Election Countdown: Takeaways from heated Florida governor's debate | DNC chief pushes back on 'blue wave' talk | Manchin faces progressive backlash | Trump heads to Houston rally | Obama in Las Vegas | Signs of huge midterm turnout

Election Countdown: Takeaways from heated Florida governor's debate | DNC chief pushes back on 'blue wave' talk | Manchin faces progressive backlash | Trump heads to Houston rally | Obama in Las Vegas | Signs of huge midterm turnout
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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 15 days until the 2018 midterm elections and 743 days until the 2020 elections.


If you're wondering why the race for Florida governor has gotten more attention than any other contest in the state, look no further than Sunday night's debate.

The debate between Democrat Andrew Gillum and Republican Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisFlorida first lady to miss Women for Trump event due to planned execution Florida governor orders criminal investigation into handling of Jeffrey Epstein case Groups ask court to block ex-felon voting law in Florida MORE underscored the intense partisan divisions on display not just in the gubernatorial race, but in campaigns nationwide. Whether the topic was law enforcement or health care, the two candidates showed that there's little room for agreement.

Sunday night's debate may have been the first time Gillum and DeSantis went toe-to-toe in person – but it won't be the last. The two are set to square off again on Wednesday night in Broward County. Still, it's unclear if the second debate will pick up where the first one left off.

One of the big topics that hasn't yet been addressed: Puerto Rico. The territory and its people have become inextricably linked to Florida politics, especially in the past year after Hurricanes Maria and Irma drove tens of thousands of the island's residents to the state.

Puerto Ricans are becoming an increasingly influential voting bloc in Florida, and both Gillum and DeSantis have aggressively courted them in recent months.

Unlike the debate on Sunday, which was hosted and aired by CNN, Wednesday night's debate won't be broadcast nationwide. It'll be hosted by Leadership Florida and the Florida Press Association, meaning that the candidates will be able to make their cases outside the glare of the national spotlight.

But whether that will set the stage for a more cordial debate remains to be seen. The Hill's Max Greenwood will be covering the second debate from Florida, so be sure to follow his coverage from the Sunshine State throughout the week.


Senate showdown

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOvernight Energy: Green groups sue Trump over Endangered Species Act changes | Bureau of Land Management retirees fight plan to relocate agency | Wildfires in Amazon rainforest burn at record rate Bureau of Land Management retirees fight plan to relocate agency out west GOP senator: Gun control debate 'hasn't changed much at all' back home MORE (D-W.Va.) is facing a wave of backlash from progressives and liberal activists incensed by his vote in favor of Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughMcConnell rejects Democrats' 'radical movement' to abolish filibuster Collins downplays 2020 threat: 'Confident' reelection would go well if she runs The exhaustion of Democrats' anti-Trump delusions MORE's confirmation to the Supreme Court, The Hill's Jordain Carney reports. That vote has already prompted some liberal groups to pull support for the incumbent senator as he faces a tough reelection bid in a state that handed President TrumpDonald John TrumpSarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor The US-Iranian scuffle over a ship is a sideshow to events in the Gulf South Korea: US, North Korea to resume nuclear talks 'soon' MORE and outsize margin of victory.


Trump has been publicly casting the midterm elections as a referendum on his presidency. But privately, he's preparing to blame Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell rejects Democrats' 'radical movement' to abolish filibuster Hickenlooper announces Senate bid Trump orders elimination of student loan debt for thousands of disabled veterans MORE (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanSoaring deficits could put Trump in a corner if there's a recession Paul Ryan moving family to Washington Embattled Juul seeks allies in Washington MORE (R-Wis.) if the GOP loses control of either chamber in November, Politico reports. Trump has told confidants that he sees his bid for a second term in 2020 as "the real election," according to the publication.


Wave watch

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom PerezThomas Edward PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s 'wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE said Monday that he has always thought this year's elections would be close and that he doesn't use the term "blue wave" to describe a possible big win for his party. Sen. Bernie SandersBernie Sanders2020 candidates have the chance to embrace smarter education policies Bernie Sanders Adviser talks criminal justice reform proposal, 'Medicare for All' plan Poll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona MORE (I-Vt.) in an interview with Hill.TV that aired Monday also dismissed talk of a Democratic wave. "I know a lot of people talk about this blue wave and all that stuff, but I don't believe it," Sanders said. We'll have more on how Democratic leaders are trying to manage expectations and keep their base engaged ahead of the midterms. 


Strong turnout in the first days of early voting in several states is serving as the latest sign that voter enthusiasm is sky high ahead of Election Day. So far, 4.3 million Americans have cast their ballots, The Hill's Reid Wilson reports. That signals a huge increase over the last midterm elections in 2014, when voter turnout hit a 70-year low. "All signs point to a higher turnout election," Michael McDonald, a political scientist at the University of Florida, told The Hill.


