Clinton’s advantage

Are we back to where we were just after the Democratic convention, when Hillary Clinton was so far ahead that the chatterers said it was her race to lose? Not yet.

Polling averages are showing the Electoral College map tilting her way. The Washington Post’s “EV tracker” sees her in a position to win 323 electoral votes to Donald Trump’s 215, based on polling data compiled byRealClearPolitics as of Wednesday afternoon.

The much-watched FiveThirtyEight forecast, which by some measures had the race a near toss-up just 16 days ago, puts her winning chances Wednesday in the 72% to 82% range.

But Trump still has more than a month to catch up, right? Yes. And no. Early voting has already started, which could account for 45% of the ballots in such competitive states as North Carolina, Iowa, Colorado, Florida and Nevada.

With two debates still to come, Clinton’s thin margins in some battleground states and ongoing questions over voter enthusiasm for two unpopular candidates, it’s not over.

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The take-away: Pence’s feat

One reason Mike Pence got good reviews in the vice-presidential debate is that he spoke smoothly in general defense of Trump — and against Clinton — without erupting or adopting Trump’s coarser style, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.

Sounds like Trump liked it

Trump told a Nevada rally: “I’d argue that Mike had the single most decisive victory in the history of vice presidential debates.”

He added: “I’m getting a lot of credit because he was my first so-called choice, my first hire.”

But interestingly, one post-debate poll suggested Pence did a better job for himself than for the top of the GOP ticket.

CNN survey found voters by 48% to 42% considered Pence the winner over Tim Kaine. But by 58% to 35%, they thought Kaine did a better job defending Clinton than Pence did for Trump.

Tuned out

Nielsen measured the audience for the debate at 37.1 million — less than half the 84 million who tuned in to the first Clinton-Trump debate.

It was the lowest rating for a vice-presidential debate since 2000. The record high was in 2008, when 70 million watched Sarah Palin face Joe Biden.

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The good and the Vlad

Pence during the debate spoke in strikingly harsher terms than Trump has about Russian leader Vladimir Putin. So does the Republican ticket see him as a good guy or a bad guy, or both or neither?

For Trump Wednesday, it was all of the above.

“I don’t love Putin, I don’t hate. We’ll see how it works. We’ll see,” Trump said. “Maybe we’ll have a good relationship. Maybe we’ll have a horrible relationship. Maybe we’ll have a relationship right in the middle.”

Pence denounced Russia’s role in Syria. Trump has said, “If we get along with Russia and Russia went out with us and knocked the hell out of ISIS, that’s OK with me, folks.”

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Crazy talk

Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway is having fun with Bill Clinton’s gaffe about some of Obamacare’s “crazy” consequences.

“Bill Clinton is our best surrogate, and we’re thinking of having him in the spin room with us in St. Louis,””— site of the next presidential debate — she said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

What else is happening

  • Clinton held a preparation session for Sunday’s debate with top aides and advisers in her Washington home.
  • Former Vice President Al Gore is expected to campaign for Clinton to try to motivate voters concerned about climate change, and to pry millennials away from third-party candidates by reminding them how the Ralph Nader vote was blamed by some for his loss in 2000 to George W. Bush.
  • Will Hurricane Matthew hit where it hurts Trump and Clinton exposure, namely North Carolina and Florida? 
  • When Trump visited a school in Las Vegas, a first-grader was heard sharing a fact check with a classmate. “I told you his hair wasn’t orange,” she said. (Video via Twitter here.)
  • Super PACs have collected a record haul for this election, the Washington Post reports.
  • President Barack Obama assails "nativist lurches" and "crude populism" in an essay published Thursday.
  • Two more Playboy videos featuring Trump, from 1994 and 2001, have been found, CNN reports. In one, Trump interviews a prospect to be the magazine’s 40th anniversary Playmate. Which matters why? Because of Trump and Clinton clashing over how he treated a Miss Universe, the report says.
  • Angry divisions over the presidential race are being heard in NFL locker rooms, with players split largely along racial lines, according to Bleacher Report.
  • Clinton and Kaine airbrush out inconvenient details when defending the Obama administration's conduct on the Iraq withrawal, the Washington Post finds.
  • In a belated review of the spoof about her on last week’s “Saturday Night Live,” Clinton said to “Extra”: “I’ll tell you, when Kate McKinnon came out with the walker, I thought I was going to fall off my chair.” So will that remark lead to a new conspiracy theory on her health?
  • Once again, reports emerge of Republicans worried about the "Trump effect" on Congressional races.
  • Pence's dismissal of "that Mexican thing" has become a thing.
  • Trump habitually funds state attorney generals acting on business matters near to him, the Wall St. Journal reports.
  • Howard Stern, Trump, and their mutually exploitative relationship is the focus of this Politico piece, which mentions the candidate's ability to be passive.