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Battleground state polls: Clinton leads on cusp of final presidential debate

Battleground state polls: The final presidential debate is scheduled for Wednesday evening at 9:00 p.m. ET in Las Vegas. It could be Donald Trump's last chance to cut into Hillary Clinton's lead.

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    A stagehand vacuums the carpet as preparations continue Monday, Oct. 17, 2016 at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in Las Vegas for the final debate between Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Wednesday.
    J. David Ake/AP
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Wednesday night’s debate in Las Vegas could be Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s last big opportunity to undercut Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s comfortable lead in Electoral College estimates, as a new poll of 15 battleground states has found it’s her presidential election to lose.

Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, is likely to win 34 more electoral votes than the 270 majority needed to secure the presidency, according to the new SurveyMonkey poll conducted with The Washington Post. Mr. Trump, her opponent, is only estimated to bring in 138 electoral votes, with Arizona, Florida, Ohio, and Texas remaining as toss-ups.

The 15-state survey released Tuesday is consistent with national poll averages that show Clinton has pulled ahead in the race since the start of September. With less than three weeks until the election, Wednesday’s debate, then, could be Trump’s last major TV event to quell accusations of his predatory past with women, and to win over undecided voters.

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"This one is important if Trump is going to have any chance to get back into this race," said Republican strategist Charlie Black to Reuters. "He’s going to have to talk about issues effectively and not get down in the mud, and he needs to talk about jobs."

The 15-state survey found Clinton has a wide margin for error in state-by-state competition over the final three weeks of the campaign, according to The Washington Post. Trump, meanwhile, will have a difficult path to stitch together the Electoral College majority he needs to win.

The survey, which included Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein in the ballot tests, was conducted between Oct. 8 to 16 among 17,379 likely voters in New Hampshire, Virginia, Michigan, New Mexico, Colorado, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Arizona, Ohio, Nevada, and Iowa.

Clinton has a four-point lead in all but six states. Of those six, Nevada and Iowa are estimated to go to Trump, while the remaining four (and their 96 total electoral votes) – Florida, Texas, Arizona, and Ohio – appear to be toss-ups. Even if Trump were to win all four of these states, as well as Georgia and North Carolina, he would still come up five electoral votes short.

The survey is consistent with national poll averages from RealClearPolitics and the Huffington Post Pollster that have found Clinton has broken ahead since the start of September, with estimates she will win a comfortable majority of the Electoral College, as Trump has been accused of numerous sexual assault accusations this fall, which he denies.

"Its’ hard to imagine at this point anything that could happen in this debate that could change the overall dynamic of this race," said Democratic strategist Steve Elmendorf to Reuters. "I can’t imagine what Donald Trump could do positively or a mistake Hillary Clinton could make to change the trajectory of this race."

But Clinton has faced her own critics recently with a new round of hacked emails released by Wikileaks and casting yet more shadows of untrustworthiness on her public image. Hacked emails from John Podesta, her campaign adviser, have revealed a candidate "that is averse to apologizing, can strike a different tone in private than in public, and makes some decisions only after painstaking political deliberations," according to the Associated Press. She also continues to face pressure about how she handled classified emails while she was secretary of State for the Obama administration.

"She needs to be able to answer the email question," said Democratic strategist Bud Jackson to Reuters. "She hasn't quite hit that nail on the head yet. She should do better this time. And she should expect the unexpected."

As Trump has lost ground in the polls this fall, he has charged Clinton of attacking and intimidating women with whom her husband has had extramarital affairs. Most recently, Trump also ramped up rhetoric that the election will be "rigged," although there has been no substantial evidence of voter fraud in US presidential elections.

"Trump needs to make a real closing argument and stop the personal attacks and come across like a commander-in-chief," said Republican strategist Scott Reed to Reuters.

The final of the three presidential debates will be moderated by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace. The plan is to elicit a discussion of six topics: debt and entitlements, immigration, the economy, the Supreme Court, international hot spots, and fitness to be president.

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters. 

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