With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA:

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The Midwest is poised to be the epicenter of Democratic gains in the midterms, just as it was for Republicans during the 2010 tea party wave. One underappreciated reason is that Democrats nominated more temperamentally and ideologically moderate candidates in this region than across the Sun Belt, which might have been ground zero for the party out of power.

With the left already activated by animus toward President Trump, milquetoast Midwest moderates are polling well two weeks out from the elections. The Democratic nominees for governor in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Kansas each defeated more liberal alternatives in competitive primaries by emphasizing their electability. To varying degrees, all appear to be acting intentionally bland and tacking toward the middle.

In contrast, Democratic voters selected the more liberal and fiery candidates for governor in primaries from Arizona and Texas to Florida and Georgia. That quickly took the first two contests off the map. Progressives hope Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and former Georgia House minority leader Stacey Abrams, both young African Americans, will motivate minority and millennial voters who don’t traditionally participate in nonpresidential elections. But veteran strategists from both parties believe that a more moderate nominee like former Florida congresswoman Gwen Graham would probably be further ahead in the polls than Gillum if she had won the August primary.

“It’s a Hippocratic oath election for Democrats: Do no harm and hope to ride a wave,” said GOP strategist Phil Cox of 50 State, who formerly directed the Republican Governors Association. Not speaking of any specific race, he added: “If you’re a generic Democrat, you’re trying to play mistake-free ball and let a favorable environment do the heavy lifting for you.”

-- With the 2020 presidential campaign poised to begin in earnest immediately following the fall elections, Michigan might offer a road map for some Democrats looking to limit their time in the wilderness. Trump was the first Republican since 1988 to carry the state’s electoral votes, but Democrat nominee Gretchen Whitmer has emerged as the heavy favorite over state Attorney General Bill Schuette to replace outgoing GOP Gov. Rick Snyder. Among other progressive priorities, the former state Senate minority leader refused to endorse single-payer health insurance, known as “Medicare-for-all,” even as both of her primary rivals hammered her for it. Instead, the consistent mantra of her campaign through the primary and general elections has been, “Fix the damn roads.” The slogan is designed to portray her as more of a problem solver than an ideologue.

“It wasn’t that we fundamentally went from Obama country to Trump country. It’s that people didn’t vote. That was the biggest takeaway that a lot of people missed,” Whitmer said in an interview at a Democratic field office here. “We’re really working hard to make sure that people understand the governor impacts your day every day in a more profound way than even the White House does: from the cleanliness of your water, to the education your kids are getting, to fixing the damn roads. That’s what a governor does. We saw a great turnout in the primary. And as far as we can tell, the absentee ballots are flying out the doors. But we’ve got to keep our foot on the gas all the way through.”

Whitmer, 47, said her focus on “the dinner-table issues” grew out of visiting all 83 counties in the state. Her pitch is less about repudiating the status quo than appealing to voter frustration and fatigue with division that doesn’t solve problems. “One of the things about showing up in every part of the state [is] it keeps you tethered to the real issues people are confronting,” Whitmer said. “When you can’t drink the water coming out of your tap, or you’re paying hundreds to fix your car because the roads are falling apart, or your kids aren’t getting the education they need, that is all consuming. … That’s what people want: They want government to get the job done for them.”

-- Across the Midwest, Democratic candidates for governor are campaigning less on turning the car around than changing lanes. Who knows whether they’d behave this way if given the keys, but on the stump at least they’re talking more about incremental shifts than radical changes:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s challenger, Tony Evers, is about as close to a plain-vanilla Democrat as you could find in 2018. The state superintendent of public instruction easily won an eight-way primary in August against several progressive firebrands, including the president of the state firefighters’ union, a former state party chair and the mayor of the state’s most liberal city — known locally as the People’s Republic of Madison. Evers was the only one of the eight Democrats to oppose making all the state’s technical colleges free, and he resisted the calls of several of his rivals to support the legalization of marijuana. In the general election, he’s stayed laser focused on talking about increasing education funding, expanding health-care coverage and fixing potholes — which he calls “Scottholes,” a play on his opponent’s name, in commercials. This approach has Evers within the margin of error against an entrenched and well-funded incumbent.  

In Ohio, which Trump handily carried, former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau chief Richard Cordray is running as a plain-spoken economic populist more than a traditional liberal. Former congressman Dennis Kucinich attacked Cordray during the Democratic primary for, among other things, once having an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association and being soft on the environment. Cordray, who has stayed emphasized issues like overtime pay, is running neck-and-neck with Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. The race could go either way.

In Minnesota, Democratic Rep. Tim Walz also took hits from his challengers for welcoming past support from the NRA. But he won the primary anyway against state Rep. Erin Murphy, who had secured the party’s endorsement during a state convention, by emphasizing his ability to win six times in a rural congressional district that Trump had easily carried. Now he’s the overwhelming favorite to win the general election against Jeff Johnson, who won a shocking upset over former governor Tim Pawlenty in the GOP primary. Meanwhile, Walz’s more progressive House colleague Keith Ellison — buffeted by an ex-girlfriend’s allegation of abuse, which he strongly denies — is struggling in his bid for attorney general.