Rep. Beto O'RourkeBeto O'RourkeABC unveils moderators for third Democratic debate The Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes Harris to appear in CNN climate town hall after backlash MORE's (D-Texas) Senate campaign may spur voter turnout strong enough to have a down-ballot effect in the seats held by GOP Reps. John CulbersonJohn Abney CulbersonLack of transparency may put commercial space program at risk Ex-GOP Rep. Roskam joins lobbying firm K Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers MOREPete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsHillicon Valley — Presented by CTIA and America's wireless industry — Lawmaker sees political payback in fight over 'deepfakes' measure | Tech giants to testify at hearing on 'censorship' claims | Google pulls the plug on AI council Lawmaker alleges political payback in failed 'deepfakes' measure As Russia collusion fades, Ukrainian plot to help Clinton emerges MORE and Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes Democrat running for Will Hurd's seat raises over million in first 100 days of campaign Democrats keen to take on Cornyn despite formidable challenges MORE. They are running in districts that were carried by Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPoll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona The Hill's Morning Report - Trump touts new immigration policy, backtracks on tax cuts Hickenlooper announces Senate bid MOREin 2016. Democrats in those three races outraised the GOP incumbents by over $1 million in the last quarter. Analysts suggest Democrats will have a chance at flipping these districts if O'Rourke can gin up turnout among Hispanic voters and college-educated women, reports The Hill's Lisa Hagen from Dallas.


Former President Obama was on the trail for candidates in Las Vegas on Monday, where he reminded voters to "remember who started" the current economic boom


Survey says…

new survey from NBC News and The Wall Street Journal gives Democrats a 9-point advantage over Republicans on the generic congressional ballot. The poll of 900 registered voters showed Democrats leading the GOP on the generic ballot, 50 percent to 41 percent. The enthusiasm for Democrats is driven largely by women, Latinos and young voters, with each group reporting higher levels of interest in the 2018 elections than in past midterms.


Sen. Tina SmithTina Flint SmithFormer GOP Rep. Jason Lewis says he'll challenge Tina Smith in Minnesota Reid says he wishes Franken would run for Senate again Senate Democrats introduce bill to combat foreign influence campaigns MORE (D-Minn.) holds a 6-point lead in her race against GOP challenger, state Sen. Karin Housley, according to a new Star Tribune/MPR News Minnesota poll. Smith was appointed to her Senate seat following Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenNative American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment Reid says he wishes Franken would run for Senate again Al Franken urges Trump to give new speech after shootings: 'Try to make it sound like you're sincere, even if you're not' MORE's (D) December amid sexual misconduct allegations.


Democrat Andrew Gillum has a slim, 1-point lead over Republican Ron DeSantis in Florida's nationally watched race for governor, according to a survey from St. Pete Polls released Monday. That largely mirrors other polls that have Gillum up by only a point or two. The same survey showed Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonAl Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Democrats target Florida Hispanics in 2020 Poll: Six Democrats lead Trump in Florida match-ups MORE (D-Fla.) in a virtual tie with Florida's Republican Gov. Rick Scott in the Senate race. Nelson came in at 48.3 percent, while Scott had 48.6 percent support.


Paper chase

In a break from past presidential cycles, major Democratic donors are not throwing their support behind prospective 2020 candidates this early in the race, reports The Hill's Amie Parnes. The shift comes as midterms remain the focus of most donors and strategists. "I think anybody not focusing on 2018 is missing the boat," said Democratic donor Jon Vein. The lack of commitment among donors also signals a large 2020 primary, with no clear frontrunner in sight.


What we're watching for

Campaign trail:

--Donald Trump Jr.Donald (Don) John TrumpSarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor PETA billboard in Baltimore calls Kushner a 'rich pest' Dick Cheney to attend fundraiser supporting Trump reelection: report 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

--Former President Obama will campaign in Wisconsin for gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers, Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinRecessions happen when presidents overlook key problems Trade wars and the over-valued dollar Overnight Health Care: Senate panel advances drug pricing bill amid GOP blowback | House panel grills Juul executives | Trump gives boost to state drug import plans | Officials say new migrant kids' shelter to remain open but empty MORE (D-Wis.) and other Democrats running down ballot during an event on Oct. 26.


Trump rallies:

--Oct. 22 in Houston, Texas

--Oct. 24 in Mosinee, Wis.

--Oct. 26 in Charlotte, N.C.

--Oct. 27 in Murphysboro, Ill.


Debates: (All ET)

--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

314 Action, a group that's aiming to elect more people with science and engineering backgrounds to office, is out with its second TV ad buy for Democrat Joe Cunningham in South Carolina's 1st District. Cunningham is an ocean engineer. The group touts his opposition to offshore drilling off of South Carolina's coasts and attacks his GOP opponent, Katie Arrington, for her position on the issue.


Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) is rolling out a new Spanish-language ad touting his work with Trump and his gubernatorial administration's response to Hurricanes Maria and Irma in Puerto Rico. In the past, Scott has largely avoided mentioning Trump in his outreach to Puerto Rican voters, who make up an increasingly influential voting bloc in Florida. While many Puerto Rican voters have a positive perception of Scott's handling of the hurricanes last year, Trump's response to the storm was widely panned.


Race for the White House

Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardABC unveils moderators for third Democratic debate Lawmakers urge DNC to name Asian American debate moderator The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden expands lead in new national poll MORE (D-Hawaii) is considering entering the 2020 presidential race as one of the many likely Democratic candidates. Politico reported that Rania Batrice, Gabbard's adviser, reached out to digital campaign staff and speech writers but without explicitly mentioning 2020.


Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) thanked Iowa voters on Sunday for supporting his progressive policy agenda, reports The Hill's Naomi Jagoda from Ames, Iowa. Sanders's trip to Iowa comes amid speculation that Sanders may be gearing up for a 2020 run. While in Iowa, Sanders said he understood voters may have supported Trump in 2016 because they felt ignored in Washington. But he went on to dismiss Trump as a "pathological liar" with "no political beliefs."


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