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On the roster: The high price of primary politics – Trump to Florida, tries to put virus diagnosis behind him – Wisconsin, Michigan move toward the blue – Biden heads to Ohio in effort to spread Dem advantage – Microwaved your ballot? Maybe just sit this one out 

Democrats say they may move to “pack” the Supreme Court by adding two or more new justices because Republicans must be made to pay a price for moving to confirm a high court nominee for the first time during a presidential election.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham said that the reason he supports filling a Supreme Court seat during an election despite promising to do otherwise is so that Democrats will pay a price for smearing the previous nominee, now Justice Brett Kavanaugh, during his hearings.

Democrats, it was argued, were entitled to ambush Kavanaugh because Republicans had to be made to pay a price for refusing to even consider then-President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.

Republicans said, aside from the palaver about “the Biden rule,” that those kinds of power politics were part of the price that Democrats would have to pay for then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid detonating the “nuclear option” in 2013 and lowering the threshold for presidential appointments to lower courts.

Democrats said that Reid had to do it, since it was the price Republicans would have to pay for refusing to confirm Obama’s nominees. 

Republicans said they had been obliged to obstruct Obama’s appointments as part of the price they would have to pay for the obstruction of then-President George W. Bush’s nominees.

Democrats said that obstruction was part of the price Republicans would have to pay for the right’s embrace of alleged judicial radicalism in the decision to end the Florida recount in the 2000 election.

We could, of course, go on. But there, in just six corkscrew turns of retributive rationalizations, we can span two decades of the Senate eating its own tail.

Serious question, though: Did anybody, other than the citizens, obviously, every really pay a price for these seven cycles of rationalized power moves?

It’s pretty obvious that Republicans benefitted from blocking Garland since it raised the stakes in a 2016 presidential election in which many Republican-leaning voters were uneasy about their party’s unproven nominee. That and the brutal results of the 2014 midterms make clear that the Democratic decision to start undoing the legislative filibuster in 2013 was probably costly.

But it’s equally clear that Senate partisans on both sides deeply overestimate how much their shenanigans really move voters.

What was the net effect of the Kavanaugh conflagration? There’s no good evidence that it did much of anything to change the outcome of the 2018 midterms. The same can be said of the nominee blockades of the 2000-2016 era. It’s hard to think that was a major factor in any election of the period.

This week, Republicans will wait for Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, especially Kamala Harris, to say something defamatory about Judge Amy Coney Barrett or her Roman Catholic faith to use against the Blue Team in the election already underway.

Similarly, Democrats will be making a case to voters not about whether Barrett is qualified for the high court but to make Republicans pay for having nominated her. The hearings for Democrats will be far more about the man who nominated Barrett than it will be about her.

We will spare you our usual diatribe about the awfulness of televised Supreme Court confirmation hearings – a disaster going back to at least the Robert Bork hearings.

But we will say this, much of what has been passed off as inflicting costs on aberrant behavior from the other side has really been about sucking up to activist voters on the same side.

What is sold as a tit-for-tat fight between senators from each party makes a great deal more sense looked at as the senators gradually caving to the demands of their own activist bases.

If these reprisals really were punishments then there might be some end in sight. But if they really are rewards to activists, it’s hard to imagine what would ever arrest Senate’s suicide pact.

“A common government, with powers equal to its objects, is called for by the voice, and still more loudly by the political situation, of America.” – Alexander Hamilton or James Madison, writing about the Senate, Federalist No. 62

WaPo: “As Americans feud over whether Columbus Day should remain a federal holiday – or whether the man who first charted the transatlantic route in 1492 should be remembered as a colonial oppressor – in Italy, [Christopher Columbus] is still held in high esteem. Italians tend to think of him as the sum of their best qualities: ingenuity, courage and resilience. … A 2019 high school textbook, ‘History and Forgotten Stories,’ says only: ‘Columbus exhibited unquestionable skills as a navigator, but wasn’t able to govern the new territories. Thus began the decline of his mythos and of his authority.’ … [Columbus biographer] Giulio Busi suggested that Italians have resisted their own reassessment, because they’ve taken U.S. criticism of Columbus personally. ‘There’s a firewall of Italianness that has prevented the critique from breaking through and garnering a meaningful following,’ Busi said. Toppling his statues ‘feels like an attack on our nationality.’”

