Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris of California and Vice President Mike Pence will face off in their only debate of the general election; ‘The Story’ anchor Martha MacCallum weighs in.
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On the roster: Can fireman Pence start a blaze? – Trump says he’ll be ready to debate next week – Another blowout for Biden in Pa., adds to Fla., Iowa leads – Newly revealed texts add fuel to N.C. Senate fire – Caught cyan handed
CAN FIREMAN PENCE START A BLAZE?
Mike Pence has spent the past four years doing the political equivalent of fighting forest fires. Every day he puts on the suit, goes where nobody else wants to and tries to mitigate the damage from a conflagration without end.
But tonight, he has to be the one who starts fires, not puts them out.
The vice president heads into his one-and-only showdown with Democratic counterpart, Kamala Harris, in Utah with essentially two items on his to-do list: 1) Show the sober, even grave, countenance that helps reassure fainthearted Republicans, just as he did in the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic. 2) Drag Harris to the left.
We have heard very little from the California senator since the Democratic convention. Democrats have deployed her much in the same way Republicans used Dick Cheney long ago. The focus is on local media and making blandishments to various Democratic special interest groups. While Pence has been doing lots of national press, she has been keeping a low profile.
This makes sense, not only for the same reasons that it does Joe Biden, namely that there’s no reason to do anything to take the focus away from President Trump, his own worst enemy.
But there is also the fact that Republicans want to personify in Harris their claim that Biden is merely a front for a radically progressive Democratic party. It’s hard to convince anyone that Joe Biden is a scary radical, but Harris, like her forerunner Barack Obama, can more easily be made into a left-wing boogeyperson.
There is reason to think that Pence is suitable for the job. As a congressman, Pence was a ferocious critic of Obama and in his years as a conservative talk radio host he certainly mastered the gift of rhetorical ratcheting.
From behind their plexiglass shields like hamsters in a Habitrail, both Harris and Pence will have strong motivations to be on the attack. Harris will do all she can to keep the focus on the folderol around the White House coronavirus hotspot and general allegations of corruption and incompetence. Pence, looking for a way to change the dynamic of a race that might soon be beyond retrieval for Republicans, can’t let that happen.
Moderator Susan Page, one of the most even-keeled, scrupulously fair journalists in Washington, will do her best to make sure that the engagement proves more worthwhile than the first presidential debate. You can expect lots of discussion on coronavirus, but plenty of problematic subjects for Democrats, too.
Pence’s opportunity stems from Harris’ famously flexible positions on issues. She went through no fewer than three reinventions in her misbegotten presidential run. Her journeys on the Green New Deal and the abolition of private health insurance alone would be enough to paint her as the most enthusiastic windsurfer since John Kerry.
With her own political future in mind, she cannot allow herself to do what Biden has been doing of late and basically blow off the progressive wing of their party. She is well aware of the suspicion with which social justice hardliners view her work as a prosecutor and attorney general as well as the disdain in which they hold Biden’s message of unity and compromise.
It would be impossible for her to not be thinking about 2024 when, if you were making a bet today, she will presumably be the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. Those thoughts may tend to limit her range of motion tonight. How vigorously will she want to defend Biden from Pence’s claims of a sudden shift to radical socialism if it means alienating the very interest groups she’s spent the past month cooing over?
Pence presumably has the same presidential dreams under his well-ironed nightcap, but there is no dissonance for him. Taking the fight to Harris in a way that Republicans have seldom seen Pence conduct himself would be good for him now and in four years.
Given the age of the presidential nominees and Trump’s recent infirmity, the debate obviously has higher stakes than any recent vice-presidential showcase. But the pressure falls heavier on Pence.
Not only is he the one who is behind, but he needs to break through the overwhelming narrative of recent weeks.
To get Trump back into hailing distance and to help Trump-allergic center-right voters understand the value of a Republican Senate in a Biden administration, Pence needs to define the relatively little-known from California as a social justice warrior, eco-radical, court-packing, filibuster nuking member of the progressive left.
He has to bet that she will let him succeed to some degree for the sake of her political future. Otherwise he’ll just be a white dude from Indiana beating up a woman of color — “Momala.”
