Tracking the Carolina panther

October 15, 2020 

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On the roster: Tracking the Carolina panther - I'll Tell You What: It's actually someone else's fault - Senators clash as Republicans push ahead with Barrett nomination - Report: Trump admin shared virus info with traders - But the cabinet meetings are a breeze

If Florida is the manatee of swing states - huge, slow-moving and obvious - then North Carolina is like it's native catamount - stealthy, surprisingly powerful and hard to track.

The Tar Heel State begins early voting today, and it is very much untamed. With 15 electoral votes, a diverse and diversifying population and four distinct regions, North Carolina has proven to be every bit as elusive as the panthers that once prowled there.

Barack Obama's surprise victory in 2008 awakened awareness of the changing nature of the state, which had previously tracked more closely with other Southern states. A return to the Republican column in 2012 and 2016 was then offset by Democratic gains on the state level and turmoil within the North Carolina GOP.

Along with Florida and Wisconsin, North Carolina looks like one of the true toss-ups in American political life today.

As voting gets under way Republicans find themselves trailing in all three key statewide contests. Democratic governor Roy Cooper looks like he is cruising to re-election by a wide margin. Republican Sen. Thom Tillis has not led in any poll since June and in an average of the five most recent polls he trails Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham by 3.4 points.

President Trump who won the state in 2016 by 3.6 points trails Democratic challenger Joe Biden in two recent polls. One from Siena College for the NYT has Trump down 4 points, mirroring the margin in a Monmouth University poll taken just before it.

So while it's not a great year for the GOP in North Carolina, the race is very much in play. Remember that at this point in 2016, Trump was starting a North Carolina rally that would push him past Hillary Clinton, whose support stalled in the closing weeks.

Trump's major problem this time is that there are fewer voters to be persuaded. In the polling average at this point four years ago nearly 12 percent of voters were either undecided or thinking about backing another candidate. Today, according to FiveThirtyEight's average for North Carolina, only 5.1 percent of voters are not siding with either the Blue Team or the Red Team.

The electoral calculus looks like this: The Trump campaign is trying to drive up support among working class white voters, especially outside of the state's major population centers. The president's visit today in Greenville in eastern North Carolina is very much a part of that strategy. Like the working-class white voters who delivered for Trump in other states in 2016, Republicans have seen a softening of support here.

Biden's strategy, on the other hand, is to turn out African American voters at levels close to those that won the state for Obama 12 years ago while simultaneously improving on recent Democratic gains with more affluent suburban voters outside of Charlotte and Raleigh.

It is sure to be a wild couple of weeks in the closing days of the 2020 election and North Carolinians stand to bear the brunt of it as a tight electoral map for Republicans increases the value of their former stronghold.

"These are not vague inferences drawn from supposed or speculative defects in a Constitution, the whole power of which is lodged in the hands of a people, or their representatives and delegates, but they are solid conclusions, drawn from the natural and necessary progress of human affairs." - Alexander Hamilton, discussing the hostilities between states, Federalist No. 8

The Writer's Almanac: "It's the birthday of the poet Virgil, born Publius Vergilius Maro near Mantua, Italy, 70 B.C.E. Not much is known about his early life, and although some biographers made him out to be a country bumpkin, he probably came from a well-off family who sent him off to get a good education. He may have been socially awkward and sickly, but no one knows for sure. He left behind some of the most beloved poems written in Latin: his pastoral poems, the Eclogues; his poems about farming, the Georgics; and the poem he wanted destroyed, The Aeneid. Emperor Augustus commissioned Virgil to write The Aeneid, and he worked on it for 11 years, but it still wasn't finished at the time of his death. He left behind a request that the unfinished poem be burned, but Augustus forbade this from happening. The emperor's orders were followed, and the Aeneid became a classic, and Virgil's best-known work."

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

Trump: 42.8 percent
53.6 percent
Size of lead:
Biden by 10.8 points
Change from one week ago:
Biden ? 1.2 points, Trump ? 1 point
[Average includes: NBC News/WSJ: Trump 42% - Biden 53%; ABC News/WaPo: Trump 43% - Biden 55%; Fox News: Trump 43% - Biden 53%; CNN: Trump 41% - Biden 57%; 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: 44.4 percent
Average disapproval: 53.6 percent
Net Score: -9.2 points
Change from one week ago: ? 0.6 points
[Average includes: NBC News/WSJ: 44% approve - 54% disapprove; ABC News/WaPo: 45% approve - 55% disapprove; Fox News: 47% approve - 52% disapprove; CNN: 40% approve - 57% 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.

