Some scenarios for the final two weeks

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On the roster: Some scenarios for the final two weeks – Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to bring hammer down on GOP Senate – Trump heads to Pa. after SupCo allows ballot count extension – Biden barely ahead in Florida – When you just need a spa day

 At this point four years ago, we were about to take off on a wild rocket ride that would see Republican nominee Donald Trump cut his average national polling deficit from 7.8 points to just 2.3 points.

Undecided voters and Trump-skeptical Republicans broke hard against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the closing weeks of the campaign.

Surveys two weeks out consistently showed about 10 percent of voters as undecided or leaning toward minor candidates. And while 6 percent of the national vote did go to protest candidates, Trump crushed Clinton with the undecideds and closed the gap to where he could pull off his stunning win in the Electoral College.

This is the narrative Republicans are keeping very much in mind as they look at now-incumbent Trump’s predicament two weeks from the end of the 2020 election. As of today, Trump trails Democratic nominee Joe Biden by 11.4 points in an average of worthwhile polls.

That’s a significantly bigger deficit, sure, but if Trump could close again like he closed before and knock it down by 5.5 points before the end of the election, who knows what might happen in key states? (At this point, state polls become less useful for anything other than telling us basically whether things are competitive or not. Otherwise, don’t sweat the tenths of the percentages.)

The difference, of course, is that re-elections don’t work the same way as races for open seats. The number of undecided voters is understandably far lower with an incumbent, but the difference is even more pronounced for one who was an unpredictable outsider four years before. That’s not to say that it can’t happen, but Trump has farther to go and less gas in the tank of undecided voters than he did on Oct. 25, 2016.

But even if Trump can’t pull off another dipsy-doodle, cutting down Biden’s lead would be a boon to Trump’s fellow Republicans.

Think of this as the 1992 scenario. Two weeks out from the 1992 election, the Republican incumbent was down 10 points to his Democratic challenger and the outcome seemed like a foregone conclusion. But polls showed George H.W. Bush closing nationally and, in fact, he was able to get within 6 points of Bill Clinton. Along the way Republicans managed to maintain their numbers in the Senate and actually gain seats in the House.

We saw a variation of this in 2012, when Barack Obama was down by 1.2 points on average to Mitt Romney 14 days out. Obama closed strong, pulling ahead in the final polling average by a point and winning the national vote by 4 points. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, was even steadier. He led by 2.6 points at this point in his re-election bid and won the national vote by 2.4 points two weeks later.

So there’s lots of evidence for strong closes by incumbents. But what has Republicans fretful is the potential alternative: The 1980.

In that year the incumbent bled support following his debate with his challenger and continued to slide. Gallup found Ronald Reagan regaining his summertime lead over Jimmy Carter in their final October poll, and the trend carried right on to Election Day when Reagan beat Carter by almost 10 points.

In the process, Carter’s party got clobbered in the House and the Senate, providing the most substantial gains for the Red Team in both chambers in recent memory – including a 12-seat Senate romp.

We have a heck of a lot more polling data now then the folks in 1980 did, so certainly we would be more likely to catch a shift of that magnitude, but the possibility for a listing incumbent rapidly taking on water and sinking his party is certainly one scenario to consider.

So what will we find two weeks hence? A 2016, a 1992 or a 1980? Who could say? That’s why we would encourage you to not get wrapped around the axle over small matters electoral between now and then.

As we have been reminding folks this year, the polls will be wrong, but not by much and we can’t know in which direction. But as history tells us, a couple of points here or there can make a big difference, even in a blowout.

Stay tuned, stay cheerful and believe in America. 

“The necessity of naval protection to external or maritime commerce does not require a particular elucidation, no more than the conduciveness of that species of commerce to the prosperity of a navy.” – Alexander Hamilton, writing about the importance of naval powers, Federalist No. 11

Garden & Gun: “Alongside the North Oconee River in East Athens, Georgia, sits Weaver D’s, the soul food spot with a striking lime green paint job and a slogan that inspires. ‘Automatic for the people,’ reads the sign out front, a phrase that the local-band-gone-big R.E.M. used as the title of its Grammy-nominated 1992 album. … ‘Even before the album, there used to be a lot of bands frequenting here,’ says Weaver D’s owner, Dexter Weaver. Weaver remembers that in the 1990s, R.E.M. band members, especially the vegetarians, loved his squash casserole. … Over the next decades, however, the crowds trickled away. …Weaver hung on. He befriended local suppliers to negotiate deals on ingredients, and kept afloat by catering nearby church events. He started a GoFundMe to make repairs and improve the restaurant. … For generations of UGA students, Weaver D’s persistence means more than good food. It’s an anchor in an evolving college town.”

