Election Countdown: Takeaways from heated Florida governor's debate | DNC chief pushes back on 'blue wave' talk | Manchin faces progressive backlash | Trump heads to Houston rally | Obama in Las Vegas | Signs of huge midterm turnout

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 15 days until the 2018 midterm elections and 743 days until the 2020 elections.


If you’re wondering why the race for Florida governor has gotten more attention than any other contest in the state, look no further than Sunday night’s debate.

The debate between Democrat Andrew Gillum and Republican 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 underscored the intense partisan divisions on display not just in the gubernatorial race, but in campaigns nationwide. Whether the topic was law enforcement or health care, the two candidates showed that there’s little room for agreement.

ADVERTISEMENTSunday night’s debate may have been the first time Gillum and DeSantis went toe-to-toe in person – but it won’t be the last. The two are set to square off again on Wednesday night in Broward County. Still, it’s unclear if the second debate will pick up where the first one left off.

One of the big topics that hasn’t yet been addressed: Puerto Rico. The territory and its people have become inextricably linked to Florida politics, especially in the past year after Hurricanes Maria and Irma drove tens of thousands of the island’s residents to the state.

Puerto Ricans are becoming an increasingly influential voting bloc in Florida, and both Gillum and DeSantis have aggressively courted them in recent months.

Unlike the debate on Sunday, which was hosted and aired by CNN, Wednesday night’s debate won’t be broadcast nationwide. It’ll be hosted by Leadership Florida and the Florida Press Association, meaning that the candidates will be able to make their cases outside the glare of the national spotlight.

But whether that will set the stage for a more cordial debate remains to be seen. The Hill’s Max Greenwood will be covering the second debate from Florida, so be sure to follow his coverage from the Sunshine State throughout the week.


Senate showdown

Sen. 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.) is facing a wave of backlash from progressives and liberal activists incensed by his vote in favor of Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughGOP senators urge Trump to back off Murkowski threat Judd Gregg: A government in free fall The 7 most anticipated Supreme Court decisions MORE‘s confirmation to the Supreme Court, The Hill’s Jordain Carney reports. That vote has already prompted some liberal groups to pull support for the incumbent senator as he faces a tough reelection bid in a state that handed 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 and outsize margin of victory.


Trump has been publicly casting the midterm elections as a referendum on his presidency. But privately, he’s preparing to blame Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote GOP senator to try to reverse requirement that Pentagon remove Confederate names from bases No, ‘blue states’ do not bail out ‘red states’ MORE (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanBush, Romney won’t support Trump reelection: NYT Twitter joins Democrats to boost mail-in voting — here’s why Lobbying world MORE (R-Wis.) if the GOP loses control of either chamber in November, Politico reports. Trump has told confidants that he sees his bid for a second term in 2020 as “the real election,” according to the publication.


Wave watch

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom PerezThomas Edward PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s ‘wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE said Monday that he has always thought this year’s elections would be close and that he doesn’t use the term “blue wave” to describe a possible big win for his party. Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Milley apologizes for church photo-op Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness MORE (I-Vt.) in an interview with Hill.TV that aired Monday also dismissed talk of a Democratic wave. “I know a lot of people talk about this blue wave and all that stuff, but I don’t believe it,” Sanders said. We’ll have more on how Democratic leaders are trying to manage expectations and keep their base engaged ahead of the midterms. 


Strong turnout in the first days of early voting in several states is serving as the latest sign that voter enthusiasm is sky high ahead of Election Day. So far, 4.3 million Americans have cast their ballots, The Hill’s Reid Wilson reports. That signals a huge increase over the last midterm elections in 2014, when voter turnout hit a 70-year low. “All signs point to a higher turnout election,” Michael McDonald, a political scientist at the University of Florida, told The Hill.


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‘s (D-Texas) Senate campaign may spur voter turnout strong enough to have a down-ballot effect in the seats held by GOP Reps. John CulbersonJohn Abney CulbersonBottom line Ex-Rep. Frelinghuysen joins law and lobby firm Bottom line MOREPete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsTexas kicks off critical battle for House control The Hill’s review of John Solomon’s columns on Ukraine Tenth Congressional Black Caucus member backs Biden MORE and Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdHouse Republicans hopeful about bipartisan path forward on police reform legislation House GOP delays police reform bill The Hill’s Morning Report – Trump’s public standing sags after Floyd protests MORE. They are running in districts that were carried by 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 MOREin 2016. Democrats in those three races outraised the GOP incumbents by over $1 million in the last quarter. Analysts suggest Democrats will have a chance at flipping these districts if O’Rourke can gin up turnout among Hispanic voters and college-educated women, reports The Hill’s Lisa Hagen from Dallas.


