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On the roster: Why is Hillary here? - Data Dive: How much do they really get out of this? - Hillary looks for new firewall without Ohio - Cruz sold access to supporter info to trump in June - Bugs still not welcome

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. – Hillary Clinton is in the fight of her life.

Rather than what many expected tonight’s first presidential debate of 2016 to be – a sandblasting of Donald Trump – it has instead turned out to be something like a must-win for Clinton.

A wave of new polling confirms what the combatants already knew heading into the first of three presidential debates: this thing is close. Really close.

A trio of new national polls from Quinnipiac University, Bloomberg and Monmouth University are all clustered around a tie race. Republican nominee Donald Trump leads by a single point in a four-way contest with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and the two minor party candidates, according to Bloomberg. According to Quinnipiac, it’s 1 point the other way with a razor thin Clinton advantage. Monmouth pollsters see the race as a 4 point advantage for Clinton.

But there is no disagreement on two facts, one, the race is dramatically closer than it was a month ago and, two, Clinton is struggling.

In the Q poll, Trump gained 5 points since August, while Clinton lost a point. In the Bloomberg poll, Clinton dropped 3 points while Trump gained 3 points. In the Monmouth poll, Clinton’s support stayed the same from her August number while Trump saw a 3-point increase in his support.

So the consensus of the best, most recent national polling is that Clinton still has a nominal lead, but Trump is right on her bumper. State polls reflect the same thing.

The race looks the same as it did when it started and in July when Trump righted himself following a bad spring: Clinton by a shaky-looking sliver.

We’ve discussed before that some of this is the expected function of the calendar. With just six weeks and a day until the end of the election, an unwilling electorate is coming to terms with the binary box in which it resides.

But the other is that Clinton has failed in several key respects.

She has failed to be honest with voters, and how she has failed to unify and energize Democrats. But most of all, she failed to offer a reason for her candidacy beyond being less objectionable than Trump.

Trump’s core supporters believe in his basic message about shutting out certain immigrants, making it harder for foreign companies to sell their products here and being ruthless in fighting Islamists overseas.

Secure borders. Tariffs. Brutality toward ISIS.

Many, or maybe even most, of Trump’s voters may be ultimately more persuaded by their mistrust and even hatred for Clinton, that core group knows and believes in his message.

And as she has dragged her campaign over the massive boulders she has strewn in her own path – mishandling of state secrets, lying about her health, etc. – Trump has been more disciplined and less frightening to marginal or potential GOP voters. (Or at least he has exhausted their capacity for shock and concern.)

For Clinton, her central mobilizing message has been to stop Trump. That’s not enough if she is seen as only marginally better.

Consider the recent Gallup poll that showed only 25 percent of voters felt confident Trump would be a good president. Pretty weak sauce, right? Well, only a third felt confident in Clinton.

That’s why she has two jobs to do here tonight: First, keep most of the pressure on Trump and prevent him from controlling the tempo. Second, explain, not why she’s better than Trump, but rather that she’s a good choice in her own right.

Adm. James Stockdale entered political history for his opening statement in the 1992 vice presidential debate when he was wingman to Reform Party nominee and Trump forerunner Ross Perot. Stockdale asked rhetorically: “Who am I? Why am I here?”

War hero Stockdale got a bad rap for an unwise rhetorical device. But his questions are worth asking for Clinton this year.

We know who she is. And the verdict of the electorate is partly positive – qualified, moderate, strong – but mostly negative – dishonest, avaricious and hungry for power.

She’s not likely to change those views in a night or in six weeks.

It’s the second Stockdale question that matters for her.

Why is she here? If the answer is to stop Trump, that’s not going to feed the bulldog anymore. She needs a real reason for people to support her beyond the threat of Trumpocalypse.

For all the hubbub surrounding tonight’s debate, how much do the candidates actually get out of their debate performance? More support from voters, more press coverage or nothing much at all? Chris Stirewalt breaks down the numbers on where the candidates stand ahead of tonight’s debate and compares what happened to 2012’s presidential candidates after their debate experience on “Perino & Stirewalt: I’ll Tell You What” WATCH HERE.

Just in case you haven’t heard… - One of the most popular political podcasts is now on television. “Perino & Stirewalt: I’ll Tell You What,” airs Sundays at 5 p.m. ET on the Fox News Channel.

Meta, dude: A podcast about a podcast - Stirewalt joins David Drucker for a debate preview on his podcast. Listen here.

“The first thing which strikes our attention is, that the executive authority, with few exceptions, is to be vested in a single magistrate. This will scarcely, however, be considered as a point upon which any comparison can be grounded; for if, in this particular, there be a resemblance to the king of Great Britain, there is not less a resemblance to the Grand Seignior, to the khan of Tartary, to the Man of the Seven Mountains, or to the governor of New York.” – Alexander Hamilton, “Federalist No. 69

ESPN: “Pull up a chair, young and impressionable golf fans, because you really need to hear this. Arnold Palmer was not a nice old man who sold you a cool soft drink years after he sold your parents and grandparents motor oil and rental cars. Yes, he was about as neighborly as a worldwide celebrity could ever be…But please understand something when you consider the legacy of this late, great 87-year-old man from Latrobe, Pennsylvania…He was a lion long before there was a Tiger. Just like Woods and Michael Jordan and Tom Brady and all the sporting titans defined by their killer game-day instincts, Arnold Palmer was a ferocious competitor driven -- like many of us -- to prove his manhood to his hard-driving, hard-drinking father, and to prove his worth to the doubters and haters who anticipated nothing more than a life of anonymous mediocrity from the green keeper’s son.”

