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On the roster: Ready to light the torch? - Power Play: Debate prep round one - Top Clinton aide given immunity in FBI probe - Audible: Maybe because you ask questions like that - These cookies are the bomb

READY TO LIGHT THE TORCH?
If you are reading this note, you have probably been marinating in the acrid bath of the 2016 election since not long after the 2014 election was over.

But if you were a normal person who, like most Americans, shunned politics and politicians as necessary evils, at best, the sudden storm of this election has only just now come upon you.

Think of it this way: Most of us don’t pay much attention to competitive swimming. And then every four years, millions of Americans suddenly become instant experts on the 400 meter medley, “cupping” and the intricacies of the perfect flip turn.

You may be a swimming aficionado every day of every year, as we are about politics here, but most Americans return to blissful ignorance on the subject once the Olympics end.

There’s a lot of old political witchdoctors who talk about Labor Day as the kickoff of the campaign season and when voter interest starts to peak, but when it comes to a presidential election we are only now getting ready to light the torch at the opening ceremonies.

Millions of Americans will turn on their televisions Monday to find out that no matter what they want to watch they will be offered public service television of a very special kind: two candidates, one moderator, before a hushed crowd with nothing short of the most powerful position in the world on the line.

So when people talk about who wins and loses the debate, please bear in mind what’s really happening. Yes, performance matters, and either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton could screw up so badly that it would be a debilitating blow to their candidacies.

But in all likelihood, everybody who already likes Trump will think that their man did a fantastic job and everybody who has made up their mind to vote for Clinton will probably think she had a boffo night.

What matters in a debate – especially in what is likely to be the most-watched ever – is how the remaining undecided voters feel.

A win can broadly be defined as the candidate who connects with the historically high share of likely voters who still aren’t expressing a preference for either of the major party nominees.

While performance matters for these voters, it may be that just as important is the occurrence of the debate itself.

Given the depth of the unpopularity of both of the main candidates in this race it is not perhaps surprising that such a large number of voters have been putting off their decision. But come Monday, it will be impossible for even the most tuned-out voters to keep pretending that the election is still a ways off.

Six weeks is a long time in terms of political news cycles, but in the course of a seven-month general election, it goes down faster than a bathroom door in a Brazilian gas station.

Remember also that most of those voters who describe themselves as undecided are almost certainly leaning one way or the other.

In 2012, there was a 6-point swing in Republican Mitt Romney’s favor after the first debate. In 1980, Republican nominee Ronald Reagan went from a four-point deficit to a five-point lead after the first and only debate.

How much of that was the performance of the candidates themselves? How much of that was undecided, but leaning voters, being pushed to a decision by the winnowing calendar? We can’t know, and the two are certainly interconnected. But do not underestimate the effect of the debate as a national media event, regardless of what the actual content is.

The parties’ conventions are the end pf the primaries. They are big moments for the politically engaged and partisan loyal voters of America. But the torch is only just now being lit for everyone else.

CRAM SESSIONS
Hillary Clinton
has gone dark and Donald Trump has a single event in the remaining three days before their Monday faceoff at the first presidential debate of the cycle.

Clinton’s team has said she’s preparing for both versions of Trump: the bombastic speaker with fiery rhetoric we see at his rallies, and the sobering, talking points politician behind a podium at his press conferences.

But Trump’s primary debate performance was actually not all that bad, except for a few rather uncomfortable moments

President Obama was asked what advice he has for Clinton. He said, “Be yourself and explain what motivates you.” So who is this person we’ve seen campaigning for more than a year, Mr. President?

As for Trump’s handlers, they’re just worried that he actually might try to be himself and are preparing their candidate not take the bait when Clinton tries to lure him into personal attacks, despite Trump’s claims that he isn’t preparing for the debate in favor of an off-the-cuff style.

POWER PLAY: DEBATE PREP ROUND ONE
How will the candidates sway more of the undecided into their column next week? How are they preparing for their first face-to-face matchup? NY Post’s Daniel Halper and WashEx’s David Drucker set expectations for both candidates. WATCH HERE.

Money talks…or not? - With six weeks to go, Clinton has roughly $50 million more at her disposal than Trump has to win this election, and her campaign is burning right through it. But with Trump rising in the polls is she getting a bang for her buck? The panel weighs in. WATCH HERE.

[Live from Long Island! - One of the most popular political podcasts is now on television. “Perino & Stirewalt: I’ll Tell You What,” airs live Sunday at 5 p.m. ET from the scene of the debate, Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. on the Fox News Channel.]

THE RULEBOOK: FIRST-CLASS SECOND FIDDLE
“The other consideration is, that as the Vice-President may occasionally become a substitute for the President, in the supreme executive magistracy, all the reasons which recommend the mode of election prescribed for the one, apply with great if not with equal force to the manner of appointing the other.” – Alexander Hamilton, “Federalist No. 68

TIME OUT: START AT THE BEGINNING
Small town life may sound like it’s free of the world’s modern problems, but award-winning author and Appalachian native Silas House says that isn’t the case. The PBS series “America Reframed: Class of ‘27” episode brings us to rural Booneville, Ky., where the major problem is keeping children in school amid numerous challenges back home. “Class of ‘27” focuses on a group of children in kindergarten preparing to enter first grade. House explains that in Booneville, like his own hometown in Leslie County, Ky., drug addiction and a failed economy have created a cycle that educators in this town are trying to break. See how the influence of one teacher can change a child’s life in this glimpse into one of America’s forgotten communities.

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

SCOREBOARD
Average of national head-to-head presidential polls:
 Clinton vs. Trump: Clinton +3.6 points
[Polls included: McClatchy/Marist, ARG, WSJ/NBC, Fox News and NYT/CBS News.]

