Tied to the tracks

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On the roster: Tied to the tracks – Markets tank as corona surges, relief bill flops – Dems take lead in both Georgia senate races – Barrett poised for confirmation this evening – Dark money, indeed

TIED TO THE TRACKS
It is maybe not surprising that a survey this month from Public Opinion Strategies, the gold standard among GOP pollsters, found that 68 percent of likely voters said the country is on the wrong track. 

The better question is: Who in the heck are these people in the 32 percent who think things are going the right way?

Calvinists who know there is but one track? People who were drunk when the pollsters called them? Infectious disease enthusiasts? Maybe Rita Hanson?

While there are no doubt some ardent optimists in the third of voters who said that America should just keep on trucking, the real answer is more obvious: It’s Republicans, or at least supporters of the incumbent Republican president.

The last time the “wrong track” number was over 60 percent in the poll was around this time four years ago – a fact that should help Democrats understand how they lost a 2016 election many of them though was un-losable.

Their frame for 2016 was “How could we lose to Donald Trump?” A better question to have asked would have been: “How can we win when so many Americans are unhappy with the direction of the country?” 

Gallup asks the question slightly differently: “In general, are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time?” And the pollsters at the firm have been asking the question going all the way back to 1979

The most recent satisfaction number for Gallup – 14 percent – a brief dip into the teens in the summer of 2016 and also when the country was grappling with a possible double-dip recession in 2011 and 2012 and then-President Obama’s re-election looked dubious.

The all-time low came during the Panic of 2008 when just 7 percent of respondents said they were satisfied and swiftly threw the party in power out on its elephant ear.

Other than that, there have only been two other times that satisfaction fell below 20 percent: The summer of 1992 when voters’ frustration with an economic slowdown spilled over and scalded the once-invincible-seeming incumbent George H.W. Bush and in 1979 to 1981 when frustration with economic malaise and an ongoing energy crisis spelled doom for Jimmy Carter.

Think of it this way: Supporters and detractors of the party in power are going to cling hard to their estimates of national direction based on which team is in office. It’s just as hard to get Democrats excited about the direction of things when the GOP is in charge as it is to convince Republicans that things are a mess when it’s their guy in charge.

But these polls show us over time when happens when the overwhelming majority of less partisan voters break one way or another – and then what can happen next: Even big chunks of the party in charge come to agree that things aren’t working.

Now, it’s also true that lots of Republicans who say that things are amiss will still be voting for the incumbent. They may blame Democrats or the press or Hollywood for the problems more than their own party. But that’s not the driving force in numbers like these. 

We are very often the ones to remind you that candidate characteristics matter a great deal. Persuadable voters are not moved by ideological concerns as much as they are the assessments of individual candidates. If they were ideological, after all, they wouldn’t be so persuadable.

But we are reminded again just how little of what political professionals and the political press think drives elections really matters compared to considerations like these.

We spend days obsessing over this story or that scandal, this ad or that closing argument, this rally or that fundraiser. And those things matter, it is true – but only at the margins. 

The Trump campaign expresses a seething frustration that Joe Biden doesn’t campaign in person very much or that Biden isn’t subject to the same media scrutiny as Trump. Both of those things are true and, potentially, significant.

But when you’re running against an incumbent dragging these kinds of satisfaction numbers behind him like Paul Bunyan’s anvil, those are marginal considerations.

If Trump loses, it won’t be because of who got the tougher questions on “60 Minutes” or how many rallies Biden had. It will because American’s were fed up with the direction of things and vote for change. The president should know that because he was the one benefitting from the same feelings four years ago.

THE RULEBOOK: AMBITION IN CHECK
“But though the adversaries of the proposed Constitution should presume that the national rulers would be insensible to the motives of public good, or to the obligations of duty, I would still ask them how the interests of ambition, or the views of encroachment, can be promoted by such a conduct?” – Alexander Hamilton, writing about the idea of restraining legislative authority, Federalist No. 27

TIME OUT: ‘A TRIPLE-PLATED, SPOON-FED, ONE-GALLUS SAP’
The great literary critic Michel Dirda reexamines the greatest political novel. WSJ: “Half a lifetime ago, I read Robert Penn Warren’s ‘All the King’s Men’ and thought it just breathtakingly wonderful, so much so that I spent money I didn’t have to buy the 1946 first edition in a fine dust jacket. Last week I decided to reread it, partly because the book is widely viewed as our finest novel about American politics. How, I wondered, does this Pulitzer Prize winner look in the tumultuous fall of 2020? Short answer: It’s still amazing. … Structurally intricate, the novel effortlessly segues back and forth among various periods of the 1920s and ’30s, climaxing in a succession of shocks and revelations. When you finish ‘All the King’s Men,’ you feel, like its surviving characters, that your soul has been tried in the furnace. But when you start the book, the first thing you notice is Warren’s prose … an irresistible narrative exuberance riding on an undercurrent of nostalgia and wistfulness.”

