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On the roster: Presenting your Virginia gubernatorial race guide - Party paid to keep Schultz ‘fat and happy’ - Reprising ObamaCare role, Pence takes lead on taxes - Trump’s former body man to testify on Russia - Rotten tomatoes, indeed

Whatever happens in Virginia’s much-watched gubernatorial election today, you will have the chance to interpret it in such a way as to reinforce your existing political views… if that’s how you roll.

The great thing about living by the crackling fire in the open hearth of ultra-partisanship is that you never need to be wrong. It may not make any difference in real life or advance any particular policies, but it is sure cozier than a pair of cashmere socks at a hardcore hygge session.

If you are sticking hard and fast by President Trump, a win for Republican Ed Gillespie is proof that the president and his party remain on a winning streak. That view is sweetened by the fact that Gillespie has embraced a campaign strategy that Steve Bannon called “Trumpism without Trump.”

Conversely, if Gillespie loses, you can simply say that Gillespie was too squeamish about the Trump part of Trumpsim. Deep draughts of “liberal tears” will be your reward tonight either way.

If you’re on the other pole of the spectrum and are a liberal, Bernie-Sanders-supporting Democrat, you can have the same “heads I win, tails you lose” approach to Democrat Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam. If he wins by even a point, you can claim the rising wave of #resist is finally starting. And if Northam loses, simply dismiss him as too moderate to fire up the Democratic base. The dankness of your memes will be unaffected by actual election results.

The same goes for the establishmentarians of both parties who will claim moderation again ascendant if their guy wins or denounce radical rogues if he loses.

Tribalism means never having to say you’re sorry. Heck, tribalism means you’re not even allowed to apologize.

But what if you’d actually like to know what may happen and what it would mean for future contests? What if you’d like to know about, you know, the election? By Jove, that may just be crazy enough to work....

No we’re not talking about the 1861 division of Virginia into two states, West and plain, but the fact that there are really two elections in the commonwealth today.

One takes place in a small, affluent, Northeast Corridor Democratic state. The other in a medium-sized, mostly prosperous Southern state.

If you take Northern Virginia out of Virginia (and Lord, do the Republicans wish they could), you get a pretty typical GOP state. If you factor out the four counties and five cities of NoVa – about 28 percent of the overall votes cast – Trump would have won Virginia by about 3 points, close to his margin in neighboring North Carolina.

Conversely, Hillary Clinton did even better in those counties and cities than she did in neighboring deep-blue Maryland. But like Maryland, these are precincts where Republicans can sometimes actually win.

Gillespie should be well suited to the terrain. He’s a Beltway stalwart and a longtime resident of affluent Fairfax County. His almost upset of Sen. Mark Warner in 2014 was supercharged by a strong showing with their suburbanite neighbors.

But more instructive for us here is not Gillespie’s record but how the GOP has been faring in these counties in the commonwealth’s off-year contests. With the odd cycle and governors limited to only one term, the elections are ultra-low turnout affairs. To wit: turnout was 29 points higher in 2016 than it was for the state race three years earlier.

Gillespie won’t be able to rely on lukewarm moderates and independents this time, and will have to count on the most active (i.e. partisan) voters this time. This explains why he has run television commercials so rank in subject and tone that parents are sent scrambling for the remote during football games.

Virginia Republicans picked former state attorney general Ken Cuccinelli in 2013 and he got smoked in these counties, but not by so much that he didn’t almost pull off a win himself. People forget that despite his firebrand status, The Cooch kept it relatively close — less than 3 points statewide.

But while Cuccinelli did better than Trump would go on to do in Northern Virginia, that’s still where he lost the race.

Cuccinelli lost the region, which represented 28 percent of the statewide total, by about 138,000 votes. He won the rest of the state excluding the D.C. suburbs by about 81,000 votes.

Had Cuccinelli just been able to replicate the 2009 performance of former Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell in the swing outer suburban counties of Loudoun and Prince William he would have been almost home.