Former President Obama was on the trail for candidates in Las Vegas on Monday, where he reminded voters to “remember who started” the current economic boom


Survey says…

A new survey from NBC News and The Wall Street Journal gives Democrats a 9-point advantage over Republicans on the generic congressional ballot. The poll of 900 registered voters showed Democrats leading the GOP on the generic ballot, 50 percent to 41 percent. The enthusiasm for Democrats is driven largely by women, Latinos and young voters, with each group reporting higher levels of interest in the 2018 elections than in past midterms.


Sen. Tina SmithTina Flint SmithGun control group rolls out first round of Senate endorsements Pelosi: George Floyd death is ‘a crime’ Senate Democrat introduces bill to protect food supply MORE (D-Minn.) holds a 6-point lead in her race against GOP challenger, state Sen. Karin Housley, according to a new Star Tribune/MPR News Minnesota poll. Smith was appointed to her Senate seat following Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenPolitical world mourns loss of comedian Jerry Stiller Maher to Tara Reade on timing of sexual assault allegation: ‘Why wait until Biden is our only hope?’ Democrats begin to confront Biden allegations MORE‘s (D) December amid sexual misconduct allegations.


Democrat Andrew Gillum has a slim, 1-point lead over Republican Ron DeSantis in Florida’s nationally watched race for governor, according to a survey from St. Pete Polls released Monday. That largely mirrors other polls that have Gillum up by only a point or two. The same survey showed 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 virtual tie with Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott in the Senate race. Nelson came in at 48.3 percent, while Scott had 48.6 percent support.


Paper chase

In a break from past presidential cycles, major Democratic donors are not throwing their support behind prospective 2020 candidates this early in the race, reports The Hill’s Amie Parnes. The shift comes as midterms remain the focus of most donors and strategists. “I think anybody not focusing on 2018 is missing the boat,” said Democratic donor Jon Vein. The lack of commitment among donors also signals a large 2020 primary, with no clear frontrunner in sight.


What we’re watching for

Campaign trail:

Donald Trump Jr.Don John TrumpTrump Jr. calls elderly supporter who was assaulted Trump Jr. hits Howard Stern for going ‘establishment,’ ‘acting like Hillary’ Trump Jr., GOP senator lash out at Facebook for taking down protest pages on stay-at-home orders MORE, the president’s eldest son, is set to campaign for West Virginia GOP Senate hopeful Patrick Morrisey on Oct. 22.

–Hillary Clinton will attend fundraisers for Gillum in south Florida on Oct. 23

–Former President Obama will campaign in Wisconsin for gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers, Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinBiden launches program to turn out LGBTQ vote We need a ‘9-1-1’ for mental health — we need ‘9-8-8’ Democrats introduce bill to rein in Trump’s power under Insurrection Act MORE (D-Wis.) and other Democrats running down ballot during an event on Oct. 26.


Trump rallies:

–Oct. 22 in Houston, Texas

–Oct. 24 in Mosinee, Wis.

–Oct. 26 in Charlotte, N.C.

–Oct. 27 in Murphysboro, Ill.


Debates: (All ET)

–Oct. 23: Georgia gubernatorial debate at 7 p.m.

–Oct. 24: Florida gubernatorial debate at 7 p.m.; New Jersey Senate debate at 8 p.m.

–Oct. 26: North Dakota Senate debate at 8 p.m.


Coming to a TV near you

314 Action, a group that’s aiming to elect more people with science and engineering backgrounds to office, is out with its second TV ad buy for Democrat Joe Cunningham in South Carolina’s 1st District. Cunningham is an ocean engineer. The group touts his opposition to offshore drilling off of South Carolina’s coasts and attacks his GOP opponent, Katie Arrington, for her position on the issue.


Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) is rolling out a new Spanish-language ad touting his work with Trump and his gubernatorial administration’s response to Hurricanes Maria and Irma in Puerto Rico. In the past, Scott has largely avoided mentioning Trump in his outreach to Puerto Rican voters, who make up an increasingly influential voting bloc in Florida. While many Puerto Rican voters have a positive perception of Scott’s handling of the hurricanes last year, Trump’s response to the storm was widely panned.


Race for the White House

Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardGabbard drops defamation lawsuit against Clinton It’s as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process 125 lawmakers urge Trump administration to support National Guard troops amid pandemic MORE (D-Hawaii) is considering entering the 2020 presidential race as one of the many likely Democratic candidates. Politico reported that Rania Batrice, Gabbard’s adviser, reached out to digital campaign staff and speech writers but without explicitly mentioning 2020.


Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) thanked Iowa voters on Sunday for supporting his progressive policy agenda, reports The Hill’s Naomi Jagoda from Ames, Iowa. Sanders’s trip to Iowa comes amid speculation that Sanders may be gearing up for a 2020 run. While in Iowa, Sanders said he understood voters may have supported Trump in 2016 because they felt ignored in Washington. But he went on to dismiss Trump as a “pathological liar” with “no political beliefs.”


The Hill’s Election Countdown was written by Lisa Hagen, Max Greenwood, Kenna Sturgeon and James Wellemeyer.

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