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What we learned in the final presidential debate: Trump won't commit to the election results

Timesjudges give the victory to Hillary Clinton. Again. Full campaign coverage.

The final presidential debate of 2016 was likely Donald Trump’s last chance to halt Hillary Clinton’s surge in public opinion polls, with less than three weeks until election day and more than 2.3 million voters having already mailed in their ballots. Like the previous two debates, Wednesday’s was full of interruptions and sharp charges, including Trump’s contention that Clinton committed a very serious crime and Clinton’s claim that Trump is the most dangerous person in history to run for president.

Here's what we learned:

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‘I’ll keep you in suspense’

Trump had a chance to state clearly that he would accept the results of the election, regardless of who wins. But even as moderator Chris Wallace talked about the importance of the peaceful transition of power to America democracy, Trump would not yield.

"I will tell you at the time. I'll keep you in suspense," Trump said, after being asked for a second time whether he would pledge now to accept the voting results.

"That's horrifying," Clinton said.

Supreme Court could help Trump, but abortion rights could help Clinton

The Republican nominee has had a tough time locking down his party, one of the biggest reasons Clinton’s lead in the polls has grown steadily. But even Republicans who are skittish about Trump often point to the court as the issue that keeps them from voting for Clinton.

The court came up earlier in the debate, when viewership is often highest. And Trump was happy to remind conservatives what is at stake — particularly 2nd Amendment rights.

"The Supreme Court; it's what it's all about," he said, warning that the 2nd Amendment would be a "a very, very small replica of what it is right now" if Clinton wins.

But the court is hardly a slam-dunk issue for Trump. He conceded, after some prodding, that his election could lead to a court that would overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision legalizing abortion.

"I do not think the United States government should be stepping in and making those most personal of decisions," Clinton said in response.

Immigration remains a key divide

The candidates did not smooth over any differences on this issue. It's been one of their biggest divides.

Trump favors strict controls, a border wall and a strict deportation policy. He blames loose borders for illegal drugs, crime and economic problems, using language that Latinos have found offensive but has motivated many of his core supporters.

"We have some bad hombres here and we're going to get 'em out," he said. "We're getting the drugs. They're getting the cash."

Clinton talks about immigration policy in terms of uniting families, criticizing Trump for a policy that would round up immigrants and send them out of the country on trains and buses.

"It's an idea that would rip our country apart," Clinton said.

Trump’s best debate

This was probably Trump's best debate. He resisted several of Clinton's attempts to bait him early, though he slipped a lot in the second half as he had before.

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He made the case for change and talked about trade and the economy. He forced Clinton to squirm a bit as she tried to defend perceived conflicts of interest involving the Clinton Foundation.

Clinton scored some points too, especially in revealing Trump's temperament and reinforcing his issues with the treatment of women.

But Trump also ensured that one of the most talked-about moments would be his refusal to agree to abide the election results, an issue that could keep many voters from moving to his corner.

Partisans will debate who won. But neither candidate scored a knockout, which is more of a problem for Trump.

Twitter: @noahbierman

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