The Note: Trump’s Putin Praise Continues

— -- NOTABLES

--CLINTON STRESSES IMPORTANCE OF HER TIES TO BLACK CHURCHES: Hillary Clinton stressed her connections to the historically black churches last night, taking a veiled shot at her Republican rival, Donald Trump, who made his first trip to a black church on the campaign trail this past weekend and has been making a pitch for the African-American vote, ABC’s MEGHAN KENEALLY and LIZ KREUTZ notes. "I am sure some of you are sick and tired of politicians who just show up at election time... you and your congregations deserve more," Clinton said at the National Baptist Convention in Kansas City, Missouri. "I happen to be a born and raised Methodist but I've been married to a Southern Baptist for more than 40 years.” http://abcn.ws/2c38EOe

--ANALYSIS -- ABC’s RICK KLEIN: In a season of the bizarre, is there anything stranger – not to mention ominous, and potentially downright terrifying – about the way Russia has come up in this campaign? From the business ties of Donald Trump and his close advisers, to allegations of hacking of political entities by Russian operatives, to Trump’s lavishing of praise on Vladimir Putin, this election feels like more of a Cold War flashback than “The Americans.” Add to all of this Trump’s interview with Larry King on RT – Russia’s state-funded television outlet – where he defended the Russians against allegations that they were involved in the hacks (and where Trump goes strangely silent when asked about Mexican immigrants) … and what exactly is going on here? At its most innocuous, this is Trump proving that he takes advice from no one – unless someone sees an upside in cozying up to Putin. In the view of some Democrats and even Republicans, it’s a display of naiveté about statecraft. Or, for a candidate whose finances remain opaque so long as his tax returns aren’t released, it’s something else entirely. In any event, can the would-be heir to Reagan’s legacy be known as the candidate who is taking Russia’s side?

IN THE NOTE’S INBOX: PRO-TRUMP PAC RELEASES NEW BENGHAZI VIDEO. A pro-Trump group, the Defeat Crooked Hillary PAC, is out with a new digital ad today tied to Hillary Clinton’s comments at the Commander-in-Chief forum earlier this week when she said, “we did not lose a single American” in military action in Libya. The 15-second digital ad titled “Dishonorable,” begins running today on Facebook and Twitter with a more than $10,000 digital promotion budget, according to the group. Defeat Crooked Hillary PAC Communications Director, Hogan Gidley said in a statement: “It’s shockingly grotesque that Hillary Clinton refuses to admit four Americans were murdered in Libya and for her to keep repeating this deeply offensive lie dishonors the memories of the dead. … Now, in a room full of military veterans, she won’t even admit the deaths occurred. It’s inexplicable,” said Gidley. WATCH: https://youtu.be/bIQj_3SO_4Y

BY THE NUMBERS -- BATTLEGROUND STATE POLLS SHOW TIGHT RACES BETWEEN TRUMP AND CLINTON. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are locked in tight battles in four key battleground states, according to new polling from Quinnipiac University released yesterday. In Florida, Clinton and Trump each garner 47 percent. In Ohio, Trump earns 46 percent while Clinton has fallen slightly behind, by four percentage points, in the last month to 45 percent support. Meanwhile, in North Carolina, where Mitt Romney won in 2012, Clinton gets 47 percent to 43 percent for Trump, ABC’s RYAN STRUYK writes. http://abcn.ws/2cm9YLK

YESTERDAY ON THE TRAIL with ABC’s ADAM KELSEY

UNDECIDED VOTERS ARE PARTICULARLY UNPREDICTABLE THIS YEAR, EXPERTS SAY. The election is just two months away but a question mark looms over the campaigns of both candidates -- the role that undecided voters will play. The unfavorable figures for both major party candidates have reached historic highs, making the actions of undecideds slightly less predictable, experts say, ABC’s MEGHAN KENEALLY and ADAM KELSEY note. "The race will likely tighten, but I don’t think we can predict very well the direction," said Hans Noel, a Georgetown University associate professor. "We expect people’s party identification to draw them “back home,” but it’s an open question how well that will work for Trump, who is openly opposed by so many Republican leaders," he told ABC News today. The undecided gap may be tightening already, however, as the latest nationwide poll, CNN/ORC, had only one percent of voters said they would not vote for any of the four candidates -- the lowest point in the organization’s polls since mid-June. http://abcn.ws/2c4hCLb

