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A1: The stories you need to read before your first conference call.

-- With 50 days to go until Election Day, the first votes of the midterm elections have already been cast in North Carolina. This week, absentee ballots become available in Minnesota on Friday and in Maine, New Jersey, South Dakota and Vermont on Saturday. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have either early voting stations or no-fault absentee ballot laws, and three more -- Washington, Oregon and Colorado -- conduct elections entirely by mail. (Washington Post, U.S. Elections Project)

-- Iraqi President Fuad Masum asked an international diplomatic conference meeting in Paris on Monday to fight more aggressively against Islamic State militants. U.S. officials said several Arab nations have offered to conduct airstrikes against Islamic State militants, though they would not name the countries. White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said Sunday the short-term strategy is to fund the Iraqi army to fight Islamic State militants in Iraq, and moderate Syrian rebels to fight across the border. (New York Times, Washington Post) Meanwhile, the Islamic State is earning more than $3 million a day from oil smuggling, human trafficking, theft and extortion. (Associated Press)

-- President Obama on Tuesday will outline a more aggressive response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa when he visits the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta on Tuesday. The response is likely to include U.S. military involvement; Obama will push Congress to approve the $88 million he has asked for to combat the virus, which has killed 2,400 people so far. (Wall Street Journal)

-- Democratic appointees hold a majority of seats on 9 of the 13 U.S. Courts of Appeals after the Senate has raced to confirm dozens of judicial appointees since partially ending the filibuster last year. When President Obama took office, only one appeals court had a majority of Democratic appointees. (New York Times) Reid's Take: Democrats were frustrated that the White House was so slow for so long in nominating new judges. With Congress deadlocked and the threat of a Republican Senate looming, though, the flurry of activity this year has made up for the foot-dragging.

-- A preview of the Lame Duck session, from The Washington Post's Paul Kane: "Lame Duck 2014 is shaping up as a potentially epic session in line with the recent lame ducks -- or the session could entirely fizzle out. Congress must pass a funding plan, an extension of the moratorium on taxing internet access and tax extenders. If Democrats keep the Senate, we could see another budget showdown like the one in December 2012. If Republicans take over, expect punt formation, until they formally take charge in January. The wild card is a full debate over Obama's plans to attack Islamic State militants. A modest authorization is expected this week, but some leaders want a bigger debate over a new use-of-force resolution."

-- Front Pages: WaPo, LA Times, USA Today and WSJ lead with Arab nations offering air power to combat Islamic State forces. NYT leads with an investigation into the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, which has been slow to respond to safety defects that require recalls. Newspapers in Iowa went nuts over Hillary Clinton's return (See below, section C1).

National Roundup: What's happening outside the Beltway.

-- WH'16: Hillary Clinton is doing yoga! And working out with a trainer! And the Clinton Foundation is bulking up its endowment now, before a possible presidential bid crimps their fundraising! The Clinton for President campaign is becoming the worst-kept secret in politics. For more on Clinton's trip to Iowa this weekend, see section C1, below. (New York Times) Not surprising: Chris Christie (R) is campaigning for New Hampshire gubernatorial candidate Walt Havenstein (R) and Senate nominee Scott Brown (R) on Wednesday. (NHGOP) Surprising: Former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R) spent Friday and Saturday in New Hampshire, addressing Republican audiences in Laconia and Nashua. (Washington Post)

-- Georgia: Gov. Nathan Deal (R) just can't shake state Sen. Jason Carter (D). Deal takes 43 percent to Carter's 42 percent in a new survey, with 7 percent backing Libertarian Andrew Hunt. But Republicans have a better shot at holding the state's open Senate seat: Businessman David Perdue (R) bests philanthropist Michelle Nunn (D) 45 percent to 41 percent, with 6 percent going to Libertarian Amanda Swafford. One caveat: The poll projects 24 percent of the electorate will be African American; in 2010, African Americans made up 28 percent of the electorate. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