Gillespie’s advantage is that suburbanites should like him better than they did the cantankerous Cuccinelli, but the 2017 nominee has to make sure that he doesn’t lose too much of his predecessor’s statewide margin.

The trick for Gillespie is to have convinced voters in places like Pittsylvania and Wythe counties that a Roman Catholic guy who grew up in New Jersey now cares deeply about preserving Confederate heritage while simultaneously letting NoVa know that he doesn’t really mean it.

Northam has the inverse challenge. Can he, a moderate Southern Democrat, fire up NoVa singletons, African American voters in the Tidewater region and other core Democratic constituencies without sounding like so much of a hothead that the outer Washington suburbs don’t snap back to red?

We love polls, but the simulation is no substitute for the real thing. Other than just being happy to get back to some daggone real politics instead of just endless partisan jawboning, this race is our best chance since the 2016 stunner to see how voters really feel.

We know how Americans generally feel lousy about politics now and seem to mostly agree that Trump is a bad leader. But that’s not what determines elections. Surveys are grand, but elections are about who really shows up to vote.

The Democrats have shown spunk in their losing special election bids since last November, but this is a statewide race in a competitive place with two candidates who function pretty well as a “Generic Republican” and a “Generic Democrat.”

And we also have good comparable data. Yes, Northam would like to do better than Clinton did a year ago. But the real pass-fail for Democrats is whether Northam can do better than his 2009 running mate, Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

McAuliffe disappointed Democrats by only beating right-winger Cuccinelli by 2.5 points. Virginia, like the rest of America, would prove to be a heckuva lot more Republican than Democrats living in the Obama re-election afterglow were ready to believe.

Tonight we find out which team is in for an education, courtesy of the Mother of Presidents.

Here’s where you should be watching to see how things are shaping up this evening.

Chesterfield County 
2013: D 40.9%; R 48.7%
2009: D 33.6%; R 66.3%

Henrico County
2013: D 51.3%; R 38.1%
2009: D 43.7%; R 56.2%

Loudoun County
2013: D 49.6%; R 45.2%
2009: D 38.8%; R 61%

Prince William County
2013: D 51.9%; R 43.7%
2009: D 41.2%; R 58.7%

Virginia Beach City
2013: D 46.6%; R 47.6%
2009: D 36.2%; R 63.7%

Chesapeake City
2013: D 48.7%; R 45.6%
2009: D 39.6%; R 60.3%

[Watch Fox: The best political team in the business will be tracking results in today’s races, starting with Virginia at 7 p.m. ET. Stay tuned to the Fox News Channel and follow along at foxnews.com.]

AP: “[Kim Guadagno] has done whatever she could to create distance from a Republican colleague whose popularity has hovered in the teens and low 20s for the last year as voters have tired of his ‘tell-it-like-it-is’ style and in the aftermath of the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal. With Democratic front-runner Phil Murphy spending millions to air ads highlighting the ‘Chrisite-Guadagno years,’ Guadagno has struggled to get Democratic and independent voters to instead focus on her main campaign issues, including addressing property taxes.”

Trump rips on Northam while overseas - Fox News: “President Trump paused from his overseas trip to Asia to blast the Democratic nominee in Tuesday’s Virginia gubernatorial race as ‘weak’ on crime, veterans and the Second Amendment, in a final push for Republican Ed Gillespie. Democrat Ralph Northam has maintained the lead in most polls heading into Tuesday’s election, but the latest Fox News Poll shows him with just a 5-point edge. Republicans claim their nominee has momentum and a chance to pull off an upset, in a race marked by tough ads and accusations on both sides. Trump sounded off on Northam, in between meetings in South Korea. ‘Ralph Northam will allow crime to be rampant in Virginia. He’s weak on crime, weak on our GREAT VETS, Anti-Second Amendment … and has been horrible on Virginia economy. Vote @EdWGillespie today!’ he tweeted Tuesday morning.” 