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

Average of national head-to-head presidential polls:
 Clinton vs. Trump: Clinton +1.8 points
[Polls included:Monmouth University,Quinnipiac University,BloombergWaPo/ABC, and ARG.]

Average of national four-way presidential polls: Clinton vs. Trump vs. Johnson vs. Stein: Clinton +2.2 points
[Polls included: Monmouth UniversityQuinnipiac UniversityBloombergWaPo/ABC, and McClatchy/Marist.]

As the key state of Ohio looks increasingly like a buckeye bulls eye for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton is seeking to shore up her lead in other key states, and for good reason.

New CNN polls in Colorado and Pennsylvania, where Clinton has been consistently favored, now show the two candidates within a point of each other in the four-way race. Colorado should cause particular concern considering Clinton led there by double-digits a last month.

A new poll in Maine, which splits its electoral votes by congressional district and at-large, should also worry Team Clinton. The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram survey shows Trump leading by double-digits in the northern, rural 2nd Congressional District while Clinton leads by a similar margin in the more populated coastal southern region of the 1st Congressional District. Clinton does, however, lead overall in the state by 4 points.

But Clinton can rest a little easier in Virginia, where a new poll from Christopher Newport University shows her narrowing, but still solid, 6-point lead over Trump in the four-way.

Politico: “Just six weeks after he dropped out – and more than a month before Cruz would dramatically snub the nominee at the Republican National Convention – the senator quietly began renting his vast donor email file to his former rival, pocketing at least tens of thousands of dollars, and more likely hundreds of thousands, that can be used to bankroll the Texan’s own political future. Trump began paying to solicit some of Cruz’s supporters for campaign cash as early as June 17.‘We need you to stand with Mr. Trump before it is too late,’ read the initial Trump campaign missive. A second solicitation came the next day. Another came the day after that. All told, in the last three months Trump has emailed at least some segments of Cruz’s donor list more than 30 times.”

“I think what the focus has got to be on now is understanding that this moment in history, for a presidential election, is not the time for a protest vote.” -- Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on CBS News Sunday morning.

Harry Enten
 argues Trump has more to gain from tonight’s debate - FiveThirtyEight

Trump, Clinton each meet with Netanyahu - Fox News

Union bosses struggle to turn members away from Trump - WashEx

Civil rights museum denies Trump visit request saying campaign staff were ‘disrespectful’ - The Hill

Sanders to join Clinton for millennial pitch in N.H. this week - WaPo

Kaine raises debate expectations saying Clinton will be ‘very, very good’ - Politico

“First let me start out by saying thanks for your insights and I really, really miss your longer write-ups and video’s.  They were excellent and very insightful which seems to be a point that others in your profession seem to miss.  We want to learn, we want insight, we want to be exposed to concepts and ideas we did not understand or know about, but we don’t like to be told what to do. Now to today’s ‘Ready to Light the Torch.’  Your comments have reinforced to me that the reality of today’s electoral system is my vote is not a vote for a candidate, it is merely to offset some rabid fools vote for their candidate. My purpose in life is to allow the currently undecided to make the final choice on who wins. Scary isn’t it? Keep up the great work and again, I wish we could get more of your great insights and education like we used to.” – Peter Eick, Houston, Texas

[Ed. Note: Mr. Eick, you can’t say at least I’m not working hard! We’re keeping very busy with the new show I’m doing with Dana Perino and having lots of fun doing it. Thank you for your kind words and for your insight. It is sometimes hard to tell the difference between a Republican and a grudge match, but that angry equipoise may have been kind of what the founders intended.]

“We are strong Ted Cruz supporters and are very happy that Ted is supporting the GOP nominee and keeping his pledge. In his letter he has listed the other reasons for endorsing Trump and I hope other anti-Hillary/anti-Trump people will think about them. I am very disappointed in Erick Erickson and his statements that Cruz people are disappointed and Cruz will lose support--wrong Erick! The Cruz folks I know are relieved to hear this and he just may gain support! Our principles, say we cannot have a hand in electing Hillary Clinton!” – Barbara Hubbard, Chandler, Ariz.

[Ed. note: When the general election began, Democrats were more united than Republicans. Now, this unity is increasing the Democrats problem. Millions of Republicans who once would’ve found Donald Trump unthinkable now find their party’s nominee normalized. As it relates to Sen. Cruz the question now is what the consequences will be for his career. One supposes endorsing Trump will help Cruz in his reelection bid. It is an open question about whether it will help him in his expected 2020 presidential campaign. That will depend, of course, on the outcome of 2016.]

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

WSAW-TV: “There’s an apple store in Green Bay, Wisconsin, that doesn’t sell iPhones or computers. And that has some people a tad confused. Green Bay’s apple store specializes in the apples you eat. They opened for the season Monday, and sold all their fruit before the day was done. But the store’s manager says they get plenty of calls from people asking when the new iPhone is coming out, or to set up an appointment to repair an iPad. ‘We get calls daily about how to fix phones and computers and things like that’ said store manager Diane Brenkus. ‘And I have to explain to them these apples are what you eat. They don’t want me working on their computers anyhow.’ Green Bay’s apple store currently features sweet tango apples from Wisconsin’s Door County. More apple varieties are expected in the coming weeks.”

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.