Election Countdown: Arizona Senate race still too close to call | Florida vote tally fight heats up | Trump calls for Abrams to 'move on'

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 725 days until the 2020 elections.

 

It’s been three days since the 2018 midterm elections and there are still half a million uncounted votes in Arizona’s razor-tight Senate race.

Rep. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyArmy calls base housing hazards 'unconscionable,' details steps to protect families Poll shows McSally, Kelly tied in Arizona Senate race Mark Kelly's campaign raises over M in days after launching Senate bid MORE (R-Ariz.) initally held a narrow lead over Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) in a race that was too close to call. But when a new batch of voters were released on Thursday night, Sinema pulled ahead with a narrow 9,610-vote lead. Most of those votes came from Maricopa County, the most populous county in the state and home to Phoenix.

Both campaigns are projecting confidence that they’ll pull out a victory when the outstanding ballots are counted. And McSally’s team believes many of those votes will come from reliable Republican voters who dropped off their ballot on Election Day.

 

But that shift in the margin has rattled Arizona Republicans, who are nervous that the remaining votes will break for Sinema. Republicans are worried about their chances of holding onto the seat are fading, as Democrats seek to win a Senate seat in Arizona for the first time since 1988.

Some Arizona political experts who spoke to The Hill believe Sinema’s lead will continue to grow on Friday, which is when the last of the early votes will be counted. But they believe McSally will cut into Sinema’s edge once ballots dropped off on Election Day are counted on Sunday.

“It goes without saying that if Sinema gains significantly again in Maricopa County today, the race is over,” one party strategist who asked for anonymity to offer a candid assessment told The Hill. “Sinema's jump in the numbers last night defied expectations and all logic.”

There are still 345,000 uncounted ballots in Maricopa County, where Sinema has a slim lead of 2.5 percentage points over McSally. The Maricopa County recorder is releasin a new batch of votes at 7 p.m. ET. All eyes will be on how the margin does — or doesn’t — change and could be pretty telling. But take it with a grain of salt, we’re still days away from final results.

 

Road to a recount

Florida’s closely contested Senate race has spiraled into all-out legal warfare. Rick Scott, the state’s governor and Republican Senate nominee, filed an emergency lawsuit late Thursday, alleging that election officials in Broward and Palm Beach counties had withheld crucial information about vote counts. In a hastily called news conference Thursday night, Scott accused his Democratic opponent, Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William Nelson2020 party politics in Puerto Rico There is no winning without Latinos as part of your coalition Dem 2020 candidates court Puerto Rico as long nomination contest looms MORE (D-Fla.), of trying to “steal” the election and raised questions about the validity of the vote count in the South Florida counties.

A Palm Beach judge delivered him a key win on Friday, ordering county election officials to hand over absentee ballots deemed faulty to a canvassing board for a final review.

Meanwhile, Nelson’s campaign and the Democratic Executive Committee filed a lawsuit of their own. The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Tallahassee, against Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner seeks a uniform standard for canvassing boards to review provisional ballots by. It also requests that the court postpone a key Saturday deadline for counties to submit unofficial vote counts until after the case is heard.

Why is all this happening? Scott appeared to be on track for a victory on Tuesday night. But Broward and Palm Beach – both Democratic strongholds – lagged behind the rest of the state in tallying up votes, causing new counts to come in Wednesday and Thursday. Consequently, Scott’s lead has diminished considerably, putting the race in recount territory. On one side, Republicans have suggested that voter fraud may be responsible for the new vote counts. On the other, Democrats say that election officials need to ensure that every lawfully-cast ballot is counted.

Why does it matter? Republicans see a win in Florida as critical to bolstering their Senate majority ahead of 2020, when the party faces a less favorable electoral map. Florida is also seen as crucial for Trump’s reelection prospects. Voters in the state handed him a narrow win in 2016, and he’s eager to hold on to the coalition that propelled him to victory.