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40 percent        
51.4 percent        
Size of lead:
Biden by 11.4 points        
Change from one week ago: Biden ↓ 2.2 points, Trump ↓ 2.2 points
[Average includes: NYT/Siena: Trump 41% – Biden 50%; AP/NORC: Trump 36% – Biden 51%; KFF: Trump 38% – Biden 49%; NPR/PBS News/Marist: Trump 43% – Biden 54%; NBC News/WSJ: Trump 42% – Biden 53%.]

(270 electoral votes needed to win) 
Toss-up: (109 electoral votes): Wisconsin (10), Ohio (18), Florida (29), Arizona (11), Pennsylvania (20), North Carolina (15), Iowa (6) 
Lean R/Likely R: (180 electoral votes) 
Lean D/Likely D: (249 electoral votes) 
[Full rankings here.] 

Average approval: 42.6 percent
Average disapproval: 54.8 percent
Net Score: -12.2 points
Change from one week ago: ↓ 2.6 points
[Average includes: NYT/Siena: 43% approve – 51% disapprove; AP/NORC: 39% approve – 61% disapprove; KFF: 44% approve – 54% disapprove; NPR/PBS News/Marist: 43% approve – 54% disapprove; NBC News/WSJ: 44% approve – 54% disapprove.]

We’ve brought “From the Bleachers” to video on demand thanks to Fox Nation. Each Wednesday and Friday, Producer Brianna McClelland will put Politics Editor Chris Stirewalt to the test with your questions on everything about politics, government and American history – plus whatever else is on your mind. Sign up for the Fox Nation streaming service here and send your best questions to HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM.

Politico: “Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday that she and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are ‘on a path’ to a massive coronavirus relief deal, just hours before her self-imposed deadline to come to a broad agreement with the White House. Pelosi is scheduled to speak to Mnuchin at 3 p.m. Tuesday afternoon as Washington waits to see whether months of negotiations between the two will culminate in a multitrillion-dollar stimulus plan just two weeks before the presidential election. ‘We’re on a path,’ Pelosi said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. ‘As the secretary and I say to each other, ‘If we didn’t believe we could get this done, why would we even be talking?’’ Despite Pelosi’s hopefulness Tuesday, most Republicans and many Democrats still say it is unlikely the two will be able to shepherd a relief package through Congress in the coming weeks — because of both resistance in the GOP-controlled Senate as well as lingering differences between Pelosi and Mnuchin.”

Pergram: The Senate’s path to confirming Amy Coney Barrett – Fox News: “‘This goose is cooked,’ exclaimed Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., at last week’s final confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. It pretty much is. There’s not a lot Democrats can do to hold up the Barrett nomination. Democrats have likely lost this round as, barring unforeseen circumstances, the Senate will likely confirm Barrett to a lifetime appointment on the High Court. Sure. Democrats could go to the mat like they did in the brawl two years ago with Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. But Democrats are playing the short game. Fate may have intervened and helped Republicans play the long game with Barrett. But Democrats look at the polls and like what they see. … So they’ll let the Barrett confirmation play out – and then meet the GOP at the polls. The biggest question for Barrett is timing.”

NYT: “President Trump and the first lady will campaign on Tuesday in Pennsylvania, one of the key battleground states where Joseph R. Biden Jr. leads in the polls exactly two weeks before Election Day. … At his airport rally in Erie, Pa., on Tuesday night, Mr. Trump was planning to be joined by the first lady, Melania Trump, in her first public appearance since recovering from the coronavirus, but on Tuesday afternoon she canceled, with an aide citing a lingering cough. … Mr. Trump’s Pennsylvania rally comes a day after the Supreme Court let stand a ruling by the state’s highest court that allowed election officials to count some mailed ballots received up to three days after Election Day, citing the pandemic and postal delays. The ruling is a major victory for Democrats who have been pushing to expand access to voting in the pandemic, and for a party that has been requesting absentee ballots in far greater numbers than Republicans.”

