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Oh, the places you’ll go!

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On the roster: – Oh, the places you’ll go! – Power Play: Trump punches back – Gallup: 61 percent of debate watchers say Hillary won – Trump denies illegal Cuban dealings – Jerk chicken

OH, THE PLACES YOU’LL GO!
If there’s one thing that human beings are uniformly bad at, it’s predicting the future. And that goes double here in Washington.

Three years ago today, Congress jumped off the fiscal cliff as Senate Democrats blocked an emergency spending measure that was also intended to blow up ObamaCare. They sent an amended version back to the House where it found no purchase.

The moment was met with something like mass hysteria in the press. And for the 16 days that followed, the hyperventilation continued. The drama was heightened by the looming breach of the federal borrowing limit.

President Obama ratcheted up pressure on resistant Republicans, saying that he would not negotiate the spending and debt measures separately and threatened to turn the more modest inconveniences of the partial shutdown into a potential fiscal catastrophe.

Republicans demanded that he prioritize the debate and keep vital functions running, but Obama held the line and forced Republicans to accept a temporary measure to authorize spending and borrowing until February 2014.

The conventional wisdom about the shutdown had congealed even before it began: reckless Republicans would pay a dear price at the ballot box in the upcoming midterm elections because the GOP was now held hostage by fiscal hardliners and maximal conservatives.

Ha!

The first prediction, which was offered by many in both parties and the press was a bust. Republicans picked up nine seats in the Senate to take control of the upper chamber for the first time since 2006. Republicans also expanded their majority in the House.

Just as wrong was the nearly universal belief in Washington that small government conservatives had taken control of the GOP. Conservative hardliners certainly believed they were driving the bus, and moderate Republicans, Democrats and analysts agreed. The only difference was everybody but the conservatives though they were going off a cliff.

At the center of it all was freshman Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who helped engineer the shutdown and became the face of the anti-ObamaCare effort during his pseudo-filibuster the week before the shutdown, including his famous reading from “Green Eggs and Ham.”

Cruz Co. had won a stunning victory against the allegedly omnipotent Republican establishment. Not only did they force the shutdown, but pinned the blame for the compromise deal on those who had opposed the gambit in the first place.

To say that it was conventional wisdom that Cruz would square off with Jeb Bush or some other establishmentarian for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination is an understatement.

Again, ha!

Cruz did make it into the final pairing for the Republican nod, and he did face a candidate more moderate than himself on most issues. But it’s been an absolute fun house mirror version of what everyone predicted.

We might’ve predicted that the Republican nominee would today be standing at the parapet demanding absolute war over the spending measure that will slide into effect at midnight.

But, no. What is the topic of discussion? Why, the GOP nominee’s allegation that a 1996 beauty pageant winner made a sex tape, of course.

The conventional wisdom is not always wrong, but let this be a lesson to every soothsayer in Washington and every fearless forecaster: the future is stranger than you know.

POWER PLAY: TRUMP PUNCHES BACK
Donald Trump
, facing renewed scrutiny over his treatment of women, is trying to deflect heat back on Hillary Clinton by re-litigating her husband’s ‘90s era sex scandals. Is this line of attack a winning strategy for Trump? Or will the key voting bloc, suburban moms, be even less inclined to the Republican nominee. National Journal’s Karyn Bruggeman and the WaPo’s Aaron Blake look ahead to Tuesday’s vice-presidential debate. WATCH HERE.

Running mates debates – Fireworks flew between Clinton and Trump on the debate stage, but what can we expect from their more staid running mates? With the VP debate only a few days away our panel gives their thoughts on what to expect next week. The panel weighs in. WATCH HERE.

THE RULEBOOK: A PRESIDENT, NOT A PRELATE
“[The president] has no particle of spiritual jurisdiction; [the king] is the supreme head and governor of the national church! What answer shall we give to those who would persuade us that things so unlike resemble each other? The same that ought to be given to those who tell us that a government, the whole power of which would be in the hands of the elective and periodical servants of the people, is an aristocracy, a monarchy, and a despotism.” – Alexander Hamilton, “Federalist No. 69

TIME OUT: A NEW MISSION
Patriot Guard Riders is famous for providing motorcycle escorts to the funeral procession of veterans. Now the group has taken up a new mission. The riders are working with a charity that provides hyperbaric chambers for oxygen treatments for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injuries. Starting today, riders from the group will escort hyperbaric chambers from Houston to Las Vegas where they will be available to veterans through the non-profit group Imagine N.O.W. Their weeklong ride will stop in 14 cities along the way seeking to raise awareness. If you’d like to sponsor a rider, click here.

