Election Countdown: Florida Senate fight resumes after hurricane | Cruz softens ObamaCare attacks | GOP worries Trump will lose suburban women | Latest Senate polls | Rep. Dave Brat gets Trump's 'total endorsement' | Dem candidates raise record $1B

Election Countdown: Florida Senate fight resumes after hurricane | Cruz softens ObamaCare attacks | GOP worries Trump will lose suburban women | Latest Senate polls | Rep. Dave Brat gets Trump's 'total endorsement' | Dem candidates raise record $1B
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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 19 days until the 2018 midterm elections and 747 days until the 2020 elections.

 

After a brief political ceasefire in the wake of Hurricane Michael, the fight for the Senate in Florida is back on – at least for Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonDemocrats target Florida Hispanics in 2020 Poll: Six Democrats lead Trump in Florida match-ups How Jim Bridenstine recruited an old enemy to advise NASA MORE (D).

The three-term Democrat told the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday that he would hit the campaign trail once again, saying that he has "done everything I can do" on hurricane recovery efforts, at least for the time being.

"I'm going to campaign," Nelson said, according to the newspaper. "I've spent the last week in the Panhandle in those storm ravaged counties, and have done everything I can do and they know to call me if they are getting any hiccups. But in the meantime, I'm going to continue to make my case to the people."

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That's a remarkably different approach than the one his Republican challenger, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, is taking. Scott's campaign announced earlier this week that the governor would take an indefinite hiatus from campaigning, while he dealt with storm recovery efforts.

Make no mistake, Scott's decision to focus on disaster response and recovery is a political strategy in and of itself. The governor has made numerous television appearances to discuss the hurricane and its aftermath as he seeks to show off his leadership chops ahead of the Nov. 6 election. Meanwhile, Scott has dispatched surrogates, including his wife Ann, across the state and his campaign operation is still very much active.

In returning to the campaign trail, Nelson is seeking to reach voters outside Florida's hurricane-stricken panhandle. Just how that strategy plays out remains to be seen. But what's clear is that with less than three weeks to go before Election Day, the Florida Senate race is as unpredictable as the state itself.

 

Senate showdown

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward Cruz2 Republican senators introduce resolution to label antifa as domestic terrorists Ted Cruz: Trump's chances of winning reelection are '50-50' How to reduce Europe's dependence on Russian energy MORE (R- Texas), who once cast himself as the arch nemesis of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), is changing his tone on the issue, vowing during a debate this week to preserve protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions. The remarks underscore how Republicans have moved recently to embrace one of ObamaCare's core provisions amid attacks from Democratic challengers, The Hill's Peter Sullivan reports.

 

Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyDemocrats should rise above and unify against Trump's tweets Trump steps up attacks on 'Squad' after post-rally furor Media cried wolf: Calling every Republican a racist lost its bite MORE, the GOP's 2012 presidential nominee, is leveraging his political weight to boost embattled Republicans in the midterms, Politico reports. As he runs a Senate bid of his own in Utah, Romney is fundraising for other candidates, appearing in television ads and endorsing hopefuls up and down the ballot. His new posture is a break from the low national profile he's kept for much of the year.

 

Survey says…

Democrat Phil Bredesen is leading Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnHillicon Valley: Intel chief creates new election security position | Privacy groups want role in new tech task force | Republicans urge Trump not to delay Pentagon cloud contract Advocates urge senators to work with consumer groups on privacy law Hillicon Valley: Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract | FTC weighs updating kids' internet privacy rules | Schumer calls for FaceApp probe | Report says states need more money to secure elections MORE (R-Tenn.) by 1 point in the Tennessee Senate race, according to a Vanderbilt University poll released Thursday. The finding is remarkably different from other recent polls that have shown Blackburn with a solid lead. One poll by The New York Times and Siena College conducted earlier this month put Blackburn ahead by a whopping 14 points.

 

A Monmouth University poll released Thursday gives Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDemocrats pledge to fight Trump detention policy during trip to border Pompeo changes staff for Russia meeting after concerns raised about top negotiator's ties: report Dem senators demand GOP judicial group discloses donors MORE (D-NJ) a 9-point lead over Republican challenger Bob Hugin – even as 45 percent of respondents reported unfavorable views of the Democratic incumbent. But 56 percent of New Jerseyans say their views on President TrumpDonald John TrumpLiz Cheney: 'Send her back' chant 'inappropriate' but not about race, gender Booker: Trump is 'worse than a racist' Top Democrat insists country hasn't moved on from Mueller MORE are more likely to influence their vote than their views on Menendez.

 

A poll released Wednesday by Gravis Marketing gave Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand GOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries McConnell's Democratic challenger McGrath backtracks on Kavanaugh comments MORE (D-Ind.) a 4-point lead over his Republican challenger Mike Braun, signaling that the first-term Democrat may be in a good position to hold onto his seat. Donnelly is seeking reelection in a state President Trump won handily in 2016 and the race is still considered a toss-up by election handicappers, like the Cook Political Report.

