Donald Trump speaks yesterday at the Canfield County Fair in Ohio. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

With Breanne Deppisch

THE BIG IDEA:

ANKENY, Iowa — If you want to understand Donald Trump’s Catholic problem, come to the pancake breakfast after the 9 a.m. Sunday Mass at St. Luke’s church.

The conservative parishioners don’t like Trump or Hillary Clinton, and they don’t know what to do.

“I was in my pickup driving to supper the other night. My comment was, ‘Gosh, I just don’t know,’” said Matt Edwards, 40, a mining engineer. “The two other males in my truck said, ‘But you can’t go for Hillary.’ Generally speaking, that’s the conversation here.”

Edwards explained that he might vote for Clinton anyway. “I would never have thought I’d utter those words,” he said. “It’s going to be a hard choice, even for someone who has always voted Republican.”

He was cutting up pancakes into bite-size pieces for his twin daughters. The 5-year-olds call the GOP nominee Donald Trumpet. “It’s kind of appropriate in some ways,” their dad said with a laugh.

Edwards caucused for Jeb Bush in February because he felt the former Florida governor had the most experience to be president. But he does not know how he will decide between the two “seriously flawed” candidates who made it through the process.

“Back then, I wasn’t enthralled with him. But, looking back, I’d love to have Mitt Romney again,” said Edwards, who grew up on a farm before settling in the suburbs.

The parking lot at St. Luke’s church overflowed with minivans on a sunny Sunday morning. A new subdivision of single-family homes abuts the church on one side; a field of soybeans grows on the other.

The population of Ankeny, north of Des Moines, doubled over the past 15 years. The parish is growing so fast that it plans to add a second Sunday service next month. It attracts exactly the kind of church-going, college-educated, upwardly mobile white nuclear families who reliably vote Republican but harbor gnawing doubts about the Republican nominee.

Romney won white Catholics who attend church at least once a month by 38 points in 2012 (68-30). A recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute shows Trump leading among this group by only 17 points (49-32). That difference could account for millions of votes.

While Barack Obama beat Romney among Catholics overall by just two points (50-48), last month’s Washington Post-ABC poll showed Clinton leading Trump among Catholics by 27 points (61-34). That’s the biggest shift of any demographic group in our polling. (Part of the story is that most Latinos, who loathe Trump, are members of the flock.)

Edwards’s wife, Tracy Deutmeyer, held their 21-month-old after church. She caucused for Ben Carson but said there is no way she will vote for Trump or Clinton. She might leave the top of her ballot blank, vote for a third-party candidate or write someone in (maybe Condoleezza Rice).

The 40-year-old considered voting for Trump after watching the Republican convention in Cleveland, but then he called Obama “the founder of ISIS.” The final straw came during a subsequent radio interview, in which conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt tried to give Trump an out — asking if he meant that Obama created the conditions that allowed ISIS to thrive. No, Trump replied, reiterating his provocative line of attack. “That seemed off the rocker to me,” said Deutmeyer.

She also entertained reluctantly supporting Clinton — until Bill Clinton met privately with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on a tarmac in Phoenix just a few days before the FBI decided not to recommend criminal charges against Hillary. A practicing lawyer herself, she said such a huddle seemed inappropriate and a scary reflection of how the Clintons do business.

Not one of the dozen congregants I interviewed, all of whom voted for Romney, expressed admiration for either major-party candidate. As the fall campaign begins, most are undecided. While most seemed like they’re looking for a rationale to eventually get behind Trump, many said they might back a third-party candidate or just not vote.

Polls show a neck-and-neck race in Iowa, but Republican insiders believe Clinton has an advantage because of a serious enthusiasm gap in places like Ankeny. One in five Iowa adults are Catholic, the state is 87 percent white, and more than two-thirds of residents attend religious services at least once a month.

Pope Francis is mobbed by pilgrims as he leaves St. Peter's Square on Sunday following the canonization Mass for Mother Theresa. (Fabio Frustaci/EPA)

Cathy Hardekoph, a registered nurse who became a stay-at-home mom when she had kids, was dismayed by Trump’s feud with the pope earlier this year. When Francis was asked about Trump’s plan for a border wall, he replied: “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.” Trump called it "disgraceful" for a religious leader to question his faith, and he dismissed the spiritual leader of Catholicism as “a very political person."

The 47-year-old is also bothered by Trump’s mockery of a disabled reporter, his hard-line rhetoric about Mexican immigrants and his knee-jerk opposition to accepting any Syrian refugees.

“They need to be treated like human beings,” she said, as one of her three sons crawled under the table and another fiddled with playdough. “How are we going to help them? It’s disheartening to see. … He doesn’t portray Christian values. Degrading people in public, that’s not a Christian value. That makes me wonder how he really feels on life and all the things that really matter to the Catholic community.”

Hardekoph caucused for Marco Rubio, who cleaned up in Ankeny during the caucuses. “To me, Trump is the extreme opposite,” she said. “All he does is knock other people down. I want to support someone who supports life in all its forms.”

All that said, she’s probably going to vote for Trump anyway because Clinton supports abortion rights and would appoint Supreme Court justices who do as well. “Let’s just say I’m leaning away from Hillary more than I’m leaning toward Trump,” she said. “I don’t think I’d vote rather than vote for Clinton.”

