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Election Countdown: Florida candidates face new test from hurricane | GOP optimistic about expanding Senate majority | Top-tier Dems start heading to Iowa | Bloomberg rejoins Dems | Trump heads to Pennsylvania rally

Election Countdown: Florida candidates face new test from hurricane | GOP optimistic about expanding Senate majority | Top-tier Dems start heading to Iowa | Bloomberg rejoins Dems | Trump heads to Pennsylvania rally
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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 27 days from the 2018 midterm elections and 755 days until the 2020 elections.

 

Hurricane Michael is bearing down on the northeastern Gulf Coast of Florida, making it the first ever recorded Category 4 storm to make landfall in the panhandle.

While the focus in the coming days and weeks will (and should) be on the threat it poses to the region and its people, the storm amounts to a sort of October surprise for the midterms in Florida. In the days before the storm hit, candidates for statewide offices scrambled to show that they're ready to lead the state through trying times.

Andrew Gillum, the progressive mayor of Tallahassee who's running for governor, is seeking to overcome criticism over his handling of Hurricane Hermine in 2016, which left his city without power for days. He's spent recent days briefing local leaders and officials, covering the airwaves with news show appearances urging residents to prepare for the storm and filling sandbags.

Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisElection Countdown: Florida Senate fight resumes after hurricane | Cruz softens ObamaCare attacks | GOP worries Trump will lose suburban women | Latest Senate polls | Rep. Dave Brat gets Trump's 'total endorsement' | Dem candidates raise record B Florida extending early voting in counties hit by hurricane Billionaire Tom Steyer donates million to Gillum in Florida governor's race MORE, Gillum's Republican opponent, has been handing out emergency supplies in advance of Hurricane Michael. In a video posted on Twitter Monday, DeSantis warned that residents "need to be prepared" and "follow the local authorities and the state authorities."

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Gillum slammed DeSantis in an interview on MSNBC on Wednesday after the Florida GOP declined to pull two attack ads off the air during the hurricane.

"We can't recall a time where candidates for statewide office have not pulled down negative ads during hurricane season," Gillum said. "You got a whole region of our state where people are fleeing for their lives, anticipating what is a life-threatening event impacting this state."

In the state's Senate race, Gov. Rick Scott (R) spent the days leading up to Hurricane Michael's landfall delivering briefings, holding emergency meetings and giving TV interviews warning of the dangers posed by the storm. His opponent, incumbent Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonElection Countdown: Small-donor donations explode | Russian woman charged with midterm interference | Takeaways from North Dakota Senate debate | O'Rourke gives 'definitive no' to 2020 run | Dems hope Latino voters turn Arizona blue Election Countdown: Florida Senate fight resumes after hurricane | Cruz softens ObamaCare attacks | GOP worries Trump will lose suburban women | Latest Senate polls | Rep. Dave Brat gets Trump's 'total endorsement' | Dem candidates raise record B Florida extending early voting in counties hit by hurricane MORE (D-Fla.), was among several lawmakers who urged President TrumpDonald John TrumpCorker: US must determine responsibility in Saudi journalist's death Five takeaways from testy Heller-Rosen debate in Nevada Dem senator calls for US action after 'preposterous' Saudi explanation MORE to declare a state of emergency in Florida ahead of Hurricane Michael.

Hurricanes can carry political ramifications. The George W. Bush administration's widely panned handling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 drew nationwide scorn and helped fuel Democrats' takeover of the House a year later. Likewise, the Trump administration's response to Hurricanes Maria and Irma in Puerto Rico last year fueled intense criticism from territory officials and mainland Democrats.