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Trump: 42.2 percent   
53.6 percent   
Size of lead: Biden by 11.4 points   
Change from one week ago: Biden ↑ 2 points, Trump no change in points
[Average includes: ABC News/WaPo: Trump 43% – Biden 55%; Fox News: Trump 43% – Biden 53%; CNN: Trump 41% – Biden 57%; NBC News/WSJ: Trump 39% – Biden 53%; Monmouth University: Trump 45% – Biden 50%.]

(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.]

Average approval: 44.2 percent
Average disapproval: 53.8 percent
Net Score: -9.6 points
Change from one week ago: ↓ 1 point
[Average includes: ABC News/WaPo: 45% approve – 55% disapprove; Fox News: 47% approve – 52% disapprove; CNN: 40% approve – 57% disapprove; NBC News/WSJ: 43% approve – 55% disapprove; NYT/Siena College: 46% approve – 50% 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.

Reuters: “President Donald Trump will try to put his bout with COVID-19 behind him when he returns to the campaign trail on Monday, beginning a three-week sprint to the Nov. 3 U.S. election with a rally in the battleground state of Florida. The event at an airport in Sanford, Florida, will be Trump’s first campaign rally since he disclosed on Oct. 2 that he tested positive for COVID-19. Trump, who spent three nights in the hospital for treatment, said on Sunday he had fully recovered and was no longer infectious, but did not say directly whether he had tested negative for the coronavirus. … Trump’s rally in Florida, and planned rallies in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, Iowa on Wednesday and North Carolina on Thursday, will be watched closely to see whether the president has reshaped his campaign approach since contracting the virus. Critics fault him for failing to encourage supporters at campaign events, and even White House staff, to wear protective masks and abide by social-distancing guidelines.”

The magic kingdom of the I-4 Corridor – Sarasota Herald-Tribune: “Florida’s most famous political battleground and a fertile area for swing voters, the region loosely defined by the path of Interstate 4 stretches across Central Florida from Tampa Bay to Daytona Beach. The I-4 corridor’s political battlefield includes 19 counties contained within two media markets — Tampa and Orlando — that always are near the top for presidential ad spending. Trump did well along I-4 in 2016, flipping Pinellas County, which former President Barack Obama won twice. In the Tampa Bay area, he performed better than former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in GOP-leaning counties. But Democrats made gains in the 2018 governor’s race, winning Pinellas back and taking suburban Orlando’s Seminole County, which went for Trump and Romney.”

He’ll stay on the campaign trail the next 22 days – Axios: “President Trump has asked his campaign to put him on the road every single day from now until Nov. 3. His team is in the process of scheduling events to make that happen, two sources familiar with the discussions tell Axios. But not everyone thinks this is a good idea. One adviser said, ‘He’s going to kill himself.’ … Trump is in need of a rebound, and he’s betting he’s got a better chance on the move than sitting around the West Wing. The campaign is more worried than ever that seniors — a crucial voting bloc — are abandoning Trump over his handling of the pandemic. … Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh tells Axios: ‘The president has personal experience with COVID and understands what people are going through.’”

NYT: “Joseph R. Biden Jr. holds a significant lead in the pivotal states of Michigan and Wisconsin, with President Trump so far failing to retain the overwhelming advantage he enjoyed among white voters there in 2016, according to surveys from The New York Times and Siena College on Monday. Over all, Mr. Biden led Mr. Trump by eight percentage points in Michigan, 48 percent to 40 percent, among likely voters. His lead in Wisconsin was slightly larger, 51 percent to 41 percent. The new results, along with recent Times/Siena surveys from elsewhere in the Northern battlegrounds, suggest that the president has not yet managed to reassemble his winning coalition across the region. He faces modest but significant defections among white and independent voters, while facing a groundswell of opposition from those who voted for a minor-party candidate or didn’t vote at all in 2016.”