And he’d better be careful, too. While Harris has been a dud in interviews, the debate setting, like a courtroom or a Senate hearing, plays to her rhetorical strengths. Biden bled for days for her cuts about his opposition to busing, for instance.
Unlike the battle of the boring from four years ago, Pence needs to burn it up tonight.
THE RULEBOOK: THE BOOK ON VIRTUE
“But a man raised from the station of a private citizen to the rank of chief magistrate, possessed of a moderate or slender fortune, and looking forward to a period not very remote when he may probably be obliged to return to the station from which he was taken, might sometimes be under temptations to sacrifice his duty to his interest, which it would require superlative virtue to withstand.” – Alexander Hamilton, writing about the executive’s power to make treaties, Federalist No. 75
TIME OUT: ‘JUMP BACK, WHAT’S THAT SOUND?’
Rolling Stone: “That pioneering spirit guided Eddie [Van Halen] throughout his life, and across four decades — until his tragic death from cancer on October 6th — he made countless innovations in rock music. Not only did he radicalize the way the instrument was played, he redefined how it could be built and how it could sound. … Although classical guitarists had already pioneered using their picking hands to play notes their fretting hand normally would — in order to give musical phrases a wider range — Eddie confounded rock fans with what became known as ‘finger tapping,’ playing the guitar with two hands, kind of like a piano, on ‘Eruption’ and other songs. … The approach was so revolutionary that [his brother] Alex encouraged him to play gigs with his back to audiences so aspiring ax men wouldn’t steal it before the band had a record deal. ‘I was watching Jimmy Page going [sings hammering guitar lick], like that, with one hand, in ‘Heartbreaker,’’ Eddie told Rolling Stone in 2008 of why he started playing that way.”
Flag on the play? – Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.
NATIONAL HEAD-TO-HEAD AVERAGE
Trump: 42 percent
Biden: 52.6 percent
Size of lead: Biden by 10.6 points
Change from one week ago: Biden ↑ 1.4 points, Trump ↓ 1 point
[Average includes: CNN: Trump 41% – Biden 57%; NBC News/WSJ: Trump 39% – Biden 53%; Monmouth University: Trump 45% – Biden 50%; NYT/Siena College: Trump 41% – Biden 49%; ABC News/WaPo: Trump 44% – Biden 54%.]
BATTLEGROUND POWER RANKINGS
(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.]
TRUMP JOB PERFORMANCE
Average approval: 43.8 percent
Average disapproval: 53.8 percent
Net Score: -10 points
Change from one week ago: ↓ 1.4 points
[Average includes: CNN: 40% approve – 57% disapprove; NBC News/WSJ: 43% approve – 55% disapprove; NYT/Siena College: 46% approve – 50% disapprove; Gallup: 46% approve – 52% disapprove; ABC News/WaPo: 44% approve – 55% disapprove.]
GOT A WILD PITCH? READY TO THROW A FASTBALL?
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TRUMP SAYS HE’LL BE READY TO DEBATE NEXT WEEK
WSJ: “President Trump, in his first day back at the White House, played down the virus that left him hospitalized and vowed to return to the campaign trail as soon as next week… Mr. Trump signaled his eagerness to turn the page on his infection as the White House grappled with a growing number of positive coronavirus tests. The Joint Chiefs of Staff are quarantining after attending meetings at the Pentagon with a top Coast Guard commander who tested positive this week, defense officials said. A military aide to the president who is among those responsible for carrying the ‘football’ that contains launch codes for nuclear weapons has also tested positive, a person familiar with the matter said. … Mr. Trump said he intended to participate in next week’s debate in Miami against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, scheduled for Oct. 15—two weeks after the president first tested positive. … Dr. [Sean] Conley said Monday it was possible Mr. Trump would no longer be contagious before the 10-day period ends.”