Average of national four-way presidential polls: Clinton vs. Trump vs. Johnson vs. Stein: Clinton +3 points
[Polls included: McClatchy/Marist, WSJ/NBC, Fox News, NYT/CBS News and Quinnipiac University.]

TOP CLINTON AIDE GIVEN IMMUNITY IN FBI PROBE
Fox News: “Hillary Clinton’s former chief of staff Cheryl Mills and two other staffers were granted immunity as part of the now-closed FBI probe into the former secretary of state’s email practices, according to a top House Republican who questioned whether the numerous deals hindered the bureau’s ability to build a case. ‘This is beyond explanation,’ House oversight committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said in a statement Friday. ‘The FBI was handing out immunity agreements like candy. I've lost confidence in this investigation and I question the genuine effort in which it was carried out.’ The arrangements detailed by Chaffetz bring the total number of publicly known immunity deals in the Clinton case to five.”

OBAMA VETO ON 9/11 LAWSUIT BILL EXPECTED TODAY
WaPo: “President Obama on Friday is expected to announce his veto of legislation that would allow families of 9/11 victims sue Saudi Arabia over its alleged ties to the terrorists who carried out the attacks. Congressional leaders plan to hold override votes in the coming days and supporters of the legislation say they are confident they can succeed in overturning the president’s action. The Obama administration has until midnight Friday to reject the measure, or it automatically becomes law. The legislation would allow U.S. courts to waive claims to foreign sovereign immunity in cases involving terrorism on U.S. soil.”

WHAT’S WITH THE CAMPAIGN SPENDING GAP?
Four years ago was the most expensive election on record, so 2016 should see even more outrageous sums, right? Not so much. The Atlantic looks into why candidates aren’t breaking with a buck as easily this cycle.

AUDIBLE: MAYBE BECAUSE YOU ASK QUESTIONS LIKE THAT
“Why aren’t I 50 points ahead?” – Hillary Clinton during a video conference with Laborers' International Union of North America.

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Fox News colleague Jake Gibson gives a view from the trail on the candidates’ enthusiasm gap - Fox News

New polls in Colo., Va., Ga. and Iowa show Trump gaining ground - Quinnipiac University

Ohio county chairwoman for Trump’s campaign resigns over racial remarks - Fox News

David Drucker explains how attacking Trump on birtherism has now become a staple of Clinton’s campaign - WashEx

Clintons spend $1.6 million to buy home next to Chappaqua house - NY Post

McConnell-backed PAC pledges $2.5 million for Blunt in tightening Missouri Senate race - The Hill

Judge rejects media’s attempt to unseal Trump’s divorce records - The Hill

N.C. congressman says protesters hate white people - AP

ANY GIVEN SUNDAY
Vice presidential candidate Mike Pence and Clinton strategist Joel Benenson join the discussion ahead of Monday’s debate. Watch “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.” Check local listings for broadcast times in your area.

#mediabuzz - Host Howard Kurtz has the latest take on the week’s media coverage. Watch #mediabuzz Sundays at 11 a.m.

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“This lifelong Republican and onetime locally-elected official and delegate to umpteen state GOP conventions cannot possibly cast a ballot for Hill--but pulling the lever to vote for Vulgar Don would be, for me, an immoral act. Sigh. Hope he loses, though, as we’ve already suffered through 15 months of the Ultimate Male Version Drama Queen, and four more years would reduce all of us – including you, Chris! – to Screamin’ Meemies with the Heebie Jeebies and the Quiver Shivers.” – Dot Nuechterlein, Valparaiso, Ind.

[Ed. note: That’s a whole lot a shakin’ goin’ on! You are certainly not alone in this Mr. Nuechterlein. Millions of Americans despair of their choice this election, but I would caution you about believing too much of what these politicians say. America is more than its politics. In fact, politics have traditionally been one of the worst things that we do to each other. There is a sturdy depth to this country that has defied greater moments of testing than this. So take heart, the future of America is in the hands of its citizens not its politicians.]

Mitt Romney may have had 14% of the white suburban vote, but he lost. Why do you forget that? This election is not going to be won by the usual suspects but by the unheard from, that is why you are seeing a rise in the white vote in N.C. I think you are very lucid Stirewalt, but previous models aren’t going to help you.” – Doreen Howard, Newmarket, N.H.

[Ed. note: I don’t disagree, Ms. Howard. When we look at the deficiencies of a candidate with a specific demographic group, we are looking at places where he or she could improve their status. Despite Trump’s surge in some state polls, he still has ground to make up nationally. His performance with blue-collar voters has been better than prior Republicans. But he is leaving votes on the table in the suburbs. His most direct path to victory is to take his current coalition and add more of those voters to it. Other potential target groups for Trump like Hispanic, African American, and Asian voters are not likely to provide the political punch necessary in a short period of outreach. Every election is decided in the suburbs and this election will be no different.]

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

THESE COOKIES ARE THE BOMB
Food 52: “This Monday morning, a customer at a Gulf gas station in Marshalls Creek, PA panicked after spotting an unattended box with Arabic lettering at a gas pump. After all, it was just hours after the tristate area went on high alert for signs of Ahmad Khan Rahami, the now-apprehended man thought to be responsible for bombings in New York and New Jersey over the weekend. Said customer called the state police, alarmed by the box’s Arabic lettering, fearing it contained a bomb. That Monday morning became a real scene, involving three police cars and the arrival of the Hazardous Devices and Explosives Unit, also resulting in the premature closure of a nearby daycare that day. The situation was diffused by noon, because they realized it wasn’t a bomb after all, but something much more innocuous: A box of ma’amoul, shortbread cookies stuffed with dates.”

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.