Her husband, Charlie Hardekoph, who does equipment support work in the agriculture industry, said he’s “undecided to the point of abstaining.” He often wonders whether Trump is secretly trying to throw the election for the Democrats, but he believes Clinton is corrupt.

He said Trump could get him on board by announcing whom he will nominate for every position in the Cabinet. “How are they going to be able to temper him? Without knowing that information, it makes it hard to put him in office,” Charlie Hardekoph said. “Donald just needs to basically keep his mouth quiet.”

Wayne Johnson, 60, who works in banking, is in the same boat as the Hardekophs. “The only issue that matters is life. If you are not pro-life, you don’t even get a nod from me,” he said.

I asked if he thinks Trump, who has been all over the place on abortion, is actually pro-life. As he sipped coffee, Wayne’s brow furrowed. After a pause, he said with a smile: “That’s what he’s saying.”

“It’s definitely the lesser of two evils,” added Johnson, who caucused for Ted Cruz. “But it’s very important what kind of Supreme Court we have. If you get another four years of liberal whatever, it could take us 30 years to work through the baloney that would come from the bench.”

He had arrived at church at 6:30 a.m. to cook for the pancake breakfast, which was organized by the Knights of Columbus. He wore a John Deere hat instead of a hair bun. As he ate, he talked about the election with Mike Fitzpatrick, an insurance agency manager who said he could go either way and won’t make up his mind until close to the election.

The process has failed us. There’s a lot more people who are better qualified. Neither of them has the character to be president,” said Fitzpatrick, 59. “Hillary Clinton’s got that reputation for insider dealing. Trump’s got the reputation of doing whatever it takes to get the deal done. He’s a typical CEO. Whichever way the wind is blowing that day, you do what you have to do to get your way.”

The two guys sit together on the committee that manages the parish’s money. “If he was on finance council, we wouldn’t want him as chairman,” Johnson said. They laughed.

Fitzpatrick’s wife, Sue, 59, is a secretary at the church’s grade school. “I hate to say it, but I’ll probably vote for Trump because I just can’t do her,” she told the guys. “But it’s a little scary voting for him.”

Welcome to the Daily 202, PowerPost's morning newsletter. Polling analyst Emily Guskin (@EmGusk) and Elise Viebeck (@eliseviebeck) contributed. Sign up to receive the newsletter.

Hillary Clinton speaks at a Labor Day rally in Hampton, Ill., last night.  (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- A new Washington Post-SurveyMonkey poll of all 50 states shows how Clinton and Trump have redrawn the electoral map in 2016. From Dan Balz and Scott Clement: “With nine weeks until Election Day, Trump is within striking distance in the Upper Midwest, but Clinton’s strength in many battlegrounds and some traditional Republican strongholds gives her a big electoral college advantage.” Among the key findings:

Trump’s anti-free-trade message and appeals to national identity generally find more fertile ground in the Midwest: “He has small edges in two expected battlegrounds — Ohio and Iowa — and is close in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, each of which Democrats have won in six consecutive elections.”

But Trump is struggling in long-held Republican territory. He’s struggling in Arizona, Georgia and even TEXAS — where he trails Clinton by one point. (For comparison, Obama lost the state by 16 points in 2012.)

Clinton has a big advantage in the electoral college. She leads by four points or more in 20 states, plus the District of Columbia. Together they add up to 244 electoral votes  just 26 shy of the 270 needed for victory. “Trump, meanwhile leads by at least four points in 20 states as well, but those add up to just 126 electoral votes. (In the 10 remaining states, which hold 168 electoral votes, neither candidate has a lead of four percentage points or better.)”

-- A new CNN-ORC survey shows Trump edging out Clinton by two points nationally (45-43) among likely voters, with Gary Johnson getting 7 percent and Jill Stein getting 2 percent. Two big dividing lines:

  • Young voters have broken decidedly in Clinton’s favor (54-29), while Trump leads among voters over 45 by 15 points (54-39).
  • Most college grads back Clinton, while those without degrees mostly support Trump — and the divide deepens among white voters: 68 percent of non-degree-holding whites back Trump, while 49 percent of degree-holding whites support Clinton.
President Obama waves this morning to the audience after his address at the Lao National Cultural Hall, on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit, in Vientiane. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

OBAMA IN ASIA:

-- “On historic trip to Laos, Obama aims to heal war wounds,” from the AP’s Josh Lederman: “Acknowledging the scars of a secret war, [Obama] said the U.S. has a ‘moral obligation’ to help this isolated Southeast Asian nation heal ... and vowed to reinvigorate relations with a country with rising strategic importance to the U.S. Making a first visit for a sitting U.S. president, Obama said too few Americans know of the United States’ covert bombing of Laos during the Vietnam War and that the campaign and its aftermath are reminders that ‘whatever the cause, whatever our intentions, war inflicts a terrible toll.’ For Obama, the visit is a capstone to his years-long effort to bolster relations with Southeast Asian countries long overlooked by the United States”: As a first sign of a new relationship with Laos, Obama said his administration would address the legacy of war. Obama announced he would double spending for unexploded ordnance, committing $90 million over the three years. The Lao government said it would increase efforts to recover remains and account for Americans missing since the Vietnam War.” At a luncheon a few hours ago, POTUS quoted a Lao saying: “Sweet makes you dizzy and bitter makes you healthy.”