-- South Dakota and Kansas are two states of concern for Republicans right now that should probably be getting more national attention than they have been. The RGA is spending money to shore up Rep. Kristi Noem’s campaign in South Dakota. And Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who defeated the incumbent governor in the GOP primary by running hard to his right, is struggling to appeal to moderate Republicans who had soured on former governor Sam Brownback before he stepped down to become an ambassador. Polls show the race is close, but the underlying data suggests Kobach will have a tough time. Surveys suggest, for example, that the top concern for likely Republican voters in Kansas is education funding. Yet Kobach seldom talks about education. When he spoke at Trump’s recent rally in the state, he riffed on immigration, ballot security and taxes — but not schools.

-- Midwesterners are looking for “steadiness” as they pick a chief executive because they’re “sick of all the hot air blowing out of Washington and the broken government in their state capitals,” said Jared Leopold, communications director for the Democratic Governors Association. “Fundamentally, governors races are about competence and priorities. After eight years of Republican control in the Midwest, voters are looking for a jolt of leadership in their states. … That’s why slogans like ‘fix the damn roads’ have caught on: It’s not just about potholes …”

-- Another factor helping generic Democrats in the Midwest is that grass-roots activists are hungry to win after Trump’s unexpected victory in their states two years ago. In Michigan, for example, Bernie Sanders campaigned for Whitmer’s Democratic rival Abdul El-Sayed this summer. But the Vermont senator, who bested Hillary Clinton here in 2016 and may run again in 2020, reached out to Whitmer immediately after she won the primary. “To his credit, he called and said I want to help and it’s important you win this,” she said.

Headlining a rally for Whitmer here on Friday, by the University of Michigan campus, Bernie called this “the most important midterm election in the history of our country.” “No more complaining. No more despair. Now is the time to stand up, fight back and vote,” said Sanders, according to the Detroit News.

-- Schuette, the Republican nominee for governor, said Whitmer is a far-left wolf in a pragmatic sheep’s clothing, and that campaigning with a self-described democratic socialist proves it. He said she would repeal the right-to-work law passed by the GOP, raise taxes and bring back everything about former Democratic governor Jennifer Granholm that Michiganders rejected in 2010. “It was already the most extreme ticket … and now Bernie Sanders,” Schuette said during an interview between campaign stops last Thursday. “People see through it. It’s just so phony, and I think Bernie Sanders’s visit is an accurate reflection of her true politics. She was one of the most extreme left-wing members of the Michigan legislature in her 14 years there.”

Schuette, who won the GOP primary by embracing Trump, continues to welcome his support and rejects the notion that the president is a drag. “The voices saying that are the same voices who were saying Hillary Clinton should measure the drapes,” he said.

The two-term attorney general, a former congressman and judge, predicted that the race will be much closer than the polls show. “I’m about five down, maybe four,” he said. “We’re tightening. In Michigan, you win these races on Election Day. The similarities are striking with John Engler’s race in 1990. In Michigan, you start behind if you’re a Republican.”

As we talked, the 65-year-old fondly recalled a night in 1979 when he was volunteering for George H.W. Bush’s insurgent campaign against Ronald Reagan for the Republican presidential nomination. Schuette picked up Bush from the airport in his mom’s Jeep to drive him to a fundraiser at a country club on the lakeshore. They were shooting the bull during the drive back to the airport, so that an exhausted Bush could catch a redeye for another fundraiser the next morning. “Nobody said it would be easy,” the future president told the 20-something Schuette, “and everybody was right.”

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- Special counsel Bob Mueller’s team has spent recent weeks poring over conflicting comments made by longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone, as they work to determine whether he had advance knowledge of WikiLeaks’s plans to release a trove of hacked DNC emails in 2016. Stone's alleged communications are also a focus of the grand jury in Washington, which has heard more than a dozen hours of testimony on the matter. Carol D. Leonnig, Manuel Roig-Franzia and Rosalind S. Helderman report: “While outwardly quiet for the last month, [Mueller’s] investigators have been aggressively pursuing leads behind the scenes about whether Stone was in communication with the online group … Stone, who boasted during the race that he was in touch with [Julian Assange], has said since that his past comments were exaggerated or misunderstood. … However, prosecutors are closely examining both public comments and alleged private assertions that Stone made in 2016 suggesting he had a way to reach Assange[.] Last month, Randy Credico, a onetime Stone friend, told the grand jury that the [Stone confided in 2016] that he had a secret back channel to WikiLeaks …

“The special counsel’s prosecutors have also zeroed in on Stone’s relationship with conservative journalist and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, examining whether he served as a conduit between Stone and Assange … Corsi appeared before Mueller’s grand jury last month, and FBI agents have recently been seeking to interview Corsi’s associates[.] … In addition, investigators have scrutinized Stone’s communications with Trump campaign officials about WikiLeaks … One apparent line of inquiry: whether Stone lied to Congress about his alleged contacts with WikiLeaks during the presidential race[.]”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Hurricane Willa has become a Category 4 storm headed for Mexico. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Willa could “produce life-threatening storm surge, wind and rainfall over portions of southwestern and west-central Mexico beginning on Tuesday.” (AP)
  2. Panama City, devastated by Hurricane Michael, still lacks reliable access to running water, the Internet or ATMs. The few stores that remain open are generally cash only because credit cards often don't work, posing a problem for residents unable to access their bank accounts. (Frances Stead Sellers, Kevin Begos and Katie Zezima)

