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Gronk feeling fresh and clean, Saquon and Cam Jordan bust a move

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As training camp keeps rolling through August, Rob Gronkowski gave a frank, but positive, assessment of how he feels in the early stages of his comeback while a couple of NFL stars showed moves that apply beyond the gridiron.

Here’s what you need to know from camps across the league:

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Rob Gronkowski of old is in training camp, Bucs coach Bruce Arians says

Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians believes the Rob Gronkowski we’re seeing in training camp — the one Tom Brady lured out of a one-year retirement and convinced his new team to trade for this offseason — is the same one who shattered numerous NFL, Super Bowl and postseason records five and six years ago. “The back surgeries have healed. So he had a year of healing. He looks to me like he was five or six years ago,” Arians said Thursday.

Tyreek Hill leaves practice with hamstring injury

Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill left practice early on Thursday after injuring his right hamstring. Hill had just caught a long pass in a one-on-one drill when he pulled up with the injury. Hill conferred with Chiefs medical personnel before walking unaccompanied to the locker room.

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Malcolm Jenkins describes his ongoing dialogue with Drew Brees as cooperative and encouraging, and adds that the adversity they went through has brought them, and the team, closer.

Malcolm Jenkins says Saints closer now after Drew Brees dialogue

Malcolm Jenkins said he believes the dialogue between him and longtime friend and New Orleans Saints teammate Drew Brees this summer was “important for the country and important for us.” Jenkins was one of Brees’ harshest critics after Brees said in June that he would “never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag” by kneeling during the national anthem. But both players have insisted that they had good conversations in the immediate aftermath and the ensuing months. And teammates have praised Brees for his sincere effort to become an ally for the Black community in its fight for racial equality and social justice.

Dez Bryant leaves Ravens tryout without deal, source says

Dez Bryant left his tryout with the Baltimore Ravens without a deal, a source said Thursday. It’s possible the Ravens could add Bryant at some point, but the source said nothing is imminent with the three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver. Bryant, 31, is attempting to become the first Pro Bowl wide receiver to miss two full seasons and then return to the NFL since the 1970 merger, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He hasn’t played in a game since December 2017.

CB Kevin Johnson suffers liver laceration when teammate falls on him

Browns cornerback Kevin Johnson has been hospitalized after he suffered a laceration to his liver when rookie tight end Harrison Bryant landed on him during practice Wednesday. Johnson, initially diagnosed with an abdominal injury, is expected to be in the hospital for another day for observation, the team said. The Browns signed Johnson to a one-year deal this offseason, with hopes that he would win the starting nickelback job.


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“I want to be moving like how I was back in the day, no doubt about that. Why else would I want to come back to the game and be moving like poop?”
Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski

What our NFL Nation reporters saw Wednesday

Cornerback Josh Norman intercepted Josh Allen for the first time during team drills Thursday, but was slow to get up after being stripped by Stefon Diggs during his return. Norman eventually walked off under his own power but did not participate in drills for the remainder of the practice. The Bills officially announced Norman has a leg injury and is still being evaluated. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

Quarterback Joe Burrow wasn’t fazed by a rookie moment on Thursday. During 11-on-11 drills, Burrow threw an interception to linebacker Josh Bynes, who didn’t have to move very much for the turnover. But the mistake didn’t rattle the rookie. Burrow responded with two deep completions down each sideline — one to the right to Tyler Boyd and another down the left to Mike Thomas. Burrow’s ability to immediately respond well after an error bodes well for the Bengals’ projected starter. — Ben Baby

Let’s call what unfolded at Thursday’s practice Saquon Day. There was a heavy emphasis on the run game early. Later, Saquon Barkley was used heavily in the passing game. He caught four passes in live drills, including one that would’ve gone for a big gain down the seam. Perhaps a harbinger of things to come for this Giants offense? The Giants appear primed to feed their star running back. — Jordan Raanan

Bears coach Matt Nagy wanted to break up the monotony at the end of Thursday’s practice. In front of the entire team — after media had been escorted out — Nagy sent defensive tackle Akiem Hicks and right guard Germain Ifedi out on the field to catch punts off the JUGS machine. “There were some consequences there as to who catches it and who drops it,” Nagy said. “I’ll have the players tell you who won that. There was a clear winner. Those are the things we are doing to try and keep the guys loose and keep them having fun. We’re going to keep doing that stuff as we move along here.” — Jeff Dickerson

