WASHINGTON - Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump meet in their third and final presidential debate Wednesday in Las Vegas, Nevada. Trump trails Clinton in public opinion polls, and Wednesday’s debate may be his final opportunity to change the trajectory of the race with less than three weeks to go until Election Day.
The latest Real Clear Politics polling average finds Clinton leading Trump by 6.4 percentage points. Clinton also has an edge in most of the key battleground states, though the latest CNN-ORC surveys in Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio show close races despite Trump’s recent political troubles.
Trump: ‘It’s Rigged!’
Trump continues to tell supporters they are fighting the Clinton political machine and a biased news media. He told supporters at a rally in Bangor, Maine, that they face an uphill battle until Election Day.
“It is a rigged system, folks, but we are not going to let it happen,” he said.
Can%27t believe these totally phoney stories, 100% made up by women (many already proven false) and pushed big time by press, have impact!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 17, 2016
Trump has also lashed out at allegations from several women who have accused him of making improper sexual advances in the past. Trump issued a flat, all-purpose denial on the recent allegations at a rally Friday in Greensboro, North Carolina.
“These are lies being pushed by the media and the Clinton campaign to try and keep their grip on our country,” he said. “They are all false. They are totally invented, fiction, all 100 percent and totally and completely fabricated.”
Clinton: No shortage of surrogates
Clinton has been immersed in debate prep in recent days. In her last rallies before the debate, she has often turned the focus to core issues including the economy.
“Number one, we’ve got to get the economy working for everyone, not just those at the top, and we can do this!” she said during a rally in Seattle, Washington.
Clinton is getting plenty of help on the campaign trail from her husband, former President Bill Clinton, as well as President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
Michelle Obama took issue with Trump’s vulgar comments about women on a recently released videotape from Access Hollywood stemming from 2005.
“This was a powerful individual speaking freely and openly about sexually predatory behavior,” she said.
Trump losing women voters
Trump has slipped in the polls in the wake of that video and the allegations from several women, and the controversy appears to be hurting him with some of the very voters he needs to appeal to in order to broaden his coalition.
“This is not the behavior that is going to endear him to college-educated white women. That is who he needs,” said Tom DeFrank, a veteran political analyst with National Journal. He spoke on VOA’s “Issues in the News” program.
Trump’s erratic campaign approach in recent days has even befuddled some Republicans, who are looking for a more stable standard-bearer in the final weeks of the campaign to help protect Republican seats in Congress.
Democrats are still seen as a long shot to win control of the House of Representatives, but the battle to see which party controls the Senate is very much in question.
In the final debate, Trump may have to offer undecided voters some assurances that he can modify his behavior before he can win over their support.
“So I think he does have a lot more to show voters,” said John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center. “Not that he is a traditional candidate, not that he is going to look like everyone else, but at least that he is acceptable and gets over a certain bar, so I think that is an issue for him.”
Clinton expects WikiLeaks attacks
Clinton is also likely to be on the defensive in the final debate in the wake of new WikiLeaks revelations about comments she made about Wall Street banks and various campaign concerns expressed by members of her staff during her primary battle with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Most experts think she will remain cool, as she has in the previous two debates.
“I think that for Hillary, she needs to let Trump be Trump. She needs to continue to be her calm, composed self that she was in the first debate,” said American University expert Austin Hart.
Longtime Republican strategist John Feehery predicted that Trump and Clinton will have vastly different approaches heading into the final debate.
“I think Hillary is going to play it safe because I think she believes she has the lead. I think Trump is going to go for broke because he believes that he has got to make up ground and kind of attack her,” Feehery said.
A handful of states will decide
In the final weeks of the campaign, both candidates will focus on a handful of so-called swing states where the election outcome will likely be decided.
Trump’s path to 270 electoral votes must include victories in Ohio, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina and one or two additional battleground states. A Clinton victory in one or two of those key states could secure her status as the next president.
At the moment, Clinton leads in many of the key swing states, though some of the margins are slim. Her campaign is also considering expanding into traditional Republican territory in the final weeks, including Georgia and Arizona where the polls suggest a close race.
Clinton was generally considered the winner of the first debate on September 26, while Trump supporters were heartened by his more aggressive approach in the second debate where he made Clinton the focus of numerous attacks.