Biden maintains national gap – WaPo: “With little more than three weeks remaining until Election Day, President Trump is in a race against the clock as he continues to trail former vice president Joe Biden by double digits, his standing driven down by distrust on the issue of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll. The president has not managed to close the gap with Biden… In fact, the race has changed little over a period of months, with voters seemingly impervious to the flood of news and controversies. Biden is favored by 54 percent of likely voters, with Trump favored by 42 percent. … Biden’s lead among registered voters is also 12 points, consistent with Post-ABC polls taken in recent months.”

AP: “Joe Biden is set to make a general election campaign visit Monday to Ohio, signaling the former vice president’s hopes of winning the state Democrats lost by a significant margin in the 2016 election. The Biden campaign said the former vice president plans an afternoon campaign speech in Toledo, then will head to Cincinnati for a voter mobilization event. … Biden extended his Ohio advertising presence in Ohio last week, adding money notably to radio in rural western counties and in the state’s eastern and southeastern Appalachian counties, where Trump won big four years ago. The president won the state over Democrat Hillary Clinton by 8 percentage points in 2016. The announcement comes as surveys show the race in Ohio close, with Trump consistently trailing in key northern industrial states he won in 2016. That includes Michigan — which is within shouting distance of Toledo, located in Ohio’s northwest corner, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.”

Still won’t answer on court-packing – NPR: “Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden argues that taking a stance now on whether, as president, he would seek to increase the number of Supreme Court justices would play right into the hands of President Trump. ‘[Trump] always wants [you to] take the eye off the ball, change the subject. I’m not going to play his game,’ Biden told a local Las Vegas news station over the weekend. … But it’s becoming increasingly clear that simply dismissing the issue with a ‘wait and see’ response doesn’t mean the question disappears from the campaign. If anything, it has just added fuel to the political fire in recent days. The issue was front and center during the Sunday talk shows, with Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska calling Biden’s non-answer ‘grotesque’ on Fox News Sunday.”

Report: Cuomo potential AG pick – Axios: “Democrats are so convinced that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo could be considered for Joe Biden’s attorney general that aides at the National Governors Association, which Cuomo chairs, are looking into contingencies for replacing him, two sources familiar with the situation tell Axios. Some Democratic donors in Cuomo’s orbit tell Axios that the governor is being pushed for the job and that Biden would consider him, based on their long friendship. The AG would be among the most politically sensitive — and high-profile — jobs in a Biden administration. … Biden’s AG also would manage the federal response to police violence, social unrest and systemic racism, and the AG could seek to use federal powers to blunt state abortion restrictions.”

Politico: “The online fundraising edge that Democrats have enjoyed for years has mushroomed into an overpowering force, with small-dollar donors smashing ‘donate’ buttons over the last three months to process their disgust for President Donald Trump, fury with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and grief for the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Propelled by the wave of money, Democrats have suddenly expanded the Senate battlefield to a dozen competitive races, burying long-contested states like Iowa and Maine in TV ads while also overwhelming Republican opponents in states like Alaska, Kansas and South Carolina that are suddenly tightening. Where most of the top Democratic Senate candidates two years ago raised $4 million to $7 million in the third quarter of 2018, their contenders this year are multiplying those totals. Colorado’s John Hickenlooper raised $22 million, more than six times what his presidential campaign raised before he dropped out of that race in 2019. Iowa’s Theresa Greenfield and North Carolina’s Cal Cunningham each cleared $28 million.”

Graham opponent breaks fundraising record of any Senate candidate – The [Charleston, S.C.] Post and Courier: “Jaime Harrison, the Democrat challenging Republican incumbent Lindsey Graham in South Carolina’s high-profile U.S. Senate race, brought in more money in the last full fundraising quarter of the contest than any Senate candidate over a similar period in American history. By a lot. With a staggering $57 million haul from July through September, Harrison shattered the three-month record set in 2018 by Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who was challenging U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and brought in $38 million in his final full quarter of that race. The extraordinary amount, announced by Harrison’s campaign Sunday, brings his total for the race to $86 million, multiples more than any South Carolina candidate ever and far outpacing Graham’s own fundraising, which would be considered formidable in any previous election cycle.”