Donald Jr., however, wasn’t on his Twitter A-game - CBS News: “While Republicans are pushing Virginia voters to turn out for gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie on Tuesday, President Trump's son Donald Trump Jr. is lending his support over social media, but seemingly tweeted out the incorrect date of the election. Trump Jr. sent his first tweet around 8:00 a.m. Tuesday morning, urging followers in Virginia to take Gillespie ‘across the finish line tomorrow!’ Just before 11:00 a.m., he appeared to have the correct date of the election in a follow up tweet, telling voters if they ‘support’ his father, then they should vote for Gillespie.”

Question on Maine ballot on Medicaid expansion - NYT: “Voters in Maine will decide on Tuesday whether to expand access to Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, making the state the first in the nation to settle the issue by referendum. Maine is one of 19 states whose Republican governors or legislatures have refused to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. Other holdouts like Utah and Idaho are closely watching the initiative, as newly formed committees in both those states are working to get a Medicaid expansion question on next year’s ballot. The outcome may offer clues about the salience of the issue in next year’s midterm congressional elections.”

Utah’s Provo Mayor poised to succeed Chaffetz - Roll Call: “Former Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz will most likely be replaced by a fellow Republican after voters head to the polls in the state’s 3rd District on Tuesday. But don’t expect the GOP candidate, Provo MayorJohn Curtis, to follow in Chaffetz’s footsteps. ‘If someone is expecting me to be a Jason clone, they’ll be disappointed,’ Curtis said in a phone interview. He has led in recent polls in the deep-red district, and Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates Tuesday’s contest Solid Republican.”

“Situation, soil, climate, the nature of the productions, the nature of the government, the genius of the citizens, the degree of information they possess, the state of commerce, of arts, of industry, these circumstances and many more, too complex, minute, or adventitious to admit of a particular specification, occasion differences hardly conceivable in the relative opulence and riches of different countries.” – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 21

New Yorker: “The scene is one of the many miniature dioramas that make up the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, which the pioneering criminologist Frances Glessner Lee created as teaching tools. Lee based the scenes on real homicides, accidents or suicides… Lee made her Nutshells with staggering specificity, in order to ‘make you stop and see that it could be the smallest detail that turns a case,’ as Timothy Keel, a major-case specialist with the F.B.I. … told [Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson]. … ‘It is extremely interesting to note the effect of these models on the students,’ Lee wrote. ‘At first glance, they are impressed mainly by the miniature quality—the doll house effect—but almost immediately they enter into the reality of the matter and completely lose sight of the make-believe.’ Today, academic and law-enforcement programs use life-size rooms and role-playing or employ virtual-reality re-creations of crime scenes for training, but Lee’s Nutshells remain a gold standard.”

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HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.

Trump net job-approval rating: -20.4 points
Change from one week ago: up 0.2 points

[President Trump’s score is determined by subtracting his average job disapproval rating in the five most recent, methodologically sound public polls from his average approval rating, calculated in the same fashion.]

Fox News: “Former Democratic National Committee boss Donna Brazile, in her newly released 2016 campaign tell-all, tore into her DNC predecessor over the ‘perks’ she enjoyed while the party was suffering from a cash crunch that left it dependent on Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Brazile, former interim DNC chair, pulled no punches in going after Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’ leadership style. In her book ‘Hacks,’ released Tuesday, Brazile recalled how she was briefed upon taking over for Schultz on the many perks meant to keep the chair ‘fat and happy’ – including a ‘big Tahoe SUV’ with a driver, a ‘body woman’ and more. ‘Debbie had a chief of staff and a body woman. She also had media consultants and a fund-raising consultant. I was free to hire my own consultants, two or three if I liked, and bring in a new communications team. All of that would go on the DNC payroll,’ she wrote.”