This week, Dana Perino and Chris Stirewalt get together to debrief after a week full of Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett. They break down the political motivations of senators in their questioning of Amy Coney Barrett, Joe Biden's streak of lucky breaks during his presidential campaign and the likely outcome in 2020 House and Senate races. Plus, Chris dust off his boots for West Virginia trivia. LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE HERE

AP: "Judge Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court nomination cleared a key hurdle Thursday as Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans powered past Democrats' objections in the drive to confirm President Donald Trump's pick before the Nov. 3 election. The panel set Oct. 22 for its vote to recommend Barrett's nomination to the full Senate for a final vote by month's end. 'A sham,' said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. 'Power grab,' decried Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. 'Not normal,' said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. 'You don't convene a Supreme Court confirmation hearing, in the middle of a pandemic, when the Senate's on recess, when voting has already started in the presidential election in a majority of states,' declared Sen. Chris Coon, D-Del. But Republicans countered that Trump is well within bounds as president to fill the court vacancy, and the GOP-held Senate has the votes to push Trump's nominee to confirmation."

Pergram: Barrett paints memorable picture during hearings - Fox News: "Swing, female voters inhabiting the suburbs probably don't care much about the 'doctrine of severability.' The legal concept of 'Stare decisis' (pronounced STAR-ee dee-SIGH-suss) sounds like an exotic social media influencer with an active Instagram account. They may never have heard of seminal Supreme Court opinions referred to on the Senate Judiciary Committee in shorthand as 'Heller' or 'Obergefell.' Those key voters may not remember a word from the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. But those voters will probably recall the singular image of Barrett holding up a blank, small notepad, demonstrating she was doing this all on the fly. In fact, she had it all together to the point that she didn't need to jot down notes. Or didn't have time. She kept all the answers upstairs."

NYT: "In late February, the Trump administration was publicly playing down the severity of the worsening coronavirus epidemic. But in private, White House officials had a different story -- and that information was shared with top traders who made fortuitous bets against the market. Trump advisers conceded concerns about the coronavirus in private meetings with board members of the conservative Hoover Institution on Feb. 24, Kate Kelly and Mark Mazzetti of The Times report. Larry Kudlow, the White House's chief economic adviser, told the group that the virus was 'contained in the U.S., to date, but now we just don't know,' hours after saying on CNBC that containment efforts were 'pretty close to airtight.' Here's how the information then spread: William Callanan, a Hoover board member and hedge fund consultant, wrote a memo, noting that nearly every federal official had raised the coronavirus 'as a point of concern, totally unprovoked.' He then described the briefings in an email to the hedge fund magnate David Tepper of Appaloosa Management. The email circulated among the firm's employees. Mr. Callanan also tipped at least one financier client."

With three weeks to go GOP beginning to really feel pressure - WSJ: "Joe Biden holds a double-digit lead over President Trump less than three weeks from Election Day, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll of registered voters finds. Mr. Biden is ahead by 11 points in the national survey, 53% to 42%... The survey finds Mr. Trump rebounding from a 14-point deficit earlier this month in a poll taken immediately after the debate with Mr. Biden, but still in a weaker position than in September, when he trailed the former vice president by 8 points. The poll holds warning signs for Republicans down-ballot, as well. Democrats came out ahead of Republicans by 8 points when voters were asked which party they planned to support for Congress. Voters appear to be motivated more by concerns about the direction of the country than their own economic gains."

Dueling town halls for Trump, Biden air Thursday night - AP: "President Donald Trump and challenger Joe Biden will compete for TV audiences in dueling town halls instead of meeting face-to-face for their second debate as originally planned. The two will take questions in different cities on different networks Thursday night: Trump on NBC from Miami, Biden on ABC from Philadelphia. Trump backed out of plans for the presidential faceoff originally scheduled for the evening after debate organizers shifted the format to a virtual event following Trump's coronavirus diagnosis. As the pace of the campaign speeds up in its final weeks, the two candidates first are taking care of other electoral necessities Thursday: Trump has a midday rally in battleground North Carolina, and Biden is raising campaign cash at a virtual event."

Politico: "Joe Biden's campaign is punching back at a New York Post story that alleged a direct link between the Democratic presidential nominee and his son's business dealings. Top Biden advisers who staffed him during his vice presidency, citing their own recollections as well as a review of Biden's official schedules, sharply rejected the Post's suggestion that Biden met with a representative of Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings in 2015. ... In a statement, Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said, 'we have reviewed Joe Biden's official schedules from the time and no meeting, as alleged by the New York Post, ever took place.' ... Bates added that the Biden campaign could not immediately respond to the story's allegations in the Post story when it ran on Wednesday morning, because the publication 'never asked the Biden campaign about the critical elements of this story. They certainly never raised that Rudy Giuliani -- whose discredited conspiracy theories and alliance with figures connected to Russian intelligence have been widely reported -- claimed to have such materials.'"