-- The White House canceled a meeting with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte at the last minute after the foul-mouthed leader threatened to curse out Obama if he brought up government-backed killings of drug dealers. The president will meet with South Korean leader Park Geun-hye instead. (William Wan and David Nakamura)

-- Bracketing Obama's visit to the region, North Korea fired three medium-range ballistic missiles. For the first time, the weapons entered “well inside” Japan’s air defense identification zone. (Anna Fifield)

-- Trump said he would have left the G-20 summit in China if he could not have exited the plane on red-carpeted stairs. He criticized Obama for descending Air Force One on a plain metal staircase. “They won't even give him stairs, proper stairs to get out of the airplane. You see that? They have pictures of other leaders who are … coming down with a beautiful red carpet. And Obama is coming down a metal staircase,” Trump said during a roundtable with labor leaders in Ohio. “I’ve got to tell you, if that were me, I would say, ‘You know what, folks, I respect you a lot but close the doors, let's get out of here. It’s a sign of such disrespect.’” (Jose A. DelReal)

-- Both sides are doing outreach to military families today:

Trump, campaigning in Virginia Beach later, just rolled out the endorsements of 88 retired military figures. (Read their "open letter" and see the signatories here.)

A new ad from the Clinton campaign highlights Trump's comment that John McCain is not a war hero because he got captured and his feud with the Gold Star parents. It ends with the GOP nominee insisting that he, too, has made lots of sacrifices. Wounded veterans can be seen watching video clips of Trump while sitting in their living rooms:

Phyllis Schlafly at the 1992 Republican National Convention (Barry Thumma/AP)

-- Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, who led the effort to block ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, died at 92 after suffering from cancerObituary from Patricia Sullivan: "By early 1972, when she first published her objections, it had just passed Congress, and 30 of the necessary 38 state legislatures had ratified it. Mrs. Schlafly (who had worked for Joe McCarthy and run unsuccessfully for Congress) quickly organized the opposition. ... By the time the deadline for passage of the ERA arrived in 1982, 15 states had rejected it and five others had rescinded their ratifications. The measure fell three states short of passage. ... Mrs. Schlafly’s opposition to the ERA developed only after a friend invited her to speak about the proposed constitutional amendment to a book club in early 1972. Until then, she said later, she was unaware of the then-50-year-old proposal."

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. At least 24 were killed by two suicide bombers near the Afghan Defense Ministry in Kabul. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the coordinated attack, which took place as employees were leaving their offices for the day. Two generals are among the dead. (AP)
  2. At least 40 people were killed and more than 60 injured in a string of Islamic State bombings in Syria. The attacks, which targeted government checkpoints across the country, come as ceasefire talks in the beleaguered country continue to stall. Yesterday Turkey announced that ISIS no longer controls any territory along the Syrian-Turkish border and that it's  access to the outside world had been cut off. (Liz Sly and Zakaria Zakaria)
  3. Obama met with Vladimir Putin yesterday to urge progress on a cease-fire in Syria, emphasizing the urgency of humanitarian efforts as government forces close in on the besieged city of Aleppo. The president said they failed to reach a consensus during the 90-minute sit-down but have agreed to continue negotiating. (William Wan and David Nakamura)
  4. Angela Merkel received a major political rebuke over the weekend as her party finished third in regional elections in her home region. The success of a far-right party was made possible by anti-refugee backlash, and the results underscore the tough road ahead for the German chancellor. (Anthony Faiola)
  5. Cincinnati saw more than 200 drug overdoses in the last two weeks. Authorities blame a powerful new synthetic opiate. Less than a snowflake-sized amount can cause death. (New York Times)
  6. Support for the Black Lives Matter movement has increased significantly among white young adults. A national survey shows 51 percent of whites between 18 and 30 now support the movement, a 10-point increase from June. A strong majority of black, Asian and Hispanic young adults were already on board. (CBS News)
  7. Bill Cosby’s felony sexual assault trial could begin to take shape today, as lawyers for the disgraced ex-comedian fight to suppress hundreds of pages of key evidence from a 2005 lawsuit. (USA Today)
  8. San Francisco 49ers player Bruce Miller was cut from the team after he punched a 70-year-old man and his son outside their hotel room. Security footage shows the heavily intoxicated tight end stumbling around outside the room, with his face and tank top covered in blood. (Travis M. Andrews)
  9. Former Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel is reenrolling at Texas A&M, trying to earn his college degree after a short and disastrous NFL career. The Heisman Trophy winner will continue to live in Los Angeles and get his credits online. (Dallas Morning News)
  10. Happiest news you’ll read today: Giant pandas are no longer endangered! The cuddly creatures are making a comeback thanks to China’s forest conservation and expansive reforestation efforts. (BuzzFeed)

-- Congress returns today from a seven-week recess. Both chambers must agree on a continuing resolution to keep the government open beyond Sept. 30. Nothing got done during their weeks away; negotiations on the must-pass spending bills really did not happen, even at a staff level. Congress has still failed to pass an appropriation to combat the Zika virus. The House and Senate only have a few weeks to figure things out before they go back into recess early next month to hit the campaign trail.