Kraushaar: ‘Republicans ditching Trump as their Senate prospects worsen’ – National Journal: “Here’s the clearest sign that Democrats hold a clear advantage in their efforts to retake the Senate: Embattled Republican senators, most of whom proudly embraced Donald Trump through thick and thin, are suddenly running away from the president as he craters in the polls. The growing GOP panic, even among red-state senators, is a telltale sign that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell feels his majority slipping away. The list of Republican senators suddenly finding religion is as long as it is surprising, coming less than a month before Election Day. … At the beginning of the campaign, Republican senators made a cynical, if politically sensible, gamble: With many Republican voters holding allegiance to Trump as a litmus test, GOP lawmakers fell in line. … In the final stretch of the campaign, many Republicans will portray themselves as a check against a future Democratic government, but their own past partisanship will make it difficult to sell that pitch convincingly.”

Unofficial ballot drop boxes in California cause alarm – The Orange County Register: “In a photo posted to social media last week, a young man wearing a mask with Orange County congressional candidate Michelle Steel’s name on it is holding a mail ballot and giving a thumbs up next to a box about the size of a file cabinet labeled ‘Official ballot drop off box.’ The post, from Jordan Tygh, a regional field director for the California Republican Party, encouraged people to message him for ‘convenient locations’ to drop their own ballots. The problem is the drop box in the photo is not official – and it could be against the law. The California Secretary of State has received reports in recent days about possible unauthorized ballot drop boxes in Fresno, Los Angeles and Orange counties, agency spokesman Sam Mahood said Sunday evening. Reports place such boxes at local political party offices, candidate headquarters and churches. Secretary of State Alex Padilla said his office is coordinating with local elections officials to look into the reports.”

Pergram: Individual races in the House may matter more – Fox News: “Individual races in the House of Representatives may matter more than usual this year. … To be clear, there are few scenarios where Democrats could lose control of the House this fall. The current breakdown is 232 Democrats to 197 Republicans and one Libertarian, Rep. Justin Amash, L-Mich. There are five vacancies. Democrats are likely to add to that majority this fall. However, here’s the problem: potential election chaos. As we reported in this space last month, the House and Senate are the ultimate arbiters of determining how many electoral votes go to each presidential candidate. This is usually a fait accompli, established during a rather sleepy Joint Session of Congress every fourth January. But… If the House and Senate can’t sort out the electoral college, the 12th Amendment to the Constitution pitches the presidential election into the House. The House of Representatives then votes to elect the new President. This is called a ‘contingent election.’”

WSJ: “The latest, beefed-up White House offer on a new coronavirus package hit resistance from both Democrats and Republicans over the weekend, deflating hopes that a bipartisan agreement was imminent. Democrats criticized the nearly $1.9 trillion offer from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin as insufficient, particularly in its funding and strategy for coronavirus testing and tracing. Senate Republicans, meanwhile, balked at the offer’s cost and its proposed expansion of the Affordable Care Act. The concerns from both sides of the Capitol lowered expectations that had risen Friday when President Trump approved the most generous GOP offer to date in the negotiations. In a letter to House Democrats on Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said the new administration offer provided inadequate funding and no national plan for testing, contact tracing and treatment of the coronavirus. … House Democrats have pushed for $75 billion and a national plan for testing, tracing and treatment of the virus.”

Federal judge blocks delay of Minnesota’s Second District – [Minneapolis] Star Tribune

Arnon Mishkin: Trump reelection in trouble, race is referendum on him – Fox News

“Our judges don’t wear red or blue jerseys. They don’t advocate for policy positions. And we shouldn’t be having either Democrats or Republicans on the committee trying to figure out how can they define the future of how they’ll rule on particular cases.” – Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., during his opening statement on day one of Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings.