-- Virginia: Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and the Republican-led legislature have agreed on budget cuts aimed at closing an estimated $2.4 billion revenue shortfall. Legislators will cut $346 million from the budget this fiscal year and take care of part of a $536 million shortfall projected for next year. State agencies will have to return a portion of their budgets to help cover the gap. Those agencies have until Friday to submit plans to cut spending. (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

-- Indiana: Former Sen. Evan Bayh (D) said Friday he will not run for governor in 2016, after floating the possibility of a comeback bid for months. Bayh hinted he didn't think he could make much of a difference, given that the legislature can overturn an Indiana governor's veto with a simple majority vote. Bayh called the three other Democratic candidates, Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott, former state House Speaker John Gregg and former Rep. Baron Hill, to inform them of his decision. (Indianapolis Star)

-- Illinois: If Gov. Pat Quinn (D) wins re-election, it'll be one of the upsets of the cycle. And a new poll suggests he could do it: Quinn leads venture capitalist Bruce Rauner (R) 48 percent to 37 percent, according to Chicago Tribune pollsters. (Chicago Tribune) Our sources, on both sides of the aisle, say Democrats' ability to outspend Rauner on TV, thanks in part to a union-funded outside group, have changed the fundamentals of the race. Rauner's numbers in the Republican-leaning collar counties around Cook County are lagging behind GOP expectations. Smart Republicans point out that the poll is of registered voters, not likely voters, and that the sample is +19 Democratic.

-- Ohio: A new Columbus Dispatch poll shows Gov. John Kasich (R) leading Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald (D) by a 59 percent to 29 percent margin. That's not a typo. About 1 in 6 Democratic voters say they'll back the incumbent. More voters, 51 percent, say they're less likely to vote for FitzGerald after revelations he drove without a license than because he was found in a parked car with a woman who wasn't his wife at 4:30 a.m. about two years ago, 41 percent. Credit where due: The Dispatch broke both stories. (Columbus Dispatch)

-- New Mexico: Gov. Susana Martinez (R) leads Attorney General Gary King (D) by a 54 percent to 36 percent margin, up from a 9-point lead after a blitz of negative ads from the Martinez campaign. King has raised a fraction of what Martinez has hauled in; he hasn't gone on TV. (Albuquerque Journal) What kind of odds would we have gotten on a bet at the beginning of the cycle that Kasich would win by a larger margin than Martinez?

-- New Hampshire: The DSCC will release a poll today showing Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) leading former Sen. Scott Brown (R) 51 percent to 43 percent. Shaheen has a whopping 24-point edge among women; Brown leads among men by 10. And Shaheen's fav/unfav ratings are a positive 50 percent to 45 percent, while Brown's are underwater by 13 points. The DSCC loves hiring Boston-based pollster Tom Kiley for New England races; he doesn't get them wrong very often. CNN will release a poll today showing the race tied at 48-48, but details aren't public yet.

DC Digest: What's on tap today in DC.

-- President Obama meets with Education Secretary Arne Duncan this morning in the Roosevelt Room. This afternoon, he awards the Medal of Honor to Army Command Sergeant Major Bennie Adkins and Army Specialist Four Donald Sloat, for conspicuous gallantry during the Vietnam War. Sloat is receiving the award posthumously: He died protecting fellow soldiers from a grenade in 1970, a month before his 21st birthday (Read more about Sloat's courageous actions here). This evening, Obama attends a fundraiser for the DSCC in the D.C. area.

-- Vice President Biden attends Obama's meeting with Duncan this morning, before lunching with the President in the Private Dining Room. Nothing else on his public schedule today.

-- The House returns today at noon for morning business, followed by consideration of 18 measures under suspension of the rules. First and last votes happen after 6:30 p.m.

-- We asked Washington Post ace Congressional reporter Robert Costa to assess the state of the House GOP Conference heading into the midterms. His take: Speaker John Boehner is taking on more of the senior, calming-presence role after Eric Cantor's departure. Costa: "The national GOP is not launching a branding campaign, Newt '94-style, around him. But his endorsement of President Obama's plan to attack Islamic State kept his conference steady. And he plans a speech at AEI on Thursday laying out the Republican economic agenda, the kind of address he once left to Cantor. His long hours on the campaign trail this summer have inoculated him from any challenge for the Speaker's gavel."

