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On the roster: What if it’s too close to call? - Trump lays out economic plan as part of reset - Power Play: Hillary’s state strategy - Audible: Go for the gold - Also the horrible biting and eating of people

WHAT IF IT’S TOO CLOSE TO CALL?
The current average of worthwhile polls suggests the presidential election won’t even be close. But there’s no reason to think that the polls will look the same on November 8 as they do on August 8.

Despite the hyperventilating over Republican nominee Donald Trump’s performance over the past two weeks, he has remained substantially in the same bandwidth as he has since securing the Republican nomination three months ago.

While Democratic standard bearer Hillary Clinton has consistently led Trump, polls show that despite deep concerns among many Republicans his support is stable in a range between 35 and 45 percent. Clinton operates in a higher register of about 43 to 54 percent.

They will try to tell you that the polls are swinging wildly, but the contours of the election are substantially set. Given the candidates’ ranges of support, Clinton is more likely to defeat Trump, but if she is at the low end of her scale and he is at the high end, he could nick her in a close race.

And as for those who tell you that the polls are wrong, just remember that no winning campaign ever said the polls were skewed against them. Averages of reliable polls have been, well, daggone reliable in every quadrennial election in memory.

In 2004, Democrats howled about skewed polls for George W. Bush, just like in 2012 Republicans said pollsters were cooking the books for President Obama. Claiming poll bias is as much a part of American politics as baby kissing and fundraising dinners.

So the likeliest outcome now is a Clinton victory. Second likeliest is Trump winning in the bottom of the ninth and, for those of you who don’t have enough anxiety on your Mondays, a cliffhanger that could include electoral deadlock or a contested outcome.

Remember, the inclusion of minor party candidates enhances the chances of that third outcome.

Now, Halftime Report is not the sort of political note that goes around trafficking in reckless speculation about fanciful scenarios. Libertarian Gary Johnson is not going to be awarded the presidency in the House. Electors are not going to refuse to obey the will of voters en masse. The overwhelming likelihood is that the election will be decisive.

Buuuuut…

The good people at Gallup have for decades tracked the degree of confidence ordinary Americans have in the institutions that make up our society. How do you think the trend line has been going? Exactly. Horrible.

In 1991, 72 percent of respondents expressed either a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the presidency. In June of this year, it was 36 percent. Twice as many respondents had “very little” confidence as had a “great deal.”

Now, that’s not to say that our institutions haven’t earned the opprobrium of voters. But scandal, incompetence and partisan hackery are as old as the republic itself. So what’s different?

In part, we know more about it. Thanks to being fed news like a foi gras goose is fed corn. But another part is the frequency with which leaders traffic in the notion that there is endemic corruption in the system.

The 2000 election was stolen by Bush’s brother in Florida, right? Then Bush used rigged voting machines to steal Ohio in 2004, right? Black Panthers stole Pennsylvania for Barack Obama, right? Racist voter ID laws took the Senate away from Democrats in 2014, right?

There have always been conspiracy theories and when there are close elections like 1960 or 2000, allegations of fraud or misconduct can be material. A handful of votes in a single state might make all the difference.

It’s not overdramatic to say that for a number of weeks in 2000 the country dangled over a perilous gorge. By then, voters already had diminished institutional confidence and here was the sitting vice president of the United States fairly broadly suggesting the election might have been stolen.

If you lived in a country other than the one with such an enviable record of peaceful transfer of power, you would have been getting very nervous. In worse places, civil wars have started over much less.

One of the most convincing arguments that team Bush made for letting the Florida results stand was preserving the system itself. Former Secretary of State James A. Baker, leading Bush’s team in Florida, offered an ominous warning on Nov. 10, 2000:

“Let the country step back for a minute and pause and think about what's at stake here,” he said, “This may be the last chance to do that. There is no reasonable end to this process if it slips away.”

Baker’s point was that Republicans had stepped aside in the face of heartbreakingly narrow losses in 1960 and 1976 for the good of the order – to suppress their own claims of fraudulency so that public confidence in elections and government might be preserved.

The Supreme Court ultimately agreed and ended the cliff hanger without the help of Democratic nominee Al Gore. But Democrats hung dearly to their embitterment throughout Bush’s two terms.

This time around one of the major party nominee’s is declaring the system corrupt months in advance of Election Day. Trump, who steadfastly maintained that the Republican nominating process in which he prevailed was corrupt, now tells supporters that the general election is “rigged” as well.

Imagine with us, if you will, what might happen with these two candidates if we were to find ourselves  in a situation like 2000 or, even worse, a more complicated close call.

Both sides in this election have declared their opponent unfit for office. We’ve never had that before. Very little is being said about ideology, but rather the focus is on corruption, mental illness and charges of malfeasances bordering on treason.

It is not hard to picture a contested outcome leading to something much worse than we saw in 2000.

Again, that’s the least likely of the scenarios worth considering, but one that prudence demands us to consider.