Trump fundraisers pursue small dollar donations – Bloomberg: “President Donald Trump’s campaign found it harder to raise money from small-dollar donors in the final months before the election, spending 77 cents of each dollar it received in the third quarter on future fundraising efforts, according to federal disclosures that highlighted the funding gap with Democratic nominee Joe Biden. Spending by the campaign’s grassroots fundraising arm, Trump Make America Great Again, to pursue small donors was far higher than throughout his re-election campaign, when it spent 47 cents per dollar raised. Over the last three months, TMAGA paid $181 million of the $235.7 million it raised from small donors to vendors for more fundraising expenses, the organization’s latest filing with the Federal Election Commission shows. The need to reinvest such a high percentage of donations into raising even more money suggests that Trump is having difficulty getting contributions from his existing base and so is working to expand his reach to other small-dollar donors.”

Campaign faces tough spending decisions two weeks out – AP: “President Donald Trump’s sprawling political operation has raised well over $1 billion since he took the White House in 2017 — and set a lot of it on fire. … Now, just two weeks out from the election, some campaign aides privately acknowledge they are facing difficult spending decisions at a time when Democratic nominee Joe Biden has flooded the airwaves with advertising. That has put Trump in the position of needing to do more of his signature rallies as a substitute during the coronavirus pandemic while relying on an unproven theory that he can turn out supporters who are infrequent voters at historic levels. … For Trump, it’s a familiar, if not welcome, position. In 2016, he was vastly outraised by Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton but still pulled off a come-from-behind win. This time around, though, he was betting on a massive cash advantage to negatively define Biden and to defend his own record.”

Trump agrees to debate despite rule changes – AP: “President Donald Trump plans to attend Thursday’s debate with Democratic nominee Joe Biden despite rule changes — opposed by his campaign — that are meant to foster more ordered discussions. Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien says Trump ‘is committed to debating Joe Biden regardless of last minute rule changes from the biased commission in their latest attempt to provide advantage to their favored candidate.’ The nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates announced Monday that the second and final debate between the two candidates will have each nominee muted while the other delivers his two-minute remarks at the outset of each of the six debate topics. The remainder of each 15-minute block will be open discussion, without any muting, the commission said. The move is meant to prevent a repeat of the inaugural debate three weeks ago when the two candidates, but mostly Trump, interrupted each other repeatedly.”

University of North Florida: “A new poll of likely Florida voters, conducted by the Public Opinion Research Lab (PORL) at the University of North Florida, shows former Vice President Joe Biden has a razor thin lead on President Donald Trump in the 2020 race for President of the United States. The poll also revealed that a plurality of likely voters in Florida disapprove of Trump’s job performance as president. When asked who they would vote for if the election were held today, 48% of respondents indicated an intention to vote for Joe Biden, putting him a single percentage point ahead of Donald Trump, for whom 47% of respondents said they would vote. ‘While some polls have shown Biden with a big lead in Florida and other key states, we made an effort to capture hard-to-reach voters and our results suggest that it might be a long night on November 3rd,’ said Dr. Michael Binder, PORL faculty director and associate professor of political science.”

Florida breaks early voting record – Politico: “Florida shattered its opening day record for in-person early voting Monday, with at least 350,000 people casting ballots and election officials continuing to count statewide late into the night. The trend continues a record-setting pace in the battleground state that is viewed as a must-win for President Donald Trump. Voting by mail, which started earlier this month, racked up more than 2.5 million ballots headed into Monday, more than double the 1.2 million during the same timeframe in 2016. More than 350,000 voters, some of whom were treated to pizza by singer Ariana Grande while they waited in line, easily surpassed 2016 numbers when 291,000 people voted on the first day of in-person early voting, which includes 52 of Florida’s 67 counties. All counties begin early voting on Saturday.”

It’s tight in the Tar Heel State – ABC News: “Coronavirus concerns lift former Vice President Joe Biden in North Carolina while the state’s sizable evangelical and rural populations pull for President Donald Trump, producing a dead-heat contest in a state that’s backed Democratic presidential candidates just twice in the last half century. Biden has 49% support among likely voters in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll in the state, with 48% for Trump. The U.S. Senate race, potentially critical for control of the chamber, is similar, with 49% support for Democrat Cal Cunningham, despite revelations of an extramarital relationship, and 47% for incumbent Republican Thom Tillis.”

Biden leads Trump on pressing issues NYT: “Joseph R. Biden Jr. holds a nine-point lead over President Trump amid widespread public alarm about the trajectory of the coronavirus pandemic and demand among voters for large-scale government action to right the economy, according to a national poll of likely voters conducted by The New York Times and Siena College. With just two weeks left in the campaign, Mr. Trump does not hold an edge on any of the most pressing issues at stake in the election, leaving him with little room for a political recovery absent a calamitous misstep by Mr. Biden, the Democratic nominee, in the coming days. The president has even lost his longstanding advantage on economic matters: Voters are now evenly split on whether they have more trust in him or Mr. Biden to manage the economy.”

