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 DeSantisBacklash erupts at video depicting Trump killing media, critics WHCA calls on Trump to denounce video depicting him shooting media outlets Video of fake Trump shooting members of media shown at his Miami resort: report 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 TrumpWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Ohio Democrats debate in Ohio: Who came out on top? 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) MenendezHouse to vote on resolution condemning Trump's Syria pullback Rand Paul calls for probe of Democrats over Ukraine letter Senators ask Treasury to probe Brazilian meatpacker with major US footprint 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 CruzThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump grapples with Turkey controversy This week: Congress returns to chaotic Washington The Hill's Morning Report - Lawmakers return to work as Dem candidates set to debate 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 RyanAmash: Trump incorrect in claiming Congress didn't subpoena Obama officials Democrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Three-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate 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 Hale BarrThe Hill's Campaign Report: Impeachment fight to take center stage at Dem debate McGrath raises nearly million in third quarter for bid to unseat McConnell Farm manager doubts story horse bit Pence: report MORE (R-Ky.) and Pete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsFormer GOP lawmaker Pete Sessions subpoenaed over dealings with Giuliani associates Juan Williams: Trump, the conspiracy theory president Ex-Ukraine ambassador suggests Giuliani associates played role in her ouster 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 StabenowRepublican challenger to Gary Peters in Michigan raises over million USDA nixes release of multiple reports over researcher exodus Schumer throws support behind Pelosi impeachment inquiry 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 KavanaughSusan Collins raises .1 million in third quarter Poll: 50 percent of Maine voters disapprove of Susan Collins's job performance Collins challenger raises .2 million in third quarter 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 ComstockGun debate raises stakes in battle for Virginia legislature Progressives face steep odds in ousting incumbent Democrats K Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers 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 DonnellyWatchdog accuses pro-Kavanaugh group of sending illegal robotexts in 2018 Lobbying world Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand 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 BaldwinFederal funding for Chinese buses risks our national security Democrats threaten to withhold defense votes over wall The Trump downturn: Trouble ahead for the US economy MORE (D-Wis.) and other Democrats running down ballot. He'll also hold a rally in Detroit. Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Ohio New study: Full-scale 'Medicare for All' costs trillion over 10 years 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 IssaIndicted lawmaker Duncan Hunter fails to land endorsement from local GOP Duncan Hunter challenger raises over 0,000 in third quarter The Hill's Campaign Report: Impeachment fight poses risks to both Trump, Dems 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 LeeDeLauro enters race to succeed Lowey as Appropriations chief The 13 House Democrats who back Kavanaugh's impeachment Lawmakers mourn death of 'Julia' star Diahann Carroll 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 PenceDemocratic front-runners defend their age during debate Warren says she'll beat Trump 'or Pence or whoever the Republicans get stuck with' Overnight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — Buttigieg targets Warren, Sanders on health care ahead of debate | Judge overturns ObamaCare transgender protections | Poll sees support drop for 'Medicare for All' MORE. Pence runs through a list of votes where Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterRed-state Democrats worry impeachment may spin out of control Overnight Energy: Lawmakers show irritation over withheld Interior documents | Republican offers bipartisan carbon tax bill | Scientists booted from EPA panel form new group Senate Democrats hesitant to go all-in on impeachment probe 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 HarrisWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Ohio Warren leads in speaking time during debate 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.