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

SCOREBOARD
NATIONAL HEAD-TO-HEAD AVERAGE
Trump: 39.8 percent  
Biden: 
51 percent  
Size of lead: Biden by 11.2 points  
Change from one week ago: Biden ↓ 1.4 points, Trump ↓ 0.6 points
[Average includes: Quinnipiac University: Trump 41% – Biden 51%; NYT/Siena: Trump 41% – Biden 50%; AP/NORC: Trump 36% – Biden 51%; KFF: Trump 38% – Biden 49%; NPR/PBS News/Marist: Trump 43% – Biden 54%.]

BATTLEGROUND POWER RANKINGS
(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)
[Full rankings here.]

TRUMP JOB PERFORMANCE
Average approval: 42 percent
Average disapproval: 55.2 percent
Net Score: -13.2 points
Change from one week ago: ↓ 0.6 points
[Average includes: Quinnipiac University: 41% approve – 55% disapprove; Gallup: 43% approve – 55% disapprove; NYT/Siena: 43% approve – 51% disapprove; AP/NORC: 39% approve – 61% disapprove; KFF: 44% approve – 54% disapprove.]

GOT A WILD PITCH? READY TO THROW A FASTBALL?
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.

MARKETS TANK AS CORONA SURGES, RELIEF BILL FLOPS
WSJ: “Stocks dropped sharply Monday as coronavirus cases surged in the U.S. and Europe, adding to worries about the economic outlook after Congress and the White House failed to agree on a much-anticipated fiscal stimulus deal. Major indexes opened lower, and the declines accelerated into the afternoon. … The U.S. reported 60,789 new cases Sunday, down from recent record-setting levels, but up from a week earlier. Scientists had been expecting cooler weather to lead to a second wave of the disease, but it is coming earlier than many had anticipated. That is prompting fresh concerns about tighter lockdown restrictions and the effect on the economy. … House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told CNN on Sunday that she was expecting more answers regarding an aid package on Monday and that an agreement could be reached this week among lawmakers. But Democrats and White House officials are blaming each other for the lack of progress after the two sides went into the weekend without a deal, dimming hopes for an agreement before Nov. 3.” 

Pence presses on amid new outbreak on campaign – Fox News: “Vice President Mike Pence has returned to the campaign trail after key staffers tested positive for the novel coronavirus, with his team taking a ‘thoughtful’ and ‘medically informed’ approach to his travel this week in the final stretch until Election Day. … The aide said the vice president is tested ‘every day’ for COVID-19, and that he is being frequently monitored for symptoms. Over the weekend, Pence’s office announced that his chief of staff Marc Short, along with three other staffers, tested positive for COVID-19. Last Tuesday, the vice president’s outside political adviser, Marty Oates, also tested positive for coronavirus. … The vice president, himself, has not gone into quarantine and is planning to continue campaigning throughout the week with stops in Minnesota on Monday, two stops in North Carolina and one in South Carolina on Tuesday, stops in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan on Wednesday and Iowa and Nevada on Thursday.”

Trump tries to clean up after Meadows – Politico: “President Donald Trump on Monday insisted that his administration was still working to curb the spread of the coronavirus, even as White House chief of staff Mark Meadows doubled down on his acknowledgment that the United States would not ‘control’ the pandemic. Speaking to reporters on the airport tarmac after arriving in Allentown, Pa., the president addressed the controversial remarks… ‘No, not at all. In fact, the opposite. Absolutely the opposite. We’ve done an incredible job,’ Trump said on Monday morning, again claiming that the U.S. is ‘absolutely rounding the corner’ despite the country setting a new single-day record of 83,010 coronavirus cases on Friday. The conflicting messages from the White House came amid ongoing fallout from Meadows’ interview with CNN on Sunday, during which he said the U.S. was ‘not going to control the pandemic,’ but would instead ‘control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas.’”

