For the candidates, that finish line is the all-consuming termination of the hardest fight they've been in over their entire lives, the final, winner-take-all judgment moment.
As former Mitt Romney strategist Stuart Stevens put it to me earlier this year, the only metric on which Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are tied is time. Each has exactly the same number of seconds between now and the closing of polls to try and move the polls. The same number of minutes to run ads, the same number of hours to hold rallies, the same number of days to run get-out-the-vote operations. There's no we-can-turn-it-around-eventually anymore. This is it.
The ideal position for a candidate, then, is steady-or-growing lead and not widening deficit. Clinton is in the former position. Trump is in the latter.
There have now been a number of state and national polls conducted since the first debate. Among those are a slew of live-caller polls, 14 of them in total. Eleven in states, three national. In 13 of the 14, Clinton leads. In nine, Clinton's position improved since the last poll in that place from that pollster.
The shift to Clinton from those pollsters isn't really a surprise in part because the last polls conducted came during the pre-debate dip in Clinton's polling.
The movement up and to the right of those lines is bad news for Donald Trump. He can't do anything about the movement to the right, but he very much needs to see those lines heading downward; that is, in his direction.
Clinton leads in six of the ten closest states in the RealClearPolitics polling average -- North Carolina, Colorado, Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Maine. Trump leads in three -- Ohio, Georgia and Iowa -- and the two are tied in Nevada. Trump can win by picking off Florida and Pennsylvania, or Florida, Nevada, North Carolina and Colorado (for example), but that's not what the trend looks like. He needs the polls to be moving toward him, not away from him.
These things can change fast (and have changed, after that first debate). Trump and Clinton are both near peaks in the RealClearPolitics national polling average, as fewer people are declaring themselves to be undecided. The problem for Trump is that his peak in the national average, 45.7 percent, is a figure that Clinton has been above for nearly 60 days since June 1. (It's also a peak that he hit in late July.) Trump has finally built on his core base of support, it seems, but he still trails -- and in the past few days, Trump's support has again trailed off.
Thirty-five days to go. Thirty-five days to move those lines. Of the 561 days the election has run so far, though, Trump has led in the RCP national average for eight of them. One-point-four-two-six percent of the time.
Luckily for him, there's only one day that he absolutely has to lead Clinton: Nov. 8.