-- The Senate returns at 2 p.m. for morning business, followed by a roll call vote this afternoon on a motion to invoke cloture on the Paycheck Fairness Act, the latest messaging bill aimed more at campaign ads than actual passage. After that motion, which is likely to fail, the Senate will vote on two nominees for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

-- The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee holds a hearing today on whether to allow Washington D.C. to become the state of New Columbia. The bill isn't going anywhere, and chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) doesn't plan to push for a vote. It's the first time since November 1993 that Congress has formally debated statehood. (Washington Post)

TV Time Out: Our exclusive look at who's advertising, and where.

-- NRCC: National Republicans will start advertising this week against Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) and filmmaker Aaron Woolf (D), who's running in New York's 21st District, which Rep. Bill Owens (D) is vacating. That brings the number of districts in which the NRCC is advertising up to 13 (The rest: Arizona 01, Arizona 02, Georgia 12, Florida 02, Iowa 03, New York 24, West Virginia 03, Minnesota 07, Minnesota 08, Illinois 12, New York 01).

-- DCCC: New Democratic ads kick off in Minnesota 07, held by Rep. Collin Peterson (D), and Minnesota 08, held by Rep. Rick Nolan (D) this week. We'll also see the first DCCC ads in Rep. Nick Rahall's (D) West Virginia 03, though House Majority PAC has been up there for months. And the DCCC will defend Rep. Dan Maffei (D) in New York 24; outside groups have started advertising against Maffei, and the DCCC doesn't want to let incumbents get swamped.

-- Wisconsin: Outside groups have helped Madison School Board official Mary Burke (D) outspend Gov. Scott Walker (R) on television ads this summer, fueling Burke's rise in the polls. Labor groups spent almost $1 million hitting Walker in August. The RGA spent more than $1 million on early ads against Burke, but those ran way back in February and March. They have another $1 million in broadcast time reserved for this month and next. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) Great graphic on who's spending and where, here.

-- Louisiana: The DSCC will announce a new ad today attacking Rep. Bill Cassidy (R) for votes to cut Social Security and prescription drug coverage under Medicare. It's a well-worn attack both sides have used, and one Democrats hope can give Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) an edge.

The Buried Lede: The nuggets that deserve the spotlight.

-- The evolution of, and perhaps a preview of the coming war within the Democratic Party in one steak fry: "[Tom] Harkin and [Bill] Clinton ran against one another for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992 -- the old-fashioned prairie liberal versus the southern New Democrat. Harkin was a throwback to the party’s proudest days under Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Clinton was out to redefine the party after the Democrats had lost three consecutive presidential elections to Reagan and Bush."

-- "[T]hough they have become friends and allies, their politics remained at different ends of the Democratic Party spectrum. Even as his party under Clinton and later was moving to the center and becoming more business friendly, Harkin never shed or hid his liberal identity." Harkin: "As a whole I think the Democratic Party is much more progressive, liberal, now, oriented that way now than it has been for a long time. ... Obama was pretty damn progressive ... when he ran and the issues he ran on. ... That was a very liberal person. Still is, I think." (Washington Post)

B1: Business, politics and the business of politics

-- Will someone please unskew these polls for us? An ICM poll for The Telegraph puts supporters of Scotland's independence referendum 8 points up on opponents. A poll by Opinium for The Observer finds the no side leading, by a smaller margin. A Survation poll conducted for the no side showed the referendum losing by 8, too. (The Telegraph) British pollsters have a habit of allocating the undecideds or just leaving them out, Colorado pollster Rick Ridder (a veteran of U.K. polling) tells us.

