ground game

Voters might turn off tonight’s debate. That’s good for Clinton.

U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton take the stage without shaking hands at their presidential town hall debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S. October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Brian Snyder/REUTERS
Donald Trump (left) and Hillary Clinton at the second presidential debate earlier this month.

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Heading into the final presidential debate Wednesday night, many analysts say that it is hard to imagine anything could halt Democrat Hillary Clinton’s increasing momentum and likelihood to win the race.

Then again, it is hard to imagine a lot of things that happened in the 2016 presidential contest.

These debates have served up some important moments in the race, if only because so many people are watching them. If the second debate helped Donald Trump stem the bleeding from his own political base, then this third debate is an opportunity for him to win over voters in the middle.


For Clinton, her lead might be large enough that she decides to talk past Trump altogether and directly address the American people. Instead of sparring with the GOP nominee, Clinton’s words could resemble an election night speech about where she wants to lead the country.

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Here are four things to watch for in the final debate.

Will viewers change the channel?

Clinton’s camp should want what is said at this Las Vegas debate to stay in Vegas. To win the election, she doesn’t need this debate to matter at all. In fact, if the debate is boring, that might work in her favor because Americans will turn off the television or watch something else. (Mashable put together a handy list of 11 other things to watch instead of the debate.)

Trump, meanwhile, needs to use all of his experience in television to make this debate a 90-minute program that no one can stop watching. But instead of leveling insults, if Trump had a theme and sticked to his message, he could do himself a lot of good -- as long as people are actually watching.


A list of potential discussion topics released ahead of the debate puts immigration front and center for the first time. It is especially fitting that the topic will be discussed in Nevada, where the concept is driving the political debate.


But immigration is also a great lens through which to view this contest. The uneasiness over big demographic changes is driving a lot of Trump’s support, and immigration is how he began his campaign. Clinton has gone in the opposite direction by embracing immigrants in her rhetoric, making the issue about the future and definition of the country.


While the first two debates were about Trump, this last debate may be all about Clinton. As she increasingly looks like she will become the next president, Americans may appreciate one last kick of the tires before Election Day.

One thing she will likely be asked about are the hacked e-mails of her campaign chairman published by Wikileaks. So far the e-mails have been embarrassing but not incredibly damaging. But Clinton could be asked to account for more of the cringeworthy e-mails from her staffers.

Ending on a high note?

It’s possible that both candidates might want to stay positive and focused on the issues. Clinton, for the first time in these debates, could tell voters why they should vote for her instead of voting against Trump.

For Trump, the negative rhetoric has not worked, so why doesn’t he try something else? This, of course, doesn’t mean that Trump can’t go negative at times. But laying out a positive vision of what a Trump presidency would look like might be exactly what some undecided voters are seeking.

Want the latest news on the presidential campaign, every weekday in your inbox? Sign up here for Ground Game. And check out more of the Boston Globe’s newsletters offerings here. James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell.