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On the roster: Trump feuds with vaccine chief over October surprise - Biden up in close races for Sun Belt states - Battleground Dems: Biden needs to step it up - Trump campaign releases new ads on economy - Pro tip: Don’t celebrate crimes at the donut shop

AP: “Openly contradicting the government’s top health experts, President Donald Trump predicted Wednesday that a safe and effective vaccine against the coronavirus could be ready as early as next month and in mass distribution soon after, undermining the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and calling him ‘confused’ in projecting a longer time frame. Trump also disagreed with Dr. Robert Redfield about the effectiveness of protective masks — which the president recommends but almost never wears — and said he’d telephoned Redfield to tell him so. Earlier in the day, the CDC sent all 50 states a ‘playbook’ for distribution of a vaccine to all Americans free of cost when one is proven safe and effective — which is not yet the case. Redfield told a congressional hearing that health care workers, first responders and others at high risk would get the vaccine first, perhaps in January or even late this year, but it was unlikely to be available more broadly, again assuming approval, before late spring or summer.”

Biden says Trump can’t be trusted - NYT: “With deaths from the coronavirus nearing 200,000 in the United States, Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Wednesday assailed President Trump for playing politics with a potential coronavirus vaccine, saying he did not trust Mr. Trump to determine when a vaccine was ready for Americans. ‘Let me be clear: I trust vaccines,’ Mr. Biden said. ‘I trust scientists. But I don’t trust Donald Trump, and at this moment, the American people can’t either.’ Shortly after Mr. Biden’s speech in Wilmington, Del., Mr. Trump seemed to lend credence to the former vice president’s criticism by publicly rebuking the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for saying that widespread vaccination might not be possible until the middle of next year. Speaking during an evening briefing at the White House, the president also kept up an attack line against Mr. Biden, misleadingly accusing him of ‘promoting his anti-vaccine theories.’ In his speech, Mr. Biden thrust the issue of a coronavirus vaccine to center stage in the presidential race, expressing grave concern over the political pressure he said Mr. Trump was exerting over the government’s approval process and accusing him of trying to rush out a vaccine for electoral gain.”

After Las Vegas rally WH press corps worried about safety - National Journal: “When President Trump took the stage in Las Vegas Sunday night, it marked more than a resumption of his controversial indoor political rallies. It also signified a low point in six months of talks between the White House and a White House press corps struggling to cover a president who does not prioritize their health. … Given only a few hours notice of the surprise decision to move the rally indoors, reporters traveling with the president sought assurances of social distancing and masks. When those assurances did not come, coverage was left primarily to members of the pool, the small, rotating group of 13 reporters that travels in motorcades and aboard Air Force One… [ABC News’ Jonathan Karl] who has worked in war zones, said the contagious nature of the pandemic makes it different from shooting wars. ‘This is not like embedding with the Marines in Fallujah,’ he said. ‘It is like you are taking your family with you to Fallujah.’”

“The power of creating new funds upon new objects of taxation, by its own authority, would enable the national government to borrow as far as its necessities might require.” – Alexander Hamilton, discussing the details of the power of taxation, Federalist No. 30

New Yorker: “Belarmino Fragoso walks with a skip and a strut in his step. He walks a little faster than others do, swings his arms a little more freely, occupies a little more space in the street as he surges through crowds with a wry pursing of his lips and a twinkle in his eye. On the other hand, Belarmino is the only person in the crowd who knows he’s being filmed. A veteran boxer in Lisbon nearing the end of his career, he’s the subject, the protagonist, and the star of ‘Belarmino,’ a 1964 fusion of fiction and documentary by the Portuguese director Fernando Lopes and one of the hidden masterworks of cinematic modernism. (It’s streaming on YouTube.) From the start, Lopes makes clear the fusion of style and substance that, no less than the fusion of reportage and reënactment, gives ‘Belarmino’ its (and Belarmino his) artistic identity. …[Throughout] the film, Lopes cuts between the dramatized action and on-camera interviews with the boxer.”

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

Trump: 43.6 percent        
Biden: 50.6 percent        
Size of lead: Biden by 7 points        
Change from one week ago: Biden ↑ 0.2 points, Trump ↑ 0.6 points        
[Average includes: Fox News: Trump 46% - Biden 51%; Kaiser Family Foundation: Trump 43% - Biden 48%; Monmouth University: Trump 44% - Biden 51%; CNN: Trump 43% - Biden 51%; Quinnipiac University: Trump 42% - Biden 52%.]    

(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)

Average approval: 43.6 percent        
Average disapproval: 53.6 percent        
Net Score: -10 points     
Change from one week ago: ↑ 0.2 points      
[Average includes: Gallup: 42% approve - 56% disapprove; Fox News: 48% approve - 51% disapprove; Kaiser Family Foundation: 45% approve - 52% disapprove; Monmouth University: 42% approve - 55% disapprove; CNN: 41% approve - 54% disapprove.]     

We’ve brought “From the Bleachers” to video on demand thanks to Fox Nation. Each Wednesday and Friday, Producer Brianna McClelland will put Politics Editor Chris Stirewalt to the test with your questions on everything about politics, government and American history – plus whatever else is on your mind. Sign up for the Fox Nation streaming service here and send your best questions to HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM.

Cook Political Report: “This week, we are releasing the most recent poll that featured 3,479 interviews with voters in Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina. While Trump carried all three states in 2020, he is not leading in any of these states today. Trump and Biden are essentially tied in Florida (Trump 42%, Biden's 43%) and NC (Trump 43%, Biden 45%). However, in Arizona, Biden has opened up a more substantial lead (Biden 45%, Trump 40%). A Biden win in Arizona would mean that he could afford to lose Michigan or Wisconsin (two of ‘Blue Wall’ consortium) and still eke out an Electoral College win (assuming that he wins all the states Hillary Clinton carried in 2016). Biden could even afford to lose Pennsylvania and still win the Electoral College with a combination of Arizona and Nebraska's 2nd CD. … The new data in this poll, combined with other recent polling in the state, all find Arizona slipping away from Trump. We are moving it from Toss Up to Lean Democrat.”

Dems’ strength grows in North Carolina - USA Today: “Democratic candidates are leading in the race for president, senate and governor in the key battleground state of North Carolina, a new Suffolk University/USA TODAY Network Poll shows. The state, with its 15 electoral votes, is important for both President Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden as they court voters ahead of Election Day. Voters in the state said the top three issues facing the next president are jobs (20.6%), COVID-19 (20.20%) and racism (13.6%), according to the survey of 500 North Carolina registered voters on cell phones and landlines this past Friday through Monday. These voters said they plan to vote in this election. The margin of error is 4.4%. The survey also says more than 42% of likely North Carolina voters would refuse to get a COVID-19 vaccine if one were mandated by the federal government.”

Maintain lead in Arizona Senate race - Monmouth University: “Joe Biden leads Donald Trump among registered voters in Arizona, but the margin narrows under different turnout models. The Monmouth University Poll finds the Democrat with a large advantage among Latino voters and a small edge in all-important Maricopa County. In the race for U.S. Senate, Democrat Mark Kelly maintains his lead over incumbent Martha McSally. … Among all registered voters in Arizona, the race for president stands at 48% for Biden and 44% for Trump. The contest stood at a similar 46% to 43% in a poll taken shortly before the state’s presidential primary in March. … In Arizona’s U.S. Senate contest, Kelly leads McSally by 6 points among registered voters (50% to 44%), which is identical to where the race stood in March. Among likely voters, his lead is 4 points in a high turnout scenario (50% to 46%) and one point in a low turnout scenario (49% to 48%).

What does Trump’s reelection map look like? - Politico: “Donald Trump is scrambling his defenses in states like Ohio and Iowa, where he was once expected to win easily. Yet he’s also competing hard in others, such as Minnesota and Nevada, that were once viewed as far out of his reach. It’s an unconventional strategic approach to the electoral map this late in the campaign, but it’s a reflection of his unique predicament. Trump’s stubborn floor of support is keeping him within range of Joe Biden in a number of states where past Republicans have failed, yet his ceiling is so low that it threatens his hold in a number of other places that he should have locked down by now. The result is a campaign that’s fighting across a crazy quilt landscape in the home stretch, rather than a well-defined core of swing states. … Four years ago, Trump’s prospective map appeared much narrower at this point in the campaign. Exactly half of his general election campaign events were held in just four states: Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.”