 

Senate showdown

Republicans are growing increasingly optimistic about their chances of expanding their narrow Senate majority after the polarizing confirmation battle over Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughPoll: Palin unpopular in Alaska following jab at Murkowski Fox News's Chris Wallace: ‘Preposterous’ to say Dems behind migrant caravan New York man arrested for threatening to kill senators who supported Kavanaugh MORE. The GOP has seen candidates in Texas and Tennessee strengthen their position and make it less likely Democrats can pull of upsets in the red state strongholds. They are also bullish about their chances of knocking off Sens. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampOvernight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma —Senate debates highlight fight over pre-existing conditions | Support grows for Utah Medicaid expansion measure | Arkansas health official defends work requirements Election Countdown: Small-donor donations explode | Russian woman charged with midterm interference | Takeaways from North Dakota Senate debate | O'Rourke gives 'definitive no' to 2020 run | Dems hope Latino voters turn Arizona blue The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump seizes on immigrant 'caravan' for midterms | WHCA criticizes Trump for praising lawmaker who assaulted reporter | Trump takes harder line on Saudis MORE (N.D.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillOvernight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma —Senate debates highlight fight over pre-existing conditions | Support grows for Utah Medicaid expansion measure | Arkansas health official defends work requirements McCaskill campaign says ‘intern’ who filmed campaign had access to voter data McConnell defends Trump-backed lawsuit against ObamaCare MORE (Mo.), two Democrats who voted against Kavanaugh.

  

Senate hopeful, Rep. Beto O'RourkeRobert (Beto) Francis O'RourkeElection Countdown: Small-donor donations explode | Russian woman charged with midterm interference | Takeaways from North Dakota Senate debate | O'Rourke gives 'definitive no' to 2020 run | Dems hope Latino voters turn Arizona blue White vote is 'fundamental problem' for Texas Dems, political analysts says Houston Chronicle endorses Beto O'Rourke in Texas Senate race MORE (D-Texas), is convincing white evangelical women to go blue, according to The New York Times. Although strong opponents of abortion rights, these women approve of O'Rourke's character-- one they say contrasts with that of Trump.

 

O'Rourke will appear solo at a CNN town hall on Oct. 18 after Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzElection Countdown: Small-donor donations explode | Russian woman charged with midterm interference | Takeaways from North Dakota Senate debate | O'Rourke gives 'definitive no' to 2020 run | Dems hope Latino voters turn Arizona blue White vote is 'fundamental problem' for Texas Dems, political analysts says Houston Chronicle endorses Beto O'Rourke in Texas Senate race MORE (R-Texas) declined CNN's offer. The town hall will be hosted in McAllen, Texas, right along the U.S.-Mexico border. CNN will hold other town halls this month including an Oct. 16 one featuring Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and his challenger, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), and an Oct. 21 forum for Florida's gubernatorial candidates: Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum.

 

Rep. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyTrump boosts McSally, bashes Sinema in Arizona Watch live: Trump speaks at Arizona rally Election Countdown: Small-donor donations explode | Russian woman charged with midterm interference | Takeaways from North Dakota Senate debate | O'Rourke gives 'definitive no' to 2020 run | Dems hope Latino voters turn Arizona blue MORE (R-Ariz.) will get help in the final weeks of the midterms from two political heavyweights: former President George W. Bush and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyPoll: Support growing for Utah's Medicaid expansion ballot measure Arizona Dems hope higher Latino turnout will help turn the state blue Trump changes tone on Saudi Arabia amid mounting pressure MORE, who's currently running for a Utah Senate seat. The Arizona Republic reported that Romney, who is Mormon, will hold a rally on Friday in Arizona's East Valley, which has a sizable Mormon population. Bush will travel on Oct. 19 to host a private fundraiser.

 

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) criticized Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRepublicans bail on Coffman to invest in Miami seat Katy Perry praises Taylor Swift for diving into politics Election Countdown: Small-donor donations explode | Russian woman charged with midterm interference | Takeaways from North Dakota Senate debate | O'Rourke gives 'definitive no' to 2020 run | Dems hope Latino voters turn Arizona blue MORE for saying that Democrats couldn't be civil with Republicans. "That's ridiculous," Heitkamp said on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360". "I mean I can't imagine how you get anything done if you don't bring civility back into politics, and that goes for both sides." Heitkamp is running in a tough reelection race in a state Trump won by 36 points in 2016.

 

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce will launch new TV and digital ads in Arizona and Tennessee on Thursday, highlighting the Republican Senate candidates' votes to pass the GOP tax law.

