Election Countdown: Kavanaugh allegations put GOP in tough spot | Republicans start to pull plug on candidates | Dems get early start in Iowa | O'Rourke defends Cruz after protesters interrupt dinner | Why Biden is the Democrat GOP most fears

This is Election Countdown, The Hill’s weekly 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).


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We’re 41 days until the 2018 midterm elections and 769 days until the 2020 elections.


Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the woman who alleges that he sexually assaulted her in high school will be in the spotlight tomorrow, less than six weeks out from the midterms.


Both Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the allegations, which have derailed the original timeline for the nominee’s confirmation.

It’s unclear just how the allegations and hearing could impact the November elections. Nevertheless, it has put Republicans in a difficult position: Do they side with Kavanaugh, and by extension President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE, who has questioned the accusers’ accounts, and risk isolating female voters and moderates? Or do they take a more tentative approach to Kavanaugh’s nomination and risk igniting conservative ire?


It also remains to be seen how red-state Democrats vote on the nomination. Sens. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn Heitkamp70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents Susan Collins set to play pivotal role in impeachment drama Pro-trade group launches media buy as Trump and Democrats near deal on new NAFTA MORE (D-N.D.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump administration seeks to use global aid for nuclear projects Shelley Moore Capito wins Senate primary West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice wins GOP gubernatorial primary MORE (D-W.Va.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyEx-Sen. Joe Donnelly endorses Biden Lobbying world 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents MORE (D-Ind.) broke rank last year and voted to confirm Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, Justice Neil Gorsuch.

But Gorsuch’s nomination, while opposed by most Democrats, did not carry the same kind of controversy as Kavanaugh’s. Heitkamp, Manchin and Donnelly are already facing tough reelection bids in states that Trump won by wide margins in 2016, and how they handle Kavanaugh’s nomination is sure to be watched closely.


The allegations against Kavanaugh come roughly a year after the start of the “Me Too” movement that exposed sexual misconduct allegations against many powerful men in business, politics and entertainment. That movement has helped energize female voters and ignited speculation of another “Year of the Woman,” marked by a surge in female candidates.


Race for the White House

We’re still 495 days away from the first-in-the-nation caucusues, but the 2020 presidential maneuvering in Iowa is already underway, reports The Hill’s Amie Parnes. Rep. John DelaneyJohn DelaneyThe Hill’s Coronavirus Report: Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas says country needs to rethink what ‘policing’ means; US cases surpass 2 million with no end to pandemic in sight Minnesota AG Keith Ellison says racism is a bigger problem than police behavior; 21 states see uptick in cases amid efforts to reopen The Hill’s Coronavirus Report: Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan says there will be consequences from fraying US-China relations; WHO walks back claims on asymptomatic spread of virus MORE (D-Md.) a little-known congressman, has made Iowa a high priority and has already run over 3,100 ads there. Same goes for billionaire Democratic donor Tom Steyer, who’s launched more than 2,000 ads in the state in the past year calling for Trump‘s impeachment.


Also from Amie is a report that former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Trump finalizing executive order calling on police to use ‘force with compassion’ The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook MORE is the one Democrat that Republicans fear the most about 2020. With an emerging field of potential progressive candidates, Republicans see Biden as the biggest hurdle to Trump’s reelection.


Former New York City mayor and billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg said he’ll delay making a decision about whether to run for president in 2020 until after the November midterms. In the meantime, Bloomberg has committed himself to the midterms, pledging to donate millions to candidates around the country.


Senate showdown

Rep. Beto O’RourkeBeto O’RourkeBiden will help close out Texas Democrats’ virtual convention: report O’Rourke on Texas reopening: ‘Dangerous, dumb and weak’ Parties gear up for battle over Texas state House MORE (D-Texas) defended Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote The Hill’s Morning Report – Trump’s public standing sags after Floyd protests GOP senators introduce resolution opposing calls to defund the police MORE (R-Texas) after Cruz and his wife were confronted by a group of protesters at a D.C. restaurant over Kavanaugh. “Not right that Senator Cruz and his wife Heidi were surrounded and forced to leave a restaurant last night because of protesters. The Cruz family should be treated with respect,” O’Rourke tweeted.


Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerRepublicans prepare to punt on next COVID-19 relief bill GOP senators introduce resolution opposing calls to defund the police Trump tweets spark fresh headache for Republicans MORE (R-N.D.), who’s running against Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), raised eyebrows again for his comments about the sexual assault allegations levied against Kavanaugh. In a Monday interview, Cramer questioned whether the allegations should “disqualify” the judge “even if it’s all true.” But when asked if the allegations are true and proved that Kavanaugh lied, Cramer said that would be disqualifying.


Cramer also sought to clarify his remarks from last week that the allegations are “absurd.” He said Monday that he was calling the timing of the allegations and comparisons to Anita Hill “absurd.” In regards to his comment that “nothing happened” in the allegations that Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford described, Cramer explained, “My point was there was no type of intercourse or anything like that.”


Phil Bredesen, the Democratic Senate hopeful in Tennessee, said Tuesday that he has no plans to back Senate Minority Leader Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerOvernight Health Care: US showing signs of retreat in battle against COVID-19 | Regeneron begins clinical trials of potential coronavirus antibody treatment | CMS warns nursing homes against seizing residents’ stimulus checks Schumer requests briefing with White House coronavirus task force as cases rise Schumer on Trump’s tweet about 75-year-old protester: He ‘should go back to hiding in the bunker’ MORE (D-N.Y.) for a leadership post if he’s elected in November. Bredesen said in a debate that Congress’s current leaders make up “a lot of the problem” in Washington. “I can tell you right now that if I’m elected, and when I’m elected and go to Washington, I am not going to be voting for Chuck Schumer,” he said.


The office of Montana state auditor Matt Rosendale, who is challenging Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterSenate confirms Trump’s watchdog for coronavirus funds Montana barrels toward blockbuster Senate fight The 10 Senate seats most likely to flip MORE (D-Mont.), dropped sanctions and fines against a Friedell LLC, a bail bond company, after meeting company representatives in 2017, the Montana Free Press reports. Friedell employees and family members had contributed nearly $13,000 to Rosendale’s 2016 bid for state auditor and his 2014 campaign for Congress for the purpose of “debt retirement.”

The chief counsel for the state auditor’s office told the Free Press that she was the one who decided to drop the legal action against Friedell, but that she was not aware of the campaign donations.


Survey says…

There have been a number of good polls for Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonNASA, SpaceX and the private-public partnership that caused the flight of the Crew Dragon Lobbying world The most expensive congressional races of the last decade MORE (D-Fla.). In a new Quinnipiac University poll, Nelson leads Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) by 7 points, 53 to 46 percent. Another poll from Marist College has Nelson up 3 points, 48 to 45 percent. Meanwhile, a poll by the Public Opinion Research Lab at the University of North Florida (UNF) shows the two tied at 45 percent.


Another poll by UNF released this week showed Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum leading Rep. Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisGOP tentatively decides on Jacksonville for site of convention DeSantis pushing to host Republican National Convention in Florida Florida bars and theaters to reopen starting Friday, DeSantis says MORE (R-Fla.) by 4 points in the Florida gubernatorial race. It’s only the latest in a series of polls that show Gillum, a progressive African-American candidate, ahead of his Trump-backed challenger.


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And in Georgia, Democrat Stacey Abrams carries a 6-point lead over Republican secretary of State Brian Kemp in the state’s closely watched gubernatorial race, according to an internal poll commissioned by Abrams’s campaign released on Sunday.


The race to replace Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeGOP lawmakers stick to Trump amid new criticism Kelly holds double-digit lead over McSally in Arizona: poll Trump asserts his power over Republicans MORE‘s (R) is heating up in Arizona. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) leads Rep. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyGOP senators introduce resolution opposing calls to defund the police No evidence of unauthorized data transfers by top Chinese drone manufacturer: study Senate Democratic campaign arm launches online hub ahead of November MORE (R) by just 3 points according to the latest NBC News/Marist poll.