Quackers: Clinton approved plan for protestors to wear Donald Duck costumes - NY Post: “Hillary Clinton personally OK’d a plan to have protesters dress in Donald Duck costumes to disrupt Donald Trump’s campaign rallies, a stunt that led to a clash with Donna Brazile, former chair of the Democratic National Committee. … Later, when she was told Clinton came up with the idea of using the orange-billed cartoon character to call attention to Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns and was using the impersonators at rallies, Brazile told one of her aides, ‘Kill the f—ing duck…’ … Demonstrators wearing Donald Duck’s signature blue sailor’s shirt and red bow tie showed up during the 2016 election at a number of Trump rallies, and even at Trump Tower, some carrying signs saying the Republican presidential candidate was ‘ducking’ releasing his returns.”

Bannon talking up impeachment to rally grassroots - Newsweek: “Ousted White House chief strategist Steve Bannon won't stop discussing the possibility that his former boss could be impeached. And now, he's using it as a scare tactic for Republican voters and candidates. Bannon told immigration activists this weekend that he worries the GOP could lose control of the House of Representatives if Speaker Paul Ryan slips an amnesty policy for recipients of the now-defunct Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program into an upcoming spending bill. Bannon laid out how, if that happens, voters in the 2018 midterm elections will enable Democratic lawmakers to take control of the chamber.”

Leak: Mercers avoided millions in taxes in Bermuda - The Guardian: “Leaked documents and newly obtained public filings show how the billionaire Mercer family built a $60m war chest for conservative causes inside their family foundation by using an offshore investment vehicle to avoid US tax. The offshore vehicle was part of a network of companies in the Atlantic tax haven of Bermuda led by Robert Mercer, the wealthy hedge-fund executive and Bannon patron whose spending helped put Trump in the White House and aided a resurgence of the Republican right.”

Michael Gerson: ‘Our political parties can’t save themselves’ - WaPo: “Political commentators are supposed to be somewhat objective and analytical when it comes to tracking trends. In that spirit, I find the polling snapshot of President Trump at one year since his election to be interesting — if ‘interesting’ is defined as a downward spiral of polarization, pettiness and prejudice that threatens the daily functioning and moral standing of the American republic. Our times are not normal — and it is a disservice to the country to normalize them. In a recent Post-ABC News survey, Trump’s approval rating is worse — far worse — than any president at this stage in seven decades of polling. About half of those surveyed strongly disapprove. The public assessment of Trump’s leadership, character and competence has grown harsher in every category.”

Politico: “Vice President Mike Pence will meet separately with House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers
on Tuesday as Republicans’ tax reform push kicks into high gear. Pence will also attend the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon on Tuesday, something of a weekly tradition for him. The Senate is expected to unveil its own tax reform plan on Thursday, the same day House leaders hope to clear the tax bill through the Ways and Means Committee — the first hurdle to getting the bill to President Donald Trump’s desk. The vice president’s visit comes as White House officials huddled separately with both House and Senate tax-writers at the Capitol on Monday, according to a senior administration official. The push to overhaul the tax code, with massive cuts for corporations and the wealthiest households, has become a do-or-die proposition for Republicans, especially after their failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act.”

Mnuchin says White House will push to close Wall Street loophole - The Hill: “Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Monday said the Trump administration plans to pressure Congress to close a tax code loophole that allows managers of some types of private investment funds to pay a lower rate than most individuals. Fox News host Tucker Carlson pointed out during an interview that the current GOP tax reform plan includes the carried interest loophole … and asked the secretary if he plans to push lawmakers to do away with it in markups. Mnuchin responded, ‘We are.’ … The rule tends to apply to the managers of certain types of private investment funds like hedge funds, private equity and venture capital firms, real estate companies, and others who receive an investment rate that is nearly half that other individuals pay.”

Brady unveils tax bill amendment, no changes on health care - Axios: “Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, unveiled a sizable amendment to the GOP tax reform bill Monday night that restores a tax break for employees who receive child care benefits and tightens restrictions on the use of the earned income tax credit, per AP. The amendment also aims to limit the bill’s impact on universities with large endowments. … There’s no repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate… Instead, Brady said he will introduce a ‘temporary and targeted bill’ on ACA taxes once this tax legislation is passed. … Repealing the individual mandate would likely resurface the same issues that initially sank Republicans’ health care earlier this year… Democrats were furious when Brady introduced the amendment, arguing they were ‘blindsided’ by the changes.”