Bill Clinton attends an event for Laureate International Universities near Madrid in 2013. (Javier Soriano/AFP/Getty Images)

THE DAILY HILLARY:

If you read one thing --> “Inside Bill Clinton’s nearly $18 million job as ‘honorary chancellor’ of a for-profit college,” by Rosalind S. Helderman and Michelle Ye Hee Lee: “The guest list for a private State Department dinner on higher-education policy was taking shape when [then-Secretary Hillary Clinton] offered a suggestion. In addition to recommending invitations for leaders from a community college and a church-funded institution, Clinton wanted a representative from a for-profit college company called Laureate International Universities. The company was started by a businessman, Doug Becker, 'who Bill likes a lot,' Clinton wrote. Nine months later, Laureate signed [Bill] to a lucrative deal as a consultant and ‘honorary chancellor,’ paying him $17.6 million.… A close examination of the Laureate deal reveals how Bill Clinton leveraged the couple’s connections during that time to enhance their personal wealth — potentially providing another avenue for supporters to gain access to the family."

“In addition to his well-established career as a paid speaker … Bill Clinton took on new consulting work starting in 2009, [when Hillary began at the State Department.] Laureate was the highest-paying client, but Bill signed [additional] contracts worth millions … All told, with his consulting, writing and speaking fees, Bill Clinton was paid $65.4 million during Hillary Clinton’s four years as secretary of state. The Laureate arrangement illustrates the extent to which the Clintons mixed their charitable work with their private and political lives."

-- Hillary defended Bill’s work at the Clinton Foundation, telling ABC’s David Muir that her husband should not have to resign from the charitable organization ahead of the election. "I don't think there are conflicts of interest," Clinton said during a joint interview with Tim Kaine. "I know that that's what has been alleged and never proven. But nevertheless, I take it seriously. I'm very proud of the work that the Clinton Foundation has done. It's a world-renowned charity because of the work that my husband started and many, many people helped him with. ... He started this great work. He has made it his life's work, after the presidency. And he has said, if I am so fortunate enough to be elected, he will not be involved. And I think that is appropriate."

-- “Thousands of pages of Hillary Clinton’s official records are set to be released in the coming weeks," the Wall Street Journal's Byron Tau notes. “Dozens of lawsuits, mostly brought by conservative groups and Republican operatives against the State Department, are being heard in federal courts. Many of the documents still to come are expected to involve correspondence between Mrs. Clinton, her aides and employees at her family’s charitable foundation. In September alone, government agencies are expected to hand over thousands of pages of records from Mrs. Clinton’s time in office. The State Department will also tell a federal judge in the coming weeks whether 30 recovered emails related to the 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, can be made public … And, as part of a lawsuit against the State Department, a federal judge has ordered Mrs. Clinton to answer questions in writing about how and why she came to use a personal email server for all her work correspondence. Those answers are expected to become public at the end of the month.”

Clinton greets crew and staff before boarding her new 2016 campaign plane in White Plains. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

-- Clinton debuted her new campaign plane on Labor Day, joined for the first time by her traveling press corps as she flew to events in Illinois and Ohio. “Hey, guys, welcome to our big plane,” Clinton told some three dozen news media members occupying the plane’s final seven rows. “It's so exciting.” (John Wagner)

-- The Democratic nominee appeared “relaxed and engaged” as she spoke aboard the new aircraft, Wagner reports, fielding about a dozen questions from the media. From the back-and-forth:

  • On whether the Russians appear to be trying to help Trump win the election: “I think it’s quite intriguing that this activity has happened around the time Trump became the nominee. Look, he very early on allied himself with Putin’s policies. To pull out of NATO, for goodness sakes.… He seems to have this bizarre attraction to dictators, including Putin.”
  • On whether an inability to recall email classification-related briefings indicates a “casual attitude” towards the way secrets were handled during her State Department tenure: “No, not at all.... I went into to the State Department understanding classification. I’d been on the Senate Armed Services Committee for years.… I take classification seriously. The fact that I couldn’t remember certain meetings, whether or not they had occurred, doesn’t in any way affect the commitment that I had and still have to the treatment of classified material.”
  • On whether having employees go back and forth has contributed to “blurred lines” between the State Department and Clinton foundation: “Everything I did at the State Department I did in furtherance of America’s interests in our security. The State Department has said there’s absolutely no evidence of any kind of external influence, and I know that to be the fact, and I know that the people who worked with me were devoted as well to pursuing the foreign policy that the Obama administration set forth."
Sanders speaks at an organizing event for Clinton in New Hampshire. (Darren McCollester/Getty)

-- Bernie Sanders returned to the campaign trail in New Hampshire, stumping for Clinton in the state that handed him one of his biggest primary wins. But many liberals in the state remain reluctant to support the Democratic presidential nominee, and the sense of “lingering disappointment” was palpable throughout the crowd. From David Weigel: “The windows of a Jeep in the church's parking lot were soaped with the slogan ‘STILL SANDERS,’ and two other cars had stickers for Jill Stein sandwiched between stickers for local Democrats. Inside, speakers strenuously made the case for Clinton … while acknowledging that she had work to do. Meanwhile, Paula Iasella, 61, stood on the side of the road waving a sign that read ‘No Clinton Corruption.’ She'd brought a backup sign … and said she couldn't even support Democrats like Hassan because they'd served as Clinton superdelegates. ‘It's very difficult when a man you support endorses a person you can no way support," Iasella said. ‘Something so beautiful happened during the primary.… And it's been replaced by this rage, this ugly rage.’”