 

Democrat Andrew Gillum is in a virtual dead heat with former Rep. Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisFlorida public schools will be required to provide mental health education for students To win over Midwesterners, Democrats should rethink school choice stance DeSantis wants statue of civil rights activist to replace Confederate figure on Capitol Hill MORE (R-Fla.) in Florida's nationally watched gubernatorial race, a survey by St. Pete Polls shows. The poll put Gillum ahead by a single point – 47 percent to 45.9 percent.

 

Paper chase

Democratic candidates have raked in more than $1 billion so far this year. The figure tops the $900 million Republicans raised in the lead up to the 2012 election cycle. This year, Republicans have raised $709 million through last month. 2018 also marks the first year Democrats have outperformed GOP candidates in direct campaign contributions since 2008.

 

Democratic mega-donor Tom Steyer is pumping $2 million into Gillum's gubernatorial campaign, CNN reports.  At the same time, Steyer's organization, Need to Impeach, is launching a direct mail program targeting 300,000 voters in Florida who have signed his petition to impeach Trump. NextGen America, another group backed by Steyer, has already spent $5 million in support of Gillum.

 

Rep. Chris CollinsChristopher (Chris) Carl CollinsMichael Caputo eyes congressional bid House ethics panel renews probes into three GOP lawmakers The Hill's Morning Report - Barr stiff-arms House following Senate grilling MORE (R-N.Y.) received just $80 from donors in his district after he was indicted in August on insider trading charges. Collins' most recent federal filings show that he raised close to $33,000 in the third quarter of 2018 – down more than $70,000 from the previous quarter. Most of his third-quarter haul came from PACs.

 

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 TrumpTrump campaign selling branded plastic straws as alternative to 'liberal paper straws' The Hill's Morning Report — Trump retreats on census citizenship question Trump set to host controversial social media summit 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

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Dems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand MORE (D-W.Va.) is airing a new ad touting the support of three West Virginia-native sports stars: Bob Huggins, the head coach of the West Virginia Mountaineers men's basketball team; Nick Saban, head football coach at the University of Alabama; and former Los Angeles Lakers player and NBA Hall of Famer Jerry West. "Joe and I grew up together in West Virginia and he never forgets where he came from," Saban says in the ad.

 

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is targeting House candidate Dan Feehan (D- Minn.) in a new ad, connecting him to Democratic billionaire and donor George Soros. The ad also takes swipes at former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and "left-leaning mobs." Feehan, a former veteran and member of the Obama administration, is battling Trump-backed candidate Jim Hagedorn.

 

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi looks to squash fight with progressives MORE (D-Mont.) is rolling out an ad spot hitting his Republican opponent, Matt Rosendale, over his record on veterans' issues. The spot, which labels Rosendale as "Maryland Matt," could carry weight in Montana, where roughly 1 in 10 people are veterans.

 

Wave watch

President Trump's personal attacks on women are fueling GOP fears that the party may lose suburban female voters in November, The Hill's Melanie Zanona reports.

The president's latest insult -- aimed at adult-film actress Stormy Daniels -- comes just three weeks before the midterm elections and right on the heels of a bruising confirmation battle over Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughMcConnell challenger faces tougher path after rocky launch Lindsey Graham's Faustian bargain Liberal, conservative Supreme Court justices unite in praising Stevens MORE.

 

Trump tweeted out an endorsement of Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) Thursday, jumping into the race for Virginia's 7th District. The endorsement comes as Brat, a two-term incumbent, tries to fight off a challenge from Democrat Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA agent who has sought to cast herself as a moderate. A Monmouth University poll conducted last month showed Spanberger leading Brat by 5 points.

 

Democrats are increasingly optimistic about their odds of making inroads in the Midwest – an area of the country that helped catapult Trump to the White House in 2016. The party is betting that a coalition of progressives, college-educated suburban voters and working-class women will help them retake control of the House in November, McClatchy DC reports.

 

Trump is set to headline a fundraiser next week for Republican Jay Webber in Washington. Webber is locked in a heated race against Democrat Mikie Sherrill to replace retiring Rep. Rodney FrelinghuysenRodney Procter FrelinghuysenThe 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority Top House GOP appropriations staffer moves to lobbying shop Individuals with significant disabilities need hope and action MORE (R) in New Jersey's 11th District. Trump endorsed Webber in a tweet last month, calling him "outstanding in every way." In a statement, Webber said that he was "thankful to have the support of the President for our campaign."

 

Trump tweeted Thursday that "all Republicans support people with pre-existing conditions, and if they don't, they will after I speak to them." The tweet comes as Republicans are under fire in races across the country for their votes to repeal ObamaCare and its protections for people with pre-existing conditions, The Hill's Peter Sullivan notes.

 

What they're saying

In an op-ed, Carlos Gustavo Poggio Teixeira, a visiting scholar in the Department of Government at Georgetown University, argues that Democrats are poised to nominate their equivalent of Trump in 2020. But, he writes, "the Democrat's Donald Trump will look a lot different than the original Republican version."

 

Election Countdown was written by Max Greenwood, Rachel Cohen, Kenna Sturgeon, Madeline Rundlett and James Wellemeyer.