Could Wisconsin’s governor be a liability for Biden? - Politico: “[Tony Evers] is drawing heat from some in his own party for not moving quickly enough to tamp down rioting in Kenosha. … And while Evers is still above water in polls, his approval rating slid 6 points after his handling of the Kenosha unrest. Democrats say it’s obviously better to have Evers at the helm than [Scott] Walker heading into November — if nothing else, to protect against what they said would have been an assault on voting access if Republicans controlled both legislative chambers and the governorship. But interviews with more than two dozen activists, strategists, local officials and voters surfaced serious concern that in such a pivotal year, in such a pivotal state, Evers is diminishing what should be a significant advantage for the party. Rather than act as an attack dog or savvy politico who helps amplify Joe Biden’s message to combat President Donald Trump, they say, Evers instead has allowed Republicans to cast him as weak and ineffective.”

Pennsylvania Supreme Court rules to extend mail ballot deadlines - The Philadelphia Inquirer: “The Pennsylvania Supreme Court extended the state’s mail ballot deadlines on Thursday, a move that could allow tens of thousands of additional votes to be counted — and will likely draw criticism from Republicans, who have argued that votes should be received by Election Day. State law says mail ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day, but the high court said Thursday that ballots will be counted if they are received by 5 p.m. the Friday after the Nov. 3 election. To count, ballots arriving after Election Day must either be postmarked by Nov. 3 or have no proof they were sent afterward. Ballots that arrive by the new deadline with missing or illegible postmarks would still be counted. In addition, the court held that state election law allows counties to use drop boxes for hand delivery of mail ballots…”

NYT: “Mr. Biden’s restraint has spilled over into his campaign operation, which was late to appoint top leaders in key states and embraced a far more cautious approach to in-person engagement than President Trump, and even some other Democratic candidates. …[The] Biden team is relying heavily on TV ads and contacting voters largely through phone calls, text messaging programs and other digital outreach. That guarded strategy reflects the bet Mr. Biden’s campaign has made for months: that American voters will reward a sober, responsible approach that mirrors the ways the pandemic has upended their own lives, and follows scientific guidance that Mr. Trump almost gleefully flouts. Yet as Mr. Trump barrels ahead with crowded, risky rallies, some Democrats in battleground states are growing increasingly anxious about the trade-offs Mr. Biden has made. With some polls tightening since the beginning of the summer, they are warning him that virtual events may not be enough to excite voters, and urging him to intensify in-person outreach.”

Biden campaign unveils two new ads - ABC News: “Former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign unveiled two new television ads on Thursday, including one that features a testimonial from a farmer from western Pennsylvania who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 but now calls that choice a ‘mistake’ he won't make again. ‘I voted for Trump in '16, and I'll be the first to tell you I made a mistake,’ Rick, a voter and third-generation farmer from Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, said in one of the new ads entitled ‘Totally Negligent,’ that the Biden campaign is rolling out. The ad will run in the battleground states of Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota and, of course, the Keystone State, according to the Biden campaign.”

Will Latinos listen to Biden’s case? - New Yorker: “In this year’s general election, Latinos will make up the largest minority group in the electorate and play a decisive role in four states that could give Trump an Electoral College victory: Florida, Arizona, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. During the primaries, Bernie Sanders beat Biden by wide margins among Latino voters in key states with large Hispanic populations, including Nevada, Texas, and California. But, over the summer, the former Vice-President rolled out a more robust strategy to secure support from Latino voters, and Harris’s presence on the ticket has given him new momentum. Leaders in the community nevertheless warn that the Biden-Harris effort may be overdue. National polls show that Trump has the support of roughly a third of Latinos and is trailing behind Biden by about twenty points—a far narrower gap than the thirty-eight-point lead that Clinton had over him. One cohort of voters, in particular, could boost Biden’s candidacy: young Latinos.”

WashTimes: “The Trump campaign released two new TV ads on Thursday in 10 battleground states, an eight-figure buy highlighting the president’s economic record and contrasting it with Democrat Joseph R. Biden’s ‘job-killing’ proposals. Campaign officials said the economy will be the ‘defining issue’ of the race over the final six weeks. One advertisement features Americans discussing their belief that Mr. Trump’s policies are right for the country and their distrust of Mr. Biden. The second features a business owner who credits the president for his firm’s success and talks about the former vice president’s record of ‘coddling’ China to benefit his own family. … The Trump campaign increased its television advertising buy by 50 percent this week in swing states with early voting and expanded its national cable buy.”

Republican megadonor prepares to deploy millions to help Trump - CNBC: “Casino magnate and Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson is plotting a spending blitz to support President Donald Trump with just under 50 days to go until Election Day, CNBC has learned. Adelson, CEO of Las Vegas Sands, is looking to spend around $20 million to $50 million in a last-ditch effort to help Trump overcome Joe Biden, according to people familiar with the matter. Most of the money is expected to go toward the new pro-Trump super PAC, Preserve America, these people added. Other organizations, including the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and groups helping Republicans in Congress, could also see some of Adelson’s money. One of the people noted that Adelson’s team has recently been in touch with GOP officials close to Trump about where best to deploy the cash.”

Former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker helps Pence with debate prep - WaPo: “Former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is once again working closely with Vice President Pence on debate preparations and serving as Pence’s foil in practice sessions, effectively playing the role of Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), according to two people familiar with the sessions who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. When reached by phone on Thursday, Walker declined to comment about any ongoing work with the vice president. ‘All I can say is that I worked with him four years ago and was happy to help,’ Walker said. ‘That’s it.’ … One of the people familiar with Pence’s prep work said several debate-related meetings were slated to be held Thursday.”

Trump campaign denies ex-model’s allegation of sexual assault in 1997 - Fox News: “President Trump's campaign denied a report that he sexually assaulted a former model at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in 1997, an allegation that was reported Thursday by The Guardian. Amy Dorris accused Trump of approaching her outside the bathroom in a box at the event, grabbing her, ‘assaulting her all over her body’ and sticking his tongue down her throat, according to The Guardian. The publication reported that Dorris felt ‘sick’ and ‘violated’ after the alleged assault. ‘The allegations are totally false,’ Trump campaign legal advisor Jenna Ellis said in a statement. ‘We will consider every legal means available to hold The Guardian accountable for its malicious publication of this unsubstantiated story. This is just another pathetic attempt to attack President Trump right before the election.’”

Politico: “FBI Director Christopher Wray on Thursday described ‘very active efforts’ by Russia to interfere in the 2020 election, primarily by working to damage former Vice President and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Wray said Russians have been using social media, as well as ‘proxies, state media, online journals’ and other vehicles to hurt Biden and what it views as anti-Russian factions in U.S. politics. Wray’s assessment affirms the findings of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which last month described Russia’s efforts to damage Biden and specifically identified Andriy Derkach, a pro-Russian Ukrainian lawmaker who has met with President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, as an agent of Russia’s influence operations. Wray’s testimony to the House Homeland Security Committee affirmed that Russia is continuing to take an active role in the 2020 campaign with less than 50 days until Election Day.”

Administration walks back refusal to provide election security briefings - Politico: “The nation’s top intelligence official is partially reversing course on his decision to scale back critical election-security briefings for lawmakers. John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, said in a statement Wednesday that he will continue to brief congressional leaders and the Senate and House intelligence committees on efforts to secure the 2020 vote from foreign interference — though his office will no longer conduct briefings for all lawmakers, citing the need to protect intelligence sources and methods.”

Dan Coats: Democracy on the line - NYT: “Our democracy’s enemies, foreign and domestic, want us to concede in advance that our voting systems are faulty or fraudulent; that sinister conspiracies have distorted the political will of the people; that our public discourse has been perverted by the news media and social networks riddled with prejudice, lies and ill will; that judicial institutions, law enforcement and even national security have been twisted, misused and misdirected to create anxiety and conflict, not justice and social peace. If those are the results of this tumultuous election year, we are lost, no matter which candidate wins. No American, and certainly no American leader, should want such an outcome. Total destruction and sowing salt in the earth of American democracy is a catastrophe well beyond simple defeat and a poison for generations. An electoral victory on these terms would be no victory at all. The judgment of history, reflecting on the death of enlightened democracy, would be harsh.”

