Election Countdown: Candidates clash in fiery Florida gov debate | Trump fights uphill midterm battle on health care | Vulnerable Republicans follow Trump on immigration | Takeaways from only NJ Senate debate | Dallas Morning News endorses O'Rourke

Election Countdown: Candidates clash in fiery Florida gov debate | Trump fights uphill midterm battle on health care | Vulnerable Republicans follow Trump on immigration | Takeaways from only NJ Senate debate | Dallas Morning News endorses O'Rourke

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 12 days until the 2018 midterm elections and 740 days until the 2020 elections.



DAVIE, Fla. – Florida's gubernatorial race has gotten toxic.

For weeks, the fight between Democrat Andrew Gillum and Republican Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisDeSantis breaks with Fauci, says Florida didn't rush reopening Overnight Health Care: Coronavirus deaths rise again amid mounting outbreaks | The Trump-Fauci divide is getting more apparent | New York to deliver remdesivir to Florida after DeSantis dismisses offer for help New York to deliver remdesivir to Florida after DeSantis dismisses offer for help MORE has been building up as a proxy fight between dueling sides of the political spectrum. But in a closely watched debate on Wednesday night, that partisan conflict broke out into all-out war.

It took only minutes for the debate to get personal. DeSantis, a former congressman and staunch ally of President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats blast Trump for commuting Roger Stone: 'The most corrupt president in history' Trump confirms 2018 US cyberattack on Russian troll farm Trump tweets his support for Goya Foods amid boycott MORE, attacked Gillum over the ongoing FBI investigation into suspected corruption in Tallahassee City Hall. Gillum, the city's mayor, went after DeSantis for a series of race-related controversies that have haunted his bid for the governor's mansion.

The debate on Wednesday rarely focused on policy. Instead, what materialized was a series of one-liners and made-for-TV moments.

Faced with questions about the revelation that he took a "Hamilton" ticket from an undercover FBI agent, Gillum played down the matter.

"We got 99 issues, and 'Hamilton' ain't one of them," he quipped.


When DeSantis was asked to address his past comments praising a conservative writer who had made racist comments, the former congressman lashed out.

"How the hell am I supposed to know every statement that somebody makes?" DeSantis shouted.

"As a governor, I will represent all the people. Everyone will get a fair shake," he added. "But I am not going to bow down to the altar of political correctness. I'm not going to let the media smear me."

From the beginning, it appeared inevitable that Florida's gubernatorial race would underscore some of the deepest divisions in American politics. But in a midterm election season where those divisions are on display nationwide--especially in the wake of a series of attempted bombings--the governor's race in the Sunshine State still stands out.

Click here for Max's takeaways from the fiery final Florida gubernatorial debate.


And more debate fallout...

Gillum called on Ron DeSantis to show him some "respect" and stop calling him by his first name. He also mocked DeSantis, saying that he had "collapsed under pressure" during the debate.


Senate showdown

Trump is trying to flip the script on health care, The Hill's Peter Sullivan reports. In recent weeks, the president has stepped up his efforts to protect vulnerable Republicans from Democratic attacks over protections for people with pre-existing conditions, insisting that it's the GOP – not the Democrats – that will ensure such people have access to health care. He's seeking to provide cover for Republicans who have weathered Democrats' effective health-care attacks following years of trying to repeal ObamaCare, which instituted the popular provision.


Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezKoch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads Thomas Kean wins GOP primary to take on Rep. Tom Malinowski Trump administration moves to formally withdraw US from WHO MORE (D-N.J.) clashed with his Republican opponent Bob Hugin at Wednesday night's debate in Newark, New Jersey. Hugin, who has poured $24 million into his campaign, targeted Menendez over his past legal woes. Meanwhile, Menendez blasted Hugin for his ties to Trump since he served as chairman on the president's New Jersey campaign in 2016. Read more on our five takeaways from the New Jersey Senate race's one and only debate.