Alberta: ‘4 Funny Feelings About 2020’ – Politico: “The presidential debates have begun, millions of early votes have already been cast and Election Day is right around the corner. That can only mean one thing: Pundits and prognosticators are about to start making bold predictions about who wins the presidency. Not me. Not yet, anyway. There’s no question that President Donald Trump is losing; that former Vice President Joe Biden holds the high ground. Still, if the 2016 election taught us anything, it’s that election forecasts aren’t worth the paper (or web space) they’re printed on—especially forecasts relating to Trump. The man has defied gravity too many times, escaped too many near-death political experiences for anyone to feel confident in prophesying his demise. We are at a stage of the race, however, when reporters should feel confident unloading their notebook and sharing their hunches and strongly held suspicions.”
ANOTHER BLOWOUT FOR BIDEN IN PA., ADDS TO FLA., IOWA LEADS
Quinnipiac University: “In the wake of last week’s presidential debate and President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis, former Vice President Joe Biden is widening his lead over President Trump among likely voters in both Pennsylvania and Florida, according to a Quinnipiac University poll in both of these states released today. In the first Quinnipiac University Poll of Iowa likely voters, Biden has a slight lead over Trump in the race for president. … In Florida, likely voters support Biden over Trump 51 – 40 percent. That compares to a September 3rd Florida poll showing Biden with 48 percent support and Trump with 45 percent support. … In Pennsylvania, likely voters support Biden over Trump 54 – 41 percent. That compares to a September 3rd poll when Biden received 52 percent support to Trump’s 44 percent. In Iowa, likely voters support Biden over Trump 50 – 45 percent.”
Wisconsinites unmoved – Marquette Law School Poll: “A new Marquette Law School poll of likely Wisconsin voters finds little change in preference or attitudes following the first presidential debate and after President Donald Trump tested positive for COVID-19. While twice as many respondents say former Vice President Joe Biden did better in the debate as say Trump did better, the shift in the vote margin since early September is a single point. In the new poll, Biden is the choice of 46% of likely voters and Trump is supported by 41%. Libertarian candidate Jo Jorgensen is the choice of 4%, while 8% say they would vote for none of these candidates, don’t know how they would vote or decline to say. In early September, Biden was supported by 47%, Trump by 43%…”
It’s neck-and-neck in the Buckeye State, Biden up 6 in Nevada – NYT: “Joseph R. Biden Jr. maintains a steady lead over President Trump in Nevada and the two are virtually tied in Ohio, as voters continue to express dissatisfaction with the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, according to new polls by The New York Times and Siena College released on Wednesday. Mr. Biden leads 48 percent to 42 percent among likely voters in Nevada and 45 to 44 percent in Ohio, the polls found. Six percent of Nevada voters and 7 percent of Ohioans said they remain undecided. The polls were taken after Mr. Trump announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus, and most of the survey took place before Mr. Trump returned to the White House on Monday night from the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.”[Watch Fox: Tune in to “Special Report with Bret Baier” for the latest Fox News national poll results on the election, coronavirus and the economy, tonight 6 pm ET.]
NEWLY REVEALED TEXTS ADD FUEL TO N.C. SENATE FIRE
AP: “A race in North Carolina critical to control of the U.S. Senate has been thrown into turmoil over allegations of personal misconduct by Democrat Cal Cunningham, a married man who had an extramarital relationship this summer with a consultant. Previously undisclosed text messages obtained by The Associated Press and additional interviews show that the relationship extended beyond suggestive texts, as was previously reported, to an intimate encounter as recent as July. … In a series of interviews late Monday as well as in the text messages, [Arlene] Guzman Todd described two in-person encounters with Cunningham. One was in March in Los Angeles that she said did not include intimate contact, and a second was in July in North Carolina, where she said they were intimate. … ‘You don’t deserve me Cal,’ she said in a separate text message to her friend. She added in another, ‘He knows (that I) can tank his campaign.’ In a statement, Guzman Todd apologized…”
Her career on the line, Collins levels personal attacks – Politico: “Susan Collins generally keeps an even keel. But she’s had it with Sara Gideon. ‘She will say or do anything to try to win,’ Collins said when asked of her opponent during a wide-ranging 30-minute interview in her Capitol quarters last week. ‘This race is built on a foundation of falsehoods. And trying to convince the people of Maine that somehow I am no longer the same person.’ Collins wasn’t done as she accused Gideon of ‘defaming my reputation and attacking my integrity’ in their increasingly nasty race. For good measure, the Maine Republican added that Gideon’s campaign was being run as an arm of Chuck Schumer’s Washington operation, scolded Gideon, the statehouse speaker, for not reconvening the legislature amid the pandemic and challenged Gideon’s handling of a sexual misconduct scandal. Perhaps most pointedly, she suggested that Gideon is from away — a serious charge in a state that can turn its nose up at outsiders.”
