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
© YouTube, Getty images

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 governor suspends Palm Beach County elections supervisor Florida governor threatens Airbnb over West Bank settlements Florida governor announces sheriff's suspension over Parkland shooting 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) ManchinSenate rejects government-wide ban on abortion funding Centrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter Bipartisan group of senators will urge Trump to reopen government for 3 weeks 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 KavanaughKamala Harris staffer mocks O'Reilly for saying Harris 'lost' his vote for president Graham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies The Memo: Concern over shutdown grows in Trump World 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 TrumpTrump claims media 'smeared' students involved in encounter with Native American man Al Sharpton criticizes Trump’s ‘secret’ visit to MLK monument Gillibrand cites spirituality in 2020 fight against Trump’s ‘dark’ values 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 McConnellGraham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies Senate GOP eyes 'nuclear option' for Trump nominees next week Taiwan’s President Tsai should be invited to address Congress MORE (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanTrump once asked Paul Ryan why he couldn’t be ‘loyal': book AEI names Robert Doar as new president GOP can't excommunicate King and ignore Trump playing to white supremacy and racism 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) Sanders2020 Dems seize on MLK Day for campaign messaging Sanders knocks Trump in MLK Day speech Grassley to test GOP on lowering drug prices 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'RourkeIdentity politics and the race for the Democratic nomination O'Rourke’s strategy: Show Americans the real Beto Ex-Michelle Obama aide says O'Rourke's road trip is a 'listening tour' in form of a travel blog 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 CulbersonDemocrats need a worthy climate plan NASA lost key support to explore Jupiter's moon Texas New Members 2019 MOREPete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsTop 10 events of 2018 that shaped marijuana policy Washington braces for lengthy shutdown Lawmakers shrug off shutdown drama MORE and Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdGOP rep in op-ed: ‘Some people affiliated with our party have made racist comments’ Texas GOP lawmaker calls Trump border crisis a 'myth' Latest funding bill to reopen the government fails in House MORE. They are running in districts that were carried by Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonElise Stefanik seeks to tackle GOP’s women ‘crisis’ ahead of 2020 Russian pop star linked to Trump Tower meeting cancels US tour Graham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies 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 SmithGillibrand defends calling for Franken to resign during stop in Iowa Senate Dems introduce legislation to back-pay low-wage contractors GOP seeks health care reboot after 2018 losses 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 FrankenIdentity politics and the race for the Democratic nomination Bill Maher defends Bernie Sanders campaign over sexual harassment allegations Gillibrand defends calling for Franken to resign during stop in Iowa 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 NelsonFlorida lawmaker diagnosed with pancreatic cancer Rick Scott threw party at Florida governor’s mansion after DeSantis and family had moved in: report Restoration of voting rights by felons marks shift in Florida 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 TrumpRussian pop star linked to Trump Tower meeting cancels US tour Conservatives pound BuzzFeed, media over Cohen report BuzzFeed story has more to say about media than the president 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 Baldwin116th Congress breaks records for women, minority lawmakers Kyrsten Sinema swears in to Congress using copy of Constitution instead of religious book Dems say Trump is defying court order by pushing abstinence programs 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 Gabbard2020 Dems seize on MLK Day for campaign messaging Gabbard campaign fundraising on Dean's 'not qualified' remarks Gabbard: No regrets about meeting Syria's Assad 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.