By Alana Wise and Luciana Lopez
WASHINGTON/RALEIGH, N.C. (Reuters) – A top adviser to Donald Trump acknowledged on Sunday the Republican presidential candidate was lagging behind rival Hillary Clinton, as the Democratic nominee pressed a strategy of encouraging early voting in key battleground states.
Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said Clinton had “tremendous advantages,” including a large campaign war chest that had allowed her to spend millions on television ads ahead of the Nov. 8 election.
“We are behind,” Conway said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” But she added the Trump campaign was looking to sway undecided voters not ready to support Clinton.
As the polling gap has widened, Trump has said repeatedly the election is being “rigged” against him. He has not offered evidence and numerous studies have shown that the U.S. election system, which is decentralized and run by the states, is sound.
At last week’s debate with Clinton, Trump challenged a cornerstone of American democracy by refusing to commit to honoring the result of the U.S. election.
“What I’m saying is that I will tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense. OK?” Trump said.
In the aftermath of the debate, Trump said he would accept the election outcome “if I win.”
Clinton, speaking at a campaign rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, one of seven key swing states the candidates will focus on in the remaining two weeks until the election, blasted Trump’s continued refusal to pledge to accept the outcome of the race, encouraging voters to turn out and cast their ballots early.
“He refused to say that he would respect the results of this election, and that is a threat to democracy,” she said. “The peaceful transition of power is one of the things that makes America America.”
“From now until Nov. 5, you can vote early at any voting location in your county. And you know, this is a big deal,” Clinton told about 3,500 supporters.
The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Friday had Clinton leading Trump by 4 percentage points, and the most recent State of the Nation project showed Clinton with a 95 percent chance of winning the 270 Electoral College votes needed to secure the presidency.
An ABC News poll released on Sunday morning had Clinton leading with 50 percent of likely support, compared with Trump’s 38 percent. The poll found that the number of Republicans who said they were likely to vote fell 7 percentage points from mid-October.
As Trump battled to win over undecided voters, efforts by advisers and members of his inner circle to downplay his remarks about the integrity of the election indicated he would come under significant pressure to accept the election results if he were to lose.
Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus said that by asking Trump to agree to concede, the media were making an extraordinary request. He said Trump would only fight if the election were close and was not trying to dispute a fair election.
“That’s not quite what he’s saying. What he’s saying is he wants to reserve all options and if there is ground for a recount, I’ll reserve all options,” Priebus said on CBS’s “Face The Nation.”
Trump’s son Eric said on Sunday that Trump would “100 percent” accept the results of the election if the outcome is “fair.”
“I think what my father is saying is, ‘I want a fair election,’” Eric Trump said on ABC’s “This Week.” “If it’s a fair outcome, he will absolutely accept it. There’s no question about that.”
Trump was planning to hold a rally in Naples, Florida, on Sunday evening and plans to campaign in the state for the next three days. Recent opinion polls show a tight race in the state, with Clinton leading by 47 percent to 43 percent.
On Sunday, Trump picked up his first endorsement of the general election from a major newspaper when the Las Vegas Review-Journal backed his candidacy. The newspaper is owned by Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, who has been reluctant to donate to Trump. In 2012, Adelson spent about $150 million trying to help elect Republican Mitt Romney.
(Additional reporting by Ginger Gibson in Washington; Editing by Bill Trott and Peter Cooney)
Photo: Campaign Manager Kellyanne Conway (L) and Paul Manafort, staff of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, speak during a round table discussion on security at Trump Tower in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri