Election Countdown: O'Rourke goes on the attack | Takeaways from fiery second Texas Senate debate | Heitkamp apologizes for ad misidentifying abuse victims | Trump Jr. to rally for Manchin challenger | Rick Scott leaves trail to deal with hurricane damage

Election Countdown: O'Rourke goes on the attack | Takeaways from fiery second Texas Senate debate | Heitkamp apologizes for ad misidentifying abuse victims | Trump Jr. to rally for Manchin challenger | Rick Scott leaves trail to deal with hurricane damage
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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 20 days until the 2018 midterm elections and 748 days until the 2020 elections.

 

SAN ANTONIO — The second and likely final Texas Senate debate brought the heat to San Antonio on a frigid, rainy Tuesday night.

As expected, Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) went on offense after previously shying away from the attack. He railed against Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward Cruz5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony Republicans seek to temper fallout from latest Russia bombshells Cruz says Americans outside Beltway unconcerned with Mueller investigation MORE (R-Texas) for being “dishonest” and taking his focus off of Texas while running for president in 2016. He also brought back President TrumpDonald John TrumpVeterans groups demand end to shutdown: 'Get your act together' Brown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration Pence on border wall: Trump won't be ‘deterred’ by Dem ‘obstruction’ MORE’s memorable nickname for the senator: "Lyin’ Ted."

“He’s dishonest,” O’Rourke shot back. "That’s why [Trump's] nickname stuck."

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O’Rourke addressed his change of tone in a Wednesday interview with the San Antonio Express-News editorial board, saying he needed to counter Cruz’s “false” attacks. O’Rourke also started running several attack ads against Cruz on Wednesday on education and immigration.

 

But it’s unclear if the debate actually moved the needle. O’Rourke continues to trail Cruz, with the latest public poll showing the GOP senator comfortably up 7 points. And the GOP senator and his allies are sounding even more confident about winning a second Senate term.

Speaking with reporters after a private roundtable with law enforcement on Wednesday, Cruz voiced optimism about November: “I feel very good where we are. I think the people of Texas in the last month have really started to focus on this race.”

Cruz continued to frame O’Rourke as out of touch with Texans, accusing the Democratic congressman of wanting open borders and “socialized medicine.” And Cruz threw in his own jab about O’Rourke’s attacks.

“It’s interesting is that Congressman O’Rourke likes to talk about bipartisanship, but for him bipartisanship apparently consists of throwing insults, a lot of personal insults last night, and calling for impeaching Trump,” Cruz said. “That’s not bipartisanship.”

 

If you missed the second debate between O'Rourke and Cruz last night, The Hill's Lisa Hagen was at the debate in San Antonio. Check out her five takeaways here to get up to speed. And click here for our live blow-by-blow of the debate.

 

Senate showdown

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamPence on border wall: Trump won't be ‘deterred’ by Dem ‘obstruction’ AG pick Barr emphasizes independence from Trump Leaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight MORE (R-SC) is set to hit the campaign trail for 12 days to stump for Republican candidates, McClatchy DC reports. “If I can help some of our candidates raise a little money and get a little enthusiasm, it’ll be time well spent,” Graham said. He has not released his travel schedule, but he confirmed he will campaign for Gov. Henry McMaster (R-S.C.), who has consistently polled ahead of his Democratic challenger state Rep. James Smith.

 

Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampEPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks 2020 Election: Democrats can’t afford to ignore their Israel problem Hirono will donate salary earned during government shutdown MORE (D-N.D.) apologized on Tuesday for a campaign ad that misidentified several women as victims of sexual abuse. "I deeply regret this mistake and we are in the process of issuing a retraction, personally apologizing to each of the people impacted by this and taking the necessary steps to ensure this never happens again,” Heitkamp said.

 

Survey says…

Democrats lead Republicans by 5 points on the generic ballot, a new poll by The Economist and YouGov shows. That survey shows male voters split 45 percent to 45 percent between Democrats and Republicans, while Democrats held the edge among female voters at 47 percent to 38 percent. The poll is the latest good sign for Democrats as they look to retake control of the House in November.

