Election Countdown: Small-donor donations explode | Russian woman charged with midterm interference | Takeaways from North Dakota Senate debate | O'Rourke gives 'definitive no' to 2020 run | Dems hope Latino voters turn Arizona blue

Election Countdown: Small-donor donations explode | Russian woman charged with midterm interference | Takeaways from North Dakota Senate debate | O'Rourke gives 'definitive no' to 2020 run | Dems hope Latino voters turn Arizona blue

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 18 days until the 2018 midterm elections and 746 days until the 2020 elections.


Small-dollar donors are playing an increasingly prominent role in bankrolling campaigns.

Right now, Democratic candidates running for seats in the House and Senate appear to be reaping the biggest rewards from low-dollar donations.

For example, In the race for Wisconsin's 1st congressional district, 43 percent of the individual contributions brought in by Democrat Randy Bryce between July 26 and Sept. 30 came from donations of $200 or less, his most recent FEC filings show. Meanwhile, only 17 percent of the individual contributions to his Republican opponent, Bryan Steil, were from small donors.

More than 70 Democratic challengers in some of the country's most competitive House and Senate races outraised Republican incumbents in the third fundraising quarter of 2018. That's in no small part due to the influx in small-dollar contributions.

But on the Republican sidePresident TrumpDonald John TrumpSchiff urges GOP colleagues to share private concerns about Trump publicly US-China trade talks draw criticism for lack of women in pictures Overnight Defense: Trump to leave 200 troops in Syria | Trump, Kim plan one-on-one meeting | Pentagon asks DHS to justify moving funds for border wall MORE is also pulling in massive amounts of cash from small donors. Between July 1 and Sept. 30, his campaign raked in more than $18 million. Of that, roughly $2.9 million came from donors giving $200 or less, federal filings show.

Taken together, the surge in low-dollar contributions signals the increasing influence of small donors in campaign politics. Strategists and operatives from both sides of the aisle say that the fundraising strategy is helping the parties map out a new model for campaign finance.

"The fact that challengers are raising this kind of money without being self-funders or taking corporate PAC money -- it sort of reinforces that this is a new model for how we fund campaigns," said Navin Nayak, the executive director of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Check out our in-depth look into the small-donor surge here.


Senate showdown

Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampOvernight 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 Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary On The Money: Shutdown Day 27 | Trump fires back at Pelosi by canceling her foreign travel | Dems blast 'petty' move | Trump also cancels delegation to Davos | House votes to disapprove of Trump lifting Russia sanction MORE (D-N.D.) and Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerSenators highlight threat from invasive species Overnight Defense: Top general wasn't consulted on Syria withdrawal | Senate passes bill breaking with Trump on Syria | What to watch for in State of the Union | US, South Korea reach deal on troop costs GOP senators think Trump would win vote on emergency declaration MORE (R-N.D.) traded barbs in the first debate of the North Dakota Senate race on Thursday night, dueling over immigration, health care and Trump's trade war. The most heated topic of the evening? An ad run earlier this year by Heitkamp that accused Cramer of giving himself a pay raise during his tenure on the state Public Service Commission.


Former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenHarry Reid says he won’t make 2020 endorsement until after Nevada caucus Hillary Clinton met with Biden, Klobuchar to talk 2020: report The Hill's Morning Report - What to watch for as Mueller’s probe winds down MORE is set for two days of appearances alongside Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William Nelson2020 party politics in Puerto Rico There is no winning without Latinos as part of your coalition Dem 2020 candidates court Puerto Rico as long nomination contest looms MORE (D-Fla.) in Florida. The so-called "Winning Ticket Rallies" on Monday and Tuesday will take the former vice president and rumored 2020 contender to Tampa, Jacksonville and Orlando, and mark his latest stop in a key presidential primary state.


In more Florida newsHillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillicon Valley: Trump pushes to speed up 5G rollout | Judge hits Roger Stone with full gag order | Google ends forced arbitration | Advertisers leave YouTube after report on pedophile ring 4 ways Hillary looms over the 2020 race Hillary Clinton met with Biden, Klobuchar to talk 2020: report MORE will join Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Andrew Gillum for a series of private fundraising events on Tuesday, a campaign aide for Gillum tells The Hill. Gillum's campaign previously said that Clinton would stump for the Tallahassee mayor in South Florida, but did not release details about the nature of the event.


Republicans are feeling good about their chances of not only holding control of the Senate, but expanding their majority, Politico reports. Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerInviting Kim Jong Un to Washington Dems face tough vote on Green New Deal The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump escalates fight with NY Times MORE (R-Colo.), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), reportedly told donors this week that he believes the GOP will emerge victorious in most of the competitive Senate races this year, including in North Dakota, Missouri, Florida, Indiana and Nevada.


