Now it’s back to the main contenders in the U.S. presidential campaign, with Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump set for their second face-to-face debate on Sunday.
Their running mates, Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine and Indiana Republican Governor Mike Pence, sparred for 90 minutes late Tuesday, trading barbs against their top-of-the-ticket opponents. While most analysts and a quick poll judged Pence the winner, the morning-after verdict was that ultimately the debate would not prove consequential for voters five weeks ahead of the November 8 election.
«Pence had a softer and more confident approach,» Georgetown University political scientist Stephen Wayne told VOA. «Kaine was hyped and over-prepared for the debate. Pence did better, but the overall effect will be negligible.»
University of Maryland political scientist James Gimpel agreed, saying, «The betting right now is that nothing has changed» from recent days. A raft of new national political surveys show that Clinton, a former U.S. secretary of state, has regained about a four-percentage-point edge over Trump, a brash real estate tycoon making his first run for elected office, and also has moved ahead in several key battleground states that will determine the overall outcome.
At their face-off, Kaine recited a host of contentious statements Trump has made over his past 16 months of campaigning — on immigration, taxes, foreign policy and other issues — and attempted to goad Pence into defending them. But Pence repeatedly deflected Kaine’s taunts and instead attacked Clinton’s performance as the country’s top diplomat from 2009 to 2013, saying her policies have contributed to international terrorism and instability in the Middle East.
Not surprisingly, both Clinton and Trump applauded their running mates’ debate performances.
«In Mike Pence’s defense, we wouldn’t want to defend Donald Trump, either,» the Clinton campaign said in one Twitter comment. In another, Clinton said, «Lucky to have a partner like Tim Kaine, who stood up for our shared vision tonight, instead of trying to deny it.»
Looking ahead to Sunday
Analysts say it is an open question whether Trump can duplicate Pence’s disciplined debate performance when he next faces off with Clinton in a townhall-style format, where a handful of undecided voters will get a chance to ask questions, along with television news moderators.
At their first debate, widely seen as a decisive victory for Clinton, she was able to keep Trump on the defensive, attacking him over his defiance of a four-decade U.S. political tradition in refusing to release his tax returns, his long-time slurs against women, and his years-long campaign to prove the debunked theory that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya and is not a U.S. citizen.
Clinton also condemned Trump’s complaints against a former Miss Universe, Alicia Machado, that she had gained weight in the months after she won the pageant that he once owned. He continued to deride Machado in the days after the debate.
Contributing to Trump’s rocky post-debate week, The New York Times divulged three pages from his 1995 tax returns showing that he had declared $916 million in business losses that year, a financial setback so staggering that it might have allowed him to legally offset millions in dollars of his income over an 18-year stretch and avoid paying any income taxes.
Trump described his tax avoidance as «brilliant,» while Clinton mocked his business acumen for losing such a large sum in a single year, largely because of Trump’s failed casino ventures in Atlantic City, New Jersey, along the Atlantic Ocean shoreline.
ooking ahead to Sunday’s debate, University of Virginia political analyst Geoffrey Skelley, said that for Trump «being better prepared would be a good thing. A major point for him is that voters just don’t see him as presidential. Donald Trump has to counter expectations as to how he’d act as president.»
Skelley said Trump «was pretty good for the first 15-20 minutes» of his September 26 encounter with Clinton, «but then fell off the rails» in the face of Clinton’s gibes.
«The whole question is whether he can control himself,» Skelley said.
Advice for Trump
Wayne said, «No. 1, he has to stay focused and become less defensive, hit her vulnerabilities. He has to take a lesson from his vice presidential candidate and sound a little bit more soothing … generally show leadership.»
Gimpel said, «He has to have more message discipline, not get bogged down in tabloid-like controversies. Hillary Clinton will be confident and in command.»
With her growing lead in several key election states, U.S. polling analysts now give Clinton as much as an 80 percent chance of becoming the country’s 45th president and its first female commander in chief when Obama leaves office in late January.