The Dallas Morning News endorsed Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas) in his race against Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump tweets his support for Goya Foods amid boycott Trump says he'll sign order with 'road to citizenship' for DACA recipients Texas lawmakers ask HHS to set up field hospital, federal resources in the state MORE (R-Texas). The editorial board praised O'Rourke's "demeanor" and said his "tone aligns with what is required now." The endorsement comes on the heels of The Houston Chronicle's endorsement of O'Rourke. The Chronicle backed Cruz in 2012, whereas the Morning News supported his Democratic opponent Paul Sadler.


Wave watch

In the House GOP's last political meeting, Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanBush, Romney won't support Trump reelection: NYT Twitter joins Democrats to boost mail-in voting — here's why Lobbying world MORE (R-Wis.) suggested candidates focus on local economic issues. But as Election Day approaches, many vulnerable Republicans have taken a page from Trump's playbook and instead turned their attention to immigration and border security, The Hill's Melanie Zanona reports. Reps. Andy BarrAndy BarrThe Hill's Campaign Report: The political heavyweights in Tuesday's primary fights Democrat Josh Hicks wins Kentucky primary to challenge Andy Barr McGrath fends off Booker to win Kentucky Senate primary MORE (R-Ky.) and Pete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsFormer FBI Director William Sessions dies at age 90 Texas kicks off critical battle for House control The Hill's review of John Solomon's columns on Ukraine MORE (R-Texas), both in races listed as "toss-ups," have followed Trump's lead in the past few days, attacking their Democratic opponents on immigration policies. Immigration messaging worked for Republicans in 2016, but some warn that it could alienate undecided Latino voters.


Jay Webber, a New Jersey state assemblyman and GOP congressional candidate, received a letter calling on him to drop out of the race and threatening his children. On Wednesday, Webber tweeted a photo of the letter along with a cut-up campaign sign that came with it. "We will not be intimidated as we work to make #NJ11 better for everyone," Webber said. The letter comes at a time when high-profile Democrats and CNN have been targeted by bombs.



Survey says…

Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowACLU calls on Congress to approve COVID-19 testing for immigrants Senators press IRS chief on stimulus check pitfalls Democrats warn Biden against releasing SCOTUS list MORE's (D-Mich.) lead in her reelection race is shrinking. After a once 20-point edge over her GOP opponent John James, Stabenow now has a 7-point advantage according to recent polls. The surge in support for James results from recent strong approval of Trump in Michigan and the confirmation of Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughOVERNIGHT ENERGY: WH pushed for 'correction' to Weather Service tweet contradicting Trump in 'Sharpiegate' incident, watchdog says | Supreme Court rules that large swath of Oklahoma belongs to Native American tribe Five takeaways from Supreme Court's rulings on Trump tax returns In rueful praise of Elena Kagan: The 'Little Sisters' ruling MORE to Supreme Court.


In Florida's gubernatorial race, DeSantis and Gillum are neck and neck, according to a poll conducted for Gray Television by Strategic Research Associates. Gillum holds a slight lead, 48 to 45 percent, within the survey's margin of error of 3.46 percentage points.


Rep. Barbara ComstockBarbara Jean ComstockLive coverage: House holds third day of public impeachment hearings Gun debate raises stakes in battle for Virginia legislature Progressives face steep odds in ousting incumbent Democrats MORE (R-Va.) is trailing her Democratic opponent, state Sen. Jennifer Wexton, by double-digits in her Washington, D.C. suburban district. A new Washington Post-Schar School poll released Thursday found that Wexton leads by 13 points among likely voters, 56 to 43 percent.



Paper chase

More fundraising reports are slowly trickling out. Campaigns are starting to release their fundraising in the first two weeks of October: In Indiana, Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyEx-Sen. Joe Donnelly endorses Biden Lobbying world 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents MORE's (D-Ind.) campaign said it raised $1.44 million, very narrowly outraising Republican Mike Braun, whose campaign said it brought in $1.27 million (which doesn't include candidate loans).