 

On the other hand... a new survey from conservative-leaning pollster Rasmussen shows a closer race, with Democrats holding only a 1-point edge over Republicans – still within the poll’s 2-point margin of error. Seven percent of respondents said they were still undecided on how they will vote, while 4 percent said they preferred a candidate from neither party.

 

Paper chase

The political arm of the largest American credit union trade group is investing $1.8 million in ads for vulnerable Democrats and Republicans who have previously promoted legislation supported by the credit union. With less than three weeks before Election Day, the Credit Union National Association’s PAC will put out digital, mail and radio ads boosting Sens. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterSome Senate Dems see Ocasio-Cortez as weak spokeswoman for party Three GOP Senate candidates, NRA may have illegally coordinated ads: report Immigration is pressure point for both sides in shutdown showdown MORE (D-Mont.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyEPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks Some Senate Dems see Ocasio-Cortez as weak spokeswoman for party Senate approves funding bill, preventing partial government shutdown MORE (D-Ind.), as well as Reps. Pete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsTop 10 events of 2018 that shaped marijuana policy Washington braces for lengthy shutdown Lawmakers shrug off shutdown drama MORE (R-Texas) and Steve ChabotSteven (Steve) Joseph ChabotThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump headed to border as shutdown hits Day 20 | Talks fall apart | Emergency plan could set up clash with GOP House passes resolution calling for release of Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar This week: Lawmakers return to mourn George H.W. Bush MORE (R-Ohio).

 

The Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) on Tuesday alleging that Heritage Action, the political nonprofit arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, violated the law by failing to disclose its donors. The complaint comes after the D.C. District Court ordered so-called dark money groups to disclose donors who gave for “political purposes.”

 

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, Texas

Donald Trump Jr.Donald (Don) John TrumpCNN's Gergen: Trump discouraging next generation from civil service The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump AG pick Barr grilled at hearing | Judge rules against census citizenship question | McConnell blocks second House bill to reopen government Trump shares article blasting federal workers, calling for long shutdown MORE, the president’s eldest son, is also set to campaign for West Virginia GOP Senate hopeful Patrick Morrisey on Oct. 22.

 

Debates:

--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.; Florida gubernatorial debate at 8 p.m.

--Oct. 23: Georgia gubernatorial debate at 7 p.m.

--Oct. 24: Florida gubernatorial debate at 7 p.m.; New Jersey Senate debate at 8 p.m.

 

Coming to a TV near you

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) is seizing on Heitkamp’s vote against Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court in a new ad. The spot casts Kavanaugh’s presence on the court as a bulwark against efforts to erode gun rights and also touts Heitkamp’s opponent, Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerHopes fade for bipartisan bills in age of confrontation GOP senators propose bill to pay 'excepted' workers during shutdown Senators say questions remain on Trump strategy in Syria after briefing MORE (R-N.D.), as “the only candidate for Senate with an A rating from the NRA.”

 

Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF), a super PAC aligned with House GOP leadership, is rolling out a new ad in New York’s 19th District attacking Democrat Antonio Delgado for his “liberal New York City values.” The 30-second spot accuses him of wanting to raise taxes in Upstate New York to fund “big-city big government.”

 

O’Rourke has begun to air attack ads against Cruz – a break from his previous strategy. The three ads criticize Cruz for his stances on health care, education, and immigration, the Texas Tribune reports. In each of the 30-second clips, O’Rourke knocks Cruz’s position on an issue before offering his solution.

 

Comedian Joe Lo Truglio, of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Reno 911! fame, is starring in $10 million worth of digital ads for state legislative races. The ad buy, which organizers say is the largest ever online campaign focused on state-level down-ballot races, is targeted at 80 districts across six states: North Carolina, Florida, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Michigan, and will appear on YouTube, Hulu and Facebook.