Hunter Biden, NY Post story goes viral – Axios: “Facebook and Twitter’s frantic attempts to stop the spread of the New York Post’s Hunter Biden story didn’t prevent the article from becoming the top story about the election on those platforms last week, according to data from NewsWhip. The data shows that even swift, aggressive content suppression may not be swift or aggressive enough to keep down a story with as much White House backing and partisan fuel as this one. The Post’s story generated 2.59m interactions (likes, comments, shares) on Facebook and Twitter last week — more than double the next biggest story about Trump or Biden. 5 of the 10 biggest stories were about the Hunter Biden story, the fallout, or how Facebook and Twitter reacted.”

FiveThirtyEight: “In the face of a whirlwind presidential campaign and massive fundraising numbers coming out of marquee U.S. Senate contests, it’s easy to overlook what’s happening in the race for the U.S. House of Representatives. That might be because Democrats look like strong bets to hold onto power there. In fact, FiveThirtyEight’s forecast is most confident about the House, as the Deluxe version of our model gives Democrats a 95 in 100 shot at retaining control of the House, better than Joe Biden’s 88 in 100 chance of winning the presidency or the Democrats’ 74 in 100 chance of capturing the Senate. However, even if Democrats do hold onto the House, that doesn’t mean they’ll retain every seat they control. In fact, there are a number of seats they might lose, including that of Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, the most vulnerable House incumbent seeking reelection in 2020. The Deluxe version of our House forecast only gives him about a 1 in 4 shot of winning in Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District against Republican Michelle Fischbach.”

McCarthy locks down support to remain House GOP leader – Politico: “House Republicans face the possibility of sinking further into the minority on Nov. 3. President Donald Trump is trailing in key polls. But Kevin McCarthy is confident he’ll remain House GOP leader in the next Congress. McCarthy has already won the support of Rep. Jim Jordan, his one-time rival, after helping the Ohio Republican secure top positions on high-profile committees. And House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, who was long thought to be waiting to replace McCarthy should he stumble or not seek the top position, is also expected to remain in that post, barring a disaster at the polls. But others in leadership may not be as safe. Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, currently the No. 3 House Republican, could see a leadership challenge after repeatedly criticizing Trump, while the future of National Republican Congressional Committee Chair Tom Emmer of Minnesota is also uncertain. ‘I think I’m a pretty good vote counter. I would think I already have the votes,’ McCarthy said in an hour-long interview in his Capitol Hill office.”

Dem Senate campaign arm raises $43M – Axios: “The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) raised over $43 million in September alone, breaking their previous monthly high of $27 million in August. Democrats continue to bring in massive fundraising hauls, showing intense enthusiasm among their supporters not just at the presidential level, but in down-ballot contests, too. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign raised $383 million in September. ‘The grassroots community’s support for our mission to flip the Senate has given us clear momentum in the home stretch, but our work is far from over and we must all double down in these final weeks through Election Day,’ said DSCC Chair and Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto in a statement. The DSCC’s average donation in September was $45 and they’ve received nearly 2.9 million donations so far this cycle. They have $30 million cash-on-hand for October.”

DOJ files antitrust lawsuit against Google – WSJ

“I am not going to be on the ballot anytime in your kids’ lifetime, in my kids’ lifetime. When I’m a great-grandfather, who knows, maybe I’ll think about it again.” – Former Rep. Anthony Weiner talking about his political future in an interview with WNBC.

“Thanks for [Monday’s] insight on the President’s decision to throw away the advantage of being a leader in crisis. Like so many conservative Republicans, I would MUCH rather have Mr. Trump’s cabinet and judges than Mr. Biden’s cabinet and judges. But increasingly Mr. Trump seems to insist on being the Hunter Biden of the Republican family: the would-be, could-be genius who insists on throwing everything away and causing pain and suffering for those of who want to make this work. It was work defending George W. Bush in 2004 when the easy dreams of invading Iraq were literally turning to sand in our mouths, but at least George W. Bush didn’t sit at home thinking ‘what outrageous thing can I do or say tomorrow to make it even harder for normal people to vote for me?’ If Donald Trump loses, there will be only one person to blame: Donald Trump. Not the lamestream media or absentee voting. We’re often told that we would win if we only nominated a ‘real conservative.’ Given the amazing weaknesses of the Biden-Harris ticket, a ‘real conservative’ would be up 10-15 points easily. I had a lot of problems with George W. Bush but I could argue all day why my moderate friends should vote for him over John Kerry. As of now, I’m just exhausted.  But never too tired to read me some Halftime Report and dream of visiting West Virginia again…” – Brian D. Liddicoat, Watsonville, Calif.