What we're watching for

Campaign trail:

--Oct. 26: Former President Obama will campaign in Wisconsin for gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers, Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinBiden strikes populist tone in blistering rebuke of Trump, Wall Street Biden campaign adds staff in three battleground states Clinton, Buttigieg among Democrats set to hold virtual events for Biden MORE (D-Wis.) and other Democrats running down ballot. He'll also hold a rally in Detroit. Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump glosses over virus surge during Florida trip The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Fauci says focus should be on pausing reopenings rather than reverting to shutdowns; WHO director pleads for international unity in pandemic response Ex-Sanders aide says Biden unity task forces need to go farther MORE (I-Vt.) will continue to hold rallies around the country, with his next stop in California. He'll hold a rally with Democrat Mike Levin, who's running for retiring GOP Rep. Darrell IssaDarrell Edward IssaGOP sues California over Newsom's vote-by-mail order Conservative group files challenge to California vote-by-mail order New poll shows tight race in key California House race MORE's seat in California's 49th district.

--Oct. 27: Sanders will then travel up north for another California rally with Rep. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeState legislatures consider US Capitol's Confederate statues House eyes votes to remove symbols of Confederates from Capitol Nina Turner addresses Biden's search for a running mate MORE (D-Calif.) in Berkeley. Lee doesn't face a competitive reelection race.


Trump rallies:

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

--Oct. 27 in Murphysboro, Ill.

--Oct. 31 in Fort Myers, Fla.



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

--Oct. 30: Indiana Senate debate

--Nov. 1: West Virginia Senate debate

--Nov. 4: Georgia gubernatorial debate


Coming to a TV near you

The independent expenditure arm of the National Republican Senatorial Committee is out with a new Montana ad featuring Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Justices rule Manhattan prosecutor, but not Congress, can have Trump tax records Trump says he'll wear mask during upcoming trip to Walter Reed Trump to visit Georgia next week MORE. Pence runs through a list of votes where Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterInternal poll shows tight battle in Montana House race Bipartisan Senate group offers bill to strengthen watchdog law after Trump firings Senate confirms Trump's watchdog for coronavirus funds MORE (D-Mont.) split from the president including on the GOP tax law, Republican efforts to repeal ObamaCare and the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. At the end of the ad, Pence calls on Montanans to support Matt Rosendale.


Celebrities like Lin-Manuel Miranda, Kevin Bacon, Michael J. Fox and Julianne Moore recorded a video encouraging voters to "make a plan" to vote for "candidates who will actually do something about our country's gun violence crisis." The video was released Thursday by the gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety, which was founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.


In case you missed it

Trump is slated to hold at least another 10 campaign rallies between Oct. 31 and Election Day, which might ramp up to two rallies a day, Axios reported on Thursday.


Democrat Deidre DeJear, the first black candidate to win a major-party nomination for a statewide race in Iowa, has become a rising star within the party, The Hill's Naomi Jagoda reports from Des Moines. She's gotten a hand from high-profile progressives, such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHillicon Valley: Facebook considers political ad ban | Senators raise concerns over civil rights audit | Amazon reverses on telling workers to delete TikTok Senators raise concerns over Facebook's civil rights audit Biden's marijuana plan is out of step with public opinion MORE (D-Calif.), who are both considered White House hopefuls in 2020. DeJear says one of her priorities will re-instilling "the value of the vote for folks in Iowa."


A federal district judge in Georgia on Thursday formally blocked election officials in the state from tossing out absentee ballots when a voter's signature does not exactly match the signature on their voter registration card, The Hill's Lydia Wheeler reports.


Kansas election officials are investigating texts claiming to be from President Trump sent to Kansas voters this week, the Associated Press reported. A pair of texts sent to Kansas cell phones reminds people to "vote for Pres. Trump's allies."


Facebook is unveiling a "Candidate Info" section ahead of the fast-approaching midterm elections, a new feature that will offer up short videos from hopefuls around the country.


Lawyer Michael Avenatti in a new interview with Time magazine said he believes the 2020 Democratic nominee "better be a white male," though he added he wishes it weren't so.