 

Wave watch

Orange County, Calif. has emerged as a key battleground for control of the House, the Associated Press reports. Shifting demographics in the districts either completely or partially in the county southeast of Los Angeles have rattled the Republican Party’s longtime hold on the area. The battle between Democrat Gil Cisneros and Republican Young Kim to replace retiring Rep. Ed RoyceEdward (Ed) Randall RoyceBottom Line Exiting lawmakers jockey for K Street perch House passes resolution calling for release of Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar MORE (R-Calif.) in California’s 39th District encapsulates the broader changes in Orange County.

 

The Democratic Party is pulling more than $800,000 worth of ads for David Shapiro in Florida’s 16 District, the Tampa Bay Times reports. The move comes as polls indicate incumbent Rep. Vern BuchananVernon Gale BuchananMORE (R-Fla.) is likely to hold onto his seat in the House. Despite the decision not to pursue the ads, Shapiro has significantly outraised Buchanan in the past two months. His latest federal filing shows that he brought in roughly $1.1 million between July and September, while Buchanan raised about $594,000.

 

Race for the White House

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenBrown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration 5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony Gillibrand announces exploratory committee to run for president on Colbert MORE says it would be “totally appropriate” for people to consider his age should he mount a presidential bid in 2020. "I think it's totally appropriate for people to look at me and say if I were to run for office again, 'Well God darn you're old,'” Biden reportedly said Tuesday during an appearance at the Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan.

 

Rep. Seth MoultonSeth Wilbur MoultonDemocrats must prove they are worthy of their House majority This week: Shutdown showdown looms over new Congress House lawmakers look to reassure Australia after Mattis resignation MORE (D-Mass.), a strong critic of House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiVeterans groups demand end to shutdown: 'Get your act together' On The Money: Shutdown Day 25 | Dems reject White House invite for talks | Leaders nix recess with no deal | McConnell blocks second House Dem funding bill | IRS workers called back for tax-filing season | Senate bucks Trump on Russia sanctions Overnight Defense: Trump faces blowback over report he discussed leaving NATO | Pentagon extends mission on border | Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions MORE (D-Calif.), insists he is not running for president. “I don’t think it’s the best way I can serve the country right now. If that were to change, I would consider it, but I don’t think that’s the best way I can serve the country,” Moulton told McClatchy DC. He also ruled out running for House Speaker and challenging Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyOvernight Energy: Watchdog investigating EPA enforcement numbers | EPA's Wheeler faces Senate grilling | Interior's offshore drilling staff returning to work during shutdown EPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks Ocasio-Cortez, progressives express disappointment with climate panel MORE (D-Mass.) in 2020.

 

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBrown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration 5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony Kamala Harris releases 'mixtape' on 'The Late Show' amid 2020 speculation MORE (D-Calif.) hasn’t announced yet whether she’ll make a run for the White House. But her advisers are quietly mapping out a potential strategy for the 2020 Democratic primary, Politico reports. That strategy puts a lot of weight on Iowa – the first state to vote in the presidential primaries – as well as on other key early voting states in the southeast and west, like Nevada and South Carolina.

 

In case you missed it

Florida Gov. Rick Scott won’t hold any more campaign events “for the foreseeable future,” as he deals with the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, the Tampa Bay Times reported Tuesday. “It's unclear, at this point, whether he will hold any campaign events before the November 6 election, though it is still possible closer to election day,” his spokesman, Chris Hartline, told the newspaper.

 

Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen may be willing to campaign for Democrats in the final three weeks before Election Day, CNN reports. Cohen, who registered as a Democrat just last week, pleaded guilty in August federal to violating campaign finance laws among other charges.

 

What they’re saying

In an op-edEmily’s List President Stephanie Schriock and Rita Bosworth, the founder and executive director of the Sister District Project, argue the importance of electing women, not just to national offices, but at the state and local level. “When a legislative body does not look like the people it is intended to represent, its priorities differ from, or even directly contradict, those that the general population cares about,” they write.

 

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