US Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton is going into the third and final presidential debate of the 2016 race for the White House with a widening lead as her Republican rival Donald Trump ratcheted up talk of a rigged, “stolen” election.
Clinton was leading her rival by 7.5 points in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls, up from two points on the eve of the first debate, and was ahead in some of the most crucial battleground states.
Clinton is opening up solidly Republican states such as Arizona, which voted Republican in 15 of the last 16 presidential elections. She led Trump by five points in a new poll released on Wednesday, just hours ahead of the debate. She was close behind in Texas, the reddest of states, by two to three points.
Her chances of winning at this stage stood at 87.2%, according to the FiveThirtyEight election forecast, with Trump at 12.7%.
The third debate takes place in Las Vegas (at 6.30 am IST on Thursday).
Trump has taken to complaining in recent days about a “stolen” election, fraud and rigging , citing stray incidents that have had the reverse effect of making him look like he is preparing the ground for a defeat.
There have been only 31 incidents of election fraud (including multiple ballots) between 2000 and 2014, according to a widely cited study by law school professor Justin Levitt. The study included all polls, municipal, state and federal and even primaries. More than 1 billion votes were cast in the primaries and general elections in that time.
The unfounded alarm and Trump’s calls to supporters to monitor polling stations on election day have raised fears about voter intimidation — especially among minorities.
President Barack Obama ticked off Trump sharply on Tuesday, telling him to “stop whining”. He added, “I have never seen in my lifetime or in modern political history any presidential candidate trying to discredit the elections and the election process before votes have even taken place.”
Possibly stung by the rebuke, Trump invited the president’s Kenya-born half-brother Malik Obama as his guest at the final debate, saying “he gets it far better than his brother”. The brothers don’t get along and Malik Obama, who is older, has resented not getting enough help from the president for a foundation he runs in Kenya.
Trump has in the past used his guest list for the debates to make a point. He brought three women who had accused former President Bill Clinton of sexual assault to the second debate.
But on Wednesday night, Trump will have plenty of other issues to take on Clinton, whose campaign has been hit by new allegations over her use of a private email server as secretary of state between 2009 and 2012. The state department is alleged to have tried to negotiate a deal with FBI investigators to mitigate violations.
Also, hacked emails of her campaign chair John Podesta are being released in small bunches every day by WikiLeaks. Trump might bring them up.
Clinton is likely to continue to repeat her campaign’s key argument against Trump — one that is dutifully reprised by surrogates — that he is unfit to be president. She is likely to use reasons such as the way he treats women, talks about them and behaves with them.
The 2005 recording in which Trump boasted about groping women and forcing himself on them remains current, with his wife Melania Trump bringing it up earlier this week to describe it as “boy-talk”. That was a missed opportunity as Trump has tried to dismiss it as “locker-room talk” without any success.