 

House showdown

Democrats seeking to knock off Republican incumbents in two critical districts in the Twin City suburbs have put a dying art at the center of their campaigns: The town hall meeting, reports The Hill's Reid Wilson from Minnesota.

 

Survey says…

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) maintains a comfortable lead in his reelection, holding a 20-point lead in the race against his Democratic competitor, Ben Jealous, according to a poll from The Washington Post/University of Maryland.

 

Cruz leads O'Rourke by 9 points, 53 to 44 percent in a new New York Times/Siena College poll. The survey found that 3 percent remain undecided.

 

A new ABC15-OH Insights poll found that Rep. Martha McSally (R) leads Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) in Arizona's competitive Senate race. McSally holds a six-point lead with 47 percent of likely voters supporting her, according to the poll.

 

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D- Mo.) is in a close race with Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley (R), according to a new poll from Reuters/Ipsos/UVA Center for Politics. The poll found that 45 percent of likely voters back Hawley, while 44 percent back McCaskill.

 

According to a poll released by SurveyUSA for WXIA-TV, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R) leads the state's gubernatorial race narrowly. His Democratic competitor, former state House Democratic Leader Stacey Abrams (D) trails him by 2 points.

 

Paper chase

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGOP plays hardball in race to confirm Trump's court picks Trump officials ratchet up drug pricing fight Dems angered by GOP plan to hold judicial hearings in October MORE (R-Iowa) says he will counter the $3 million raised for Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsConservatives bankrolled and dominated Kavanaugh confirmation media campaign The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns Susan Collins and the mob mentality MORE's (R-Maine) future Democratic opponent following her controversial vote to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

 

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) has cancelled TV and radio ad reservations in Texas's 23rd District, where Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdElection Countdown: Dems outraise GOP in final stretch | 2018 midterms already most expensive in history | What to watch in second Cruz-O'Rourke debate | Trump raises 0M for reelection | Why Dems fear Avenatti's approach Dems struggle to mobilize Latino voters for midterms Election Countdown: Florida candidates face new test from hurricane | GOP optimistic about expanding Senate majority | Top-tier Dems start heading to Iowa | Bloomberg rejoins Dems | Trump heads to Pennsylvania rally MORE (R-Texas) is running for reelection, from Oct. 16 through Election Day, according to National Journal. It's a signal that Republicans are feeling good about Hurd's reelection chances. A NYT/Siena poll from last month had Hurd up over Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones by 8 points, even though Clinton carried the district in 2016.

 

Race for the White House

Top-tier Democratic presidential hopefuls are quickly making their way to Iowa--which holds the first-in-the-nation caucuses on Feb. 3, 2020--reports The Hill's Amie Parnes. Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSanders, Harris set to criss-cross Iowa Election Countdown: Small-donor donations explode | Russian woman charged with midterm interference | Takeaways from North Dakota Senate debate | O'Rourke gives 'definitive no' to 2020 run | Dems hope Latino voters turn Arizona blue Kamala Harris rallies voters in South Carolina MORE (D-N.J.) was in Iowa over the weekend for the first time since the 2016 election. Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisSanders, Harris set to criss-cross Iowa Kamala Harris rallies voters in South Carolina On The Money: Mnuchin pulls out of Saudi summit | Consumer bureau to probe controversial blog posts on race | Harris proposes new middle-class tax credit MORE (D-Calif.) and Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersElection Countdown: Small-donor donations explode | Russian woman charged with midterm interference | Takeaways from North Dakota Senate debate | O'Rourke gives 'definitive no' to 2020 run | Dems hope Latino voters turn Arizona blue Bernie Sanders' age should not disqualify him in 2020 Small-dollar donations explode in the Trump era MORE (I-Vt.) are both planning to travel to the Hawkeye State later this month. Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenDNA is irrelevant — Elizabeth Warren is simply not Cherokee The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump seizes on immigrant 'caravan' for midterms | WHCA criticizes Trump for praising lawmaker who assaulted reporter | Trump takes harder line on Saudis Clinton aide: Chances 'highly unlikely' but 'not zero' Hillary will run for president again MORE (D-Mass.) and former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenElection Countdown: Small-donor donations explode | Russian woman charged with midterm interference | Takeaways from North Dakota Senate debate | O'Rourke gives 'definitive no' to 2020 run | Dems hope Latino voters turn Arizona blue Clinton aide: Chances 'highly unlikely' but 'not zero' Hillary will run for president again The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Trump, Obama head to swing states with Senate majority in balance MORE, though, currently have no scheduled visits to Iowa on the horizon.

