Opinion writer
Republican presidential nominee said he will accept the results of the election if he wins, at a rally on Oct. 20 in Delaware, Ohio. (The Washington Post)

THE MORNING PLUM:

Donald Trump’s lies about “voter fraud” and our “rigged election,” and his continued refusal to say whether he’ll accept the results, appear to be having their desired effect — in one way, at least. A new poll finds that around half of Trump supporters either think he should contest the outcome or haven’t decided whether he should or not — suggesting that a whole lot of Trump voters may be open to any post-election efforts to keep his following engaged by railing at the outcome as illegitimate.

But in another sense, Trump’s lies may be failing to produce the outcome he’s apparently hoping for.

One good way for Americans to repudiate Trump’s efforts to shake faith in our democracy — and let’s be clear, this is exactly what he is trying to do — is by voting. And the early signs are that this is exactly what they are doing.

CNN reports this morning that a comprehensive look at the early voting is “promising for Clinton in battleground states.” CNN, which partnered with a data firm to dig into the numbers, notes that more than 3.3 million people have voted so far. Some highlights:

Democratic early turnout has stayed steady in North Carolina compared to 2012, while Republicans have dropped by about 14,500. In Nevada, Democrats have a smaller early voting deficit today than they did at this point in 2012. And Democrats are slightly ahead in Arizona in the early vote so far, though they are lagging Republicans in the tally of how many Arizonans have requested ballots.

So Dems have improved their early voting edge in North Carolina and Arizona, both of which are being closely watched for signs that Democrats are increasingly putting them in play. CNN does find that the Democrats’ early voting edge has narrowed in Iowa and Ohio, which suggests they may be having trouble energizing their voters in the Rust Belt, where Trump is doing better in relatively whiter states than he is in more diverse ones.

But CNN reports that early voting has increased relative to 2012 in two other bluish states. In Wisconsin, where a court struck down efforts to limit voting, the early vote has more than tripled, and in Virginia, there has also been an increase, though a more modest one. Though CNN does not report a partisan breakdown on those numbers, CNN concludes that these developments are “likely good news for Clinton,” since she’s held a steady advantage in both states all along. Meanwhile, absentee ballot numbers are showing signs of a surge of interest among female voters in Georgia and North Carolina.

Only Trump himself knows — or maybe he doesn’t — how far he will ultimately push his efforts to cast the outcome as illegitimate. Yesterday he said that he’d accept a “clear” outcome — which perhaps suggests he may now recognize that contesting a big loss may prove untenable. But even if that is so, it would still be consistent with a strategy in which his current efforts to sow doubts about the integrity of the process are designed to depress turnout. Trump’s repeated call on his supporters to monitor polls could lead to voter intimidation, and more generally, he seems to be trying to cast a dispiriting pall — in the form of broad intimations of corruption — over the whole process.

Trump’s railing about how our election will be rigged in “certain areas” — i.e., nonwhite areas — is also obviously designed to energize his supporters. But will it? Nate Silver reports today that the transition to “likely voters” in the polls is not helping Trump as much as it might have helped another Republican, which suggests Trump’s efforts to drive up turnout among blue collar whites might not be having its intended effect. It’s also possible that Trump’s lack of a turnout operation — and Clinton’s massive investments in one of her own — may now be showing up in the numbers. And Catherine Rampell suggests still another possibility that is supported by academic research: Trump’s “rigged election” claims could end up dampening enthusiasm among marginal voters, many of which happen to be his own supporters.

If all this accurately hints at where things are going — and truthfully, we don’t know what’s going to happen — Trump’s ugly game could end up backfiring in two ways: both by driving up turnout among Democrats and by restraining it among Trump voters, in effect rigging the election against himself. Or maybe just the former will happen, and we’ll have a very high turnout election on both sides. That would perhaps be the best repudiation of Trump’s efforts to undermine faith in our democracy that we can hope for.

