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October surprise! President Trump is still a possibility

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, The Times’ letters editor, and it is Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016. Who knew we’d ever get to say this (triumphantly!), but here goes: This is the second-to-last newsletter before the 2016 election. Five hundred-and-something days really fly by.

But the campaign isn’t over yet, a point that Deputy Editorial Page Editor Jon Healey made in a prescient piece about polls days before news broke that the FBI had discovered more e-mails that could be relevant to its investigation of her use of a private server. The scandal that most seriously threatened the country with a Trump administration, even when it was supposedly put down in July with the FBI’s decision not to recommend Clinton’s prosecution, has reemerged just in time to qualify as an October surprise.

On Wednesday, Healey warned that something as fragile as a single-digit lead in the polls could be quickly reversed by breaking news. He wrote:

I’m as attuned to the polling trends as the next political junkie. But having watched how the contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton has gyrated since July, and knowing how fragile some of the support for each candidate is, I’m wide open to the possibility of a game-changing late October or even an early November surprise.

Full disclosure — The Times’ editorial board has been unstinting in its criticism of Trump, and I completely agree. He’s not fit to be president.

But whether he wins isn’t my call. It’s yours (assuming you’re a voter). And Trump is right when he argues that media reports about Clinton’s lead in the polls could discourage some of his supporters from casting ballots...

As The Times’ own Daybreak poll with USC Dornsife has shown, a poll’s result depends in part on its designer’s assumptions about who will turn out to vote on Nov. 8. That’s why the most popular prediction sites mash the various polls together into an aggregate picture. And while that aggregate shows Clinton holding a solid lead, RealClearPolitics’ chart of average poll results over time looks more like a sine wave than a straight trend line.

Like many (if not all) of you, I wish this campaign had ended weeks ago. But it hasn’t. To quote another philosopher from the world of sports, it’s never over until it’s over. The Times’ columnist Jonah Goldberg is rooting for a tie in the electoral college that throws the presidential election to the House in December, where conservative independent Evan McMullin conceivably could prevail. That’s about as long a long shot as they come. But at the very least, the winner won’t be decided before Nov. 8, no matter what you might read or hear otherwise.

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Clinton has run a lot of TV ads; Trump hasn’t. How’s that working out for him? Not well, writes Doyle McManus. This might be a down year for political junkies who relish watching campaign ads, but polls show Clinton has benefited in states where Trump propaganda has stayed off the airwaves. With that in mind, McManus highlights the best and worst ads of 2016. L.A. Times

Hey, Trump critics, not all gropes are equal or equally horrible. Columnist Meghan Daum, who says she has “endured various permutations of sad, desperate men overstepping boundaries” while remaining “mercifully untouched,” doesn’t fully buy the claim that women today must live in fear because of bad behavior that includes unwanted catcalls and the serial groping that Trump stands accused of: “Though we’re obliged to give equal respect to people’s reactions to suffering, trauma in reality exists on a spectrum. The attempt to democratize it may seem like compassion, but … it can end up being more like infantilization.” L.A. Times

Save us, Evan McMullin. #NeverTrump columnist Jonah Goldberg doesn’t care much for Clinton either, but he sees an imperfect national savior in write-in candidate McMullin, whom he describes as “an earnest, patriotic and brave man.” One scenario, described by Goldberg as a long shot, would be for no candidate to garner an Electoral College vote majority and McMullin to win his home state of Utah, sending the election to the House. Sure, this is undemocratic; Goldberg says, “So what?” L.A. Times

There’s more on the ballot than just Clinton and Trump — a lot more. The Times’ editorial board researched nearly three dozen races — interviewing candidates and holding the ballot initiatives’ fine print under a microscope — and made recommendations for contests ranging from president down to local measures and judges. Find a complete list of endorsements here.

Not even the World Series is sacred. A certain Opinion newsletter author doesn’t want Cleveland’s baseball team to beat the Chicago Cubs, and it has nothing to do with wounded civic pride over the Dodgers’ failure to make the World Series (though it would have been nice to see L.A. trounce Cleveland): “How fitting it would have been for Chief Wahoo to have his toothy smile wiped away by the Dodgers, whose first baseman Adrián González refused to stay at the posh Trump International Hotel in Chicago during a regular-season series against the Cubs. That moral quest against crowd-pleasing racism deserves to be continued in Cleveland — if not by the Dodgers, then the Cubs.” L.A. Times

Don't try to persuade people. Use “pre-suasion” instead. Warren Buffett does it; Queen Elizabeth I did too. Here’s how Robert B. Cialdini describes pre-suasion: “Research done in the last fifteen years shows that optimal persuasion is achieved through optimal pre-suasion: the practice of arranging for people to agree with a message before they know what’s in it. Pre-suasion works by focusing people’s preliminary attention on a selected concept — let’s say softness — which spurs them to overvalue related opportunities that immediately follow.” L.A. Times

California needs its own marijuana cartel. With voters poised to legalize marijuana, Joe Mathews writes that California can avoid the chaos that might come with it and officially sanction a “small number of companies with the size and resources necessary to control the distribution of cannabis so that our state can properly track, regulate, price, and tax America’s largest marijuana market.” Zócalo Public Square

Reach me: paul.thornton@latimes.com

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