Harris suspends events after staffer tests positive for virus - AP: "Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, will suspend in-person events until Monday after two people associated with the campaign tested positive for coronavirus. Joe Biden's presidential campaign said Thursday that Biden had no exposure, though he and Harris spent several hours campaigning together in Arizona on Oct. 8. Both have tested negative for COVID-19 multiple times since then. It's the Biden campaign's first major coronavirus scare, after months of careful health procedures that brought mockery from President Donald Trump, even after a White House virus outbreak that included the president and first lady Melania Trump. The Democratic campaign's cautious reaction underscores again the differences in how the rival camps have approached the pandemic, both in terms of preferred government response and the candidates' personal protocols."

Transition team gets heated over Cabinet jockeying - Politico: "Joe Biden's transition team has a message for anyone publicly jockeying for a job in a potential Biden administration: Knock it off. Members of the transition team have been fuming at the recent flood of stories listing people in contention for the top spots should Biden win the presidential race next month, according to Democratic officials who have spoken to them. They warn that the efforts could backfire, knocking those participating out of contention for high-profile posts. 'There is speculation with every transition, but public campaigning for administration jobs during an election of this magnitude is tone-deaf,' said a Democratic strategist close to transition officials. 'The only campaigning folks should be doing is for Biden, Harris, the Senate and candidates down the ballot who can help turn things around. Everything else is counterproductive.'"

How Obama is helping his former vice president - Atlantic: "Obama is alarmed about Trump's presidency, and about the threats Trump has been making about not transferring power if he loses. Obama is determined to end both. But getting involved has been tricky. Obama is an arena politician, strongest in front of a crowd cheering for him, but he won't be anywhere near an arena between now and November 3. So far, the closest that Obama has come to traveling to a swing state is spending much of the summer in Martha's Vineyard. But that's about to change. For the last two weeks of the campaign, Obama will hit the trail, potentially adding joint appearances with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. He'll be attending 'drive-in' rallies, which have become a Biden campaign pandemic favorite, letting voters see him from within the bubble of their own cars. Obama's focus will be on states with early voting, hoping to get those cars to drive right to the polls, and promoting Democrats' recent shift to emphasizing showing up in person early--rather than relying on the mail--to bank as many votes as possible before Election Day."

The Judge's Ruling: Coronavirus - what if we all start to return to normal life now? - Fox News

"The only people interested in debates are reporters and losing candidates. We have already debated. Nothing has changed." - Mississippi Republican incumbent Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith in response to Democratic challenger Mike Espy calling her out for not debating him this election cycle. The two last debated in 2018.

"How come anything Trump or a surrogate says is 'arguing without evidence' as called by the AP (and most others), but when Joe says ANYTHING there is no such caveat. It just demonstrates AGAIN why the majority of the Press is biased." - Tom Portante, Pittsburgh

[Ed. note: There is indeed something snarky about the "without evidence" line that reporters have adopted when they mean to say that President Trump is lying. You could say that he "offered without evidence" the assertion that he would prevail in the election or that he was the greatest president in history just as easily as you could say that he "offered without evidence" the claim that one of his media critics was linked to the murder of a former intern or that Usama Bin Laden was still alive. We don't always offer evidence for our assertions because some things are obvious or are matters of subjective opinion. But when a person makes wild or serious allegations and doesn't back them up, reporters should delve into the available evidence when repeating the claims. The phrasing strikes me as kind of snotty. Either let the claim pass, ignore it or refute it. They do their readers a disservice by lumping the wide, wild range of Trump claims into one pat clause.]

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

The Guardian: "The Cook Islands' new prime minister has allocated himself 17 portfolios in the country's government. Aside from the premiership, Mark Brown is the minister for foreign affairs, immigration, finance, energy and renewables, police, and telecommunications. He also holds responsibilities for marine resources, seabed minerals and natural resources, superannuation, and the country's outer islands, among other portfolios. Brown is also the country's attorney general. The opposition leader, Tina Browne, told the Cook Island News the portfolio allocations suggested the PM lacked confidence in his other cabinet ministers. 'The new PM says he's 'excited with the potential of his cabinet' and then gives himself a staggering 17 portfolios...' Browne said. It's anticipated Prime Minister Brown might delegate some of his responsibilities in coming months.... The Cook Islands is a self-governing associated state, part of the Realm of New Zealand. The Cook Islands is fully responsible for all internal affairs, while New Zealand has carriage of defense and foreign affairs."

"Americans do not dislike courts. We respect law. If anything, we are the most over-lawyered, judge-driven democracy in the West. ... Nonetheless, we hold to the quaint idea that in a democratic system, prosecutors must be answerable to democratically elected leaders." - Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing about the invention of a permanent International Criminal Court in The Weekly Standard on Aug. 26, 2002.

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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