Report: The swing states feeling the third wave of virus – Axios: “Several states that are likely to decide which party controls Washington next year have exceptionally large coronavirus outbreaks or are seeing cases spike. Most voters have already made up their minds. But for those few holdouts, the state of the pandemic could ultimately help them make a decision as they head to the polls… The U.S. is seeing a third wave of coronavirus cases, setting us up for a brutal winter. On Friday, a record 83,757 cases were recorded across the country. … Wisconsin and Montana have the largest outbreaks of all states with close Senate races or that are competitive in the presidential election. Maine — where Sen. Susan Collins is fighting to keep her seat — is the best off by far, with a low per capita case count that isn’t growing very quickly. Florida, which has the most Electoral College seats up for grabs of all tossup states, has a smaller-than-average outbreak, which could mean less headwinds for Trump.”

BARRETT POISED FOR CONFIRMATION THIS EVENING
Roll Call: “A sharply divided Senate dispensed with a key procedural hurdle Sunday on the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, as Republicans raced to a final confirmation vote Monday that will solidify the high court’s conservative tilt. In a rare weekend floor vote mostly along party lines, 51-48, Republicans backed President Donald Trump’s pick of the reliably conservative federal appeals court judge to fill the vacancy left by the death last month of the liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The only Republicans voting against the cloture motion were Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. On Saturday, Murkowski said she would vote Sunday against cutting off debate on the motion, but would vote to confirm Barrett on Monday. At the same time, Democratic senators decried a plan to have Vice President Mike Pence preside over Monday night’s vote for the Supreme Court nominee from his state, even though his chief of staff and other staffers in his office tested positive for COVID-19.”

Pergram: Democrats, trying everything, fail to derail Amy Coney Barrett confirmation – Fox News: “We’ve had other charges arise just after a Supreme Court confirmation hearing concludes. Consider the allegations leveled by law professor Anita Hill at Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991. That came after Thomas’s hearings wrapped up. An eerily similar scenario unfolded in 2018 with now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Allegations from Christine Blasey Ford also emerged after Kavanaugh’s hearings were complete. But Barrett is hurtling toward confirmation. And there’s nothing Democrats can do about it. There probably never was. Democrats were hamstrung – both by choice and circumstances. … Democrats frankly don’t want to rock the boat at this stage. They’re content with their standing in the polls just before the election. Despite a push from the left, Senate Democrats feared Barrett’s hearings could devolve into a melee.”

TRUMP ATTACKS BIDEN ON FRACKING IN PA. SPRINT
Politico: “President Donald Trump crisscrossed Pennsylvania on Monday in a frenzied attempt to pull out a critical victory with a singular message: fracking, fracking, fracking. At several stops in a one-day, three MAGA-rally blitz, Trump portrayed fracking as an issue of ‘existential importance’ for Pennsylvania. He mentioned it at the top of his rallies. He returned to it repeatedly during his remarks. And, with a reference to classic Hollywood director Cecil B. DeMille, he asked rally goers to watch a campaign video of Biden’s comments on the issue — a tactic he first adopted last week in Erie, Pa. — then tweeted it out minutes later. The blunt focus on fracking — a process that injects liquids into the ground at extreme pressure to extract oil and gas from rock formations — is a strategy the Trump campaign has turbocharged in recent days. It took off after Thursday night’s presidential debate, when Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said he would transition away from the oil industry in the coming decades.”

York: ‘The big Trump rallies you don’t see’ – WashEx: “…[Although] there were carloads of Trump supporters as far as one could see, and many more on the way from Ohio and West Virginia, and this enormous political event was happening less than two weeks before the presidential election, as far as I could tell, I was the only newsperson there. It was the biggest political rally no one saw. And gatherings like it have been happening for months in some of the places President Trump needs most to win if he is to be reelected. And, remarkably, the rallies are not the work of the Trump campaign. The road rally in Washington, Pennsylvania, was organized and staged by local Trump supporters, linked together largely by Facebook… If Trump wins this critical state, it will owe in significant part to this organic movement and the energetic organizers who have nothing to do with his campaign.”

