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 suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary Oregon Dem top recipient of 2018 marijuana industry money, study finds MORE (R) is fighting a heated reelection battle against Democratic Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenThe 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority The Hill's 12:30 Report: Manafort sentenced to total of 7.5 years in prison Female Dems see double standard in Klobuchar accusations 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 McCaskillLobbying world Dem candidate has Hawley served subpoena at CPAC Annual scorecard ranks GOP environmental efforts far below Dems in 2018 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) TesterSanders, Ocasio-Cortez back 'end the forever war' pledge Dems wrestle over how to vote on ‘Green New Deal’ White House pleads with Senate GOP on emergency declaration MORE (D) conceded that Democrats "botched" the debate over Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughKavanaugh to teach summer course in England GOP eager to exploit Dem court-packing fight Court-packing becomes new litmus test on left 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: 'Haven't thought about' pardons for Mueller target Pence: Rocket attack 'proves that Hamas is not a partner for peace' Conservation remains a core conservative principle MORE and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGraham: McCain 'acted appropriately' by handing Steele dossier to FBI Why Mueller's hedge on obstruction decision was a mistake Giuliani says news media treat Dems better than GOP MORE's presence loomed over the Senate debate between Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinGreen New Deal vote tests Dem unity in Senate Romney helps GOP look for new path on climate change Manchin says he won't support LGBTQ protection bill as written 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 McSallyArpaio's wife recovering after rattlesnake bite in Arizona Former astronaut running for Senate in Arizona returns money from paid speech in UAE The Hill's Morning Report — Washington readies for Mueller end game 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 PittengerNorth Carolina reporter says there could be 'new crop' of GOP candidates in 9th Congressional District race North Carolina board calls for new election in contested House race Obama political arm to merge with Holder-run group 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 YoungTulsi Gabbard, Don Young introduce marijuana reform bill Alaskan becomes longest serving Republican in House history The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sanders set to shake up 2020 race 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 CordraySherrod Brown says he will not run for president CFPB confusing 'freedom of choice' with 'freedom to be fleeced' Consumer bureau chief to face lawmakers for first time since confirmation 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 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.), is dropping more than $178,000 on an ad buy in Rep. Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonOvernight Health Care: CDC pushes for expanding HIV testing, treatment | Dem group launches ads attacking Trump on Medicare, Medicaid cuts | Hospitals, insurers spar over surprise bills | O'Rourke under pressure from left on Medicare for all Dem group launches ads attacking Trump's 'hypocrisy on Medicare and Medicaid cuts' The 25 Republicans who defied Trump on emergency declaration 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 ObamaJam-packed primary poses a serious threat to Democrats in 2020 Free speech: Can universities take back control? What should Democrats do next, after Mueller's report? 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 KingMan arrested for allegedly throwing glass of water at Steve King House Dem renews call for censuring Steve King Louisiana rep calls Steve King a 'white supremacist' after Katrina comment 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).