Election Countdown: Abrams ends fight in Georgia governor's race | Latest on Florida recount | Booker, Harris head to campaign in Mississippi Senate runoff | Why the tax law failed to save the GOP majority

Election Countdown: Abrams ends fight in Georgia governor's race | Latest on Florida recount | Booker, Harris head to campaign in Mississippi Senate runoff | Why the tax law failed to save the GOP majority
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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 718 days until the 2020 elections. But there's still big news on the 2018 front.


A result from Georgia.

Democrat Stacey Abrams bowed out of the Georgia governor's race on Friday, acknowledging in a speech to supporters that she saw "no legal path forward" in her fight against Republican Brian Kemp. She threatened a lawsuit over election "mismanagement" by Kemp, the state's governor-elect and former secretary of state, adding that she believed that months of "incompetence" in Kemp's office had contributed to her defeat. While Abrams effectively ended her bid for governor, she insisted that she was not conceding.


Her announcement brought to an end days of legal challenges from Abrams' campaign that sought to force election officials to count ballots deemed defective. She had initially hoped to gain enough votes to bring Kemp below the 50-percent mark and trigger a runoff on Dec. 4.


Meanwhile... in Florida

A key deadline for machine recount results in Florida came and went on Thursday, and two of those races are heading to a hand recount. 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) and Gov. Rick Scott (R) remain separated by a scant 0.15 percentage points in the state's Senate race, while Democrat Nikki Fried and Republican Matt Caldwell are even closer in the contest for state agriculture commissioner, with just a 0.06-point margin separating the two. Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner ordered manual recounts in both races on Thursday.


As for the governor's race, it looks like Republican Ron DeSantis has it. Recount results showed the former congressman leading Democrat Andrew Gillum by about 33,700 votes, or about 0.41 percent. Unfortunately for Gillum, that margin doesn't meet the 0.25-point threshold for triggering a hand recount. Still, Gillum hasn't conceded. He said Thursday that there were still tens of thousands of votes left to count and county election officials have until Sunday to finish up those tallies.


The machine recount that finished on Thursday didn't go down without a hitch. Three counties, Broward, Palm Beach and Hillsborough, ultimately missed a key 3 p.m. deadline for submitting results, meaning that the returns filed last Saturday still stand. Palm Beach election officials had warned that they wouldn't be able to meet the deadline. But ballot-counting machine malfunctions threw another wrench in the process. Hillsborough officials missed the deadline after their recount turned up 846 fewer votes than the initial count. And in Broward, election officials submitted results two minutes late, narrowly missing the deadline.


Meanwhile, a federal judge in Tallahassee handed down decisions in two recount-related lawsuits on Thursday. In one, U.S. District Judge Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerPartnerships paving the way to sustain and support Historically Black Colleges and Universities Lawmaker seeks to ban ex-members from lobbying until sexual harassment settlements repaid Florida governor suspends Palm Beach County elections supervisor MORE, an Obama appointee, ruled that state standards for determining voter intent on ballots were constitutional and denied a request from Nelson's campaign for a preliminary injunction. In the other decision, Walker rejected a request by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause to bar Scott from using his official authority as governor in the recount process. Scott has already recused himself from the state canvassing board that's charged with certifying election results.


House races

Democrat Katie Porter unseated Rep. Mimi WaltersMarian (Mimi) Elaine WaltersCrazy California an outlier? No, we are the canary in the coal mine Ryan casts doubt on 'bizarre' California election results Election Countdown: Abrams ends fight in Georgia governor's race | Latest on Florida recount | Booker, Harris head to campaign in Mississippi Senate runoff | Why the tax law failed to save the GOP majority MORE (R) in California's 45th congressional district, marking the first time Democrats have won the inland Orange County seat since its creation in 1983. This is the fifth district that Democrats have flipped in California that was held by a Republican but carried by Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSanders expected to announce exploratory committee next week Bernie Sanders records announcement video ahead of possible 2020 bid Overnight Defense: Trump declares border emergency | .6B in military construction funds to be used for wall | Trump believes Obama would have started war with North Korea | Pentagon delivers aid for Venezuelan migrants MORE in 2016. The party is feeling good about its prospects of winning another GOP-held seat in Orange County--the 39th district--which still remains too close to call.


