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 DeSantisGillum launches voter-registration campaign Republicans need solutions on environment too Republicans up for reelection fear daylight with Trump 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) ManchinManchin says he won't support LGBTQ protection bill as written Senators offer bipartisan bill to fix 'retail glitch' in GOP tax law Murkowski, Manchin call for 'responsible solutions' to climate change 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 KavanaughGOP eager to exploit Dem court-packing fight Court-packing becomes new litmus test on left Warren, Harris, Gillibrand back efforts to add justices to Supreme Court 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 TrumpMueller report findings could be a 'good day' for Trump, Dem senator says Trump officials heading to China for trade talks next week Showdown looms over Mueller report 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 McConnellConservatives wage assault on Mueller report Overnight Energy: Interior reverses decision at heart of Zinke criminal probe | Dem divisions deepen over approach to climate change | GM to add 400 workers to build electric cars Trump: Green New Deal 'the most preposterous thing' and 'easy to beat' MORE (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanFormer Dem candidate says he faced cultural barriers on the campaign trail because he is working-class Former House candidate and ex-ironworker says there is 'buyer's remorse' for Trump in Midwest Head of top hedge fund association to step down 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) SandersHere's what the Dem candidates for president said about the Mueller report Booker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements Harris wants Barr to testify on Mueller report as 2020 Dems call for its release 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'RourkeHere's what the Dem candidates for president said about the Mueller report Booker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements Harris wants Barr to testify on Mueller report as 2020 Dems call for its release 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 CulbersonDem campaign chief: Medicare for All price tag 'a little scary' DCCC official says Democrats look to make 'big gains' in Texas, Georgia Democrats need a worthy climate plan MOREPete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsAs Russia collusion fades, Ukrainian plot to help Clinton emerges Top Ukrainian justice official says US ambassador gave him a do not prosecute list Dem campaign chief: Medicare for All price tag 'a little scary' MORE and Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdProperty is a fundamental right that is now being threatened The 25 Republicans who defied Trump on emergency declaration The 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority MORE. They are running in districts that were carried by Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonIf Mueller's report lacks indictments, collusion is a delusion Conservatives wage assault on Mueller report The wisdom of Trump's lawyers, and the accountability that must follow Mueller's report 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 SmithBooker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements Ex-Bush ethics chief calls for Steve King expulsion after he posted meme of potential civil war The Hill's 12:30 Report: Manafort sentenced to total of 7.5 years in prison 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 FrankenMan who threatened to kill Obama, Maxine Waters faces up to 20 years in prison Gillibrand defends her call for Franken to resign Gillibrand: Aide who claimed sexual harassment was 'believed' 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 NelsonEx-House Intel chair: Intel panel is wrong forum to investigate Trump's finances The Hill's Morning Report - Trump budget reignites border security fight 2020 party politics in Puerto Rico 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 TrumpIf Mueller's report lacks indictments, collusion is a delusion Bill Maher questions whether Democrats put 'too much trust' in Mueller report Kushner to cooperate with Judiciary document requests 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 BaldwinOn The Money: Trump issues emergency order grounding Boeing 737 Max jets | Senate talks over emergency resolution collapse | Progressives seek defense freeze in budget talks Dems offer bill to end tax break for investment-fund managers Bipartisan think tank to honor lawmakers who offer 'a positive tenor' 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 GabbardHere's what the Dem candidates for president said about the Mueller report Harris's stepkids call her 'Momala' Chicago mayor race mirrors national push for more women in office, says columnist 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.