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

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

Average of national four-way presidential polls: Clinton vs. Trump vs. Johnson vs. Stein: Clinton +1.4 points
[Polls included: Monmouth University, Quinnipiac University, Bloomberg, WaPo/ABC and Boston Herald.]

GALLUP: 61 PERCENT OF DEBATE WATCHERS SAY HILLARY WON
A Gallup survey taken in the two days following the first 2016 presidential debate found that 61 percent of debate viewers, including 59 percent of independents and 28 percent of Republican thought Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton got the better of Republican Donald Trump in their showdown at Hofstra University.

This tends to confirm early indications that viewers were more impressed by Clinton than Trump. The Gallup result flies in the face of Trump’s claim he won the debate because of his strong performance in online contests where his supporters can stuff the electronic ballot box.

But, it may not mean much for Clinton. Past winners in similar polls include Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, John Kerry and Mitt Romney.

Hillary ahead in swing state polls – Clinton maintains her lead in New Hampshire and Michigan, both by 7-point margins, in the first reliable polls conducted post-debate. And a Mason Dixon poll out of Florida shows Clinton nudging up 2 points since August for a 4-point lead over Trump, within the poll’s margin of error.

FLORIDA DEMS WORRY ABOUT GROUND GAME
Tampa Bay Times: “It’s time for Hillary Clinton to start worrying about her Florida campaign. Despite roughly 500 full time campaign staffers spread across Florida to help Clinton win forever close Florida, party leaders and activists across the state are fretting about the campaign’s ground game. Even Clinton campaign staffers in other states are quietly buzzing about the Florida campaign struggling to meet its goals for voter registration and other outreach benchmarks.”

TRUMP’S CHALLENGE: MOBILIZING MISSING 2012 VOTERS
FiveThirtyEight: “Here’s a scary stat for Democrats: In 2012, President Obama won re-election by almost 5 million votes, but about 47 million eligible white voters without a college degree — including 24 million men — didn’t bother to vote. In 2016, these nonvoters are part of the demographic that is most strongly in favor of Donald Trump. If Trump rouses even a fraction of these notoriously disaffected Americans …he could surge to victory. There’s just one catch: If we’re on the cusp of a blue-collar Great Awakening, it’s not yet showing up in the registration data.”

TRUMP DENIES ILLEGAL CUBAN DEALINGS
WashEx: “Donald Trump has denied allegations he illegally did business in Cuba after a report emerged Thursday indicating the billionaire businessman violated a U.S. embargo against the island. ‘No. I never did business in Cuba… I never did a deal in Cuba. I heard about it last night for the first time,’ Trump said during an interview on New Hampshire television station NH1, which was broadcast Thursday night. Trump had attended a campaign rally in Bedford, N.H., earlier in the day. Newsweek reported Thursday morning that Trump Hotel executives spent $68,000 in 1998 during a trip to Cuba to feel out potential business ventures for the Trump Organization. Trump has now been accused of spending tens of thousands of dollars overseas in Cuba without obtaining the government clearance from the U.S. Treasury.”

BUBBA BASKS AT PERES FUNERAL
BBC: “Former US President Bill Clinton, who helped negotiate the Oslo peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians in the 1990s, said [late Israeli leader, Shimon Peres,] was Israel’s ‘biggest dreamer.’ ‘He imagined all the things the rest of us could do. He started life as Israel’s brightest student, became its best teacher and ended up its biggest dreamer.’”

I’LL TELL YOU WHAT: OF BEAUTY QUEENS AND FEVER DREAMS
One of the most popular political podcasts is now on television. “Perino Stirewalt: I’ll Tell You What,” airs live Sundays at 5 p.m. on the Fox News Channel.