A massive tax-cut package passed last year may have been Republicans' biggest legislative accomplishment since 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 entered the White House. But it ultimately fell flat with voters on Election Day, The Hill's Naomi Jagoda reports. Exit polls show that a plurality of voters think the new tax law hasn't had an impact on their personal finances. The tax cuts certainly didn't save the GOP's House majority. So far, Democrats have gained 36 seats in the chamber – more than enough to gain control of the House – and some close races have yet to be called.


Mississippi runoff

The Senate Leadership Fund, the GOP's main super PAC defending its majority, is out with a new ad linking Democrat Mike Espy to the Clintons ahead of the Nov. 27 runoff. Espy served as former President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonFor 2020, Democrats are lookin’ for somebody to love A year since Parkland: we have a solution Washington restaurant celebrates holiday with presidential drinks MORE's Agriculture secretary from 1993 to 1994, stepping down amid claims that he improperly received gifts. He was ultimately acquitted of all charges, which included bribery. SLF's ad also highlights those past allegations. The GOP super PAC is spending more than $1 million on the pre-runoff buy (h/t National Journal's Zach Cohen).


Fox News reported on Thursday that Espy earned $750,000 after lobbying for an African despot currently on trial for crimes against humanity. Espy got that money in 2011 from then Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo's government, though the Democrat told The Hill back in 2011 that he ended the contract and only received part of that money. But according to a FARA Supplemental Statement filed with the Department of Justice that year, Espy collected the entire amount.

"Secretary Espy worked on agricultural issues for international clients," Espy campaign spokesman Danny Blaton told Fox News. "Over the course of that work, he realized one of those clients didn't pass the smell test, so he terminated the contract, and then reported what he knew to the U.S. government."


Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) on Thursday dismissed comments about making voting it harder for liberal students to vote as a "joke," claiming the video of her comments was "selectively edited."

"Obviously Sen. Hyde-Smith was making a joke and clearly the video was selectively edited," Hyde-Smith campaign spokeswoman Melissa Scallan said in a statement.

Her latest comments come on the heels of widespread backlash over Hyde-Smith joking about attending a "public hanging" in a state with a history of lynchings and a significant African American population.

Hyde-Smith's campaign called the comments she used an "exagerated expression of record" for the support she was campaigning with when she made the comments. She also called the negative interpretations of the comments as "ridicioulous." She hasn't apologized or answered additional questions about the remarks beyond her initial statement.

Espy, who's vying to become the state's first black senator since Reconstruction, denounced the comments as "reprehensible" and "hurtful."


Meanwhile, Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisKamala Harris shopping trip stirs Twitter campaign trail debate Sanders expected to announce exploratory committee next week Bill Maher to Dems: ‘Let’s not eat our own’ in 2020 MORE (D-Calif.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSanders expected to announce exploratory committee next week Bill Maher to Dems: ‘Let’s not eat our own’ in 2020 Dems ready aggressive response to Trump emergency order, as GOP splinters MORE (D-N.J.) will campaign with Espy prior to the runoff. Harris will travel to Jackson on Saturday for a breakfast event that "will focus on equal pay, health care, and other key issues that matter to women."


Race for the White House

Outgoing Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) called out Trump in New Hampshire on Thursday, accusing him of playing the "blame game" instead of trying to unite a divided country. "What I have resented and disliked about the president is instead of being a unifier and someone who can dig deep into people's problems and say 'yes those are problems, but together we can fix them,' he has played a blame game," Kasich said. Speculation has swirled that the former Republican presidential candidate could be eyeing another White House run in 2020. At a separate even in New Hampshire, he downplayed a possible primary challenge to Trump, but said that "for the first time, there is a legitimate chance for a third-party candidate."


Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenDNC punts on measure to reduce role of corporate PAC money Bill Maher to Dems: ‘Let’s not eat our own’ in 2020 Newsom endorses Kamala Harris for president MORE (D-Mass.) and a group of Senate Democrats sent letters to three private immigration detention center contractors on Friday, seeking more information on their allegedly poor conditions and whether they are "serving as a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars," The Hill's Rafael Bernal reports. Warren is among a handful of Democrats who are rumored contenders for the White House. The letter comes as Democrats eye immigration as a potentially decisive campaign issue in 2020