Newcomer Dante Fowler Jr. showed impressive speed and power during the Falcons’ first scrimmage. The Falcons signed him from the Rams to get after the passer, and Fowler showed his tremendous first step against the run and pass. Standing up on the right edge, Fowler used his burst to track down Todd Gurley II on a run up the middle. Then Fowler blew past rookie left guard Matt Hennessy on a third-down play and nearly took out Matt Ryan. Ryan gave Fowler a big hug during the scrimmage, probably to let him know how much he appreciates having him as a teammate rather than opponent. Fowler sacked Ryan three times last season when the Rams beat the Falcons 37-10. — Vaughn McClure

Rod Marinelli’s voice is as recognizable as it is piercing on the practice field when he’s ripping a defensive lineman for, well, any number of reasons. His hiring by Jon Gruden this offseason to replace well-respected assistant Brentson Buckner, who did a great job with a young line last season, in particular rookie defensive ends Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby, raised eyebrows. But new defensive tackle Maliek Collins, who played the first four years of his NFL career under Marinelli in Dallas, said he was “thankful” to be reunited with Marinelli. “He’s like an old drill sergeant,” Collins said. “He’s just going to get it out of you.” Collins has been impressive in camp and Gruden called him “the anchor” of the retuned defense. “We’ll go as far as he takes us.” On Friday, the Raiders will be at their new home, Allegiant Stadium, as the team will practice in its new $1.9 billion digs for the first time. — Paul Gutierrez

With starter Bashaud Breeland‘s four-game suspension to begin the season, the Chiefs are going to need at least one of their young cornerbacks to take a step forward. Rookie L’Jarius Sneed might have done that on Thursday. Sneed broke up three passes, one a deep ball where he stayed with Tyreek Hill down the field in coverage. Another would have been an interception had he not dropped it. — Adam Teicher

With Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb, the Cowboys seem set at receiver, but during a two-minute drill, Cedrick Wilson caught three passes from Dak Prescott, including a game-winning touchdown. His first reception came on a defensive breakdown and then he made a nice two-handed grab on a bullet at the 1. Working out of the slot he was able to gain separation on Anthony Brown for the score. “Ced’s a player that we’ve had here for a few years now. Injuries have kind of bummed him out in the past and maybe not allowed him to show what he’s quite capable of,” Prescott said. “He’s been healthy. And he’s been healthy all offseason. He’s been one of the guys that I’ve been throwing with all offseason. It’s nothing. We’ve created some chemistry there and he’s a guy that can come in and show up first.” — Todd Archer

49ers defensive tackle D.J. Jones suffered an apparent shoulder injury early in team drills during Thursday’s practice when he got tangled up with guard Laken Tomlinson. Coach Kyle Shanahan didn’t yet have an update on Jones’ status after practice other than to say Jones was having it checked out. It was unfortunate for Jones, who has been downright dominant in pass-rush drills and was again in Thursday’s practice. Rookie Javon Kinlaw took over at nose tackle in Jones’ stead. The Niners need Kinlaw to have an immediate impact after losing DeForest Buckner, but they can’t afford Jones’ injury to be serious as their depth on the interior of the defensive line is largely unproven. — Nick Wagoner

Jeff Okudah is still running with the second team in practice, but the No. 3 overall pick showed some progress Thursday. He had a nice diving pass breakup on a Chase Daniel pass and also had good coverage in a rep against Pro Bowl receiver Kenny Golladay in one-on-ones. He still had some learning moments — particularly on a deep pass against Marvin Jones Jr. — but even then, it was a play that in real life likely would have resulted in a sack or throwaway before the ball was thrown. — Michael Rothstein

Quarterback Alex Smith took another step Thursday, participating in nine-on-nine work — adding the element of two pass-rushers. Smith took three snaps: On the first, end Nate Orchard jumped offside and applied pressure, forcing Smith to slide a bit to his right. Safety Sean Davis broke up his pass to Antonio Gandy-Golden. On the next snap, Smith stepped up and badly missed Cam Sims down the right side. On his third one, with more pressure, he stepped up and delivered a strike to tight end Richard Rodgers. “As long as he’s feeling more and more comfortable with it, we can go ahead and continue to add more and more,” Washington coach Ron Rivera said of Smith. “It is another milestone for Alex.” — John Keim

