Election Countdown: Florida fight ends with Scott, DeSantis wins | Dems see Sunbelt in play for 2020 | Trump to campaign in Mississippi ahead of runoff | GOP wipeout in Orange County | Ortiz Jones concedes in Texas House race

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 715 days until the 2020 elections. But first, let's wrap up a couple 2018 races.

 

The clock has run out for Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonAl Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Democrats target Florida Hispanics in 2020 Poll: Six Democrats lead Trump in Florida match-ups MORE.

The three-term Democrat conceded his nationally watched Senate race to Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Sunday afternoon, bringing his 46-year political career to a likely end. That concession came hours after the results of a statewide hand recount showed Scott leading by a little more than 10,000 votes, or about 0.12 percentage points.

Scott's win boosts the GOP Senate majority to 52-47 seats, with Mississippi as the only remaining race. Scott, the Sunshine State's term-limited Republican governor, heavily outspent Nelson, pouring in more than $51 million of his own money into the Senate campaign.

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While Nelson's loss is good news for Republicans, it also marks the end of an era. Nelson has been a perennial figure in Florida politics since he first won a seat in the state House in 1972. He also holds the distinction of only having lost one race prior to his reelection bid against Scott. That loss came in 1990 when he fell short in a gubernatorial primary against Lawton Chiles, a legend in Florida Democratic politics and the last Democrat to win the governor's mansion.

Another interesting fact: Scott's win also means that Florida will be represented by two Republicans in the Senate for the first time since Americans began directly electing their senators more than 100 years ago. (For background, state legislatures chose senators up until the ratification of the 17th Amendment in 1913).

Nelson previously held the distinction of being the only remaining Democrat elected to statewide office in Florida. But even with the senator on his way out, it looks like the party will hold onto one more statewide office. Democratic Nikki Fried edged out Republican Matt Caldwell in a hand recount in the race for state agriculture commissioner. True, that race didn't get the same kind of national attention that the Florida Senate contest got. But agriculture commissioner is a state Cabinet-level position that carries wide-reaching powers and responsibilities.

 

A note about Election Countdown.

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Senate showdown

Democrats made major gains across the Sunbelt in the midterm elections, changing the political landscape in states like Arizona and Nevada ahead of the 2020 elections. By winning over suburban voters and aggressively courting minority voters, Democrats picked up two seats in the Senate, with Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenHillicon Valley: Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract | FTC weighs updating kids' internet privacy rules | Schumer calls for FaceApp probe | Report says states need more money to secure elections Senators introduce legislation to boost cyber defense training in high school Key endorsements: A who's who in early states MORE (D) unseating Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerThis week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary MORE (R) in Nevada and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) defeating Rep. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyAnti-gun violence organization endorses Kelly's Senate bid The Hill's Morning Report - Trump searches for backstops amid recession worries Arizona poll shows Kelly overtaking McSally MORE (R) in Arizona. That's on top of major House gains for Democrats in southern California and Texas.

These wins are giving Democrats hope headed into 2020, with some arguing that it'll be necessary to make states like Arizona, Texas and Georgia real battlegrounds that can help offset potential losses in Midwestern states, which have trended more towards Republicans after the 2018 midterms.

"Investment in Arizona and the Sunbelt is sort of crucial for opening up new opportunity for presidential campaigns," said Democratic strategist Andy BarrAndy Hale BarrMcConnell campaign criticized for tombstone with challenger's name McConnnell launches statewide attack ad against Democratic Senate challenger Kentucky Democrat announces challenge to GOP Rep. Andy Barr MORE, who worked on House races in Arizona and California. "It's going to become imperative since some traditional battlegrounds are trending away from us in a way I don't think we can stop."

 

House races

Republicans have been officially wiped out of Orange County, California. Democrat Gil Cisneros won the open-seat race for California's 39th District, adding another seat to Democrats' House majority. Cisneros, a lottery winner and Navy veteran, defeated Republican Young Kim in the race to replace outgoing GOP Rep. Ed RoyceEdward (Ed) Randall RoyceMystery surrounds elusive sanctions on Russia Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp House panel advances bill to protect elections from foreign interference MORE. With Cisneros's victory, Democrats have flipped six of the seven GOP-held seats in California that Clinton won in 2016.

 

Meanwhile, in uncalled House races, Rep. Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LoveFormer GOP lawmaker: Trump's tweets have to stop Congressional Women's Softball team releases roster The 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority MORE (R-Utah) pulled ahead in her reelection race to Utah's 4th District. Love is currently ahead of Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams (D) by about 1,500 votes – about 0.58 percentage points – after Friday's tally, reversing her previous deficit of more than 1,000 votes. This came hours after a judge dismissed a lawsuit Love filed this week seeking to stop vote counting in Salt Lake County and allow her campaign to challenge the verification process of ballot signatures. There are still thousands of uncounted provisional ballots in this contest. If the margin ends up within the 0.25 percentage points, a recount will be triggered.

 

Nearly two weeks after Election Day, it looks like the race to represent Texas' 23rd District has finally come to an end. Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones conceded to Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes Democrat running for Will Hurd's seat raises over million in first 100 days of campaign Democrats keen to take on Cornyn despite formidable challenges MORE (R-Texas) on Tuesday, wishing the two-term Republican "the courage to fight for TX-23 in the way in which our district deserves" in a statement. "While we came up short this time, we ran a race of which we can be proud," she said.

 

Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), implored more than 700 attendees on a Justice Democrats strategy call to run for office against incumbent Democrats as well as Republicans in their home districts. Ocasio-Cortez was easily elected in the November midterm elections after pulling off a massive upset in New York's June primary against Rep. Joseph Crowley, who was House Democratic Caucus chairman.

"Long story short, I need you to run for office," she said on a video call with supporters Saturday night. "All I'm asking you to do is throw your hat in the ring, say 'what the heck.'"

 

State watch

And in other highly contested races, Republican Brian Kemp has been elected Georgia governor, defeating Democrat Stacey Abrams in the nationally watched race. Georgia certified the state's vote on Saturday, confirming Kemp led Abrams by 1.4 percentage points. Abrams on Friday ended her campaign in the hotly contested Georgia governor's race, saying she saw "no legal path forward" against Kemp. She said that she would not use the legal system to attempt to "scheme" her way into office, but emphasized that her announcement did not amount to a "concession" to Kemp. Trump on Friday congratulated Kemp on winning the Georgia governor's race, while also praising Abrams, who he tweeted "will have a terrific political future."

 

In Florida, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (D) officially conceded to former Rep. Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisFlorida first lady to miss Women for Trump event due to planned execution Florida governor orders criminal investigation into handling of Jeffrey Epstein case Groups ask court to block ex-felon voting law in Florida MORE (R) in the governor's race as a recount of votes showed a margin Gillum was unlikely to close. Gillum initially conceded to DeSantis last week, but revoked that statement after further vote counts showed DeSantis's lead narrowing. The Tallahassee mayor thanked all of his supporters for their work and vowed to continue to advocate for causes he championed.

 

Speaking of Florida, Democrats see a series of lawsuits in the state's bitter recount fight between Nelson and Scott as an opportunity to achieve a years-long goal: reshaping how ballots are evaluated and counted in the nation's largest swing state in 2020 and beyond, The Hill's Max Greenwood reports.

 

Mississippi runoff

Trump will hold two campaign rallies for Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) on the eve of Mississippi's unexpectedly competitive Senate runoff. The president will hold a rally in Tupelo at 6 p.m. EST and another in Biloxi at 9 p.m. EST on Monday, Nov. 26, the day before the vote. Hyde-Smith faces former Agriculture Sec. Mike Espy (D) in a Nov. 27 runoff to serve out the remaining two years of former Sen. Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranBiden has a lot at stake in first debate The Hill's Morning Report — Trump turns the page back to Mueller probe Trump praises Thad Cochran: 'A real senator with incredible values' MORE's (R) term.

 

As more national Democratic groups get involved in Mississippi's runoff, Progressive Turnout Project is running a more than $100,000 digital GOTV effort targeting likely Democratic voters and voters of color to boost Espy.

 

Race for the White House

Ohio Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownBank watchdogs approve rule to loosen ban on risky Wall Street trades Dayton mayor assigned extra security following verbal spat with Trump The Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape MORE is the latest Democrat capturing the spotlight as speculation ramps up over which Democrats will run in the 2020 presidential race. Democrats believe Brown could be a potential candidate to unify and appeal to the divergent wings of the party, The Hill's Alexander Bolton and Amie Parnes report. Brown easily won reelection in Ohio, which is increasingly is seen as Trump territory and also elected a Republican as governor. Brown is a progressive who has embraced progressive social views on gay rights and abortion and liberal economic views. But on trade, he's long espoused positions similar to Trump's.

But on NBC's "Meet the Press," Brown said he has "no real timetable" for deciding whether to run for president in 2020, but argued the core message that won him reelection to the Senate could resonate with voters on a national level.

 

The Senate Banking Committee could play a pivotal role in the 2020 presidential campaign, with several potential Democratic candidates poised to use the panel as a venue for showcasing both their policies and personalities, The Hill's Sylvan Lane reports. That includes Brown, who is the committee's top Democrat, and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenSenate Democrats push for arms control language in defense policy bill Top adviser on Sanders: 'He's always been underestimated' 'The Simpsons' pokes fun at Trump's feud with 'the squad' MORE (D-Mass.), who are both considering presidential bids. Plus, the two vacant spots on the powerful Banking panel may be filled by other potential 2020 candidates.

 

Democrats have been promising for years that Texas will become a competitive battleground, and after the party's success up and down the ballot this cycle, that's slowly becoming a reality, The Hill's Reid Wilson reports.

 

Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSenate Democrats push for arms control language in defense policy bill Detroit county sheriff endorses Booker for president 'The Simpsons' pokes fun at Trump's feud with 'the squad' MORE (D-N.J.) is set to make his second trip to New Hampshire in less than two months on Dec. 8, WMUR in Manchester, N.H. reports. The rumored 2020 contender will attend the state Democratic Party's "post-election victory celebration." New Hampshire is among the first states to cast ballots in presidential primaries, making it an early target for appearances by potential White House candidates.