“It has been reported that a majority of the population doesn’t want to see any Supreme Court packing and both Biden and Harris have declined to answer any questions about what they might do in that regard.  But I am under the impression that court packing couldn’t happen if the Senate votes against it.  It’s not clear to me how that process would play out, but I fear that there are probably a lot of voters who don’t understand the Senate’s role in this regard.  Given that, why didn’t Trump and Pence pivot off of the packing questions in the debates and encourage their supporters to vote for Republican senate candidates?  They could have argued that the best way to prevent court packing is to vote for Republican Senate Contenders and they would have had a sizable national audience to preach to.” – Jim May, San Diego

[Ed. note: Not just the Senate, Mr. May, but the House, too. Congress does indeed have the power to set the size of the Supreme Court, if the measure is passed by both Houses and signed into law by the president. As for Trump, the last thing I expect to hear from him is an emphasis on shoring up the Republican Senate. His message is clear: Either he is re-elected or America is pretty much doomed. An argument like the one you propose prefigures the possibility of a Biden victory. They don’t allow for such prefiguring.]

“Friday’s Report offered this: ‘Axios reported Friday that Barr was telling top Republican lawmakers that the Durham review was not going to be completed before the election and that Durham is aiming to win prosecutions.’ Is it possible that Barr is telling Republicans this because he knows or has reason to suspect that the Durham report is actually likely to be a nothing-burger and Trump may get more mileage out of it in anticipation of its content than from its actual content? Thanks as always for my favorite political newsletter.” – Anne Barnstead-Klos, St. Louis

[Ed. note: I wondered the same thing, too. But I do know they’ve had considerable trouble getting it done, particularly with the departure of U.S. Attorney John Durham’s longtime top deputy amid what reportedly was pressure to deliver results on a political timetable. What amazes me, though, is that anyone would have watched James Comey’s disastrous performance in 2016 and not feel like the Justice Department needs a very high bar for political prosecutions during an election. So maybe you’re right. A report undelivered might be more useful than a report that disappoints. But I’m still going to guess that it is what it looks like: They couldn’t get the job done without blowing up their credibility.]

“On Wednesday HTR-FTB edition you spoke about how this election is just another election and not to worry, reasonable minds will ensure stability. I am an optimist and tend to agree, that was until the speaker started on today about the 25th amendment. There appears to be some momentum with this, which says more about the speaker than it does the president. Will Democrats cry foul if Biden is elected and then work to invoke the 25th amendment as well? I am starting to have concerns about the longevity of this republic when ideas like this come into the mainstream discussion.   Should we just ignore the speaker? She is the speaker…” – Matt Ostrowski, Chaska, Minn.

[Ed. note: I don’t know that I would ever completely ignore the speaker of the House or the president, etc. But I would say that we should hear them in context. Nancy Pelosi is probably trolling Trump more than anything. The 25th amendment is a poorly constructed item, it’s true. But it’s practical use for removing a president who is sentient and does not wish to be removed is remote. She’s also probably taking the precautionary step in case Trump is talking about not accepting Congress’ ratification of election results or some such. Like the existence of reality television and soy bacon, it’s probably best not to think about it too much unless it becomes an issue in your life.]

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KCRA: “Sacramento County elections officials are asking people to stop disinfecting their mail-in ballots. ‘Voters do not have to worry about contracting COVID from their mail-in ballots,’ said Courtney Bailey-Kanelos, registrar of voters in Sacramento County. Officials said the ballots themselves were processed by machines weeks ago and are safe to handle. The registrar told KCRA 3 they have received at least 100 ballots damaged by disinfectant and alcohol spray. In one case, someone even microwaved their ballot in an attempt to get rid of any germs. Elections officials say these actions damage your ballot and prevent your vote from being properly counted. The registrar says they are not processing any ballots that are obviously spoiled. The office is working to issue new ballots to anyone who sent in or dropped off a damaged ballot.”

“Appointing a Supreme Court justice is a two-key operation. The president proposes, the Senate disposes. There is no reason McConnell cannot hold the line. And he must. The stakes here — a radical generation-long reversal of direction of the Supreme Court — are the highest this Senate will ever face.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing about the process of replacing the late-Justice Antonin Scalia in the Washington Post on Feb. 18, 2016.

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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