Elizabeth Warren has not done as much for Hillary since she got passed over for VP. Here she is during a June tryout in Ohio. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

-- “For Warren and her allies, a fight over Clinton’s hires,” by Politico’s Patrick Temple-West: “Sen. Elizabeth Warren and her allies aren’t waiting for Election Day … they’re already exerting pressure on [Hillary’s] transition team over key hiring decisions. Warren’s coalition is developing a hit list of the types of people they’ll oppose — what one source called ‘hell no’ appointments — in a Clinton administration. They’re vowing to fight nominees with ties to big banks, and warn against corporate executives assuming government roles in regulating the industries that made them rich. … Behind the scenes, Warren, her allies and a left-leaning think tank affiliated with her have fanned out to try to influence the Clinton hiring process long before the election results come in.”

Trump walks in the rain with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. (Gerald Herbert/AP)

THE DAILY DONALD:

-- Trump dismissed questions about his failure to disclose an improper $25,000 donation to a group supporting Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who was at the time considering whether to investigate Trump University for fraud. (She ultimately declined to probe the embattled business.) “I never spoke to her, first of all; she’s a fine person beyond reproach. I never even spoke to her about it at all. … Never,” Trump told reporters in Ohio.

“The large donation, made by the Donald J. Trump Foundation in 2013, violated federal rules that prohibit charities from making donations to political candidates,” Jose A. DelReal writes. “Trump and his team also failed to disclose the large gift to the [IRS], instead reporting that the donation was given to an unrelated group with a similar name effectively obscuring the contribution. … Trump [also paid the IRS a $2,500 penalty this year after reports surfaced about the gift and disclosure error. Representatives … said Trump reimbursed the foundation the full $25,000 from his own accounts after watchdog groups and news organizations began asking questions. The Trump business said it had taken all necessary steps to correct the errors. Though former aides say she solicited the donation herself, the timeline has emboldened Trump’s critics to accuse him of making a political bribe."

-- Trump agreed to participate in all three presidential debates, ending weeks of speculation that he could refuse  or otherwise throw a significant wrench  into the already scheduled fall events. “I expect to do all three,” Trump told reporters in Ohio, adding that “only natural disasters” or other similar crises would prevent his attendance.  “I look forward to the debates … I think it is an important element of what we’re doing.” The Republican nominee’s comments come as he has previously refused to announce his participation, citing potential conflicts with the schedule and moderators. (Jose A. DelReal)

-- Trump continues to play games on immigration. Yesterday he appeared to reverse course again, telling reporters in Ohio he was “reconsidering” whether he would force illegal immigrants to leave the United States before applying for legal status. “We’re going to make that decision in the future,” Trump said. His remarks come as the latest in a weeks-long series of seemingly confounding statements on immigration, and appear to contradict last week’s hard-line speech delivered in Phoenix, where he vowed to deport all undocumented immigrants.

He remained similarly vague in an interview with ABC News’s David Muir, refusing to say if undocumented immigrants who are not seeking citizenship status would have to leave. "If you’re going to be a citizen, you’re going to leave and you're going to have to come back,” Trump said. What about undocumented immigrants? "They have to make a determination what happens when the border is secure," Trump said, demurring when pressed on whether he is open to having them stay in the U.S. undocumented. "I’m going to make a decision, or somebody will. Whether it’s me or somebody else because by that time we’ll have a secure border, we’ll have a wall.”

-- Pro-Trump super PAC struggling after Manafort’s ouster: “In conference calls and private meetings, people close to the group Rebuilding America Now have begun expressing worry that they no longer have the campaign's blessing that they labored to earn from Paul Manafort,” CNN’s Teddy Schleifer reports. “Trump's new leadership, especially Breitbart Executive Chairman Steve Bannon, has strong ties to a rival super PAC run by aides to GOP megadonor Bob Mercer. … After once imagining … a $100 million-plus budget, group officials and donors — including Florida Gov. Rick Scott — are now selling a more restrained operation, one focused on merely three or four states and spending about half of the original target. The super PAC this summer aired $13 million in television ads, more than any other Trump group.… (Last) week, however, it suddenly stopped the paid media campaign, despite prior statements that they would be on television until Election Day.”