-- Political campaigns are all the same, here or across the pond. Washington Post London bureau chief Griff Witte sends this dispatch from Scotland, three days before a vote on an independence referendum: "Analysts predict extraordinary turnout for the Thursday vote -- perhaps 85 percent. Although rallies and television advertisements have played a role in the campaign, they haven’t been central. TV ads are airing, but there’s nothing like the inundation of an American-style air war. The U.K.'s future is being decided door-to-door, with both campaigns sending out small armies of volunteers to chat Scots up one or two at a time."

C1: The long reads you'll need to check out before tonight's cocktail party.

-- Someone named Hillary Clinton showed up in Iowa on Sunday, and that has everyone thinking she'll run for president. The news you need to know: At Sen. Tom Harkin's (D-Iowa) steak fry in Indianola, Clinton "laced her remarks with all manner of pregnant references to the state that kicks off the presidential nominating process and veiled asides about her plans." (New York Times). She addressed gender much more than she did in 2008, from women's health to equal pay to Iowa congressional candidate Staci Appel (D). (Politico) Ten thousand people turned out for Harkin's last steak fry. Harkin said Clinton's "fingerprints are all over" the Affordable Care Act. (Washington Post)

-- "Seven things Hillary Clinton accomplished with her Iowa comeback," from the Des Moines Register's Jennifer Jacobs: 1) "She planted a flag for 2016." 2) "She remedied a long Iowa absence" (2,446 days). 3) "She didn't just wave from the balcony." 4) "She highlighted issues Iowa Democrats care about." (Reid's Take: The income inequality issue is to Democrats today what the war in Iraq was in 2008. Pay attention to Clinton's us-vs.-them, Main Street vs. Wall Street rhetoric.) 5) "She praised Tom Harkin." 6) "She spotlighted a critical race" (Rep. Bruce Braley's (D) bid to replace Harkin). 7) "She fired up activists."

-- Front Pages: Des Moines Register four-column above-the-fold: "CLINTON TEASES WITH TALK OF '16." Waterloo Courier banner: "Harkin's last hurrah." Story: "Clintons: Stakes are high at Harkin's final steak fry." Quad-City Times: "Clinton stirs 2016 talk."

C4: The comics page, fun things to read when you're bored at work

-- Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), stand-up guy: His announcement Friday that he and fiancee Maria Belen Chapur caught Chapur off-guard, she said from Paris, where she had just spent a week with Sanford. Chapur felt left behind, now that Sanford is back in office. (New York Times) He also lagged behind court orders that he help pay for one son's education. Jenny Sanford also got a court order preventing anyone from flying a plane -- like an actual, real, piloted plane -- at their children. Why? Because one of Mark's cousins had a habit of flying the plane at kids, in a horrifying game of chicken. (Wonkette)

-- Call this the ultimate civic humble-brag: Santa Monica, Calif., won a $1 million grant from the Bloomberg Philanthropies' Mayors Challenge last year to launch The Wellbeing Project, an effort to figure out what residents do to make themselves feel good about life. Other cities that won the award are expanding recycling or youth reading programs; Santa Monica will have a Wellbeing Festival this fall. (Associated Press)

-- Headline of the day: "BOOM, POW: Batman, Spider-Man Arrested Following Brawl With Man In Times Square." (CBSNewYork)

Attn Matt Drudge: Things conservatives will get outraged by today.

-- Next time you're passing through Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and you need a snooze, blame the IRS for the lack of beds. Plans to install sleeping pods at the airport have been shelved after officials found a prohibition in the tax code against building lodging facilities with money raised by tax-free bonds. Renovations in two terminals in the airport were partly funded by tax-free bonds. The IRS code is meant to prevent public bonds from being used to compete with private business, though there are no private sleeping pods in the airport. (Alaska Dispatch News)

Attn HuffPo: What outrages liberals today

-- Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) knows how to stop the flow of new recruits to the Islamic State: The U.S. government, he said Thursday, should spy on mosques to prevent recruitment. "We ought to have people sitting in those mosques watching to see what's going on," King said on The Steve Deace Show. (ThinkProgress)