  3. An express train popular with tourists derailed in Taiwan, killing 18 people and injuring 168 others in the island’s worst train wreck in decades. Five of the eight carriages that derailed were flipped over, including four that were overturned at 90 degree angles. (Deanna Paul)
  4. China’s top representative to Macau died after falling from his building. Beijing released a statement saying Zheng Xiaosong had been suffering from depression, implying he killed himself. But suicide has been listed as the official cause of death for hundreds of officials swept up in China’s “anti-corruption” campaign. (BBC)

  5. Uber aims to deploy food-delivery drones by 2021. The ambitious timeline would require the company to make delivery drones functional by as soon as next year. (Wall Street Journal)

  6. At least 30 people at Clemson University were injured this weekend after the floor of a multistory apartment clubhouse collapsed under them. It was a fraternity party during homecoming weekend. (Deanna Paul)
  7. The Oakland, Calif., police department has begun asking job applicants whether they've ever been sexually assaulted. Officials say they're asking so they can review police reports in which applicants may appear, but legal experts believe the inquiry constitutes sex discrimination. (AP)

  8. The Mega Millions jackpot has reached $1.6 billion, climbing to an all-time world record this weekend after no one claimed Friday’s winning ticket. The next drawing will be held Tuesday. (Amy B Wang and Alex Horton)

KHASHOGGI FALLOUT:

-- Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister denied that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi — but his comments did little to tamp the international outrage and calls for repercussions following his death. Tamer El-Ghobashy, Kareem Fahim and Carol Morello report: “[Saudi officials] have failed to answer questions about where Khashoggi’s remains are and have offered inconsistent narratives for how he was killed, undermining the government’s assertion that Khashoggi died after a fistfight broke out when he was confronted by agents seeking to bring him back to Riyadh … That explanation will face a fresh challenge on Tuesday when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to reveal details of his government’s investigation into the killing of Khashoggi, a move that could directly contradict Saudi Arabia’s official account of what happened inside its consulate. Erdogan said he would explain the episode ‘in a very different way’ when his ruling party meets, adding to the already intense global pressure Saudi leadership has faced to provide a full picture of how Khashoggi was killed.”

-- On the Sunday shows, Republicans and Democrats proposed a range of severe punishments, including sanctions on the longtime U.S. ally, the expulsion of the Saudi ambassador and the cutting of arms sales:

  • “It’s my thinking that MBS was involved in this, that he directed this and that this person was purposefully murdered,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said on CNN's “State of the Union.”
  • Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 in Democratic leadership, said on “Meet the Press” that the Saudi ambassador should be formally expelled from the United States if an investigation shows the crown prince’s involvement.

-- A Turkish official said one member of the Saudi team suspected to be involved in Khashoggi’s death was later seen wearing the journalist’s clothes, suggesting he traveled to Istanbul to act as a body double. CNN’s Gul Tuysuz, Salma Abdelaziz, Ghazi Balkiz, Ingrid Formanek and Clarissa Ward report: “CNN has obtained exclusive law enforcement surveillance footage, part of the Turkish government's investigation, that appears to show the man leaving the consulate by the back door, wearing Khashoggi's clothes, a fake beard, and glasses. … The man in the video, identified by the official as Mustafa al-Madani, was allegedly part of what investigators have said was a hit squad … In the apparent cover-up that followed Khashoggi's death, Madani, 57, who is of similar height, age and build to Khashoggi, 59, was used as a decoy for the journalist, according to the Turkish official. … ‘You don't need a body double for a rendition or an interrogation,’ the official said.”

-- Even some of Trump’s closest allies on the Hill warn that a failure to stand up to Riyadh will project American weakness on the global stage. From Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey: “[Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.)] said it is incumbent upon the president to ‘send a clear signal to the Middle East that there’s a new sheriff in town.’ … [Trump’s inaction], foreign policy experts say, is an abdication of America’s historic role as a global beacon of morality and human rights. Instead, Trump is pursuing a foreign policy shaped by commercial self-interest. … Foreign policy analysts said [Kim Jong Un], Russian President Vladimir Putin and other authoritarians around the world probably are studying how Trump handles the Khashoggi episode to gauge America’s will to retaliate against those who commit human rights atrocities.”

-- Despite pulling out of the Riyadh investor conference, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin will still visit the Saudi capital this week for a meeting on combating terrorism financing. The New York Times’s Alan Rappeport reports: “Mnuchin, speaking during a stop in Jerusalem, said the economic and strategic relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia was too important to be derailed by an international uproar over [Khashoggi’s killing]. … Mnuchin described what happened to Mr. Khashoggi as a ‘terrible situation’ and said that the United States would not go easy on countries that violate human rights even if they have close economic ties. … But Mr. Mnuchin said it was important to wait for more facts to emerge before determining if Saudi Arabia should face sanctions … and added that it was ‘premature’ to even discuss sanctions at this point.”