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* DEADLOCKED IN GEORGIA: A new Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll finds Trump and Clinton in a dead heat among likely voters in Georgia, 44-42. This helps explain why:

The vast majority of Republicans – 85 percent  – say they will back their party’s nominee. But only 4 in 10 independents, a traditionally conservative voting bloc in Georgia, say they are behind Trump….Trump has built a solid lead among men, with a 50-35 margin, while women favor Clinton by a 48-37 vote. Some 64 percent of women have an unfavorable view of Trump, while 66 percent of men have a negative perception of Clinton.

The averages put Trump’s edge at under three points. Flipping Georgia with the help of changing demographics is a long term Dem dream, and even if Clinton gets close it may alarm Republicans.

* CLINTON HOLDS WIDE LEAD IN VIRGINIA: A new Wason Center for Public Policy poll finds Clinton leading Trump among likely voters in Virginia by 45-33. Key findings: Clinton wins 57 percent of northern Virginia and leads among college educated whites by 41-33; among women by 47-25; and among millennials by 45-24.

And that’s how demographic change — plus Trump — nudge a longtime red state into the blue column.

* PANICKING REPUBLICANS THINK RACE IS OVER: The Post reports that Republicans think Trump is finished, and are scrambling to salvage their down-ballot candidates. Note this, from GOP strategist Steve Schmidt:

“The question is, how close will Clinton get to 400 electoral votes? She’ll be north of 350, and she’s trending towards 400 — and the trend line is taking place in very red states like Georgia, Texas and Arizona.”

Smart Republicans will be watching the numbers in those states very closely.

* THE MAP IS SLIPPING AWAY FROM TRUMP: Politico breaks down just how grim Trump’s prospects in the electoral college have become, using Politico’s state polling averages:

Clinton leads Donald Trump by 5 points or greater…in Colorado, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. If the Democratic nominee won those six states, plus all the other reliably Democratic states…she would eclipse the 270-electoral-vote threshold and win the presidency. Even if Trump ran the table in the remaining battleground states — Florida, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio — he would fall short of the White House if he cannot flip another state where Clinton currently leads in the polls.

Remember when Trump talked about putting states like New York and Connecticut in play?

* ‘NASTY WOMAN’ BECOMES A BIG MEME: Trump called Clinton a “nasty woman” at the debate, and Farah Stockman charts what has happened since:

“Nasty Woman” T-shirts began selling on the internet. Naral Pro-Choice America advertised “NastyWoman” stickers….Streams of Janet Jackson’s 1986 hit “Nasty” increased 250 percent on Spotify after the debate, according to a Spotify spokesman. More than 8,000 people had taken up the phrase on Twitter by midafternoon, wielding it as a badge of honor.

As Stockman writes, the barb energized “many whose passions she had not yet stirred.” In other words, Trump may have succeeded in activating more voter enthusiasm for Clinton.

* YEP: CLINTON IS CONTESTING ARIZONA, AND HERE’S WHY: Mother Jones’ Pema Levy reports that the Clinton campaign is sinking serious resources into winning Arizona, and for good reason:

Arizona could serve a strategic purpose…it has a large and increasingly politically active Latino population….If she wins Arizona, Clinton could bring Republicans to the table on immigration reform by proving to them that they have no shot at the White House — that even formerly safe red states will turn blue — if they continue to hold the Trump line on immigration.

This is what I’ve been tellin’ ya: Winning there would constitute a meaningful victory over Trumpism that could resonate as Republicans seek to remake their party after a Trump loss.

* AND WHAT IF CLINTON ISN’T AN AWFUL CANDIDATE? Paul Krugman says what must not be said:

The person tens of millions of viewers saw in this fall’s debates was…self-possessed, almost preternaturally calm under pressure, deeply prepared, clearly in command of policy issues…maybe ordinary citizens noticed the same thing; maybe obvious competence and poise in stressful situations can add up to a kind of star quality, even if it doesn’t fit conventional notions of charisma.

Pundits who hyped both candidates’ historically high negatives got this election wrong. It has been about the gap in perceptions of the candidates’ basic decency (or lack of it) and fitness for the job.