CLINTON RIPS TRUMP FOR PRAISE OF VLADIMIR PUTIN. Hillary Clinton, speaking yesterday at a campaign event in Charlotte, North Carolina, ripped into Donald Trump for praising Russian President Vladimir Putin during a forum on national security Wednesday night, calling his comments "unpatriotic" and "dangerous,” reports ABC’s LIZ KREUTZ. "Here is what I want you to really hear, because even I was shocked by this. And I didn't know much could shock me coming out of his mouth anymore," the Democratic presidential nominee told a crowd of roughly 1,500 as she ticked off various remarks Trump made during the forum on NBC News. http://abcn.ws/2cJb6tn

NOTED: KREMLIN DECLINES TO COMMENT ON DONALD TRUMP'S LATEST PRAISE OF PUTIN. The Kremlin has declined to respond to Trump’s latest compliments of Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying it will wait and see how the Republican candidate behaves in office if he wins. More from ABC’s PATRICK REEVELL: http://abcn.ws/2cgeo4Z

TRUMP RESPONDS TO ACCUSATIONS OF FLIP-FLOPPING ON IRAQ WAR. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump attempted to clarify his original position on the Iraq War during a speech in Cleveland yesterday, a day after inconsistencies in his stance became a centerpiece of a town hall featuring veterans and their families. "Iraq is one of the biggest differences in this race," said Trump, during a speech at the Cleveland Arts and Social Sciences Academy that addressed education policy. "I opposed going in and I did oppose it. Despite the media saying, 'No, yes, no,' I opposed going in." ABC’s ADAM KELSEY has more: http://abcn.ws/2cJetAy

TRUMP CAMPAIGN ANNOUNCES $90 MILLION FUNDRAISING HAUL IN AUGUST. Donald Trump's campaign announced that the Republican nominee raised $90 million in the month of August, as part of his Victory Campaign with the Republican National Committee. Trump has seen his fundraising hauls steadily increase since becoming the nominee. In May, after mostly self-funding his campaign, Trump pulled in only $5.4 million, much less than his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, who raised more than $25 million in the same month, notes ABC’s CANDACE SMITH. http://abcn.ws/2c8VKdv

HOW CAMPAIGN FINANCE HAS EVOLVED OVER TIME. Campaign finance is often seen as a murky, controversial world that helps bankroll ever-lengthening presidential races. Political Action Committees, or PACs, and their later iteration, super PACS, dominate the campaign finance funding now, but that wasn't always the case. The beginnings of PACs date back to unions and how they initially directed portions of their members’ dues towards political campaigns, but after that spending plan got squashed, they later created PACs as the way around the new law. ABC’s MEGHAN KENEALLY has more: http://abcn.ws/2cIAoI7

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

ANALYSIS: 5 THINGS THE COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF FORUM TOLD US ABOUT THE PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES. The first joint forum of the general election, less than 20 days before the first scheduled debate, previewed the sharp messaging that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump plan to employ for the rest of their campaigns. They couldn’t help making arguments about their opponent — but their own weaknesses were on stark display, writes ABC’s RICK KLEIN. The forum underscored an oft-overlooked point: Clinton and Trump defy conventional labels regarding foreign policy, especially as they traditionally attach to their respective parties, to an unusual degree. http://abcn.ws/2c1qUoy

WHO’S TWEETING?

@DavidMDrucker: The election begins today in battleground presidential states. Today: North Carolina.

@VeronicaStrac: Kellyanne Conway on Trump's RT intv: "Didn't know it was going to be on Russian TV...He was doing it as a favor to his friend Larry King."

@danmericaCNN: A Clinton aide says the number of generals & admirals supporting Clinton grew to 110 after IAVA forum. Number was previously 95.

@mattbai: ICYMI earlier, it's still true: Stuck in the middle with boomers, again https://www.yahoo.com/news/stuck-in-the-middle-with-boomers-again-090027372.html?soc_src=social-sh&soc_trk=tw … via @YahooNews

@abbydphillip: Scooplet: Democratic groups join forces in $4 million effort to boost top Senate prospects http://wapo.st/2bYGAdW

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