-- Mike Pence promised over the weekend to release his tax returns “in the next week”: “Donald Trump and I are both going to release our tax returns. I’ll release mine in the next week,” Pence said on “Meet the Press.” The Indiana governor declined to provide any timeline for his running-mate, who blames a federal audit for refusing to disclose his returns. (But he won’t even release older returns that are not being audited.…) (Robert Costa)

THE BATTLEGROUNDS:

-- Senate candidates are not talking about the same issues as the presidential candidates. Our analytics partners at Zignal Labs are tracking candidate mentions in seven of the most competitive U.S. Senate races across the country — Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Indiana, North Carolina and New Hampshire. Many of these states are also presidential battlegrounds, and through their analytics, they can see what the candidates themselves are talking about and compare it to what the top-of-the-ticket campaigns are saying. Here we see the issues that Republican and Democratic candidates in the battlegrounds states are talking and tweeting about most:

What's clear, particularly on the Republican side, the messaging between battleground candidates and the presidential nominee differs greatly. Senate candidates made little mention of Trump's trip to Mexico or his big immigration speech -- the two issues that dominated the Trump tweets last week. Zignal tracked hundreds to tweets from the seven Republican candidates in those seven states. Here were the issues they were talking about the most:

Zignal Labs also tracked hundreds of Tweets from Trump and dozens of his top advisers. Here's what Team Trump was talking about over the last seven days:

-- Sneak peek: Grasping for the mantle of outsider in his rematch with Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson is re-purposing one of his successful ads from 2010“In 2010, there were 57 lawyers, zero manufacturers, and way too many career politicians in the United States Senate,” Johnson says, as he writes on a whiteboard. “Today, there are 54 lawyers, one manufacturer – that’d be me! – still way too many career politicians, and now Sen. Feingold wants to add another one. Himself. Fixing this broken system will take the perspective of someone who has actually solved problems. 31 years of manufacturing taught me how.” Last week's Marquette poll showed the race tightening. Feingold was up 11 points (53-42) in July. Now he's up 48-45.

-- Internal Democratic poll shows the Florida Senate race tied. Officials at Senate Majority PAC, the main outside group focused on retaking the majority, respond to last week’s Big Idea on “Marco Rubio’s comeback” by sharing a private poll that shows Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy slightly ahead. Civis Analytics surveyed 1,436 likely voters between Aug. 9 and Aug. 15 (two weeks before the primary). Murphy led 45-44, with 9 percent undecided. Rubio is ahead 5.7 percent (46.7-41) in the RealClearPolitics average of public polls.

The senator has been winning many of Clinton’s supporters. Senate Majority PAC argues that a lot of these voters will come home to Murphy now that the primary is over. Murphy easily beat fellow Rep. Alan Grayson last week, just as Rubio beat his challenger. “Civis modeling expects undecided voters in the survey to break toward Murphy, and allocating these voters grows Murphy’s lead to 51.6 versus 48.4 for Rubio,” the firm elaborates in a memo.

Civis says Rubio’s favorability is on a steady decline in its polling—dropping 9 points since he jumped into the race. “Rubio’s support is also inflated by his temporary advantage in name ID, as he is winning voters who haven’t heard of Murphy by 2-to-1,” the firm says in its memo. ( Read it here.)

Jared Polis and Alcee Hastings pose for a selfie with a printout of the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill last December. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Speaking of Florida --> “Alcee Hastings says Clinton needs less TV, more ground game," via the Palm Beach Post: The Democratic congressman noted that the Clinton campaign has spent $22.3 million on television in Florida. “You give us $22 million and I’ll produce more votes for you than a damn television ad,” he told the Democratic executive committee of Palm Beach County. “Hastings [who turned 80 yesterday] said TV doesn’t reach young voters.What’s wrong with us people?’ Hastings said. ‘We got that big old beach over there. And all you have to do is get some liquor and some punk rockers and some rappers and you’ll have all the kids you ever needed. But our old fogy behinds, we continue to not do the things that are necessary. Most of you in here don’t even know what Pandora is. That’s where kids can be found. They hunker down on weekends on social media. They don’t look at MSNBC and Fox and ABC. They don’t get their news that way. What does it take to get that across to all of these candidates and campaigns?’”

John Kasich in Cincinnati on Aug. 25. (John Minchillo/AP)

-- “Trump’s Feud With Kasich May Haunt Him,” by the New York Times’s Trip Gabriel: “Elections in Ohio are trench warfare (and) no one has built a better voter-mobilization team than the twice-elected governor, John R. Kasich. But after a sulfurous feud between Mr. Kasich and [Trump] … almost none of the governor’s seasoned political staff members are helping Mr. Trump in his close Ohio battle … The degree to which that will weaken Mr. Trump’s prospects in Ohio … is hard to precisely measure. But what is certain is that in Ohio, where Mrs. Clinton holds one of her narrowest polling leads in any battleground state, Mr. Trump cannot afford a ground game that underperforms, as it did in earlier primary contests."

Members of Kasich’s close-knit team said the governor never commanded them not to work for Trump. He didn't need to. “You’re a family, and if somebody attacks your family and says awful things about your family, are you inclined to help that person? The answer is no,” one former Kasich staffer told Trip. “To be honest, the Trump people did this to themselves.”

-- The Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial board endorsed Gary Johnson.

Rand Paul meets with the Kentucky Farm Bureau last week in Louisville. (Timothy D. Easley/AP)

-- Rand Paul won’t rule out running for president again in 2020: “Right now I am just concentrating on running for reelection of the Senate,” the Kentuckian told WPSD, the Paducah NBC affiliate. “It's hard for me to think about doing that again really. It was a lot of work, but nobody can say what happens four or eight years from now, but it's not something I am plotting right now.”

