LAS VEGAS — As the long and rancorous campaign lurches toward an end, Donald Trump gets one of his last opportunities in Wednesday night’s final debate against Hillary Clinton to turn around a race that appears to be slipping away.
While Clinton’s campaign is confidently expanding into traditionally Republican states, Trump’s narrow electoral path is shrinking. Already unpopular with a majority of Americans, the GOP nominee has been battered by recent revelations of his vulgar comments about women and a string of sexual assault allegations.
Clinton’s challenge in the last of three debates will be to both keep up her aggressive efforts to paint Trump as unfit to be president and start moving to ease America’s deep divisions, which have only been exacerbated during the campaign. The latter is no easy task for the Democratic nominee, given the public’s persistent questions about her honesty and trustworthiness.
Clinton will face debate questions for the first time about revelations in her top adviser’s hacked emails that show her striking a different tone in private than in public regarding Wall Street banks and trade. The Clinton campaign says the FBI is investigating the hacking of John Podesta’s personal email as part of a broader inquiry into Russia’s role in stealing emails from other Democratic groups.
The former secretary of state is also sure to be pressed about a senior State Department official’s request that an FBI employee re-review the classification of an email from Clinton’s private server. The now-retired FBI employee asked the State official to address a pending, unrelated request regarding space for additional FBI employees overseas.
The issue was raised after last week’s release of an FBI document in which an investigator who talked to the FBI employee said there appeared to be a proposed “quid pro quo.” Both the FBI and State Department say the two requests actually were never linked, and the two officials involved say the same. Neither request was approved.
Trump has called the matter “felony corruption” and worse than the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon. The Republican National Committee said Wednesday it had written the State Department’s inspector general requesting a full investigation.
Wednesday’s 90-minute contest in Las Vegas comes just under three weeks before Election Day and with early voting underway in more than 30 states. At least 2.2 million voters have cast ballots already.
Public opinion polls show Clinton leading in nearly all battleground states. On Monday, her campaign stepped up its efforts in Arizona, a state that has voted for a Democratic presidential nominee just once in the past 62 years.
Trump has leaned on an increasingly provocative strategy in the campaign’s closing weeks, including contending the election will be rigged, despite no evidence of widespread voter fraud in U.S. presidential contests. He’s also charged that Clinton attacked and intimidated women involved with her husband’s affairs, bringing three women who accused former President Bill Clinton of unwanted sexual contact and even rape to sit in the audience for the second debate. The former president has never been charged with crimes related to the encounters, though he did settle a sexual harassment lawsuit.
Trump is bringing President Barack Obama’s half brother, Trump supporter Malik Obama, as his debate guest Wednesday night. Clinton is bringing billionaire and frequent Trump critic Mark Cuban and Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman, one of the former secretary of state’s highest-profile Republican backers.
Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon said the Democratic nominee “will be ready for whatever scorched-earth tactics (Trump) tries.” On MSNBC, Trump campaign manager Kelly anne Conway summed up her advice to her candidate in a word: “Focus.”
Clinton, who has meticulously prepared for the three debates at the expense of time in battleground states, visibly rattled Trump in their first showdown by using his own controversial comments about women and minorities against him. The businessman was on defense at the start of the second debate — which came days after the release of a video in which he brags about kissing and grabbing women — but ended on stronger footing, hammering Clinton for being a creature of Washington who won’t be able to bring about change.
Trump denied in the second debate that he had made the kind of unwanted sexual advances he is heard describing on the video. His denial prompted some of the women who have since publicly accused him of assault to come forward.
Moderator Chris Wallace — the first Fox News journalist to moderate a general election debate — has said he plans to ask the candidates about debt and entitlements, immigration, the economy, the Supreme Court, foreign hot spots and their fitness to be president. He aims to spend 15 minutes on each topic.
JULIE PACE, Associated Press
LISA LERER, Associated Press