 

State watch

 

President TrumpDonald John TrumpGillibrand backs federal classification of third gender: report Former Carter pollster, Bannon ally Patrick Caddell dies at 68 Heather Nauert withdraws her name from consideration for UN Ambassador job MORE called on Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams to “move on” in the too-close-to-call Georgia governor’s race. He tweeted Friday morning: “.@BrianKempGA ran a great race in Georgia – he won. It is time to move on!” Republican nominee Brian Kemp and Abrams are locked in a tight governor’s race as absentee and provisional ballots are still being counted. Kemp currently holds a 62,709-vote lead, with 100 percent of precincts reporting. But the race has not yet been called by AP or major news outlets.

Kemp has already declared victory and has stepped down as Georgia secretary of State. But Abrams team has made it clear they aren’t backing down until all the votes are counted. “We are in this race until we’re convinced that every vote is counted,” Lauren Groh-Wargo, Abrams’s campaign manager, said at Thursday’s press conference. “We don’t believe any of these numbers are credible. These are answers that fall at the feet of Brian Kemp.”

 

Senate showdown

Less than seventy-two hours after Election Day, Republicans and Democrats are gaming out the electoral map for 2020, The Hill’s Jordain Carney reports. The Senate map puts the GOP on less favorable ground. But they’re hopeful that a number of key races that remain up in the air right now will expand their majority and give them some wiggle room in two years. Meanwhile, Democrats are bullish about their chances of retaking the chamber in 2020 – an accomplishment that would give them bicameral control in Congress.

 

Mississippi runoff

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) agreed to participate in a debate organized by the Mississippi Farm Bureau Foundation on Nov. 20, one week before Mississippi’s runoff, according to The Associated Press. Her Democratic opponent Mike Espy is reviewing the “terms and conditions” before they make a decision on participation, according to his campaign. The two will square off in Nov. 27 runoff in the special election to ex-Sen. Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranTop 5 races to watch in 2019 Bottom Line Races Dems narrowly lost show party needs to return to Howard Dean’s 50 state strategy MORE (R).

 

2020 vision

In the aftermath of the 2018 midterms, Democrats are grappling with the question of which Democrats would be the best positioned to take on Trump in 2020, The Hill’s Amie Parnes reports.

“The election did not prove anything one way or another,” said Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis, who served as senior aide to presidential candidates John Edwards and Wesley Clark. “The results actually complicate the answer.”

In another potential 2020 hopeful news, Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandGillibrand backs federal classification of third gender: report Sanders expected to announce exploratory committee next week Newsom endorses Kamala Harris for president MORE (D-N.Y.) said she’ll give a 2020 presidential bid “a long, hard thought of consideration.” Gillibrand, who won reelection to her seat on Tuesday, previously pledged to serve a full, six-year term in a Senate debate.

“I believe it is a moral question for me, and I believe in right versus wrong and until this election I actually thought that wrong was winning, and as I’ve traveled across my state, across the country for all these candidates, I’ve seen the hatred and the division that President Trump has put out into our country and it has called me to fight as hard as I possibly can to restore the moral compass of this country,” Gillibrand said on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

 

While most of the 2020 side has been focused on which Democrats will run, the prospects of a Trump primary challenge continue to loom.

 

Retiring Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union Sasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger MORE (R-Ariz.) said he wouldn't rule out mounting a primary challenge against Trump in 2020, arguing that someone in the Republican needs to run against him. "I've not ruled it out. I've not ruled it in. Just, somebody needs to run," Flake told reporters on Friday.

Flake, an outspoken Trump critic who retired when he saw no path to reelection in November, pointed to Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by America's 340B Hospitals — Push for cosponsors for new 'Medicare for all' bill | Court lets Dems defend ObamaCare | Flu season not as severe as last year, CDC says Senate approves border bill that prevents shutdown The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Lawmakers scramble as shutdown deadline nears MORE (R-Nev.) as Republicans who should be in the “conversation” about a primary challenge.

"But I hope somebody does just remind people what it means to be conservative and what it means to be decent, we've got to bring that back," Flake said. "If we're going to be a relevant party in the future then we've got to be a decent party."