As Biden sits on lead, Trump makes battleground state rounds – Politico: “Donald Trump is chasing every possible opening across the electoral map. Joe Biden is sitting on his lead, carefully surveying the landscape for states that might serve as insurance policies. It’s a jarring flip of the script for an incumbent president and his challenger eight days before Election Day. Trump, in the last gasp of his campaign, is barreling across the country, hoping large rallies and bets placed across the board will pay off for his underdog campaign. … On Tuesday, Trump will appear in Wisconsin and Michigan — but also in Omaha, competing for a single Electoral College vote in Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District. The next day it’s Arizona and Nevada. … Biden is stumping at a more measured pace. His weekend featured just two events in one swing state. On Tuesday, he’ll visit Georgia — a red state Trump is at risk of losing — a luxury play for a Democratic nominee, enabled by Biden’s solid positioning elsewhere.”

GOP NARROWS DEM EARLY VOTING ADVANTAGE
AP: “With eight days before Election Day, more people already have cast ballots in this year’s presidential election than voted early or absentee in the 2016 race as the start of in-person early voting in big states led to a surge in turnout in recent days. The opening of early voting locations in Florida, Texas and elsewhere has piled millions of new votes on top of the mail ballots arriving at election offices as voters try to avoid crowded places on Nov. 3 during the coronavirus pandemic. The result is a total of 58.6 million ballots cast so far, more than the 58 million that The Associated Press logged as being cast through the mail or at in-person early voting sites in 2016. Democrats have continued to dominate the initial balloting, but Republicans are narrowing the gap. GOP voters have begun to show up at early in-person voting, a sign that many heeded President Donald Trump’s unfounded warnings about mail-voting fraud.”

Latest Georgia poll shows a tight race – AJC: “The race for president in Georgia is deadlocked in the final week of the campaign, with President Donald Trump and Joe Biden in a statistical tie in a state that hasn’t voted Democratic for president since 1992. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll of likely voters released Monday showed Biden at 47% and Trump at 46%, within the survey’s margin of error of 4 percentage points. Libertarian Jo Jorgensen registered about 3% in the poll, while an additional 4% were undecided. It’s the latest in a string of polls that show Georgia’s 16 Electoral College votes up for grabs. Biden is set to visit Atlanta and Warm Springs on Tuesday — the former vice president’s first stop in Georgia since clinching the nomination — as Republicans are forced to the defensive in a state long in the GOP column.”

Poll: Biden struggles with Hispanic voters in Texas – NYT: “President Trump maintains a narrow lead in Texas, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll on Monday, as he faces a rebellion in the state’s once overwhelmingly Republican suburbs but survives with support from an unlikely ally, Hispanic voters. Over all, Mr. Trump leads Joe Biden, 47 percent to 43 percent, among likely voters. The majority of interviews were conducted before the final presidential debate on Thursday. In the Senate race, the Republican incumbent, John Cornyn, holds a larger lead, 48-38, over the Democrat, M.J. Hegar. A Democratic win in Texas would be an epochal moment in American electoral politics, heralding an end to decades of Republican dominance in the nation’s second-largest state and representing a decisive repudiation of the Trump presidency. Polls have shown a competitive race in Texas all cycle, but the Biden campaign has made limited efforts to contest the state.”

Buuuuuuuuttttttt… – Dallas Morning News: “Former Vice President Joe Biden has regained a narrow lead over President Donald Trump in Texas, after wooing more independents and Hispanics, according to a poll released Sunday by The Dallas Morning News and University of Texas at Tyler. Biden’s lead among likely voters is 48%-45%, within the poll’s margin of error.” 

DEMS TAKE LEAD IN BOTH GEORGIA SENATE RACES
AJC: “U.S. Sen. David Perdue is essentially tied with Democrat Jon Ossoff, with the Republican incumbent at 45% and his challenger at 46%. About 4% back Libertarian Shane Hazel, and 5% are undecided. The close margins raise the possibility the race could head into a January runoff. Another round of voting is almost certain in the special election for U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s seat, where the 21-candidate race makes it extremely difficult for anyone to win the majority-vote necessary to avoid the runoff. Democrat Raphael Warnock … climbed to 34% — up from 22% a month ago — while the other Democrats on the ballot have dropped to single digits. Loeffler and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, two Republican rivals who have pummeled each other while appealing to the party’s right flank, are deadlocked in the race to win the second spot in the expected January runoff.”