Paper chase

Progressive group Acronym launched its “Knock the Vote” campaign on Monday. The group spent $3 million on the voter registration effort, targeting states that allow online registration.


With women expected to win a record breaking number of seats this fall, Michael Bloomberg announced he will donate to more women “than any individual ever has before.” He didn’t give a specific figure that he would contribute, but has previously said that he’s committing to spend $80 million to help Democrats in this cycle.


Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE is hitting the fundraising circuit for Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezGOP’s Obama-era probes fuel Senate angst Government watchdog: ‘No evidence’ Pompeo violated Hatch Act with Kansas trips No time to be selling arms to the Philippines MORE (D-N.J.) The former secretary of state and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee is slated to attend a fundraiser for the incumbent in Jersey City on Oct. 15, according to an invitation posted on Twitter by The New York Times’ Nick Corasaniti.


What we’re watching for

Trump will hold a rally in Wheeling, W.Va. on Saturday. He’s slated to hold another rally in Johnson City, Tenn. on Oct. 1.


Texas will see its second Senate debate between Cruz and O’Rourke in Houston on Sunday.


Coming to a TV near you

Sen. Bill Nelson (D) is dropping two new TV ads in his hotly contested bid against Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R). One spot features Nelson recounting his experience aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia, while the other takes direct aim at Scott for his record in the governor’s mansion. TV ads have been few and far between in Nelson’s re-election bid and the latest spots signal that the three-term Democrat is ramping up his campaign.


Andrew Gillum (D) is out with the first attack ad of his general election bid against Ron DeSantis (R). The 30-second TV spot goes after his Republican opponent for supporting a rollback of protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions.


Giffords PAC, the political arm of the gun safety group founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), is pumping $1.5 million into an ad campaign opposing Rep. Mike CoffmanMichael (Mike) Howard CoffmanBottom Line Koch political arm endorses Colorado Sen. Gardner 20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform MORE (R-Colo.). The first ad released in the campaign features a fictional text conversation between a mother and her daughter during a school shooting.


The ad war in North Dakota’s Senate race is heating up. Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) released a new spot on Monday touting his economic record. A day later, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) debuted a new ad highlighting her work on legislation intended to crack down on websites that facilitate human trafficking.


The two spots underscore the increasingly competitive race between Cramer and Heitkamp, who is considered among the most vulnerable Senate Democrats up for re-election this year.


Wave Watch

Democrats see the controversy surrounding Kavanaugh‘s nomination to the Supreme Court and the GOP’s “war on women” as playing in their favor ahead of the midterm elections, The Hill’s Mike Lillis reports. They’re betting that the saga could further energize women voters in November. “Beware of the wrath of women scorned, Mr. President and Majority Leader McConnell,” Rep. Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierAir Force documents acknowledged ‘persistent’ racial bias in justice system HHS watchdog says actions should be free from political interference Five factors influencing when the House returns MORE (D-Calif.) said. “It will be your party’s downfall.”


The National Republican Congressional Committee is beginning to pull its support from select races as it seeks to shift money and resources to districts that are more likely to help the GOP maintain its majority, The Hill’s Melanie Zanona reports. In one example of the changing priorities, it pulled its remaining ad spending in the Pittsburgh area, where Rep. Keith RothfusKeith James RothfusLobbying world Conor Lamb gets 2020 challenger touted by Trump The 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority MORE (R-Pa.) is desperately fighting to hang on to his seat in a race against Rep. Conor Lamb (D).


Democrats once saw Florida’s 27th District as one of their best pick-up opportunities in 2018. Rep. Ileana Ros-LehtinenIleana Carmen Ros-LehtinenTechNet hires Hispanic communications director Bottom line Women are refusing to take the backseat in politics, especially Latinas MORE‘s (R-Fla.) planned retirement opened a path for the party in the Democratic-leaning district. But Republican Maria Elvira Salazar, a well-known Cuban-American former broadcast journalist, is starting to give Democrat Donna Shalala a run for her money, The  Hill’s Max Greenwood reports.


Kenna Sturgeon, Rachel Cohen and Maddie Rundlett contributed to this week’s Election Countdown.

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