Fox News Sunday – Watch “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.” Check local listings for broadcast times in your area.

#mediabuzz – Host Howard Kurtz has the latest take on the week’s media coverage. Watch #mediabuzz Sundays at 11 a.m.

AUDIBLE: JUST SAY NO
“I apologize for using innuendo. I don’t think it’s a good thing to do. I don’t think it’s the right thing to do.” – Former DNC Chairman Howard Dean apologizing on MSNBC for suggesting Donald Trump’s sniffles during Monday’s debate was the result of a cocaine habit.

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Hillary opposes upgrade for nuke arsenal – NYT

With Portman cruising in Ohio, GOP super PAC moves money to other races – WaPo

Trump camp not saying who paid for Mexico trip – Time

Wait, what? Trump praised Germany’s Merkel as a leader he admires – WaPo

City of Phoenix demands Trump take down ad with uniformed officers – NBC News

USA Today breaks non-partisan streak to argue Trump is ‘unfit’ to be president – USA Today

WSJ’s Dorothy Rabinowitz decries ‘Clinton derangement syndrome’ – WSJ

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“I’m a bit confused. I keep reading how a four-way race favors Trump; how Johnson and Stein voters primarily siphon from Clinton. However, your Scoreboard always seems to indicate Clinton’s lead increases in a four-way match up. Can you explain this conundrum?” – Paul Sellers, Atascadero, Calif.

[Ed. note: Great question, Mr. Sellers! What you are witnessing is the winnowing of the undecided and minor party votes. We started including the four-way average to help readers understand where the missing votes were. Trump and Clinton were both underperforming their parties’ 2012 standard bearers and we wanted you to see why and how. But as we get closer to the election, especially now that we are in debate season, the differences between the two scores have mostly evaporated. As we move forward, we will evaluate whether including both measurements is necessary.]

“We have two bad choices for President so why not consider the important issues and base your vote on the one you deem most important.  For me it is the issue which will determine the fate of the country for perhaps the next 30 years – the Supreme Court. Obama has appointed more liberal federal court justices than the last ten Presidents combined.  All are lifetime appointments. Hillary Clinton will continue that march to a totally liberal court system unless the Supreme Court can be structured to at least throttle some of the liberal nonsense that we are seeing today.” – Bill Norwood
Ozark, Mo.

[Ed. note: And here is where character and policy collide. Americans will elect very conservative people, Americans will elect very liberal people, but they always elect people. Millions of people voted for both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, men with antithetical views on many topics. Did some of these voters change their views? Sure. But, especially for persuadable voters, the character and personal qualities of individuals tends to matter more than specific policy sets. Your argument would be quite convincing for a doctrinaire conservative, but Trump has already substantially consolidated his party. Trump is got 86 percent of the Republican vote in the most recent Quinnipiac University poll. A smaller percentage of Republicans were crossing over to vote for Clinton than there were Democrats voting for Trump. For voters who are less ideologically minded — the archetypical swing voter — characteristics like trustworthiness, leadership and temperament matter more. As Trump looks to seal the deal with these voters issues matter less than these traits.]

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

JERK CHICKEN
AP: “A Pittsburgh man has 30 days to figure out how to catch a noisy rooster or the city will penalize him. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports the rooster’s piercing calls have plagued residents for years. Because it appears to live on Henry Gaston’s property, it has put him in violation of the city’s ban against roosters. But Gaston told a judge Wednesday he’s tried to catch the animal and has failed. He says he called animal control and the zoo, but he still hasn’t come up with the rooster. Assistant City Solicitor Adam Rosenthal says he would agree to give Gaston 30 days if he puts out food and tries to catch it with a net. The judge says he’d like the rooster caught and transferred to a farm.”

AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“The minute you let [Donald Trump] loose, meaning on the debate stage, where there is no prompter, and then immediately after when he’s reacting…What emerges is his central weakness: Vanity.”– Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier

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.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C.  Additionally, he authors the daily “Fox News First” political news note and hosts “Power Play,” a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including “The Kelly File,” “Special Report with Bret Baier,” and “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.”  He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.

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