Hempstead, United States | AFP |
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump face off Monday in one of the most consequential presidential debates in modern US history with up to 100 million viewers set to tune in.
The stakes could not be higher: the first woman to win the White House nomination for a major US party, against a New York tycoon turned reality star who has upended the political establishment.
Commentators call it a clash of the titans: a 90-minute test of endurance between Clinton the Democrat, arguably the most experienced US presidential candidate in history, against Trump the Republican, perhaps the least experienced White House nominee for a major party.
The outcome could shape the last six-week stint of an election that has deeply polarized the country and left Trump fighting to overcome allegations of bigotry and sexism.
Wall Street stocks tumbled Monday in anticipation of the first of three live, televised debates before the November 8 election, with the polls locked in a virtual dead heat between the major-party candidates.
A decisive win for Clinton could see her pull ahead. A strong performance from Trump could keep the vote competitive or even possibly see him pull out in front.
Hosted at Hofstra University on Long Island, a mere 60-minute drive from Manhattan and chaired by NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, the debate may attract an audience closer to the size of the Super Bowl when it kicks off at 9:00 pm (0100 GMT Tuesday), beamed live around the country.
The questions will revolve around three themes: “America’s direction, achieving prosperity, and securing America.”
Both candidates, both the most disliked US presidential rivals in contemporary history, have spent days furiously prepping and honing which strategy they believe will inflict maximum damage on the other.
Clinton, 68, is nothing if not experienced with four decades of public service tucked under her belt — a veteran of 34 primary debates, having run and lost for president in 2008 against Barack Obama.
“When the spotlights are at the brightest and the pressure is the most intense, that’s when she brings her A-plus game,” says Clinton running mate Tim Kaine.
Trump, the 70-year-old maverick billionaire, has refused to play by the rules. He has never held public office but stormed through the primaries, crushing his 16 opponents with populist, say-it-how-it-is message that has resonated amongst Americans fed up with politicians.
According to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, 53 percent of Americans voters do not believe that Trump is qualified to be president, lacking the temperament and knowledge.
But his campaign manager Kellyanne Conway says for all Clinton’s proficiency it has not translated into campaign success.
“She’s smart, but this isn’t her sweet spot,” she told MSNBC, calling her boss by comparison “a natural debater.”
“I have been in politics for 28 years,” she said. “And I think Donald Trump has gifts and skills that sometimes escape typical politicians.”
Clinton is masterful when it comes to policy details, but suffers from perceptions that she is untrustworthy and dishonest. Trump is masterful at hogging the limelight, but considered weak on policy.
Polls tied, stocks tumble
Their target will be the estimated nine percent of American voters who are still undecided. Can the Democrat win their minds, if not their hearts? Can Trump persuade them that he has the gravitas to lead?
Stocks skidded on Wall Street Monday with the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropping 0.9 percent to 18,094.83 amid unease over the outcome of Monday’s debate.
“The market is beginning to realize that it may not be an easy win for Clinton,” said Peter Cardillo, chief economist at First Standard Financial. “Normally a Republican win would be positive for the stock market, but with Trump it may create a lot of uncertainties.”
The latest opinion polls have Clinton and Trump virtually tied: 41 percent each according to the Washington Post-ABC poll and 43 for Clinton to Trump’s 42 percent according to Quinnipiac University.
The Quinnipiac poll found that voters expect Clinton to win the debate 41 to 32 percent, and that 84 percent said they intend to watch.
The Clinton campaign has expressed concern of being held to a double standard, saying the bar is higher for her while Trump stood to win praise for a merely adequate performance.
“All that we’re asking is that if Donald Trump lies, that it’s pointed out,” Clinton campaign manager Robbie Mook told ABC.
Trump has already stated that he does not believe Holt’s role as moderator is to police each candidate.
He also previously accused Holt — a registered Republican — of being a Democrat.
According to the Washington Post/ABC News poll, both Clinton and Trump are viewed unfavorably by 57 percent of registered voters.
While voters find both candidates lacking in honesty, Clinton’s ratings were worse, with just 33 percent of voters finding her honest and trustworthy and 66 percent saying she is not.