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The Commander in Chief Forum Wednesday night marked the first time that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump appeared back-to-back on the same stage in the presidential election.
The designated topics -- national security and the military -- were supposed to serve as a preview of the highly-anticipated first general election debate, which is just a little over two weeks away.
If that was the case, these candidates showed they have a lot of work to do.
Neither candidate did themselves any favors at the forum. Clinton was visibly agitated over being asked for 13 minutes straight about her handling of e-mail during her time as US secretary of state. After the story emerged nearly a year and a half ago, she has two weeks to figure out how she can better answer questions on this. For months she has said she is sorry that she made a mistake -- and then in the next breath adds she did nothing wrong. She could start by explaining why exactly she is apologizing.
Trump may have even more debate preparation ahead. If Clinton came across as defensive, Trump came across as lacking substance. His so-called secret plan to take on the Islamic State appeared to at least one questioner as being no plan at all. Trump appeared more concerned about what Russian president Vladimir Putin said about him than the accusation that Russia is trying to influence the American election. (New York Times reporter Jonathan Martin tweeted a question I think many would love to see asked, “One last question, Mr Trump, what’s the difference between Sunnis and Shiites? “)
The first debate is expected to set records for viewership. But unless these candidates turn things around, these voters will just see a reaffirmation of what they already don’t like about these two deeply unpopular candidates -- instead of feeling good about making a choice.