Ryan Tannehill threw his first interception of camp on Thursday. Kevin Byard hauled in a high pass from Tannehill that tipped off of A.J. Brown‘s fingertips during team period. Later during that period, Malcolm Butler made a leaping interception when Tannehill tried to find Kalif Raymond deep. Butler staggered to the sideline before going down. It looked like he got the wind knocked out of him. He returned to practice later. Outside of the two interceptions, Tannehill was pretty sharp, including his best throw when he squeezed the ball through multiple defenders for a touchdown to Brown during red zone 7-on-7s. — Turron Davenport

It was a very good day for the offense, particularly the wide receivers, on Thursday, when the Jaguars did a lot of red zone work. DJ Chark Jr. had two touchdown catches, including one in which he laid out for the ball and still managed to get both feet down in the back of the end zone before hitting the turf. Chark also had a TD catch in which he gained separation from veteran CB Tramaine Brock in his last step before the ball arrived. Dede Westbrook had a leaping touchdown catch as well as another catch in which he tipped the ball with one hand and brought it in. Rookie Collin Johnson showed why he can be useful in the red zone when he caught a back-shoulder touchdown throw. The 6-foot-6 Johnson had to go up to make the catch and 5-9 rookie CB Chris Claybrooks had no chance. — Michael DiRocco

Jordan Love‘s first practice inside Lambeau Field also afforded the Packers’ first-round pick his first shot at running the two-minute drill. And he was successful.

Sort of.

Love led a group of backups to a game-winning drive capped by a 48-yard Mason Crosby field goal, but even coach Matt LaFleur admitted afterward he might have allowed Love to cheat the drill a little bit. Love took a sack (although there’s no tackling allowed) on the first play — a no-no in two-minute — and there might have another would-be sack or two that LaFleur let go so that Love could get some work in. The rookie quarterback showed nice touch on two well-placed throws to Darrius Shepherd — one for 17 yards on a post and another for 15 on the left sideline that might have been ruled incomplete because it was juggled. But with no officials at practice, the play stood and Crosby booted the winner. With no preseason games, those drills — and the meetings with Aaron Rodgers and Tim Boyle — are Love’s only chances to learn.

“It was great for me being able to sit there, be in the same room as him, and just hear how he thinks about plays and go out to practice and watch him put it together,” Love said of Rodgers. “It’s really awesome for me to see and take in and evaluate him and evaluate myself and just try and do my best job to learn by watching him. It’s been really good. He’s a great person and been able to help me in the quarterback room on certain things.” — Rob Demovsky

Rookie receiver John Hightower stole the show Thursday. He beat Darius Slay during one-on-ones, made a diving catch across the middle and hauled in a 40-yard bomb from Jalen Hurts. First-round pick Jalen Reagor has been getting all the headlines, but Hightower is flashing pretty brightly in his own right early in camp. — Tim McManus

Russell Wilson and DK Metcalf hooked up for one of the more picturesque touchdowns of the first week of Seahawks camp. Metcalf separated from cornerback Neiko Thorpe, then turned on the jets to haul in Wilson’s heave. His momentum carried him out of the back of the end zone and through the open garage door of a shed that’s adjacent to one of the team’s practice fields. It was reminiscent of Bo Jackson disappearing into the Kingdome tunnel after sprinting for a 91-yard touchdown in in 1987.

“I knew you’d go get it!” offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer yelled at Metcalf in celebration.

It was an otherwise sloppy day for the Seahawks’ offense thanks to drops, trouble lining up and at least one bad snap. One play from 7-on-7 typified how things went. Wilson was forced to hold onto the ball due to tight coverage then threw a low bullet that Metcalf dropped. Bobby Wagner jeered Wilson by yelling, “How much time you got?!” — Tim McManus

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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home

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On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

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– 2020 MLS Playoffs: Who’s in, schedule and more
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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”

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Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.

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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment

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The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.

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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls

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With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

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