McSally swings hard in only Arizona Senate debate – AP: “Down in the polls just days before Arizona voters begin casting ballots, Republican Sen. Martha McSally came out swinging against her Democratic challenger in their only face-to-face debate Tuesday, accusing retired astronaut Mark Kelly of obfuscating his true beliefs. Kelly accused McSally and President Donald Trump of failing to lead the country through the coronavirus outbreak, bringing on an economic calamity and leaving people suffering. He presented himself, as he has throughout the campaign, as an independent voice uninterested in partisan politics. … Both at times drew on their experience as combat pilots, Kelly for the Navy and McSally for the Air Force. McSally unveiled a new nickname for her rival, branding him ‘counterfeit Kelly,’ a phrase she used at least 10 times as she made the case that the Democrat’s independent rhetoric would give way to a liberal voting record in Washington. Her appeal is aimed at conservative-leaning voters who may be turned off by Trump and drawn to Kelly’s message of independence.”
Poll shows Ernst trapped in Trump’s Iowa doldrums – Quinnipiac University: “In the Iowa Senate race in which Republican Senator Joni Ernst is seeking a second term, the Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield holds a slight lead over her incumbent opponent, 50 – 45 percent. Four percent remain undecided. Democrats back Greenfield 95 – 3 percent, independents support Greenfield 50 percent and Ernst 43 percent, and Republicans back Ernst 91 – 5 percent. Likely voters have a favorable view of Greenfield, 41 – 32 percent, with 25 percent saying they haven’t heard enough. They have a slightly negative view of Ernst, with 40 percent saying favorable, 45 percent saying unfavorable, and 14 percent saying they haven’t heard enough. ‘Joni Ernst, Iowa’s first female U.S. Senator, tries to avoid being Iowa’s first female U.S. Senator to serve just one term. And the importance of the contest radiates far beyond the heartland to D.C., where control of the Senate looms,’ said [polling analyst Tim] Malloy.”
Cook puts Graham on the front burner – Cook Political Report: “There has been no more surprising race on the Senate map than South Carolina. Even early this year, it looked like Sen. Lindsey Graham would cruise to re-election. Instead, the Republican incumbent finds himself in a tied race in both public and private surveys with challenger Jaime Harrison, who has proven to be perhaps Democrats’ best recruit and a fundraising behemoth. ‘It’s a jump ball at this point,’ said one South Carolina Republican strategist. ‘Jaime is peaking at exactly the right time and he’s got a deluge of money. [Harrison] is blocking every pass there is from Republicans.’ Even Democrats in and outside of the Palmetto State are surprised such a typically red state is truly in play. Many Republicans have privately voiced frustrations that Graham’s campaign didn’t take the challenge from Harrison — a charismatic 44-year-old African-American former state party chairman who tells a compelling story of growing up with a teen mother and being raised by his grandparents in impoverished Orangeburg — seriously enough from the get-go.”
TRUMP TRIES TO WALK BACK STIMULUS WALKOUT
AP: “The White House on Wednesday tried to salvage its favorite items lost in the rubble of COVID-19 relief talks that President Donald Trump blew up, with his administration pressing for $1,200 stimulus checks and a new wave of aid for airlines and other businesses hard hit by the pandemic. In a barrage of tweets, Trump pressed for passage of these chunks of assistance, an about-face from his abrupt and puzzling move on Tuesday afternoon to abandon talks with a longtime rival, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The California Democrat has rejected such piecemeal entreaties all along. Trump’s tweets amounted to him demanding his way in negotiations that he himself had ended. He called on Congress to send him a ‘Stand Alone Bill for Stimulus Checks ($1,200)’ — a reference to a preelection batch of direct payments to most Americans that had been a central piece of negotiations between Pelosi and the White House.”