The Judge’s Ruling: Coronavirus lockdowns — what power does the Constitution give governors? - Fox News

“It’s the Jackie Robinson thing. It’s written like he broke a barrier, as if there weren’t Black people that could play before him. And that’s how white people have learned about racism.” – Chris Rock talking to the NYT.

“You made my day with your homage in today's Halftime Report to one of the best episodes in situation comedy. Those of us that watched in real time have ‘As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly’ forever etched in our collective memories.” Dan Burch, Turlock, Calif.

[Ed. note: And as an added bonus, I had the theme song running through my head the rest of the day. “Baby, if you ever wondered…”]

“Please remind us all why we should discount the Rasmussen Poll Numbers showing Trump pulling into the lead for the first time. Didn't Rasmussen do well in forecasting the 2016 outcome. Do you discount the view that there are quite a few hidden Trump voters out there?” – Glenn Fuller, Laurel, Md.

[Ed. note: I wish I could invent something that people love as much as Republicans love Rasmussen polls! We don’t use Rasmussen because Rasmussen, like a lot of pollsters that things on the cheap, doesn’t use appropriate methods. Of the nine polls currently in the Real Clear Politics Average, we only use two in our average. Most of the polls we refuse show Biden clobbering Trump, but Republicans never mention the other six we leave out, just the one that always, always, always looks better for their guy. I get it. I’d love a college football ranking that had WVU in the top five and not off the board and I’d be very sympathetic to its creators’ methods. But we don’t care who the polls say are winning, just so long as they reach their conclusions using the harder, more expensive process. And I don’t doubt that there are “hidden” voters out there -- if what you mean is that the polling models are overlooking or undercounting certain subgroups. In fact, as we discussed earlier this month, the polls are all but guaranteed to miss voters this year. We just don’t know which way. In 2012, pollsters missed Obama voters. In 2016, pollsters missed Trump voters. If you mean that there are large numbers of people lying to pollsters to conceal their preference for Trump, no. That’s something Republicans say every cycle -- or at least every cycle in which they are down in the polls. They always have a story about their Aunt Gladys who lives in a very Democratic neighborhood but is really a Bush/Dole/Bush/Romney/Trump supporter but who never tells anyone that because Democrats would be so mean to her. Gladys, though, has her counterpart on the other side. She lives in a VERY Republican neighborhood but would never say that she is voting for Clinton/Gore/Kerry/Obama/Clinton because Republicans would be so mean to her. These stories scratch a particular partisan itch because they not only hint at a pool of voters that will be unleashed on Election Day to shock the world, but it makes the tellers feel morally superior because the reason all the Gladyses out there have to hide their feelings is because of the terrible people on the other side. But while the Gladyses may not feel okay about putting bumper stickers on their Buicks, they don’t seem to have much trouble telling pollsters how they feel. The polls will be substantially correct but will miss in some important ways -- ways that will only be examined if the election is again astonishingly close. Otherwise it will be like 2012 and no one will care about the misses because the results were outside of the worry zone.]

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

KRCR: “A police officer coffee break at a Chico doughnut shop led to three arrests in connection with a home invasion robbery that happened minutes earlier. The incident started around 3 a.m. Monday at the Donut Nook on East Avenue. Chico police officers had stopped at the doughnut shop for coffee when they saw a car pull up with three people inside. They said when the driver, 25-year-old Shayla Robins-Bailey got out, narcotics paraphernalia fell from her pocket. … As the search of the car proceeded, a man called dispatch saying he had been robbed at his home. He said two men known to him … had awakened him and demanded money. He was pistol-whipped and the suspects reportedly told him they would kill him if he called police. The two men left with the victim's wallet, cell phone, and cash. All three items were found by officers inside the suspects’ vehicle.”

“So I proposed once a week. First, I explained, because I was enjoying the leisurely life of a magazine writer and, with a child on the way, I was looking forward to fatherhood. Second, because I don’t have two ideas a week; I barely have one (as many of my critics no doubt agree).” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing about his column anniversary in the Washington Post on Dec. 18, 2009.

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.