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 DeSantisDeSantis transition team zeroes in on possible chief of staff Trump congratulates Kemp, says Abrams will have 'terrific political future' Election Countdown: Abrams ends fight in Georgia governor's race | Latest on Florida recount | Booker, Harris head to campaign in Mississippi Senate runoff | Why the tax law failed to save the GOP majority 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.

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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) ManchinTrump to nominate former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler as next EPA administrator Schumer reelected as Senate Democratic Leader Mellman: The triumph of partisanship 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 KavanaughThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — White House to 'temporarily reinstate' Acosta's press pass after judge issues order | Graham to take over Judiciary panel | Hand recount for Florida Senate race Graham set to take over Judiciary Leverage the new US International Development Finance Corporation to compete with China 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 TrumpMia Love pulls ahead in Utah race as judge dismisses her lawsuit Trump administration denies exploring extradition of Erdoğan foe for Turkey Trump congratulates Kemp, says Abrams will have 'terrific political future' 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 McConnellAs Democrats gear up to challenge Trump in 2020, the key political divide will be metropolitan versus rural McConnell: Criminal justice bill unlikely this year On The Money: Why the tax law failed to save the GOP majority | Grassley opts for Finance gavel, setting Graham up for Judiciary | Trump says China eager for trade deal | Facebook reeling after damning NYT report MORE (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHow this year’s freshmen can save the Congress — and themselves Democrat Katie Porter unseats GOP's Mimi Walters Amazon fleeced New York, Virginia with HQ2 picks 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 SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersAs Democrats gear up to challenge Trump in 2020, the key political divide will be metropolitan versus rural Entrepreneur touts big solutions, endorsements in discussing presidential bid Warren, 2020 Dems target private immigration detention center operators 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'RourkeRobert (Beto) Francis O'RourkeEntrepreneur touts big solutions, endorsements in discussing presidential bid Dem pollster: Texas, Georgia diversifying because they are 'centers for opportunity' Cruz brushes off question about campaign claim on O'Rourke paying for caravan 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 CulbersonTexas New Members 2019 Republicans must learn from the election mistake on immigration How will the 2018 midterms affect NASA space policy? MOREPete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsTexas New Members 2019 Congress is going to make marijuana moves McCarthy defeats Jordan for minority leader in 159-to-43 vote MORE and Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdElection Countdown: Florida Senate race heads to hand recount | Dem flips Maine House seat | New 2020 trend - the 'friend-raiser' | Ad war intensifies in Mississippi runoff | Blue wave batters California GOP Midterm results shake up national map Election Countdown: Lawsuits fly in Florida recount fight | Nelson pushes to extend deadline | Judge says Georgia county violated Civil Rights Act | Biden, Sanders lead 2020 Dem field in poll | Bloomberg to decide on 2020 by February MORE. They are running in districts that were carried by Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTexas history curriculum to emphasize that slavery played 'central role' in Civil War Election Countdown: Abrams ends fight in Georgia governor's race | Latest on Florida recount | Booker, Harris head to campaign in Mississippi Senate runoff | Why the tax law failed to save the GOP majority Texas education board approves restoring Hillary Clinton in history curriculum 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 SmithMinnesota New Members 2019 Senate GOP beats expectations with expanded majority Democrat Smith wins in Minnesota, will serve remainder of Franken term 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 FrankenMinnesota New Members 2019 Meet the lawyer Democrats call when it's recount time Gillibrand sidesteps question on possible Clinton 2020 run 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 NelsonDems seek to overhaul voting rules in Florida legal fight  Election Countdown: Abrams ends fight in Georgia governor's race | Latest on Florida recount | Booker, Harris head to campaign in Mississippi Senate runoff | Why the tax law failed to save the GOP majority Trump's take on midterms: ‘Epic' win in Senate, ‘better than other sitting Presidents’ in House 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 TrumpTrump Jr.'s India trip cost taxpayers nearly 0K: report Social media explodes over Avenatti arrest Mueller targets Stone in final push 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 BaldwinSchumer reelected as Senate Democratic Leader Number of LGBT lawmakers in Congress hits double digits Senate GOP readies for leadership reshuffle 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 GabbardElection 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 Gabbard considering 2020 run: report The importance of advancing the U.S.-India partnership 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.