-- “Inside the Saudis’ Washington influence machine: How the kingdom gained power through fierce lobbying and charm offensives,” by Tom Hamburger, Beth Reinhard and Justin Wm. Moyer: “[MBS] was preparing for his first official visit to the United States, just four months after he consolidated power by ordering the detention of members of the royal family and business elite. At the same time, Congress was facing a vote on a bipartisan resolution seeking to end U.S. support for a Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen that has killed tens of thousands of civilians … During an afternoon meeting on March 12, Saudi Ambassador Khalid bin Salman sat at the head of a long table in an embassy conference room . . . His assembled advisers included [a former Minnesota senator, a veteran political adviser who served on Trump’s] transition team; and Democratic strategist Alfred E. Mottur[.] Eight days after their meeting, the congressional resolution aimed at extracting the United States from what the United Nations labeled ‘the worst humanitarian crisis in the world’ would be defeated — hours after Mohammed was warmly welcomed at the White House at the start of his nationwide tour. ... In 2017, Saudi payments to lobbyists and consultants in Washington more than tripled over the previous year."

-- Post columnist Robert Kagan detonates “the myth of the modernizing dictator,” with the Saudi crown prince just the latest example: “Autocrats, as it happens, are disinclined to lay the foundations for their own demise. They do not create independent political institutions, foster the rule of law or permit a vibrant civil society precisely because these would threaten their hold on power. Instead, they seek to destroy institutions and opposition forces that might someday pose a challenge to their dictatorial rule. Why should we expect otherwise?”

WATCH WHAT THEY DO, NOT WHAT THEY SAY:

-- The Trump administration is considering redefining gender by one’s genitalia at birth, which would be a major rollback in the government’s recognition of transgender Americans. The New York Times’s Erica L. Green, Katie Benner and Robert Pear report: “[T]he Department of Health and Human Services is spearheading an effort to establish a legal definition of sex under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans gender discrimination in education programs that receive government financial assistance . . . The department argued in its memo that key government agencies needed to adopt an explicit and uniform definition of gender as determined ‘on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.’ The agency’s proposed definition would define sex as either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with, according to a draft . . . Any dispute about one’s sex would have to be clarified using genetic testing. … The new definition would essentially eradicate federal recognition of the estimated 1.4 million Americans who have opted to recognize themselves — surgically or otherwise — as a gender other than the one they were born into.” As a candidate in 2016, Trump promised to respect transgender rights and said one point he didn't care what bathroom people wanted to use.

-- Trump signaled opposition to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage site in Nevada during a campaign rally, even though his administration has allocated millions of dollars to fund it. Seung Min Kim reports: “For years, Nevada lawmakers have blocked attempts to restart licensing at the repository, about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, and presidential candidates traveling to this swing state have long been pressed for their stances on Yucca. ‘I think you should do things where people want them to happen, so I would be very inclined to be against it,’ Trump said Saturday of Yucca in an interview with KRNV-News 4, based in Reno. ‘We will be looking at it very seriously over the next few weeks, and I agree with the people of Nevada.’ But in both of its budget plans to Congress, the Trump administration designated $120 million for the Yucca project.”

-- An oil spill that has been leaking into the Gulf of Mexico since 2004 has highlighted the potential liabilities of the Trump administration’s offshore drilling policies. Darryl Fears reports: “Between 300 and 700 barrels of oil per day have been spewing from a site 12 miles off the Louisiana coast since 2004, when an oil-production platform owned by Taylor Energy sank in a mudslide triggered by Hurricane Ivan. … As oil continues to spoil the Gulf, the Trump administration is proposing the largest expansion of leases for the oil and gas industry, with the potential to open nearly the entire outer continental shelf to offshore drilling. … Expansion plans come despite fears that the offshore oil industry is poorly regulated and that the planet needs to decrease fossil fuels to combat climate change, as well as the knowledge that 14 years after Ivan took down Taylor’s platform, the broken wells are releasing so much oil that researchers needed respirators to study the damage.”

-- The administration wants tech companies to make it easier for their employees to do brief tours of duty in government. Tony Romm reports: “The White House plans to convene technology giants including Amazon.com, Google, Microsoft and IBM on Monday … For the Trump administration, the hope is that private companies might encourage employees to take leaves of absence to help modernize state and federal agencies — bringing a Silicon Valley sensibility to challenges like improving veterans' health care and combating cybersecurity threats.” The Obama administration also struggled to attract young talent to fill technology-related roles in the government.

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- Trump’s announcement that he will remove the United States from the INF Treaty has raised concerns that he will also move to pull out of other counter-proliferation pacts. Karoun Demirjian reports: “Trump told reporters Saturday night that his administration would ‘terminate’ and ‘pull out’ of the INF Treaty, a strategic arms reduction pact that [Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev] struck in 1987. Russia has long been accused of violating the treaty, prompting calls from some [U.S. defense hawks to end participation]. Many also argue that the treaty is obsolete because it doesn’t restrict China’s nuclear arsenal. New START seeks to limit the stockpiles of long-range and submarine missiles and heavy bombers, plus related warheads and launchers, in U.S. and Russian possession. . . . Trump’s announcement came as [John Bolton] traveled to Russia to meet with counterparts and discuss, among other things, treaty compliance.”