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) takes a seat after introducing President Obama at the Lake Tahoe Summit last week. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

-- Jon Ralston has a good primer on the NEVADA Senate race in the Reno Gazette-Journal --> “Reid to the end: In 2008, a freshman state senator named Joe Heck was seeking re-election against a Democratic neophyte named Shirley Breeden. “It should have been easy. But Heck lost by a percentage point. The [outcome] had been orchestrated by Harry Reid, who saw an opportunity to erase a future threat and help the Democrats take the state Senate. … Heck never forgot that searing loss and who was responsible for it. … Now that Reid essentially has signaled that he will say and do anything to thwart Heck’s ambitions once again, this time as [Heck] seeks the senator’s seat … we once again find that Nevada politics come full circle. … You can already feel the nastiness quotient rising … This Heck-Catherine Cortez Masto race – or should I say Heck-Reid, the rematch? – has a chance to be the ugliest contest in at least three decades and maybe longer.”

The perceived favoritism by Roger Ailes, left, and Fox News toward Trump has prompted establishment conservatives to lash out at the network they once considered a beacon. (Charles Sykes/Invision/AP; Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

WAPO HIGHLIGHTS:

-- “Guess who’s taking aim at Fox News now? Conservatives,” by Paul Farhi: “Ever since Fox News debuted in 1996, liberals and moderates have been grinding their teeth over its frankly conservative commentary and right-leaning news agenda. But in the Age of Trump, Fox is drawing disapproving, even scathing, critiques from an unlikely source: conservatives. [And] recently … the fiercest criticism is coming … from the ‘Never Trump’ movement of establishment conservatives, who fault the network for boosting the mogul’s candidacy. The conservative criticism of Fox seems to reflect two intertwined trends: the factionalization of the Republican Party into populist, insurgent and establishment camps, and the flowering of alternative conservative news sources …  ‘Conservative gripes about Fox demonstrate how the network is caught betwixt and between the Republican Party’s own ideological crossfire,’ says professor Dan Cassino. Spanning the gaps, he said, could prove to be a long-term threat to the network. 'It’s an economic issue for Fox,’ he said. ‘They can’t afford to alienate’ one group at the expense of the other.’”

-- Related: Ousted Fox CEO Roger Ailes is threatening to sue New York magazine for defamation, hiring the well-known Hollywood libel lawyer who worked for Hulk Hogan/Peter Thiel and, more recently, Melania Trump. (Financial Times)

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier sits for an interview with The Post in her office. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

-- In an exit interview, D.C.’s outgoing police chief decries the broken criminal justice system and complains about violent offenders being let back out on the streets. From Peter Hermann and Clarence Williams: Cathy L. Lanier, stepping down after 10 years in the job, unleashed a blunt rebuke of the myriad local and federal agencies responsible for keeping offenders in check, saying there are too many failures and too little accountability. “The criminal justice system in this city is broken,” Lanier said, citing what she sees as the lack of outrage over repeat offenders as a key reason for her decision to take a job as head of security for the National Football League. “It is beyond broken.”

Case in point: “The chief talked about the arrest of a man last week who she said was on home detention when his GPS tracking device became inoperable. Police allege the man then went on a crime rampage that started in Maryland and ended in the District. They say it included a robbery, a shooting and a car theft that resulted in a crash that left a bystander critically injured. ‘That person’s GPS went offline Aug. 12,’ Lanier said. ‘We didn’t know it. The agency that supervises that person didn’t tell anybody or do anything with it. . . . That shouldn’t happen. And it’s happening over and over and over again. Where the hell is the outrage? . . . People are being victimized who shouldn’t be. You can’t police the city if the rest of the justice system is not accountable.’

Lanier’s staff frequently clashed with prosecutors over evidence and the filing of charges. “People ‘want more police. They want more arrests,’ she said. ‘But if we’re arresting the same people over and over again, there’s got to be some questions being asked.’” (Read the full interview.)

Petersburg Interim City Manager Dironna Moore Belton (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

-- A cautionary tale for the United States --> “City on the brink: Petersburg (Virginia) can’t pay its bills, and time is running out,” by Gregory S. Schneider:  Dironna Moore Belton had felt sick the night before, and still couldn’t manage to stomach her lunch. “Belton, 38, the interim city manager, was about to step in front of the City Council … and tell them they had to make drastic — even shocking — cuts to city services. Reduce funding for schools whose students are already among the lowest-performing in the state. Cut fire and police services in a city that has an unusually high rate of violent crime. … Without these steps ... Petersburg had about a month before it would confront the unthinkable: total collapse. This city of 32,000 just south of Richmond is facing a financial crisis unusual for fiscally conservative Virginia — or any state. In at least the past four years, the city spent all of its reserves and then kept spending money it didn’t have. It took out short-term loans based on anticipated tax revenue to keep paying bills.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Supporters and friends mourned Schlafly on Twitter:

Here's a different perspective from Clinton's digital director:

A candidate for photo of the weekend from Obama's Asia trip:

Another candidate for photo of the weekend from Trump's visit to Detroit:

Trump went into Labor Day criticizing Jeff Flake, again:

Clinton greeted press on her new campaign plane:

Trump and Pence spoke with pool reporters:

Everyone descended on Cleveland:

Tim Kaine tried out a pair of aviators:

Twitter users poked fun at a campaign ad posted on Donald Trump, Jr.'s Instagram account featuring this photo:

Meanwhile, a Trump surrogate's warming that there will be "taco trucks on every corner" if Hillary wins has inspired a few memes:

After AEI's Norm Ornstein criticized the New York Times for its 2016 coverage (starting here), he went back and forth with Times op-ed columnist Roger Cohen: 

In Asia, Obama defended Colin Kaepernick’s decision not to stand during the national anthem, saying the quarterback was “following his constitutional right” to bring attention to issues of racial injustice in the U.S. “I don’t doubt his sincerity,” Obama said. “I think he cares about some real, legitimate issues that have to be talked about.” That made Peter King angry:

All Minnesotans mourned with the Wetterling family after the remains of their missing son Jacob were found 27 years after his abduction:

Maria Shriver celebrated Mother Teresa's canonization:

Finally, remembering an old anniversary:

HOT ON THE LEFT

Diddy: Black People Got ‘A Little Bit Shortchanged’ with Obama Presidency,” from The Root: “Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs said he thinks that black voters ‘got a little bit shortchanged’ by Obama’s presidency, and urged the black community to withhold its very important vote as a pivot in strategy. ‘The heat has to be turned up so much that as a community, we’ve got to hold our vote,’ Diddy told the Rev. Al Sharpton (on MSNBC). ‘It’s a whole different strategy, but I think we need to hold our vote because I don’t believe any of [the political candidates]. My number one thing, to be honest, is black people—I feel like we put President Obama in the White House. When I look back, I just wanted more done for my people, because that’s the name of the game.'"

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“NYS GOP Group Kicks Out Cornell Group for Endorsing Libertarian Ticket,” from Inside Higher Ed: “The New York Federation of College Republicans announced … it is revoking the credentials of the Cornell University Republicans over the Cornell group's endorsement of Gary Johnson. … The Cornell group's endorsement cited Johnson's fiscal conservatism and contrasted his policies favorably with those of [Trump] and [Clinton]. Saturday's statement from the New York Federation of College Republicans said that the Cornell chapter would be stripped of all privileges for the semester, including participating in events and receiving fellowships. The dispute comes … at a time of increased tensions within many campus Republican groups over whether to endorse Trump.”

DAYBOOK:

On the campaign trail: Trump speaks in Virginia Beach, Va. and Greenville, N.C. Clinton holds a rally in Tampa, Fla., while Tim Kaine talks about national security in Wilmington, N.C. Bill Clinton holds an organizing event in Durham, N.C.

At the White House: Obama is in Laos. Biden meets with senior advisers in Washington.

On Capitol Hill: The Senate meets at 3 p.m. to resume work on an appropriations bill for military construction, Veterans Affairs and related agencies. The House meets at 2 p.m., with 13 suspension votes postponed until 6:30 p.m.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“A lunatic doesn’t have my credentials.” – Trump’s doctor, Harold Bornstein, defends himself during an interview with CNN (before his wife ended the interview and threatened to call the police)

NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:

-- D.C.’s “sizzling September” continues – with yet another week-long heat wave ahead. From the Capital Weather Gang: “Sunny skies and warmer with highs right around 90. Humidity runs slightly higher than yesterday, but still fortunately on the lower side for one more day. Winds blow from the northwest at 5 to 15 mph with some higher gusts at times.”

-- The Nationals beat the Braves 6-4.

-- An overwhelming number of D.C. public school students are being denied proper physical education, according to a new Post study, with only 10 out of 200 schools meeting standards required by law. Updated standards, passed in 2010, are being treated more like suggestions than requirements. (Joe Heim)

-- Cause for concern: MS-13 is making a comeback in the streets of D.C. An 18-year-old man, arrested in a series of what police describe as random robberies and assaults in Northwest Washington, might be linked to the Central American gang, which has been mostly active in the suburbs. “Federal law enforcement officials have said MS-13 — considered one of the most dangerous groups linked to murders, prostitution and drug trafficking — has begun to reassert itself after years of relative quiet,” Peter Hermann reports.

-- Metro police arrested a man for allegedly exposing himself to a woman on an Orange Line train and attempting to force her to perform a sex act. Officials said the 27-year-old is being held without bail in Arlington County. (Emma Brown)

-- The fire department screws up: Fire struck the same Temple Hill duplex twice in a single day, displacing eight people and causing an estimated $85,000 in damage. Officials suspect “residual heat and embers” were left after emergency responders treated the first blaze, which sparked the second fire. (Terrence McCoy)

-- Leon Harris, the anchor on WJLA (Channel 7), is out. ABC7 declined to comment on the reasons for Harris’s departure, which will become effective next month. Harris said leaving WJLA was “not my choice.” He wrote that 13 “great” years at WJLA were “not enough, but will have to be.” Harris has been co-anchor of the station’s 5, 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts. (Paul Farhi)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

This clip of Clinton having a serious coughing fit in Cleveland yesterday has gone viral on the conservative web (she said afterward that it was the pollen):

Many were sympathetic: 

Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem, continuing his protest:

The D.C. government cited a two-year-old for littering last week and only dropped the case after a public outcry. Read Ian Shapira's story about the outrage. Watch WUSA's story on the family:

Police have charged a Florida woman with setting a car on fire that she thought belonged to her ex-boyfriend. But she got the wrong car! Watch the security camera footage:

Finally, watch a tribute to Schlafly assembled by C-SPAN (click here).