Election security watch

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Friday charged a Russian woman with participating in a conspiracy to influence next month's midterm elections, underlying the degree to which Moscow is seeking to interfere in the United States.

The timing of the complaint, which was unsealed as U.S. intelligence officials issued a warning on foreign influence campaigns, sends a dire message to voters on the scope of the efforts to sway U.S. opinion, even as no evidence points to interference with U.S. election infrastructure, The Hill's Jacqueline Thomsen reports.


Also Friday, U.S. national security agencies said they are concerned about "ongoing campaigns" by Russia, China and Iran to interfere in American politics, The Hill's Jordan Fabian reports.


Survey says…

Phoenix-based pollster Data Orbital is out with a new survey in Arizona's closely watched Senate race – and it brings good news for Democrats. The poll shows Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) leading Rep. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyArmy calls base housing hazards 'unconscionable,' details steps to protect families Poll shows McSally, Kelly tied in Arizona Senate race Mark Kelly's campaign raises over M in days after launching Senate bid MORE (R) by an 8-point margin. Another 7.4 percent of respondents remain undecided, according to the poll, which surveyed 600 likely voters and has a margin of error of about 4 percent.


In Nevada's Senate race, Democrat Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenFemale Dems see double standard in Klobuchar accusations Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump administration secretly shipped plutonium to Nevada MORE leads incumbent Sen. Dean Heller (R) by a narrow 2-point margin, according to a new survey from the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling (PPP). According to the survey, Rosen leads Heller 48 percent to 46 percent. Heller is considered among the most vulnerable Republicans seeking reelection this year, but has seen an uptick in several recent polls, raising GOP hopes of holding onto the Nevada Senate seat.


Paper chase

Candidates for House and Senate aren't the only ones raking it in. Campaign committees and outside groups on both sides of the aisle announced high-dollar hauls for the month of September as they continue to flood the airwaves with TV ads over the final weeks.


On the Dem side, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced that it raised a record $22.2 million in September, with $8.9 million of that from online donations. The DCCC ended the month with $30.7 million in the bank. Meanwhile, in the fight for the upper chamber, Senate Majority PAC (SMP), the super PAC tasked with helping Democrats win back the Senate, brought in $17.6 million in September.


On the GOP side, Senate Leadership Fund (SLF) raised $37.6 million in September, according to Politico. SLF, which is working to preserve the Republicans' slim 51-seat majority, outraised Democrats' SMP by $20 million last month. SLF's affiliated nonprofit, One Nation, also raised $13.85 million in September.


Progressive group MoveOn announced Friday that it has raised more than $1 million for non-incumbent, black women candidates this year, like Georgia gubernatorial hopeful Stacey Abrams. That money was raised through tens of thousands of low-dollar contributions, the group said, another sign that small donors are playing a larger role in funding campaigns.


Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) raised nearly $5.1 million for her bid to unseat incumbent Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerTrump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary Oregon Dem top recipient of 2018 marijuana industry money, study finds MORE (R-Nev.) in the period from Oct. 1 and Oct. 17, according to numbers shared first with The Hill on Friday. That's a remarkable haul for a roughly two-and-a-half week span. For comparison, Rosen raised just under $7.1 million between July 1 and Sept. 30.


What we're watching for

Campaign trail:

--Donald Trump Jr.Donald (Don) John TrumpAnother New York condo votes to remove 'Trump' from name Trump's son attacks LGBT magazine op-ed that calls effort to decriminalize homosexuality 'racist' Gillibrand uses Trump Jr. tweet to fundraise MORE, the president's eldest son, is set to campaign for West Virginia GOP Senate hopeful Patrick Morrisey on Oct. 22.

--Hillary Clinton will attend fundraisers for Gillum in south Florida on Oct. 23


Trump rallies:

--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


Debates: (All ET)

--Oct. 19: Nevada Senate debate at 9 p.m.; 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.

--Oct. 26: North Dakota Senate debate at 8 p.m.


Coming to a TV near you

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) is dropping two new TV ads, each with remarkably different tones.

In the first spot, Nelson touts himself as a fifth-generation Floridian, willing to stand up to Trump.

"When President Trump asks for something that's good for him and bad for Florida, I know what I'll do. I'll say no," he says in one ad. "We all know what Rick Scott will do. He'll say yes." The second spot mounts an attack on Nelson's Senate opponent, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, accusing him of self-serving politics and exacerbating the state's toxic algae crisis. "He's so slimy. Let's leave him in Tallahassee," a narrator says in the ad. "We can't trust 'Red-Tide Rick.'"