-- Gorbachev called Trump’s decision reckless and not the work of “a great mind.” The 87-year-old Gorbachev said in an interview with the Interfax news agency that Trump’s move was “very strange.” “Do they really not understand in Washington what this can lead to?” Gorbachev said. “All agreements aimed at nuclear disarmament and limiting nuclear weapons must be preserved, for the sake of preserving life on earth.” (New York Times)

-- A U.S. general was wounded during last week’s attack in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province that killed two senior Afghan provincial officials, and the Pentagon tried to keep the news secret for several days. “Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Smiley is recovering after suffering at least one gunshot wound inside the Kandahar governor’s compound,” Dan Lamothe reports. “U.S. military officials in Afghanistan and at the Pentagon have declined to comment on the attack or identify the wounded, describing them only as an American service member, an American civilian and a contractor who is part of the military coalition. … ‘We’re not going to talk about the wounded,’ said Army Col. David Butler, the top military spokesman in Afghanistan. After this story was initially published by The Washington Post, Butler confirmed on Twitter that Smiley was wounded. … General officers are rarely in situations where they face attack, and even more rarely wounded.”

-- Jordan announced it would not renew parts of a 1994 peace treaty with Israel. Protesters in Jordan have recently urged King Abdullah II to rebuke the Israeli government over the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and ongoing violence in Gaza. (Ruth Eglash and Taylor Luck)

-- A caravan of Central American migrants swelled to more than 5,000 people this weekend as it continued its march toward the U.S. border — more than doubling the size of a caravan earlier this year that stoked outrage and warnings from Trump. Kevin Sieff reports: “Through Sunday morning, officials in Mexico had done little to stop the group from crossing into the country from Guatemala. Most members of the caravan crossed the border illegally by raft. Mexican authorities watched the migrants arrive Saturday, occasionally patting them down but allowing them to proceed to Ciudad Hidalgo’s central plaza, where the Central Americans held an informal assembly, cheering ‘Si, se puede,’ each time more migrants arrived. The border between Mexico and Guatemala has long been famously porous … and the caravan’s arrival has made law enforcement even more difficult, despite Mexico’s recent deployment of additional federal police. But on Sunday afternoon, police set up two checkpoints and appeared prepared to block the migrants. ‘We are here to enforce our country’s laws,’ said one senior police officer … Other police said they planned to offer migrants a chance to secure legal paperwork in a local shelter but would not detain or deter them if they refused.”

-- The Confederation of British Industry warned that the “vast majority” of British firms are slated to implement their Brexit safety plans by Christmas, unless they receive more clarity on the future of their relationship with the European Union. The contingency plans could include cutting jobs and moving operations overseas.  (AP)

MORE ON THE MIDTERMS:

-- The latest NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll shows Democrats with a nine-point advantage on the generic ballot question, but Republicans are becoming more enthusiastic about the elections as Trump’s approval rating increases. NBC News’s Mark Murray reports: “In the poll, 50 percent of likely voters prefer [Democrats] to control Congress after the November elections, versus 41 percent who want Republicans to stay in charge — up 1 point from Democrats’ lead in the September NBC/WSJ survey. … Trump’s job rating among registered voters stands at 47 percent approve, 49 percent disapprove — up from 44 percent approve, 52 percent disapprove a month ago. That’s his highest rating as president in the NBC/WSJ poll.”

-- Republicans have more cash on hand than Democrats as they prepare for the final sprint before Election Day. The New York Times’s Kenneth P. Vogel and Rachel Shorey report: “The most recent round of campaign finance disclosures, filed Saturday, showed that Republican national party committees, candidates in key House and Senate races and their [super PACs] had $337 million on hand as of Sept. 30. Their Democratic counterparts had $285 million in the bank on the same date. It was a rare bright spot for Republicans in a fund-raising picture otherwise dominated by Democrats on the strength of their breakneck small-donor fund-raising by candidates in key congressional races. By contrast, Republicans owe their cash-on-hand advantage to brisk major-donor fund-raising, and a slower pace of spending, by their party committees and super PACs. … Overall, Democrats have outraised Republicans $1.29 billion to $1.23 billion[.]”

-- Trump has started telling advisers he will blame Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan if Republicans sustain midterm losses. Politico’s Gabby Orr and Daniel Lippman report: “According to two people familiar with the conversations, Trump is distancing himself from a potential Republican thumping on Election Day. He’s telling confidantes that he doesn’t see the midterms as a referendum on himself, describing his 2020 reelection bid as ‘the real election.’ And he says that he holds [Ryan] and [McConnell] responsible for protecting their congressional majorities. According to one person with knowledge of these talks, Trump has said of Ryan and McConnell: ‘These are their elections … and if they screw it up, it’s not my fault.’ Other sources said Trump is sure to lash out at perhaps his favorite bogeyman of all — the media — for allegedly opposing him.”

-- The elections in Nevada have shaped up to be a major test of Republican Party organization versus Democratic enthusiasm. Matt Viser reports: “Many of the trends bubbling up around the country in this midterm cycle are at a full boil . . . The race in Nevada is a test of whether Republicans can still compete in a purple state and weather the demographic shifts that are about to hit them in other states. And it’s a test of whether the controversial confirmation of [Brett Kavanaugh] will buttress Republicans — or Democrats. Both sides are aggressively targeting potential voters, and Democrats are particularly going after Hispanic voters, who have been a growing part of the population and, Republicans worry, could be motivated to blunt the ability of [Trump] to enact his agenda. Both sides see it as one of the premier battlegrounds this year, with [Trump] rallying voters in Elko on Saturday and [Barack Obama] coming to Las Vegas on Monday. Almost every election here is competitive ­— congressional contests, the governor’s race and the U.S. Senate contest between Republican incumbent Dean Heller and Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen.”