Pelosi roasts – Fox News: “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Wednesday ripped President Trump for abruptly breaking off negotiations on another coronavirus relief package, dismissing the possibility of smaller, targeted legislation. ‘It’s hard to see any clear, sane path on what he’s doing but the fact is he saw the political downside of his statement of walking away from the negotiations,’ she said during an interview on ABC’s ‘The View.’ ‘He’s rebounding from a terrible mistake he made yesterday, and the Republicans in Congress are going down the drain with him on that.’ Although Trump tweeted on Tuesday that he was postponing negotiations until after the Nov. 3 presidential election, he later appeared to reverse course, calling for lawmakers to send out a fresh round of $1,200 stimulus checks and provide additional funding to U.S. airlines and small businesses.”
Trump accuses FDA of ‘political hit job’ with new vaccine standards – Bloomberg: “President Donald Trump accused the Food and Drug Administration of carrying out a ‘political hit job’ against him by releasing new standards that could delay authorization of a coronavirus vaccine until after the November election. ‘New FDA Rules make it more difficult for them to speed up vaccines for approval before Election Day. Just another political hit job!’ the president wrote in a tweet that tagged his hand-picked FDA commissioner, Stephen Hahn. Trump, who is battling a coronavirus infection himself, commented hours after the FDA issued strict new requirements for Covid-19 vaccine applications, including a review by a panel of experts and two months of safety data. The guidelines are intended to reassure the American public any vaccine is safe and effective, amid accusations that the Trump administration’s response to the virus has been tainted by politics. The FDA declined to comment.”
Eli Lilly offers hope with new treatment – WSJ: “Eli Lilly & Co. said it has requested U.S. authorization of the emergency use of an experimental antibody-based treatment for people with recently diagnosed, mild-to-moderate Covid-19, following positive results from clinical testing. The company said it is seeking the authorization for its drug, code named LY-CoV555, which was derived from a blood sample of one of the earliest U.S. survivors of Covid-19. The company said last month the drug reduced the rate of hospitalization compared with a placebo in a study. Lilly said Wednesday it is manufacturing doses and could have 100,000 doses this month and as many as one million by the end of the year. Lilly also said a new study showed that combining LY-CoV555 with another antibody reduced viral load, symptoms and hospitalizations in Covid-19 patients. The company expects to seek emergency use authorization for the combination in November.”
Judges rule Manhattan district attorney can obtain Trump’s tax returns – NYT
FBI Director has no plans of leaving position despite Trump pressures – Bloomberg
Takeaways from Dems’ bid to break up tech giants – AP
Texas Supreme Court ruled Houston voters can’t receive unsolicited mail ballot applications – AP
“I would never want to be president. Now… Vice president? That doesn’t sound so bad.” – Kamala Harris said to aides while attorney general of California, per Politico.
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CAUGHT CYAN HANDED
NY Post: “A former Texas library employee has been accused of stealing $1.3 million in printer toner from his workplace over the course of nearly a dozen years, officials said. Randall Whited, who worked in accounting at the Austin Public Library, allegedly misused the library’s credit cards to buy vastly more toner than the book hub required — then took the liquid gold home, stored in his garage and resold online, according to an audit report Monday. Whited allegedly purchased at least $1.5 million worth of toner from October 2007 to July 2019 for the library, though the auditor’s office estimated that it would have only needed about $150,000-worth in that timeframe. Investigators uncovered spreadsheets detailing information about where the toner was being resold — as well as security footage of Whited taking boxes of toner on several occasions from the library to the parking garage. … Whited was also accused of putting up to putting at least $18,000-worth of personal items on library credit cards — including virtual reality headsets, robotic vacuums and a drone.”
AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“There is only one problem with peace through strength as a unifying and winning political idea. It is now as obsolete as communism. It still has application, of course, in places like the Persian Gulf. But this is a harder sell.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing about the “brain dead” Republican Party in the Washington Post on Nov. 2, 1990.
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.