 

Speaking of Biden, he said he doesn't plan to run for president in 2020 "at this point." "I think there are many people in the Democratic Party who can defeat Trump," he said when asked whether he would have better foreign policy than Trump. "And not a single aspiring candidate that I can think of for the nomination--and I am not one at this point--does not have a better understanding and formulation of American foreign policy than President Trump, in my view."

 

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who's been a political independent, re-registered on Wednesday as a Democrat. He has previously said he will consider running for president in 2020, but will make that decision after the November midterm elections.

 

What we're watching for

Senate Debate schedule:

--Friday night debate in Wisconsin

--Sunday night debates in West Virginia, Ohio and Michigan

Trump rally schedule:

--Wednesday rally in Erie, Pa. at 7 p.m. ET (Trump is going ahead with the rally despite Hurricane Michael pounding the Florida coast.)

--Friday rally in Lebanon, Ohio at 7 p.m. ET

--Saturday rally in Richmond, Ky. at 7 p.m. ET

 

Coming to a TV near you

Democrats' House Majority PAC partnered with Ady Barkan, who's been diagnosed with ALS and made national headlines when he confronted Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump boosts McSally, bashes Sinema in Arizona Watch live: Trump speaks at Arizona rally Mnuchin to attend anti-terror meeting in Saudi Arabia following Khashoggi disappearance MORE (R-Ariz.) to oppose the tax bill last year. Barkan and his wife appear in an ad backing Democrat Katie Hill who is looking to unseat Rep. Steve Knight (R) in California's 25th congressional district.

 

The GOP's Congressional Leadership Fund launched a new TV and digital ad campaign to elevate Rep. Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LoveRepublicans should prepare for Nancy Pelosi to wield the gavel Election Countdown: Dems outraise GOP in final stretch | 2018 midterms already most expensive in history | What to watch in second Cruz-O'Rourke debate | Trump raises 0M for reelection | Why Dems fear Avenatti's approach Poll: Republican Mia Love tied with Dem challenger in Utah House race MORE (R-Utah), who's running against Salt Lake City Mayor Ben McAdams (D). "The choice is clear: Mia will help grow the economy, McAdams will grow government."

 

What they're saying

In an op-ed for The Hill, former Rep. Steve IsraelSteven (Steve) J. IsraelMichael Avenatti, please go away Election Countdown: Florida candidates face new test from hurricane | GOP optimistic about expanding Senate majority | Top-tier Dems start heading to Iowa | Bloomberg rejoins Dems | Trump heads to Pennsylvania rally Understanding Joe Manchin MORE (D-N.Y.), who used to chair the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), dives into why Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinFive takeaways from testy Heller-Rosen debate in Nevada Blankenship endorses ex-W.Va. GOP Senate rival, calls him 'lying' drug lobbyist Conservatives bankrolled and dominated Kavanaugh confirmation media campaign MORE (D-W.Va.), a conservative Democrat up for reelection in a state Trump won by 42 points, was the only Democrat to vote for Kavanaugh's confirmation.

 

Dov S. Zakheim, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and vice chairman of the board for the Foreign Policy Research Institute, explores outgoing UN ambassador Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyMary Kissel expected to join State Department Scarborough predicts Trump will ‘cash out’ and not run in 2020 Toobin: Flake and Sasse ‘never actually take a stand’ against Trump MORE's political future in an op-ed for The Hill.

 

Election Countdown was written by Lisa Hagen, Max Greenwood, Rachel Cohen, Kenna Sturgeon and James Wellemeyer.