(Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)

THE MORNING PLUM:

A batch of new polls suggests the race is tightening, which means the “Trump can really win” dirge is at full blast this morning. We’ll get to the details in a moment. But first, here are a few simple ways to keep yourself from losing your mind in the race’s home stretch, which we have officially entered, now that Labor Day is behind us:

Stick to the polling averages. Surprising poll results can either be outliers, or can reflect statistical noise or short term fluctuations. Fortunately, we have a remedy for this: The polling averages, which have massive samples that cover longer periods of time and help screen out the noise. Depending on who is doing the averaging, Clinton is up by three (The Upshot), four (Real Clear Politics), or five (Huffpollster). As the Huffpollster team puts it: “Not a single poll included in HuffPost’s average has had Trump ahead since late July. Historical precedent suggests that bodes well for her.”

That means she is still favored. This doesn’t mean Trump can’t catch up or that the race isn’t tightening — or that he can’t win. He can win. The race is tightening. But he hasn’t caught up yet.

Also watch the state polls. Over the weekend, CBS/YouGov polls found Clinton leading by eight points in Pennsylvania and four points in North Carolina. The Real Clear Politics and Huffpollster averages show Clinton with small-to-medium and persistent leads in all the swing states.

As Nate Silver has noted, the state polls have shown Clinton a bit stronger than the national ones have. We don’t really know for sure why that is or which are closer to right, the state polls or the national polls. But you should take both into account, just like the major models do — and they all show Clinton with better odds.

Remember that Dems have always thought a close race is very possible. No matter how many times you hear otherwise, Democrats who are actually running this year’s presidential campaign and the outside pro-Clinton efforts have long prepared for a close finish. As Clinton chief strategist Joel Benenson recently put it: “The collection of battleground states — where the election is won or lost — are usually close, usually in single digits. They are battleground states for a reason.”

There are a lot of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents in these states. They are very likely to remain very close down to the very end.

Keep an eye on whether Trump really builds a ground game. Most of the reporting out there indicates that Trump and Republicans are lagging well behind in the creation of  contemporary state-of-the-art get-out-the-vote operations. Political pros and political scientists alike think this could cost Trump one to three points. That could matter in very close states.

Keep an eye on college educated whites. Some of the new polling out today shows that Trump continues to dramatically under-perform previous Republican candidates among this key demographic, which will put even more pressure on him to run up improbably huge margins and turnout among blue collar whites.

It's a long road to the White House, so The Washington Post polled all 50 states to find out what each candidate needs to do to get there. (Peter Stevenson,Julio Negron,Zoeann Murphy/The Washington Post)

One big unknown is whether the support these voters are showing for Clinton — she is on track to become the first Democrat to win among them in over half a century — is soft, and is more rooted in opposition to Trump than in any affirmative sense of why they should want a Clinton presidency. If that is so, Trump might be able to win more back if he can manage to be a little less insane and depraved. Keep an eye on whether those voters continue to say that Trump lacks the right temperament for the job and that he’s running a campaign that plays on bigotry.

Get ready for news organizations to grade Trump’s debate performance on a massive curve. Here is a depressing harbinger of what’s coming, from CNN today:

In front of a vast television audience, the GOP nominee could reshape perceptions of his character and readiness — if he can avoid being drawn into gaffes and personality clashes by Clinton. He will benefit from rock-bottom expectations, given controversies whipped up by his tempestuous personality and the vast gulf in experience between Trump and Clinton.

In other words, if Trump doesn’t try to urinate in Clinton’s direction or manages not to vomit all over his podium, he will have “defied expectations.” So presidential! In saying these types of things, news orgs and commentators never allow that they are the ones who decide whether the supposed defiance of expectations in question actually should lead us to lower the bar for a candidate or otherwise factor in to how we judge his or her performance. It shouldn’t.

There will be a lot of pressure on the news orgs not to play this game, but it’s reasonably possible that we’ll see a lot of it, anyway. This is going to be infuriating, so prepare your medicine of choice right now.

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 * NEW POLLS SHOW MIXED RESULTS: A new NBC News/Survey Monkey Tracking Poll puts Clinton up over Trump by 48-42 among registered voters nationally, and by 41-37 in the four-way race. Meanwhile, a new CNN poll puts Clinton up by 44-41 among registered voters in the four-way, but among likely voters, CNN finds Trump leads by 45-43.

Have we mentioned that in such situations, you should stick to the averages?

The Washington Post and Survey Monkey polled all 50 states. Here are the most surprising pieces of data we found. (Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

* CLINTON HOLDS ELECTORAL COLLEGE ADVANTAGE: A massive batch of Washington Post/Survey Monkey polls of states shows that Trump has edged ahead in Ohio, but overall, Clinton holds the advantage in the electoral college. Note this:

Among white college graduates, Clinton leads Trump in 31 of the 50 states, and the two are about even in six others. Trump leads among college-educated whites in just 13 states, all safe Republican states in recent elections….Across 49 states where the poll interviewed at least 100 white college-educated women, Clinton leads Trump with this group in 38 states and by double-digit margins in 37. Averaging across all states, Clinton leads by 23 points among white women with college degrees.

This continues to be the story of this election.

* KAINE TO GIVE BIG NATIONAL SECURITY SPEECH: A Clinton campaign official says that Tim Kaine will give a speech today in North Carolina in which he’ll argue that Clinton is the only candidate with the “experience, temperament and judgment to serve as commander in chief.”

Kaine is on the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, and today’s speech will be a reminder of one of the reasons she picked him as her veep candidate.

* CLINTON ROLLS OUT NEW NATIONAL SECURITY AD: The Clinton campaign has released a very tough new ad that shows disabled veterans against the backdrop of Trump insulting John McCain’s war service and claiming to know more about ISIS than the generals. Trump’s battle with the Khan family also gets a mention.

* TRUMP AGAIN RULES OUT LEGALIZATION: Trump chatted with reporters yesterday, and here’s what he said about whether the 11 million could ever be legalized:

“We’re going to make that decision into the future,” Mr. Trump said. But, he added, “to become a citizen, you are going to have to go out and come back in through the process. You’re going to have to go out and get in line.”

“Get in line” means no expedited pathway to legal status for those who leave and come back, which for practical reasons means no meaningful path to legalization. Clear yet?

 * ANOTHER FORMER BUSHIE BACKS CLINTON: James Glassman, the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs in the George W. Bush administration, tells fellow Republicans that backing Clinton is the right thing to do:

If you think Mr. Trump is so lacking in experience and judgment that he shouldn’t have his finger on the nuclear trigger, then you are saying he is not just a bad candidate; you are saying he is a threat to the nation. You have an obligation to defeat him, no matter what you think of Mrs. Clinton….if you really think that Mr. Trump is a threat to your country, the right thing to do is to take the next step. Don’t just say you won’t vote for him. Vote against him.

Interestingly, some Republican senators will not say whether they think Trump is fit to “have his finger on the nuclear trigger,” yet they’re voting for him anyway.

* VOTING RIGHTS GROUPS NOTCH VICTORIES: Robert Barnes has a nice overview of the victories that voting access activists have been racking up lately, without five conservatives on the Supreme Court to uphold GOP limits:

Texas and North Carolina are now under judicial order to shelve comprehensive voting laws, passed by Republican legislators, that appeals courts said discriminated against African Americans and Hispanics. In Wisconsin, federal courts restored some early-voting opportunities — seen as beneficial to African American voters, who overwhelmingly vote Democratic — that had been scotched by the state legislature.

Trump is right — the election is rigged against him. After all, more nonwhites will now be able to vote.