TIME OUT: MICKEY MOUSE MEDICINE
New Yorker: “Twelve of the country’s brightest medical students are trying to remember whether Mickey Mouse wears pants. They’ve been asked to draw the popular cartoon character from memory, and, while gathered in a state-of-the-art medical classroom in Washington Heights, they approach this task with the same focus and intensity that they used earlier in the week to memorize the complex chain of chemical reactions known as the clotting cascade. That was for their unit in hematology. Mickey’s pants are for a newer entry to the curriculum: ‘Comics and Visual Storytelling.’ The concept of doctor as storyteller is not a new one, nor is the idea that it’s a critical component of a doctor’s identity. What’s changed in recent years is the idea that storytelling is a skill that can be taught directly in the classroom…”

Flag on the play? - Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions

SCOREBOARD
Average of national presidential polls:
Clinton vs. Trump: Clinton +9.6 points
Generic congressional vote: Democrats +2.8

TRUMP LAYS OUT ECONOMIC PLAN AS PART OF RESET
Fox News: “Donald Trump is focusing his economic message on boosting jobs and making the country more competitive on a global stage by cutting business taxes, reducing regulations and increasing domestic energy production. With a speech Monday to the prestigious Detroit Economic Club, the Republican presidential nominee seeks to reset his campaign and delve into a subject — the economy — that is seen as one of his strengths. It also is aimed at showing that Trump is a serious candidate in spite of a disastrous stretch that prompted criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike.”

Independent launches bid as conservative alternative to Trump - Fox News: “A 40-year-old former CIA operative and ex-chief policy director for the House Republican Conference on Monday is expected to officially launch an anti-Trump independent presidential bid. Though Evan McMullin would be a longshot and immediately faces a challenge simply getting on the ballot, his candidacy highlights frustrations lingering within the Republican Party over nominee Donald Trump. McMullin’s strategy likely will be to target Republicans in red states still on the fence about a Trump presidency.”

POWER PLAY: HILLARY’S STATE STRATEGY
After a healthy post-convention bounce, Hillary Clinton looks like she’s in good standing as the general election heats up, but her strategy goes through a lot of states that Donald Trump’s team is claiming as their path to victory. Pro-Clinton PAC Priorities USA Communications Director Justin Barasky joins Chris Stirewalt to discuss Clinton’s road to the White House and whether she can rebuild the Obama coalition. WATCH HERE.

Sanders supporters still aren’t backing Clinton, but… - FiveThirtyEight: “Before the convention, many Sanders supporters said that they would support Clinton in a two-way matchup against Donald Trump, but when pollsters offered them third-party candidates as an option, they abandoned her…let’s be clear about what we’re discussing: The Sanders holdouts aren’t that large a group. If they were forced to choose only between Clinton and Trump, the vast majority would choose Clinton and yet they would add only about 1 percentage point to her overall margin over Trump, according to current polls…Still, the convention helped: She moved from 79 percent up to 91 percent among Sanders supporters in CNN’s polls, 68 percent to 75 percent per Marist…”

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Trump may be able to slow tax audit through extending document search - WSJ

Never Trump Republicans circulating a petition to RNC members to oust Trump - WaPo

Kasich says he’s still thinking about endorsing Trump - Fox News

George P. Bush says to take ‘bitter pill,’ vote for Trump - Dallas Morning News

Clinton, Kaine differ on congressional authorization over airstrikes against ISIS - WashEx

Trump, Clinton build White House transition teams - Fox News

The venerable Michael Barone lays out the 13 counties to watch this November - WashEx

AUDIBLE: GO FOR THE GOLD
“I hear that Donald Trump is watching the Olympics tonight. He’s seeing how high the Mexican pole vaulters go.” – Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson in an interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal.

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Curious, Why doesn’t Iran actually owe America at least $400 million for all the harm, abuse and personal harm they caused when during Jimmy Carter’s presidency they invaded the American Embassy (which counts as American territory), kidnapped and falsely imprisoned all the American diplomatic personnel? At this late date Obama still doesn’t have their back.” – Herb Caplan, Chicago, Ill.

“From the first time I read your old Fox News First newsletter to the Halftime Report…I have truly enjoyed the incisive writing, insights, humor and just plain enjoyable reading! So to all who complain about such things like your perspective on Trump or whine about the point of ‘Time Out’…I’ll simply ask:  Where else can you go to get such witty, pithy writing on a variety of topics?  EXACTLY, NOWHERE!  So just try to focus on the insights in the handful of minutes it takes to read it…if you disagree, so be it.  Just keep on reading…every day there is something of value…and most days, there is plenty to be gained from the time spent!” – Greg Bruce, Castle Rock, Colo.

[Ed. note: Aw, shucks… It’s an honor to be on the good side of your spam filter! Thanks for reading.]

“Maybe I missed this, but are you and [Dana Perino] going to continue doing ‘I’ll Tell You What’ or was that just during the conventions?” – Bill Irving, Memphis, Tenn.

[Ed. note: Funny you should ask, Mr. Irving! At this writing I am bracing myself for the next taping of “I’ll Tell You What” this afternoon. I just know that Dana is crafting ever more diabolical trivia questions. You can subscribe HERE so you never miss an episode, including the one due out tonight. I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever had more fun in anything I’ve done in journalism.]

ALSO THE HORRIBLE BITING AND EATING OF PEOPLE
Independent: “Science has finally made a pretty self-evident truth empirical: sharks are scarier when set to ‘ominous background music’. In a study literally called: ‘The Effect of Background Music in Shark Documentaries on Viewers' Perceptions of Sharks’ researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego showed over 2,000 participants 60-second video clips of sharks swimming - one silent, one set to uplifting music and one set to ominous music.  … ‘Despite the ongoing need for shark conservation and management, prevailing negative sentiments marginalize these animals and legitimize permissive exploitation,’ [the lead scientist] wrote.”

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News. Sally Persons 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 digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C.  Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First" political news note and hosts "Power Play," a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace."  He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.