[Ed. note: I’m sure a lot of conservative Republicans feel the way you do. But I would remind you that the nationalists on the other side felt similarly in 2012 and 2008. I’m not saying you’re necessarily wrong or right, just reminding you that humans have a strong tendency to see most clearly the things that confirm their own biases. It’s sometimes almost impossible to see what disagrees with one’s worldview. A lot more of this business has to do with personnel than policies, especially given the way that the parties choices influence each other. Biden in reaction to Trump in reaction to Clinton, etc. If a conservative Republican was president — the kind you describe as being up 10-15 points, of course Democrats would not have nominated Biden. But as for dreaming of West Virginia, that’s one position that remains unassailable!]

“Here are some suggestions on how to conduct debates in future presidential elections. First of all, do away with the commission now in charge of these events. Have the two sides agree on the dates for four debates–two in September and two in October–three of them with the presidential nominees and one with the vice presidential candidates. There would be two moderators at each debate and the moderators would be chosen by the candidates and they would alternate in asking questions. They could direct a question to the candidate that chose them or to the opposing candidate. Each presidential debate would be limited to four major issues and the candidates would be give five minute opening statements on each issue, with questions from the moderators to follow and two minute answers to those. The major issues would differ in each presidential debate and would be agreed on by the two parties. Each candidate would be given a five minute closing statement to sum up the reasons they should be elected over their opponent.  Such a format would allow voters to get a clearer view of both sides and hopefully make a more informed decision. It would be an improvement on what we’ve seen from this commission and you’d definitely eliminate any arguments about the fairness and impartiality of the moderators.” – Lou Banas, Brea, Calif.

[Ed. note: There’s a lot to like in what you say, Mr. Banas. But the fatal conceit of your idea arrives in the third sentence: “Have the two sides agree on the dates for four debates.” The reason that there were no debates between 1960 and 1976 and then only one debate in 1976 and 1980 is that the two sides couldn’t agree. For a period of time it was the League of Women Voters that acted as a convening authority and then, starting in 1988, the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates. The truth is that without an outside entity, having any debates at all becomes less likely and the chances for substantive discussion should those debates occur less likely as well. It will always be in the perceived interest of one side or another to not debate or to debate in very limited fashion. I’m sure Joe Biden would have ditched debating if he could have this time around. Then there’s the other part in which the demand for debates becomes an issue itself. This is already a hallmark of state and local races in which the trailing candidate challenges his or her opponent to 35 debates to be conducted on a zipline while juggling anxious porcupines. I think there are reforms to be made — including maybe the idea of following the forensic speech model of Lincoln-Douglas style debate with a timekeeper but no moderator questions — but I think an outside entity is necessary if you want to maintain debates.]

“I believe we need some humor about now with our elections. I was hoping we could do a piece on the candidates with the most interesting names. I know Chris has a few he likes to say. I am sending a local Florida candidate- Darla Betzer Bonk. Let’s have some fun!” – Elizabeth Stine, Fort Myers, Fla. 

[Ed. note: Yesssssssssssssssssssss! Calling all Halftimers! Send us your nominees to the 2020 All-Name Team and we will publish the results. What fun!]

Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.

CTV: “A Winnipeg [Canada] dog decided it was time for doggy daycare after it escaped from its backyard early Saturday morning. It was business as usual for a staff member at Happy Tails Pet Resort & Spa when they saw a furry snout cross the gate at 6:30 a.m. But after a minute of waiting, to his surprise, the dog’s owners never showed up. …The employee opened the door and Gem, a five-year-old shepherd-cross, came barreling in, tail wagging. Gem’s parents were then contacted since she is a frequent visitor to the resort. After the call, it became clear that the dog escaped her fenced yard and walked five blocks to the facility. ‘They said, ‘Seeing that she’s already there, she can just stay for the day,’ [Shawn Bennett, co-owner of the resort] recounted.  … ‘She’s one of the many dogs that love coming here,’ Bennett said. ‘I always call it Disneyland for dogs because they play with all their best buddies and it’s amazing to watch them.’”

“You bring criminals to justice; you rain destruction on combatants. This is a fundamental distinction that can no longer be avoided.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) in a larger piece about the bombings of Sept. 11, 2001 in the Washington Post on Sept. 12, 2001.

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.