De­bate stage is set for ... who knows?

Will Trump dam­age Clin­ton? Or him­self?

Baltimore Sun - - ELECTION 2016 - By Cath­leen Decker

LAS VE­GAS — Through­out the long and tawdry pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, both Don­ald Trump, by dint of his per­son­al­ity, and Democrats, by dint of the dam­age they see him do­ing to his cause, have kept the at­ten­tion fo­cused on him.

On Wed­nes­day, from a stage at the Univer­sity of Ne­vada at Las Ve­gas, Trump will face an im­per­a­tive that sounds sim­ple but has eluded him for months: to turn a fierce spot­light onto his Demo­cratic op­po­nent, Hil­lary Clin­ton.

“This elec­tion has been about Don­ald Trump from day one; that’s the only con­text he has,” said Demo­cratic poll­ster Peter D. Hart. “You look at this as his last best chance. If he continues to do the same things he’s al­ways done, the re­sults are go­ing to be the same.”

Clin­ton en­ters the third and fi­nal pres­i­den­tial de­bate with a lead in al­most all na­tional polls and a strong hold on states Trump needs to win, but she faces chal­lenges of her own.

She has been buf­feted in re­cent days by the re­lease of hacked emails that have re­newed ques­tions about her ten­ure as sec­re­tary of state. That of­fers Trump an open­ing, if one less siz­able than the dif­fi­cul­ties that have en­veloped him since the last de­bate. But for Trump, ben­e­fit­ing will re­quire a deft­ness and dis­ci­pline that he has been un­able or un­will­ing to main­tain in the two pre­vi­ous de­bates.

Trump, ac­cused by about a dozen women of sex­ual mis­con­duct, as­serts that Clin­ton is part of a global con­spir­acy to un­der­mine U.S. in­de­pen­dence. Clin­ton con­tends that Trump lacks the tem­per­a­ment to be trust- Stand-ins for Don­ald Trump and Hil­lary Clin­ton re­hearse on Tues­day in Las Ve­gas. ed with nu­clear weapons and is be­ing aided by hack­ers di­rected by Rus­sia.

Clin­ton has de­flected some of the sharpest as­saults on Trump to her sur­ro­gates. First lady Michelle Obama laid into the GOP nom­i­nee last week as rep­re­sent­ing a de­struc­tive anti-woman world view. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama on Tues­day be­lit­tled Trump as “whin­ing” rather than be­ing a stand-up leader.

But Trump is the dom­i­nant per­son­al­ity in his cam­paign by far, so he has taken on the largest role in re­mind­ing vot­ers of Clin­ton’s fail­ings. He has done so in bit­ing and mock­ing ways that have served to re­in­force Clin­ton’s crit­i­cisms of him. “It’s like a boxer with a glass jaw, lead­ing with their chin,” said Re­pub­li­can poll­ster Ed Goeas. “When he is the one lead­ing the fight … he not only stirs up her neg­a­tives, but his own neg­a­tives.”

Clin­ton and Trump started the cam­paign with high un­fa­vor­able rat­ings. Those num­bers have barely budged.

Asked last Oc­to­ber if they were op­ti­mistic or pes­simistic about Trump’s can­di­dacy, 67 per­cent of Amer­i­cans told the NBC News/Wall Street Jour­nal poll­sters they were pes­simistic. This month, that num­ber sat at 65 per­cent. Asked about Clin­ton’s can­di­dacy, 56 per­cent said they were pes­simistic a year ago; this month that fig­ure was 55 per­cent.

Over­all, an av­er­age of polls con­ducted by Real Clear Pol­i­tics finds Clin­ton ahead of Trump by al­most 7 points na­tion­ally.

More sober­ing for Trump was his per­for­mance in the states whose elec­toral votes will tip one of the can­di­dates into the White House. In those states, Trump had a sub­stan­tial lead only in Iowa, where he was ahead by an av­er­age of less than 4 points. Clin­ton was ahead by at least that amount in Florida, New Hamp­shire and Ne­vada, and by al­most that much in North Carolina.

Trump was far be­hind in

WIN MCNAMEE/GETTY

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