-- Democrats hope Latino voters can lead them to victory in several critical races, but some of those voters appear apathetic heading into the midterms. The New York Times’s Jose A. Del Real and Jonathan Martin report: “[I]nterviews with dozens of Hispanic voters in Nevada and California, two key battleground states, showed a more complicated picture that is deeply alarming to Democratic Party officials. Away from campaign rallies and candidates, many voters said they felt disempowered rather than emboldened; they expressed feelings of cynicism, apathy and fear fueled by the highly fraught political moment. Others said that messaging about immigration policy alone is not enough to motivate them. And some have simply lost faith that politicians will follow through on their promises once the elections are over.”

-- Trump is holding a rally in Houston tonight for Ted Cruz — “the culmination of a tempestuous, on-again-off-again relationship between the two men,” Ashley Parker reports. “Cruz has morphed from a fierce critic who refused to endorse Trump at the 2016 Republican convention to a servile ally who now speaks eagerly of working with Trump to deliver on ‘our promises.' Their rocky journey from nomance to bromance hinges largely on political expediency — a shared recognition that both benefit more from an alliance than a running feud. … In the Senate, where the Republicans hold a razor-thin majority, the president appreciates that Cruz has emerged as a steadfast ally on a range of critical issues … And Cruz understands that, especially in a state like Texas, bucking the sitting Republican president — however controversial — is not what most of his supporters want.”

-- But Cruz declined to say whether he views Trump as a friend or foe in an interview on ABC News’s “This Week” — describing him only as “the president.” “He’s the president. I work with the president in delivering on our promises,” the senator said. (Felicia Sonmez)

-- Trump’s rallies have been concentrated in rural communities where he has remained popular since winning the 2016 election. Jenna Johnson reports: “As the president campaigns, he has mostly avoided the suburban areas that strategists say will be key to deciding the midterms — and where he is often less popular and runs the risk of energizing Democrats or hurting Republican candidates who have tried to distance themselves from him. Over the past few weeks, he has focused heavily on more rural areas where he is especially popular and where his presence can encourage the base voters Republican candidates need. … Those areas, and the snug event spaces he finds there, have become Trump’s comfort zone, and also a sign of how convinced he remains that his most loyal supporters can drive a victory in 2018 as they did in 2016.”

-- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s recent remarks on the need to deal with entitlements have given an unexpected gift to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and other red-state Democrats. Politico’s Burgess Everett reports: “In a triumphant post-Kavanaugh media tour last week, the Kentucky Republican waxed about his regret over the missed opportunity to repeal Obamacare and the need to reform entitlement programs to rein in the federal deficit. … [Now], endangered Senate Democrats are trying to turn the election away from Kavanaugh and the ‘mob’ that the president says their party incited, and toward bread-and-butter government programs that are popular with swing voters in conservative states. It’s a message that resonates in few places more loudly than West Virginia, whose residents rely on government programs at higher rates than most other states.

“Democrats who experienced dips in the polls following Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, including Manchin, believe McConnell's remarks put them on firmer ground. … It's too early to say whether Democrats have time to cut ads on McConnell's comments specifically, but the party has run paid advertisements on entitlements generally. And debate moderators are bringing up the GOP leader's views on the debt and benefits programs with regularity, making them a prime focus of the closing stretch.”

-- “Claire McCaskill’s Toughest Fight,” by the New Yorker’s Nicholas Lemann: “Republicans have had McCaskill’s seat in their sights for years, and the fight over [Brett Kavanaugh] has given a big boost to most of the candidates who are trying to unseat Democratic senators in red states. Polls show the Missouri race to be a tossup, with [Republican Josh Hawley] gaining slightly in recent weeks. Outside money is pouring into the state —$54.9 million, according to the latest reports, from independent groups, evenly split between the two campaigns, plus nearly forty million that the candidates have raised themselves. The race, possibly the Senate’s closest this year, is a test of whether a Democrat who doesn’t openly break ranks with the national party — even an adept veteran like McCaskill—can survive in Trump country.”

-- The Arizona Republic endorsed Democrat Kyrsten Sinema in that state’s Senate race. The editorial board writes: “If you have grown tired of the toxic culture that has taken over Capitol Hill; if you long for more collegial leadership focused on solving problems, not settling scores; if you want a federal government that works, not wages constant war; you must send people to Washington who can change it. People who not only talk bipartisanship but determinedly practice it. … In a Washington in which rancor and malice are disturbingly normal, Sinema is the antidote. Leaders like her can come from any party and they are needed more than ever.”

-- Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum unleashed a series of scathing criticisms against each other in Florida’s gubernatorial debate. The Tampa Bay Times’s Steve Contorno and Emily L. Mahoney report: “DeSantis had barely finished thanking his wife, Casey, in his opening remarks before he called Gillum a ‘failed mayor’ of Tallahassee who wants to raise taxes. ‘That was a mouthful,’ a surprised Gillum said. Gillum then painted DeSantis as an obstructionist former Congressman that worships ‘at the feet of [Trump].’ From the beginning of the hour-long debate, it was clear there is little common ground between these two men … Asked about climate change, in light of Hurricane Michael's powerful pass through the Panhandle, DeSantis said he would work with South Florida on resiliency against sea water rises. He added: ‘I don't want to be an alarmist,’ before claiming Gillum would bring California-style energy policies to Florida. Responded Gillum: ‘I'm not sure what is so California about believing that the state of Florida ought to lead in solar energy.’”

-- Hours before the debate, CNN released a poll showing DeSantis trailing Gillum by 12 points. The poll also found Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson leading Rick Scott by five points. From CNN’s Jennifer Agiesta: “The poll shows a wider lead for Gillum than some other recent telephone polling, nearly all of which was conducted before Hurricane Michael struck the state on October 10. Before the storm, public polling in mid- to late-September on these contests was mixed, with some (including surveys from Mason-Dixon and the University of North Florida) finding near-even races while others (including the Quinnipiac University and NBC News/Marist polls) gave the Democratic candidates the edge. The CNN findings could be an outlier — a statistical anomaly which occurs in polling by random chance. It also could be an indicator of renewed Democratic enthusiasm.”

-- Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, an independent, said his surprising decision to drop his reelection bid was motivated by a desire to help Democrat Mark Begich consolidate support against Republican challenger Mike Dunleavy. The AP’s Becky Bohrer: “Walker, the only independent governor in the country, said Friday he could not win a three-way race and that Alaskans deserve a choice other than Dunleavy. There are a lot of things he and Begich don’t agree on, but Walker said Begich would be better for Alaska. Whether Begich can overtake the presumed front-runner remains to be seen with two-and-a-half weeks before the election. … The clincher for Walker’s decision to leave the race, it appears, was his lieutenant governor’s abrupt resignation days earlier over an inappropriate overture to a woman.”

-- On Election Night, the first signs of a blue wave (or the lack of one) may come in Virginia, which is the site of multiple competitive House races. Marc Fisher and Jenna Portnoy write: “In Virginia, where Republicans hold a 7-4 advantage over Democrats in House seats, there are four real races, three in districts that Trump won handily two years ago and that Republicans have considered safe in recent cycles. … With suburban women trending nationwide against Trump, the Democrats have chosen women to run in all four of the tight races. Three are running for office for the first time. Two are veteran national security professionals — [Abigail] Spanberger and Elaine Luria, a former Navy commander who is challenging Rep. Scott Taylor in the 2nd, which includes Virginia Beach and the Eastern Shore. The challengers are running close to or even ahead of the Republicans, according to recent surveys. And the money is pouring in.”

-- “Which state legislatures might go blue this fall,” by Kate Rabinowitz and Aaron Steckelberg: “Democratic contenders will face entrenched Republican control in many states. Republicans have control of both the House and Senate in 31 states, compared with just 14 for Democrats. … [But] Democrats have more state legislative candidates than anytime in the past two decades — 5,349 this year as of September, compared with 4,741 Republicans. Republicans had fielded more candidates than Democrats in the past six election cycles, and Democrats are even ahead of Republican candidate counts in 2010, an election in which the GOP made huge gains at the state and federal level.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

The Saudi government is circulating this image, per a HuffPost contributor:

Trump declared DeSantis the winner of the Florida debate:

A former chief of staff to Joe Biden and Al Gore had a different take:

The debate moderator thanked Trump for watching:

A BuzzFeed editor reacted to Trump trying to roll back the government's recognition of transgender Americans:

Trump's 2020 campaign manager is preparing a tailgate for his Houston rally tonight:

Trump supporters were already lined up for blocks last night to attend the rally, per a CNN reporter:

A National Journal editor highlighted this about Trump's approval rating:

Republicans also enjoy a substantial advantage with voters when it comes to the economy, per an NBC News reporter:

The Post's Fact Checker columnist noted a falsehood from Trump's recent speeches:

A New York Times reporter fact-checked another Trump quote:

Cindy McCain is taking over as the chair of the think tank formed by her late husband:

A presidential historian shared this from the White House:

GOOD READS:

-- “Dockets, ratings and ‘tips’: How Harvard admissions selects a student,” by Nick Anderson: “The numbers are ruthless: Out of more than 40,000 applications a year to Harvard University, not quite 2,000 make the final cut. Just one admitted for every 19 rejected. Every year high school seniors with straight A’s, perfect test scores and stellar recommendations wonder why they didn’t make it. Now, the curtains have been lifted on Harvard’s decision-making process. In federal court in Boston, lawyers and witnesses are talking about dockets, first readers, second readers, committees, ratings, dean’s lists and the mysterious factors that influence borderline cases, known as ‘tips.’ … Among the tips the handbook lists are creative ability, athletic talent and ‘Harvard and Radcliffe parentage …’ Fitzsimmons also keeps ‘dean’s list’ with applicants of special interest. The director of admissions has a similar list. Hundreds of names get on these lists each year. Some are children of donors. The admission rate for those on the lists — 42 percent — is well above average …”

-- New York Times, “Miscarrying at Work: The Physical Toll of Pregnancy Discrimination,” by Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Natalie Kitroeff: “Pregnancy discrimination is widespread in corporate America. Some employers deny expecting mothers promotions or pay raises; others fire them before they can take maternity leave. But for women who work in physically demanding jobs, pregnancy discrimination often can come with even higher stakes. The New York Times reviewed thousands of pages of court and other public records involving workers who said they had suffered miscarriages, gone into premature labor or, in one case, had a stillborn baby after their employers rejected their pleas for assistance — a break from flipping heavy mattresses, lugging large boxes and pushing loaded carts. They worked at a hospital, a post office, an airport, a grocery store, a prison, a fire department, a restaurant, a pharmaceutical company and several hotels.”