Kraushaar: Senate map entices Democratic optimism – National Journal: “[Senate Republicans are] hopeful that they can limit their losses to the swing-state races that have always looked difficult for them to win. They’re betting that a return to partisanship will allow them to prevent widespread GOP defeats, holding onto red-state seats in Montana, South Carolina, Alaska, Texas, and Kansas that have looked precarious. Right now, Republicans are bracing for losses in Arizona, Colorado, and Maine and are growing pessimistic that Sen. Thom Tillis can take advantage of Democrat Cal Cunningham’s sex scandal in North Carolina. They view Iowa as a pure toss-up, and expect both Georgia races to head to runoffs. But they doubt that Democrats will be able to break through the red-state wall (and are confident they’ll win back the Alabama seat they lost in 2018). … A Democratic win in Iowa would, in all likelihood, make Chuck Schumer the next Senate majority leader.”

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Analysis: ‘Why Many Americans Don’t Vote’ – FiveThirtyEight

Dems already making 2022 plans focus on Sen. Ron Johnson – Politico

Trump Jr. hints at 2024 presidential run:’ but let’s get through 2020 with a big win first!!!!’ – NY Post

AUDIBLE: WE’RE HERE EVERY DAY, MR. BREGLIA
“I never thought I’d be bothered with this crap, but now it really counts.” – Jack Breglia, a retired tow truck driver in Kunkletown, Pa., talking to the NYT. The Times did interviews with Americans who didn’t vote in 2016 and why they will, or won’t, be voting this year.

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“The reason I look forward to your report is your upbeat attitude and faith in our country. And thus you admonish we denizens here in the bleachers to be civil and not assume the worst about the other side. In that spirit, could you list the groups that you think are doing the most to advance the coming-together of our divided country. Please include the groups that accept new participants who might now be extra motivated to do something to counter the forces that have been pulling us apart. May you and Brianna keep up the good work in the coming challenging days ahead.” – John McNeill Lee, Walnut Creek, Calif.

[Ed. note: Well thank you, Mr. Lee! Unfortunately, I don’t think our problems are ones best addressed by large, national organizations devoted to such repairs. I think the answer is that we have to, as the old saw goes, think globally and act locally. What can heal the broken heart of this country is the opposite of the digital atomization that plagues our politics: local, personal engagement. It may be a house of worship, it may be a civic or fraternal organization, it may be athletics, or it may just be connecting with neighbors. But what we need are ways to interact with each other that are not defined by politics. We need to restore our understanding of each other’s’ humanity. The beauty of our system and the society that it serves is that people are mostly free to do as they please as long as it does not impinge on the freedom of others. The nation is not our principal political unit for that very reason. What is good, pleasing and harmonious in one part of our nation would be a disaster in another place. Louisiana does not wish to live like Nebraska and Nebraska does not wish to live like Massachusetts, but the great gift they pay each other is to substantially ignore each other. We have a Declaration of Independence to outline our shared principles and a Constitution to guide their application, after that, it’s pretty much up to each community to sort out how its members want to live. That’s not to say that national mass movements are un-American — they have, in the case of the rights of individuals — been hugely important. But for the rest, Americans would do quite well to think less about the national unit and more about improving the world right around them. Perhaps the most patriotic thing any of us can do these days is to love and serve our neighbors with charitable, understanding hearts. We can restore civil society only from the ground up.]

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

DARK MONEY, INDEED
AP: “A Brazilian lawmaker stepped down from his position representing President Jair Bolsonaro’s government and was suspended from the senate, after police searched his house and found cash inside the underwear he was wearing. Federal police targeted Roraima state’s Sen. Chico Rodrigues as part of a probe into the alleged misappropriation of COVID-19 funds… Police initially found 10,000 reais ($1,780) and $6,000 inside a safe in Rodrigues’ house Wednesday, at which point the lawmaker asked if he could go to the bathroom… As Rodrigues walked away, a police officer noticed a large, rectangular bulge under the senator’s shorts. ‘Found inside his underwear, near his buttocks, were stacks of money that totaled 15,000 reais ($2,675),’ the report says. … Asked three times whether he had any additional cash stowed, the senator angrily shoved his hand into his underwear to retrieve more stacks of bills, which totaled 17,900 reais ($3,200), according to the report. A subsequent police search turned up another 250 reais ($45) from inside his underwear.”

AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“Clinton’s decade, that holiday from history, was certainly a time of peace and prosperity — but a soporific Golden Age that made no great demands on leadership.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing about Bill Clinton’s legacy in the Washington Post on Feb. 1, 2008.

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. 

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