NEW YORK • In a small gesture of civility, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has suggested that he would not dispute the result if the outcome of the race is clear.
But he insisted that he would not cede the right to contest the outcome of the Nov 8 election, even as Democrats and Republicans expressed concern that his position threatened to upend America's tradition of peaceful power transfers.
Mr Trump's reluctance to pledge absolutely that he would honour the election outcome follows a rocky performance in the third and last presidential debate and comes as the candidates set off for the frenzied final stretch of campaigning .
On Thursday, Mr Trump continued to rally his supporters with conspiracy theories about how the race was rigged against him, but he did make it clear that there was one result that he would not challenge under any circumstances.
"I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election - if I win," he said to cheers at a rally in Delaware, Ohio.
Saying that former president George W. Bush might have lost the 2000 election to Mr Al Gore if he had made a pre-election pledge not to challenge the results, Mr Trump said he would not take that option off the table. He did, however, try to ease concerns that he was planning to throw the country into post-election turmoil.
What if Donald Trump refuses to concede?
Going against American tradition that the election loser concedes defeat, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has said he may challenge the result of the US presidential election if he loses.
But his options are limited, say legal experts.
•If the result is too close to call, he has the legal recourse to contest the outcome and demand a recount.
•If he alleges electoral fraud has taken place, he can take to court officials in any of the states suspected of wrongdoing.
•If Mrs Hillary Clinton wins with an overwhelming majority as many polls currently suggest, Mr Trump can still refuse to accept the loss, but he cannot seek to change the outcome.
•If he refuses to concede, it would be unprecedented and be seen as an affront to the US democratic system and political traditions. His remarks over the past weeks about a "rigged" election, together with a refusal to concede graciously, may set off unrest among his supporters.
"Of course I would accept a clear election result, but I would also reserve my right to contest or file a legal challenge in the case of a questionable result," he said, appearing to accept the possibility of defeat.
"I will follow and abide by all the rules and traditions of all of the many candidates who came before me, always."
He added: "Bottom line, we're going to win."
Polls show Mr Trump trailing his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in many crucial battleground states and facing close races in states that usually back Republicans, increasing the possibility that he could lose the election by a big margin in the Electoral College. Since contested election results must happen on a state-by-state basis, a stinging defeat could render Mr Trump's threats to dispute the results a moot point.
To emphasise that point, the Clinton campaign initiated a new fundraising pitch imploring supporters to help run up the score.
"We can't just beat this guy," Mrs Christina Reynolds, a spokesman for Mrs Clinton, wrote to potential donors. "We've got to beat him so definitively that Hillary's victory is undeniable."
Mrs Clinton's running mate, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, said he hoped voters would give the Democratic ticket "a mandate" in the election so that Trump could not cast doubt on the outcome.
A new accuser came forward on Thursday and described a 1998 encounter in which Mr Trump grabbed her arm and touched her breast after making coarse remarks about her appearance to his male friends.
The woman, Ms Karena Virginia, was the 10th to accuse Mr Trump of inappropriate sexual advances since the release of a tape in which he boasted of such behaviour.
More US election stories online at str.sg/election2016.