Matt Labash: ‘Kill the Bill’ - Weekly Standard: “If you want to hear the anguished, soul-wracked keening of a man whose ox was just gored, pull up a chair and sit a spell. You’ve come to the right place. For I am that unfortunate species that Republicans want to pretend doesn’t exist: the middle-class schlub who will not feel tax relief, but tax pain, even as they attempt to re-cut the tax pie so that corporations get a 43 percent tax reduction (from 35 percent to 20 percent), while my top tax rate stays the same (25 percent) and I lose the lion’s share of my itemized deductions. Meaning my taxes, unlike most corporations, are going up, even as I’ll be getting taxed at a higher rate than Apple—whose 2016 revenue was $215.6 billion.”

Bloomberg: “As Donald Trump’s longtime bodyguard, Keith Schiller had a front row seat to key moments of Trump’s presidency, campaign and rise as a reality TV star. Now, Schiller is being asked to divulge sensitive information he learned about the president to congressional investigators. Schiller, who started working for Trump in 1999, will be questioned Tuesday behind closed doors by members and staff of the House Intelligence Committee looking into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. He brings a much more intimate knowledge of Trump, his candidacy and presidency than past witnesses. Before leaving the White House in August as head of Oval Office operations, Schiller was often the first and last aide Trump would see each day. During the campaign, Schiller heard nearly every conversation and phone call as he sat in cars by Trump’s side, traveling between rallies, former campaign aides said. He was also the conduit Trump’s allies outside the White House would use to reach the president.”

Email shows contradiction from Carter Page on his meeting with Russian official - WaPo: “Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to President Trump’s campaign whose visit to Moscow during the election has drawn scrutiny, sent an email to fellow Trump aides during his trip describing ‘a private conversation’ with a senior Russian official who spoke favorably of the Republican candidate, according to records released late Monday by congressional investigators. Page also wrote that he had been provided ‘incredible insights and outreach’ by Russian lawmakers and ‘senior members’ of Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s administration during the trip. The email appeared to contradict earlier statements by Page, who had said he had only exchanged brief greetings with the senior Russian official, Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, after he delivered a speech at a Russian university.”

Comey softened language on Clinton email case statement - Fox News: “Newly reported memos to Congress released Monday showed that language was softened between an early draft and the final copy of former FBI Director James Comey’s statement closing out the Hillary Clinton email case. Originally Comey accused the former secretary of state of being ‘grossly negligent’ in handling classified information in a draft dated May 2, 2016, but that was modified to claim that Clinton had been ‘extremely careless’ in a draft dated June 10, 2016. Comey stuck to that modified language when he announced in July 2016 that there would be no charges against Clinton. Federal law states that gross negligence in handling the nation’s intelligence can be punished criminally with prison time or fines, according to The Hill, which first reported on the memos.”

Ross adviser held position with Kremlin-linked client - Politico: “A top adviser to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross served on the board of Navigator Holdings, a shipping company whose clients include a Russian energy company with Kremlin ties, while she was working in the Trump administration. Wendy Teramoto retained her seat on Navigator’s board after joining Commerce in mid-March as a part-time adviser to Ross, one of the most influential voices in President Donald Trump’s ear on global trade and economic policy. She also continued to serve as an executive of Ross’s private equity firm WL Ross & Co. after becoming a government employee. Teramoto didn’t resign her seat on Navigator’s board until July 17, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. She left WL Ross that same month. On Aug. 1, she was formally named Ross’s chief of staff.”

The story behind the attack on Sen. Rand Paul - WaPo

Poll: Trump losing support in counties that were responsible for his election - WSJ/NBC News

Department of Homeland Security ends temporary protected status for Nicaraguans - ABC News

House Freedom Caucus announces they will back bill to end diversity visa lottery - The Hill

Sen. Robert Menendez trial is now in the jury’s hands - Politico

Report: Rep. Frank LoBiondo R-N.J. won't seek reelection in 2018 - The Hill

“And when the White House kitchen staff couldn’t match the satisfaction of a quarter-pounder with cheese (no pickles, extra ketchup) and a fried apple pie, it was Schiller, bodyguard and Trump whisperer, who would head down New York Avenue to McDonald’s on a stealth fast food run.” – An excerpt from the Politico piece about Trump’s right hand man, Keith Schiller.

