Election Countdown: Four days out | Early voting exceeds 2014 numbers in many states | Vulnerable Dems throw their party under the bus | Toss-ups to determine Senate control | 10 House GOP seats most likely to flip | Obama campaigns to preserve his legacy

Election Countdown: Four days out | Early voting exceeds 2014 numbers in many states | Vulnerable Dems throw their party under the bus | Toss-ups to determine Senate control | 10 House GOP seats most likely to flip | Obama campaigns to preserve his legacy
© Moriah Ratner

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 4 days from the 2018 midterm elections and 732 days from the 2020 elections.


Voters are voting – like, really voting.

As of Friday, more than 28 million ballots have been cast nationwide, either through absentee or early voting. That's huge for a midterm election year, when voter turnout typically decreases. For context, roughly 27 million votes were cast early in 2014, compared to 2016, when somewhere around 47 million people voted early.

One of the key themes that emerged in 2018 is that voters are energized, and so far, that energy appears to be materializing at the ballot box.

Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia have so far exceeded their 2014 early-vote totals, according to Michael McDonald, an associate professor of political science at the University of Florida who tracks voter turnout. In Texas, this year's early vote has surpassed the state's total turnout (including Election Day) in 2014.

In some key states, the advance vote appears to be split relatively evenly between Republicans and Democrats. As of this morning, 1,689,457 GOP voters in Florida had either voted in person or returned absentee ballots, while 1,630,927 Democrats had done so. That's a difference of a little more than 58,500 votes – roughly half the early-vote advantage Republicans carried in the state in 2014. Florida has competitive gubernatorial, Senate and House races.

And in Nevada, where Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerTrump’s shifting Cabinet to introduce new faces Trump's most memorable insults and nicknames of 2018 Progressive strategist says changing demographics will help Dems MORE (R) is fighting a heated reelection battle against Democratic Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenInflux of women in Congress can improve women’s retirement security Overnight Health Care: DOJ seeks extension in ObamaCare lawsuit due to shutdown | Poll finds voters oppose court ruling against health law Press: White House not only for white males MORE (D), 226,310 Democrats have voted early so far compared to 211,113 Republicans, according to the most recent data posted by the Nevada Secretary of State's office.

Of course, we're still four days out from Election Day and early voting will continue in some states through the weekend.


Senate showdown

Vulnerable Senate Democrats are throwing their own party under the bus as they fight to hold onto seats in red states, The Hill's Alexander Bolton reports. Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump AG pick Barr grilled at hearing | Judge rules against census citizenship question | McConnell blocks second House bill to reopen government Ex-Sen. McCaskill joins NBC, MSNBC Some Senate Dems see Ocasio-Cortez as weak spokeswoman for party MORE (D-Mo.), for example, is running a radio ad asserting that she's "not one of those crazy Democrats." And in Montana, Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterCentrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter Dems offer measure to raise minimum wage to per hour Some Senate Dems see Ocasio-Cortez as weak spokeswoman for party MORE (D) conceded that Democrats "botched" the debate over Supreme Court 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.


The race for control of the Senate is coming down to a handful of toss-up races in states like Florida, Indiana and Missouri. The HIll's Jordain Carney and Lisa Hagen report that both parties are homing in on key states ahead of Election Day as Republicans look to expand their narrow 51-59 Senate majority and Democrats work to stave off GOP gains in states with Democratic incumbents. Those toss-up seats are looking more important for Democrats, especially with the Senate race in North Dakota looking more favorable for Republicans.


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 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 MORE's presence loomed over the Senate debate between 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.) and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R). The candidates are locked in one of the key Senate battles of the 2018 midterms and on Thursday, they sparred over everything from health care to immigration. Two big takeaways: Morrisey tied himself closely to Trump and channeled Clinton as a sort of bogeyman of the left. Here's a recap from The Hill's Jordain Carney and Brett Samuels.


Angela Green, the Green Party candidate in Arizona's closely watched Senate race, dropped out of the contest on Thursday and threw her support behind Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, urging her backers "to vote for a better Arizona." Green's decision to exit the race could give Sinema a late boost. Green Party voters tend to be more likely to vote for Democrats, meaning Sinema could pick up some of Green's supporters in her bid against Rep. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyMark Kelly considering Senate bid as Arizona Dems circle McSally Schumer recruiting top-notch candidate for McCain Senate seat On The Money: Shutdown Day 26 | Pelosi calls on Trump to delay State of the Union | Cites 'security concerns' | DHS chief says they can handle security | Waters lays out agenda | Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions MORE (R-Ariz.).


Wave watch

After months of speculation over a potential blue wave on Election Day, Republicans are scrambling to minimize their losses in an effort to deny Democrats the 23 seats they need to recapture a House majority. But dozens of GOP incumbents are locked in tight races and some are fighting uphill battles for political survival. Here are 10 of the most vulnerable.


Democrat Abigail Spanberger, who's challenging Rep. Dave Brat (R) in Virginia's 7th District, picked up an interesting endorsement on Friday: a former GOP senator. Former Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) told NBC News that he still considered himself to be a Republican, but insisted that "you've got to put the nation's interests and the state's interests ahead of politics." Spanberger said in response that her and Warner "have some differences of opinion," but added that they "both hold true our commitment to our country and Virginia."


Republican Mark Harris, who's running in North Carolina's 9th District, reportedly made critical comments about Islam while he served as a pastor, according to CNN's KFile. During his time as a pastor of Charlotte's First Baptist Church, he called Islam "dangerous" and the work of Satan. Harris, who defeated Rep. Robert PittengerRobert Miller PittengerFight over North Carolina race set to drag on for months NC GOP calls on board to certify House race unless it can prove fraud changed results North Carolina on cusp of House race reset MORE in the state's GOP primary, faces a competitive race against Democratic veteran and businessman Dan McCready.