In another ad blitz, CLF is out with three new ads targeting Democrats in California and Washington. In one spot, the super PAC goes after Democrat Katie Hill, who's challenging Rep. Steve Knight (R-Calif.) in California's 25th District. It slams her for voting against a Republican tax cut package and says she would take the district "backwards."


In a second spot that rolled out on Friday, the group attacks another California Democrat, Katie Porter, who's looking to oust Rep. Mimi Walters (R-Calif.) in the state's 45th congressional district. "Katie Porter wants to grow government and raise taxes," a narrator says in the spot. "Porter would rubber-stamp Pelosi's liberal agenda."


The group is also going after Democrat Kim Schrier, who's in a heated race against Republican Dino Rossi in Washington's 8th district. "More partisan gridlock. That's what we get with Kim Schrier. One thing Schrier would get done fast? Higher taxes," a narrator says in the ad.


Wave watch

Democrats are investing big in voter registration and turnout initiatives targeting Latino voters in Arizona, The Hill's Rafael Bernalreports. The party is hoping that shifting demographics in the state, as well as Trump's harsh rhetoric on immigration will drive Latino voters to vote for Democrats in November and put the state in the blue column.


Republicans are opening up a new line of attack, warning voters of the threat that liberal committee chairs could pose to Trump and his agenda if Democrats retake control the House in November, The Hill's Juliegrace Brufke and Scott Wong report. The GOP has long targeted House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiOn The Money: Senate Dems to introduce resolution blocking Trump emergency declaration | Banks made billion in extra profits thanks to GOP tax law | IRS analyst charged with leaking Cohen's financial records Coast Guard lieutenant accused of planning domestic terrorism denied bail Inviting Kim Jong Un to Washington MORE (D-Calif.) as a sort of bogeyman of the left. But now they're expanding those attacks to include Reps. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersPrivate insurance plays a critical part in home mortgage ecosystem On The Money: Lawmakers closing in on border deal | Dems build case for Trump tax returns | Trump, Xi won't meet before trade deadline | Waters in talks with Mnuchin for testimony Waters in talks with Mnuchin for testimony on lifting of sanctions on Russian firms MORE (Calif.), Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsCohen to testify before Senate Intel on Tuesday Five takeaways from McCabe’s allegations against Trump Jordan says Oversight should be more focused on McCabe, Rosenstein ahead of Cohen testimony MORE (Md.) and other top Democrats poised to take control of key committees under a Democratic majority.


Race for the White House

Rep. Beto O'RourkeRobert (Beto) Francis O'RourkeTrump endorses Cornyn for reelection as O'Rourke mulls challenge The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump escalates fight with NY Times Sanders on Trump insult: Crazy that president 'is a racist, a sexist, a xenophobe and a fraud' MORE's (D-Texas) Senate bid against GOP Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzInviting Kim Jong Un to Washington Trump endorses Cornyn for reelection as O'Rourke mulls challenge O’Rourke not ruling out being vice presidential candidate MORE has elevated him to the level of Democratic rockstar. But even at that, he's got no plans to mount a 2020 bid for the White House. Asked during a CNN town hall on Thursday whether he has presidential aspirations, O'Rourke gave a hard "no." "The answer is no," he said. "Our children are 11, they're 10, and they're 7 years old. We've told them we're going to take these almost two years out of our life to run this race, and then we're devoted and committed to being a family again."


Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerKamala Harris: Trump administration ‘targeting’ California for political purposes Gillibrand to appear on Fox News Monday night Overnight Energy: Trump ends talks with California on car emissions | Dems face tough vote on Green New Deal | Climate PAC backing Inslee in possible 2020 run MORE (D-N.J.) held a "get out the vote" event in South Carolina on Thursday, where he slammed the Trump administration over the disappearance of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. The visit to South Carolina – a key early voting state in presidential primaries – is likely to fuel speculation that Booker is eyeing a 2020 challenge to Trump.


A top aide for Hillary Clinton told Politico in an interview that the two-time Democratic presidential candidate hasn't ruled out a 2020 bid against Trump. But he stressed that it's unlikely that the former secretary of State runs again. "It's somewhere between highly unlikely and zero," Philippe Reines said in the interview. "But it's not zero."


What they're saying

In an op-edCesar Vargas and Yesenia Mata, two former advisers to Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersKamala Harris: Trump administration ‘targeting’ California for political purposes Harry Reid says he won’t make 2020 endorsement until after Nevada caucus Gillibrand to appear on Fox News Monday night MORE (I-Vt.) presidential campaign, argue while the senator's age should not disqualify him from seeking the Oval Office. It comes days after another rumored 2020 contender, former Vice President Joe Biden, said his age would be fair game for criticism if he mounts a White House bid.