“I know that polling is where you make your bread and butter, but why should I believe them? You may say I’m too young to be this cynical, but consider this. The political polling last year wasn’t even as accurate as a broken clock. In fact, some of the polls were found to be corrupted to support a predetermined set of results. Since there weren’t any mass suspensions, firings, reassignments or retirements in the polling business over the past twelve months, why would they be any different today?” – Steve Aue, Brock, Texas

[Ed. note: It’s never too soon to be so cynical, Mr. Aue. As an American in 2017, you are hardly alone. But as for polls, I would point out that national polling in 2016 was better than it was in 2012 – that is to say, on the national popular vote. There are concerns about state polls, though. Part of the problem in 2016 was that few pollsters saw much reason to waste resources in “blue wall” states in the Upper Midwest that had not gone Republican since 1988. As a result, scant polling in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania that relied on outdated turnout models took on undue importance in the minds of analysts. Think of it this way, if I know Abilene is east of Sweetwater, and I have driven down Interstate 30 a thousand times in my life, I am going to readily believe a map that shows both cities in that relationship. Pollsters took for granted the partisan composition of those states, so very few of us bothered to check their work and do additional polls. Surveys in Virginia have been plentiful and of high quality. If something is off in Virginia today and we see a dramatically different result than expected, then there will be serious work to be done about figuring out how to do state-level surveys.]

“I think you’re pessimistic about GOP tax bill. I think there will be a good reduction bill with some reform on President’s desk by Christmas.” – Charles Dishman, Houston 

[Ed. note: You may be quite right, Mr. Dishman. It is possible that they have put enough cannon fodder in this bill to endure successive rounds of negotiations and still end up with some workable core. But don’t forget about the Senate! I have a suspicion that even if the House works miracles and completes its efforts by the end of the month, the Senate is going to want to start from scratch.]

“Your statement: ‘Rather than offering a plan that would stop picking winners and losers, Republicans are just picking different winners and losers.’ How in the world do you think it is possible to NOT pick winners and losers within reasonable economic constraints?? Logic should prevail over your anti-Republican emotion.” – Robert R. Love, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.

[Ed. note: Now, now, Mr. Love! I gather from your remarks that you are a Republican, and I assure you that I’m not anti-you, or really, anti-anybody. Maybe the people who came up with vegan pork rinds. Those people, I am anti. As to the question of picking different winners and losers, I certainly take your point inside the concept of a zero-sum game. If we assume that spending and revenue have to exist within a narrow bandwidth then, yes, tax reform would be a matter of deciding which individuals and behaviors the government would seek to reward or punish. I am suggesting, however, that Republicans had an opportunity in this case, much as they did in their abortive efforts to replace ObamaCare, to change the debate. Rather than talking about raising taxes on some and lowering taxes on others, Republicans could have looked for a plan that would have lowered taxes for all, even if it meant giving up on some of the social-engineering deductions that politicians of both parties prize.] 

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HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.

M Live: “Plenty of Michigan State fans planned to turn East Lansing upside down after the Spartans’ big win over Penn State on Saturday night. East Lansing Police put a stop to most of that. … But those who decided to take things a little too far probably had their Sunday hangover plans ruined as well. ‘We’ve taped Stranger Things spoilers all over the walls of our jail this week. Some extra motivation for you to not end up there.’ The comical Tweet is a reference to ‘Stranger Things,’ Netflix’s hit show about a group of kids battling a supernatural threat in 1980s Indiana. Season two of the topsy-turvy show premiered on Oct. 27, which means there’s plenty of people out there who don’t know where the series is heading. Fans that ended up behind bars do, though.”

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.