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PRESENTING YOUR KEY COUNTIES FOR ELECTION DAY
The national polls seem to have coalesced on the state of the race one day before the 2016 election ends: Democrat Hillary Clinton has the closing momentum and is ahead.

But not by much.

Clinton’s lead of between 3 points and 4 points in an average of real polls is substantially better than President Obama’s was four years ago when the national average put him about half a point better than Mitt Romney. Obama would go on to win by about 4 points.

Political reporters and analysts laughed at the members of the Romney camp four years ago when they swore up and down that the polls were wrong and that the Massachusetts money maestro was actually ahead in their internal surveys and would slingshot past Obama when the voting was done.

Campaigns always lie about their polling. It’s like the heights and weights on a football roster: dishonesty is a matter of professional pride. Romney’s team was just a little too emphatic about it.

Har-de-har-har…

Republican Donald Trump has mounted an assault against math and public opinion research like he was the VI Corps at Anzio. Trump, who once nuzzled and cooed over every primary poll that showed him in the lead, has rather changed his mind on the subject. 

But he’s not entirely wrong. Polling is like shooting a shotgun – a blast pattern of data points spread over a small area to hit a moving target – not aiming a rifle at a target. Both candidates will likely do better than their current average polling vote shares of about 45 percent for Clinton and 43 percent for Trump.

Trump can still win. That would require, however, mobilizing an army of older white voters who he and his fellow Republicans believe will storm polling places on Tuesday to put Trump over the top.

And if that’s the case, we can’t count on the polls alone. We need to go to where the voters are.

With that in mind, come along for a tour of the counties that have among the best track records as bellwethers in their respective states. These are the places that where voters know how to pick ‘em.

Hillsborough County, Florida - The western anchor of the politically potent I-4 corridor, Hillsborough County and the Tampa suburbs were once a Republican stronghold with lots of older voters and military members. But an influx of Hispanic immigrants and younger voters has changed the game. John McCain and Mitt Romney only got about 46 percent of the vote in 2008 and 2012, losing the county on the way to statewide defeats.
 
Merrimack County, New Hampshire -
Merrimack County is slightly north of Manchester and what is increasingly becoming part of the greater Boston suburbs. It is the third most populous county in the state that, similar to the state overall, is trending more Democratic. In 2000, Al Gore won this county by a single point, but in 2004 John Kerry won here by 5 points, and President Obama won this county by double-digits in 2008 and 2012.

Northampton County, Pennsylvania - Northampton County is located just north of Bucks County in the Philadelphia exurbs. Bethlehem Steel closed in 2003 and shattered the already feeble local economy. Democratic nominees won the county by 6 points in 2000 and just 1 point in 2004. In 2008, Obama won the county by 12 points in 2008 and 5 points in 2012. If Trump is really going to flip Pennsylvania, he’ll do it with the help of lots of voters here.

Washoe County, Nevada -
The biggest little swing county in the world! Washoe, home to Reno, is the second most populous county in the state. That’s in part due to the gambling and resort scene around Lake Tahoe but also a Hispanic population of about 22 percent and rising. Voters here went big for Bush in 2000, giving him a win by about 10 points but only 4 points four years later. Washoe was the same for Obama who won the county by 12 points but only 4 points in 2012. Fickle much?

Jefferson County, Colorado -
The county seat of Golden is home to Coors Brewing Company and the Colorado School of Mines, this county was one of the most dramatic political shifts between 2004 and 2008. Bush won this county by about 8 points in both 2000 and 2004, but Obama won here by 9 points in 2008. Although the gap narrowed slightly in 2012, Obama did win again by 5 points, showing that these voters are choosy about who they pick.

Saginaw County, Michigan - Saginaw County is part of the Great Lakes Bay Area near Midland and Bay City. Located less than an hour north of Flint, Mich., this county experienced a major depopulation between 2000 and 2012. Similar to its metro area, this county has large black population – about 19 percent – but is also home to a lot of working class older white voters. Obama won big here in 2008 and 2012, but these are the kinds of places where Trump hopes to see the tide turn.

Caswell County, North Carolina - This former mill town on the Virginia state line is a perfect reflection of North Carolina’s shifting political trends. Romney won here by 2 points in 2012, Obama won by 3 points in 2008, Bush won by 4 points in 2004, and by 2 points in 2000. With a substantial African American population and lots of blue-collar white voters, this was once a Democratic bastion where Trump needs a big swing in his favor.

Sandusky County, Ohio - Sandusky on the shore of Lake Erie between Toledo and Cleveland looks a lot like the rest of northern Ohio: overwhelmingly white, lots of older voters and decades of economic disruption in the rearview mirror. One of the reasons Trump is doing so well in the state is that counties like this one went against type in 2008 and 2012 to back Obama and now are returning to their GOP roots. Bush won here by 12 points in 2004 and 10 points in 2000.

Cedar County, Iowa -
Located between Cedar Rapids to the west and the Quad Cities to the east, Cedar County reflects the mix of industry and agriculture common to that part of the state. The birthplace of Iowa’s only president, Herbert Hoover, the county has usually had more of a Democratic lean. But in 2000, Al Gore won by only 2 votes and George W. Bush won the county by one percentage point in 2004. That trend ended in 2008 when Obama won by 10 points in 2008 and by 5 points in 2012.

Dunn County, Wisconsin -
Got milk? Dunn County and its major city, Menomonie, is right in the heart of America’s Dairyland. Out on the Minnesota border and only an hour from the Twin Cities, the voters here have traditionally been stalwart prairie populists of Democratic-Farmer-Labor variety. But there are ways in for the GOP. Other than a blowout for Obama in 2008, Democratic margins are usually small here. If Trump really is the Republican William Jennings Bryan, then he would be able to rock and roll with the folks in western Wisconsin.

THE RULEBOOK: REQUIREMENTS OF CORRUPTION
“The business of corruption, when it is to embrace so considerable a number of men, requires time as well as means.”– Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 68

TIME OUT: A BLOOM IN THE DESERT
New Yorker: “Death Valley, the majestically desolate national park on the eastern edge of California, is a rain-shadow desert, meaning that nearby mountain ranges drain moisture from incoming weather systems and stop rain from reaching the other side…Because of the rain, Death Valley experienced what came to be called the Superbloom: cascades of wildflowers across thousands of acres…In March alone, more than two hundred thousand people came through. No mania in the bizarre history of Death Valley—the prospectors and swindlers of the late nineteenth century; the playboy adventurers and car racers of the Jazz Age; the psychedelic goings on in the sixties and seventies, including a residency by the Manson family—matched the Superbloom invasion.”

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 +3.2 points
[Polls included: Fox News, Bloomberg, IBDCBS News and ABC/WaPo.]

Average of national four-way presidential polls: Clinton vs. Trump vs. Johnson vs. Stein: Clinton +3.4 points
[Polls included: Fox News, Bloomberg, IBDCBS News and ABC/WaPo.]

[Watch Fox: Special election coverage continues after primetime tonight with a special edition of “Special Report with Bret Baier” at 11:00 p.m. ET and at midnight Chris and Dana ring in Election Day with another new “Perino & Stirewalt: I’ll Tell You What.”]

DATA DIVE: WHAT CAN FLORIDA EARLY VOTES TELL US?
A big part of every major candidate’s campaign is a strong GOTV effort for early voting. It’s a great way to measure how good a party or candidate did building enthusiasm with voters. So in the swingiest swing state of Florida, what can early voters tell us? Chris explains on this week’s “Perino & Stirewalt: I’ll Tell You What.” WATCH HERE

AUDIBLE: THE FIERCE URGENCY OF ‘MEH’
“Not everything is supposed to be inspiring. You just do what you have to do.” – President Obama in an interview with Al Sharpton on the lack of enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton.

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Hi, Chris, who holds the Senate majority if the upcoming election results in 50 Republican seats, 48 Democratic seats, and two Independent seats (Bernie Sanders and Angus King)? Although the two independents caucus with the Democrats, that party won't hold the majority number of seats. How does this work? Although an answer from ‘Carnac the Magnificent’ more suits this bizarre election season, I’ll count on you to answer this puzzling question.” – Mary Heller, Port Angeles, Wash.

[Ed. note: Good question, Ms. Heller! And the answer is easy: They’re not really independents. They run as independents, but when they get to the Senate the first thing they do is cast a vote for majority leader and thereby control of every committee and procedural question in the upper chamber. It’s a ruse. Not that’s not to say that they’re aren’t Senators in both parties who often show independent leanings and vote against their party line, but that’s something different.]

“Chris, big fan of Halftime Report as well as the podcast.  Conservatives have been punting the issue of the candidate's character by saying that this election is all about the Supreme Court. Has SCOTUS ever been as big of an issue in the eyes of either party in past elections?  When was the last time it was important?  Thanks!” – Alex Andrews, Minneapolis, Minn.

[Ed. note: Thanks, Mr. Andrews! The Supreme Court is always an issue when it comes to motivating each party’s base. It’s no typically something that matters much to swing voters. Every major party nominee of both parties certainly since the Roe v. Wade decision, has used the issue to stoke partisan fervor. But like many things in this election, the volume has been turned up to 11. Trump talks about the Supreme Court more because he has more ground to make up among conservative Republicans. This stems, yes, from concerns about his temperament and demeanor, but also because he holds many views antithetical to core conservative values on subjects like debt, national security, trade and entitlement programs. So this is nothing new, it’s just louder than usual.]

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

YOU’RE NOT KOALA-FIED TO HANDLE THAT ANIMAL
The Guardian: “A woman taken into custody by Queensland police has stunned officers by handing over a baby koala she had been secretly carrying inside a zipped canvas bag. The East Brisbane woman, 50, was asked if she had anything to declare after her arrest on unrelated matters by officers on patrol in the city’s south on Sunday night. She produced the bag, saying it contained a joey. ‘Not quite believing their ears, the officers cautiously unzipped the bag and found this gorgeous boy,’ police said in a media statement…The woman and koala were taken to the Brisbane city watch house, where the RSPCA took the joey into its care. The [3.3 pound] koala, believed to be about six months old and slightly dehydrated but otherwise in good health, has been named Alfred, an RSPCA Queensland spokesman said. ‘He’s been on fluids but is doing well and will shortly be going out to a carer,’ Michael Beatty said.”

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.