Survey says…

Rep. Don YoungDonald (Don) Edwin YoungLive coverage: House elects new Speaker as Dems take charge Inside the Trump-Congress Christmas meltdown House GOP and Puerto Rico governor agree on statehood vote MORE (D-Alaska), the longest-serving current House member, is trailing his Democratic challenger Alyse Galvin by 1 point, according to a new Alaska Survey Research poll. The Cook Political Report still puts the race in the "Lean Republican" column, but the survey results suggest a tightening contest in a year when Democrats are energized in opposition to Trump.


A new poll from Gravis Marketing shows Democrat Richard CordrayRichard Adams CordraySupreme Court should do what Congress won’t: Rein in the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection Congress must restrain power of new consumer financial director Five challenges facing new consumer bureau chief MORE leading Republican Mike DeWine by 5 points in the race for the Ohio governor's mansion. According to the survey, Cordray, the former director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), is leading DeWine, the Ohio attorney general, 48 percent to 43 percent. Still, other recent polls suggest a tighter race.


Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp are neck-in-neck in Georgia's closely watched gubernatorial race, according to a new poll from Channel 2 Action News and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Abrams, who if elected would be Georgia's first African-American governor, comes in at 46.9 percent in the poll, Kemp, the conservative Georgia secretary of state, ticks in at 46.7 percent – a statistically insignificant 0.2-point difference.


Republican Bob Stefanowski is carrying a slim lead over Democrat Ned Lamont in the race for the governor's mansion in Connecticut, a new Hearst Connecticut Media Group/Sacred Heart University poll finds. The two candidates are vying to replace the state's unpopular current Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy. A Morning Consult survey released in July puts Malloy's approval at a dismal 21 percent.


Paper chase

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with 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.), is dropping more than $178,000 on an ad buy in Rep. Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonOn The Money: Trump says he won't declare emergency 'so fast' | Shutdown poised to become longest in history | Congress approves back pay for workers | More federal unions sue over shutdown Overnight Energy: House votes to reopen Interior, EPA | Dems question EPA over Wheeler confirmation prep | Virginia Dem backs Green New Deal House votes to reopen Interior, EPA as shutdown fight wages on MORE's (R-Mich.) district. The Cook Political Report rates the race as "Likely Republican," but the CLF ad buy suggests that internal polling may show Democratic momentum growing in Michigan's 6th District.


What we're watching for

Campaign trail:

--Nov. 2: Former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama puts out call for service on MLK Day: ‘Make a positive impact on the world’ Trump, Pence visit MLK Memorial Trump offers to limit his border wall to strategic locations MORE will campaign for Georgia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams in Atlanta. He'll also be stumping for Democrat Andrew Gillum, who's running for Florida governor, in Miami.

Trump rallies (All times in ET):

--Nov. 2: Huntington, W. Va. at 4 p.m.; Indianapolis, Ind. at 7 p.m.

--Nov. 3: Belgrade, Mont. at 2:30 p.m.; Pensacola, Fla. at 7:30 p.m.

--Nov. 4: Macon, Ga. at 4 p.m.; Chattanooga, Tenn. at 7 p.m.

--Nov. 5: Cleveland, Ohio at 3 p.m.; Fort Wayne, Ind. at 6:30 p.m.; Cape Girardeau, Mo. at 10 p.m.


Coming to a TV near you

Obama has recorded dozens of last-minute messages – some robocalls, some videos – for Democratic candidates in an effort to drive up voter turnout ahead of Election Day, The Hill's Reid Wilson reports. The fact that the messages are coming in the final days of the campaign could help some Democrats avoid galvanizing GOP voters who may be energized in opposition to the former president. It's only the latest example of Obama going to bat for his party's candidates after a year of relative silence.


Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC backing Democratic Senate candidates, is out with a new statewide spot in West Virginia, hitting GOP Senate hopeful Morrisey over his past lobbying work for a pharmaceutical company. The ad plays news clips of Morrisey facing questions about his ties to the pharmaceutical industry. "Opioid lobbyist Patrick Morrisey: getting rich at our expense," a narrator says in the 30-second spot.


You may have seen this one before. Rep. Steve KingSteven (Steve) Arnold KingGOP rep in op-ed: ‘Some people affiliated with our party have made racist comments’ Steve King fundraising off controversy surrounding white supremacy comments Steve King's primary challenger raises more than 0k in first 10 days of campaign MORE (R-Iowa) is out with his first TV ad of his 2018 reelection bid – and it's a recycled spot from his 2014 campaign. The ad features King talking about his upbringing in Iowa and touting that he's "lived in the same house 40 years." "I know most of you agree our country is slipping away," he says in the ad. "Well I think it's worth fighting for no matter whose toes have to be stepped on to make it right."


In case you missed it

A federal judge ruled Friday that Georgia's "exact match" rules for voter registration will not apply for next week's midterm, allowing people to vote who have seen their voter registration held up, The Hill's Chris Mills Rodrigo reports.


Obama's recent return to the campaign trail has Democrats excited, The Hill's Niall Stanage reports. The former president is stumping for Florida gubernatorial hopeful Andrew Gillum in Miami and Abrams in Atlanta on Friday. Obama remains the Democratic Party's biggest rockstar and partisans are hopeful that he can boost their candidates ahead of Election Day. "He is still my party's most popular public official, and he is one of the guys who has the capability to put together this coalition of independents and swing voters," said Steve Schale, a Florida-based Democratic strategist who worked on both of Obama's presidential campaigns.


In an op-ed for The Hill, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) cautions Democrats about moving the party too far to the left, citing the push for a single-payer health care system and calls--particularly among some potential White House hopefuls--to abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).