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The 2016 Race Has Been Amazingly Stable

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

Donald Trump doubles down on 'rigged' election claim despite GOP pushback 4:03

The amazingly stable 2016 presidential race

For all of its ups and downs, the primary results, the numerous debates and the bombshell stories, our latest national NBC/WSJ poll shows just how stable the Hillary Clinton-vs.-Donald Trump race has been over the past year. Just compare our poll's numbers three weeks before Election Day with the NBC/WSJ numbers from Jan. 2016, right before the Iowa and New Hampshire contests:

  • Trump's fav/unfav rating in Jan. 2016: 29% positive, 58% negative
  • Trump's fav/unfav now: 29% positive, 62% negative
  • Clinton's fav/unfav in Jan. 2016: 40% positive, 49% negative
  • Clinton's fav/unfav now: 40% positive, 50% negative
  • The two-way ballot in Jan. 2016: Clinton 51%, Trump 41%
  • The two-way ballot now: Clinton 51%, Trump 41%

The more things have changed, the more they've stayed the same, right? One theory why the race has been so stable: By Jan. 2016, most Americans (and voters) had plenty of knowledge and information about both Clinton and Trump. Neither was an unknown figure, after all.

Arizona vs. Colorado

But if you want to know where the presidential contest stands right now, look at today's activity in two states -- Arizona and Colorado. Today, Bernie Sanders campaigns for Clinton in Arizona, and First Lady Michelle Obama heads there on Thursday. Democrats haven't won the state in a presidential race since 1996, but are now making a clear play for it. By contrast, Trump today holds two events in Colorado, which George W. Bush carried in 2000 and 2004, but which Democrats look headed to win for a third-straight time. Indeed, a Quinnipiac poll released yesterday shows Clinton leading Trump by eight points in Colorado, 45 percent to 37 percent. Bottom line: You know the GOP is in trouble when it's facing an uphill climb to compete in Colorado, while Democrats are making a play in Arizona.

Trump's dangerous (and false) rhetoric about vote rigging

Campaigning in Wisconsin yesterday, Donald Trump once again raised the specter of voter fraud affecting the election, NBC's Ali Vitali reports. "'People that have died 10 years ago are still voting,' Trump said. 'Illegal immigrants are voting.' While it is true that dead people are still on voter rolls, proof is scarce that this has caused widespread voter fraud. In fact, voter fraud is the opposite of what Trump dubbed it -- very unlikely. According to the Brennan Center's report on voter fraud, it's more likely that an American 'will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.' Another study published in the Washington Post found 31 instances of voter fraud out of more than 1 billion votes cast from 2000 to 2014." What's more, top election officials in some key battleground states - like Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, and Ohio - are Republicans. And here's what Sen. Marco Rubio said at a Senate debate last night, per NBC's Alex Jaffe: "I promise you there is not a 67-county [in Florida] conspiracy to rig this election," he said, adding that Florida Gov. Rick Scott is a Republican and appoints those who run the elections.

Melania Trump dismisses 2005 tape as 'boys talk;' can she help Donald win female voters? 3:17

McCain suggests the GOP's Supreme Court blockade will continue

Remember when the Republican argument against considering President Obama's Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland was because you shouldn't fill a SCOTUS vacancy in an election year? Well, the election year is almost over, but John McCain suggested in a radio interview that Republicans would be united against any Supreme Court pick Hillary Clinton makes next year, per CNN. "I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up," he said. "I promise you. This is where we need the majority and Pat Toomey is probably as articulate and effective on the floor of the Senate as anyone I have encountered." A McCain spokeswoman later clarified McCain's comments to CNN. "Senator McCain believes you can only judge people by their record and Hillary Clinton has a clear record of supporting liberal judicial nominees," the spokeswoman said. "That being said, Senator McCain will, of course, thoroughly examine the record of any Supreme Court nominee put before the Senate and vote for or against that individual based on their qualifications as he has done throughout his career."

First Read's downballot race of the day

With 21 days until Election Day, we'll be profiling key downballot races we'll be watching. Today's installment: the Illinois Senate race. The Land of Lincoln appears likely to deliver its Republican-held Senate seat back into the hands of Democrats. Republican incumbent Mark Kirk would have faced a difficult path in this blue state under any circumstances, but dealing with the lasting effects from his 2012 stroke and facing a strong Democratic opponent has made him the cycle's most vulnerable incumbent. Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a veteran who lost both legs during a tour in Iraq, has been a strong fundraiser and appears to have built a comfortable lead over the moderate Republican, who renounced his support for Donald Trump in June.

Alert!

Chuck Todd has launched a new podcast! In "1947: The Meet The Press Podcast," which will post weekly, he'll interview a single notable guest and go beyond politics. The first couple of episodes feature The New York Times' Maureen Dowd, astronaut Kate Rubins (who spoke to Chuck from the International Space Station), NY Mag's Andrew Sullivan, and The New York Times' Dean Baquet. Tune in!

On the trail

Donald Trump, in Colorado, holds rallies in Colorado Springs at noon ET in and Grand Junction at 5:00 pm ET… Mike Pence campaigns in North Carolina… Tim Kaine hits Michigan… Bill Clinton is in Pennsylvania… And Bernie Sanders is in Arizona.

Countdown to third presidential debate: 1 day

Countdown to Election Day: 21 days