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 CruzCNN town halls put network at center of Dem primary The Memo: Trump can't let go of McCain grudge Michael Bennet is close to deciding on possible presidential bid 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 TrumpMueller report findings could be a 'good day' for Trump, Dem senator says Trump officials heading to China for trade talks next week Showdown looms over Mueller report 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 GrahamDem senator: 'Appropriate' for Barr, Mueller to testify publicly about Russia probe Conservatives wage assault on Mueller report Graham expects 'thorough' briefing on Mueller report 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 HeitkampRed dresses displayed around American Indian museum to memorialize missing, murdered native women Lobbying World Lobbying World 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) TesterSanders, Ocasio-Cortez back 'end the forever war' pledge Dems wrestle over how to vote on ‘Green New Deal’ White House pleads with Senate GOP on emergency declaration MORE (D-Mont.) and 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-Ind.), as well as Reps. Pete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsAs Russia collusion fades, Ukrainian plot to help Clinton emerges Top Ukrainian justice official says US ambassador gave him a do not prosecute list Dem campaign chief: Medicare for All price tag 'a little scary' MORE (R-Texas) and Steve ChabotSteven (Steve) Joseph ChabotHouse passes series of measures hitting Russia, Putin Trump applauded for walking away from 'bad' North Korea deal The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sanders set to shake up 2020 race 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 TrumpIf Mueller's report lacks indictments, collusion is a delusion Bill Maher questions whether Democrats put 'too much trust' in Mueller report Kushner to cooperate with Judiciary document requests 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 CramerOn The Money: Trump reverses North Korea sanctions imposed by Treasury | Trump to nominate Stephen Moore to Fed | Monthly deficit hits record 4 billion | IRS expands penalty relief for taxpayers Overnight 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 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 RoyceFormer GOP chairman Royce joins lobbying shop Lawmakers propose banning shark fin trade Bottom Line 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 BidenBooker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements Former Georgia candidate asks Abrams be given 'space' amid 2020 buzz Biden team denies 'pre-cooked plan' of Abrams as early running-mate pick 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 MoultonJared Kushner's brother made last-minute donation to Beto O'Rourke Senate campaign The Hill's Morning Report - Boeing crisis a test for Trump administration We could have less than 5 years to save the North Atlantic right whale MORE (D-Mass.), a strong critic of House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiPelosi, Dems plot strategy after end of Mueller probe Coons after Russia probe: House Dems need to use power in 'focused and responsible way' Trump, Congress brace for Mueller findings 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 MarkeyBooker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements Overnight Energy: Interior reverses decision at heart of Zinke criminal probe | Dem divisions deepen over approach to climate change | GM to add 400 workers to build electric cars Why is my party prioritizing an extreme environmental agenda? MORE (D-Mass.) in 2020.

 

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisKamala Harris to pitch using federal funds to give teachers pay raises Dem senator: 'Appropriate' for Barr, Mueller to testify publicly about Russia probe Here's what the Dem candidates for president said about the Mueller report 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.