GAO to review Trump administration's billion farm bailout 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'RourkeBeto O'RourkeKrystal Ball: Voters are coming to their own judgements about who is electable Warren campaign to host series of events in Texas Democrat attacks Trump's rhetoric, policies in Spanish-language State of the Union response 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 biggest political upsets of the decade Former GOP lawmaker: Trump's tweets have to stop Congressional Women's Softball team releases roster 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 CollinsFormer Rep. Chris Collins sentenced to 2 years in prison for insider trading GOP leaders encourage retiring lawmakers to give up committee posts Democrats running to replace Duncan Hunter, Chris Collins vow to support ethics package 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) MenendezMenendez calls for 'Marie Yovanovitch bill' to protect foreign service employees Senators condemn UN 'blacklisting' of US companies in Israeli settlements Media's selective outrage exposed in McSally-Raju kerfuffle 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 PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - Sanders on the rise as Nevada debate looms Lawmakers push back at Trump's Pentagon funding grab for wall Malaysia says it will choose 5G partners based on own standards, not US recommendations 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 HurdTrump to attend California fundraiser with Oracle chairman The Hill's Morning Report - Nearing witness vote, GOP rushes to acquit Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Trump defense rests, GOP struggles to bar witnesses 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 ClintonOmar endorses progressive Georgia Democrat running for House seat Bernie Sanders's Super Tuesday problem Democrats worried about Trump's growing strength MORE's 2008 presidential campaign, said.


Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBloomberg campaign: Primary is two-way race with Sanders HuffPost reporter: Sanders could win plurality of delegates but lose nomination Meghan McCain to Joy Behar: 'You guys have done a piss-poor job of convincing me that I should vote for a Democrat' 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.