-- “What it’s like to be a young Catholic in a new era of clergy sex abuse scandals,” by Marisa Iati: “In an era when the church is frequently perceived as behind the times on matters of importance to them, some young Catholics have responded to the latest setbacks by pulling further away from the beleaguered institution, while others have drawn closer.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“A man on Ryanair yelled racist insults at a black woman. She was the one who had to change seats,” from Amy B Wang: “David Lawrence had just settled into Seat 22F on a Ryanair flight Thursday when he heard a commotion brewing … A few rows behind him, a gray-haired man [was] yelling at a black woman seated along the aisle. ‘I heard this man [shouting], saying, ‘You’re in my way. Get out! I don’t want you here next to me!’’ Lawrence said … ‘I tell you, I hope somebody sits there,' the man tells the woman … gesturing toward the empty middle seat ... ‘Cause I don’t want to sit next to your— ...’ The rest of the sentence is unclear, though he appears to call her ‘sickly,’ ‘fat’ and ‘ugly.’ The flight attendant then asks the woman whether she would like to sit elsewhere. ‘Put her to another seat!’ the male passenger shouts, before turning to the woman. [When she tried to respond, he retorted]: ‘Don’t talk to me in a f--ing foreign language, you stupid ugly cow!’ … To his surprise, Lawrence said, the flight took off shortly afterward, with no apparent repercussions for the male passenger, who effectively enjoyed ‘extra leg room’ in a row to himself.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“John Kelly has ‘hissy fits’ and is hurting White House morale, Scaramucci says,” from Felicia Sonmez: “Former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci on Sunday accused [John Kelly] of having ‘hissy fits,’ seizing on reports that Kelly and [John Bolton] recently got into a shouting match over immigration. Scaramucci, no stranger to profanity-laden conversations, worked as communications director for 11 days before Kelly fired him last year. He is promoting a book about his time in the White House and his relationship with [Trump]. In an interview [on ‘Meet the Press,’] Scaramucci said that while he applauds the retired Marine Corps general’s service, ‘he hurt the morale inside the place, and he’s hurt the president, and he has hissy fits.’ ‘You know the good news is, I’m being vindicated by that because he’s demonstrating his personality now, the way he really is,’ Scaramucci said of Kelly, referring to his reported spat with Bolton. ... Scaramucci said Sunday that Trump 'needs a chief of staff, but he needs a chief of staff that really likes him and gets his personality.'"

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump will have lunch with Pence before traveling to Houston for a roundtable with supporters and a campaign rally.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“Agree with the president when he’s right, be prepared to fight him, if necessary, when he’s wrong.” — Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Democratic Senate candidates emphasizing their ability to work with Trump. (Felicia Sonmez)

 

NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:

-- It will be another chilly day in D.C., but sunshine and a lack of wind help improve conditions. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “We get off to a frosty start with most areas in the 30s. By the afternoon, though, sunshine is pushing highs through the 50s to perhaps about 60 in a few spots. Calm winds in the morning become light out of the south in the afternoon, about 5 to 10 mph.”

-- The Redskins beat the Cowboys 20-17. (Les Carpenter)

-- Ford will announce today that it plans to deploy a driverless fleet of cars in Washington. Michael Laris reports: “Ford will begin testing self-driving cars in the District early next year and plans to launch commercially in Washington, Miami and other unnamed cities starting in 2021. That’s a longer timeline than some other firms and communities, a reality leaders from Ford and the District both described as beneficial. … Last week, the mapping specialists from Argo AI, a self-driving start-up that Ford is backing with a $1 billion investment, drove the autonomous Ford Fusion, in manual mode, through Northeast Washington.”

-- Republican candidates in D.C. are having even more difficulty this year with attracting voters because of Trump’s unpopularity in the reliably blue city. Steve Hendrix reports: “It’s never been easy for Republican candidates to run in the District, a city with 12 times more registered Democrats than Republicans. But partisan fuming over Trump means local Republicans find they have a bit more explaining to do when they ask for votes. ‘I think it’s a little more difficult right now,’ acknowledged [Michael Bekesha, a Republican candidate for a D.C. Council seat]. ‘I spend a lot of time making it clear that I’m not that kind of Republican.’”

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

The Republican and Democratic candidates for a state House seat in Vermont broke into a duet during a debate. CBS ran a nice package about the bipartisan nod to civility:

Australia's prime minister delivered a formal apology to the country's victims of child sex abuse:

Seismic recordings captured the sound of an Antarctic ice shelf melting:

And a plane made an emergency landing on a California interstate: