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What’s Next in America’s Unpredictable Presidential Race?

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton
What's Next in America's Unpredictable Presidential Race?
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No one seems to know what to expect in the 100 days before American voters elect a new president.

“There’s never been an election like this,” said presidential historian Jeffrey Engel. He directs the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University in Texas.

On one side, there is Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party’s candidate for president of the United States. She is the first woman nominated for the office by a major U.S. party. The former secretary of state has promised to unite Americans to overcome economic problems and the terrorism threat.

On the other side is businessman Donald Trump, the candidate of the Republican Party. Trump competed for the Republican nomination earlier this year as an outsider. He promises “to make America great again.” He has promised strong action to fight terrorism, illegal immigration and crime.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump takes the stage during the final day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, July 21, 2016.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump takes the stage during the final day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, July 21, 2016.

High Negatives for Both

Both candidates face high negatives from likely voters in the November 8 elections. When asked, many Americans have questioned, disapproved of or rejected their positions.

Only 31 percent of likely voters have a favorable, or good, opinion of Clinton, compared to 34 percent for Trump. Those numbers come from a CBS News poll taken after the Republican national convention, but before the recent Democratic convention.

Joshua Scacco is a political scientist at Purdue University in Indiana. He says many American voters have expressed concern about the Republican nominee. He said they ’’don’t see him having the commander-in-chief qualities” to deal with complex world problems.

If elected, Trump would be the first president without military or government experience, noted Jeffrey Engel, the presidential historian.

Joshua Scacco said Trump’s Democratic opponent faces questions about trust. He noted that the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation said Clinton had been careless handing emails as secretary of state.

Scacco said she must persuade voters she can improve employment and the fight against terrorism after being part of government for so long.

Both candidates played up their opponent’s negatives at their party conventions.

Trump called Clinton a “world class liar,” who cannot solve America’s problems. Trump said only he had the skills and toughness needed.

Clinton questioned whether Trump has “the temperament to be Commander-in-Chief.” She said he used bankruptcy laws to avoid paying debts, leaving “working people holding the bag.”

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton takes the stage to give her acceptance speech during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Thursday, July 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton takes the stage to give her acceptance speech during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Thursday, July 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Different Views of America’s Status

The two candidates have very different ideas of America.

“Our convention occurs at a moment of crisis for our nation,” Trump said. “The attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities, threaten our very way of life. Any politician who does not grasp this danger is not fit to lead our country.”

Clinton was more upbeat. “So don't let anyone tell you that our country is weak,” she said. “We're not. Don't let anyone tell you we don't have what it takes. We do. And most of all, don't believe anyone who says, ‘I alone can fix it.’”

Over the next three months, the candidates will campaign almost daily -- mostly in swing states. These are states that can swing from (the) Democratic to the Republican side, or back the other way, from one election to the next.

There are plans for three presidential debates during the election campaign this fall. There also will be a debate for the vice presidential candidates -- Indiana Governor Mike Pence for the Republicans and Virginia Senator Tim Kaine for the Democrats.

The debates will be broadcast nationwide so voters can watch the candidates defend their positions and question their opponent.

Supporters Confident

Clinton and Trump supporters say they are hopeful about the November elections. Public opinion surveys show a close race.

Bob Livingston, a Republican and former congressional leader, said voters like Trump’s strong opinions. They trust Trump to negotiate trade agreements that will produce jobs in America, he said.

“Some people are bent out of shape about his comments,” Livingston said. “That includes a few Republicans. But Donald Trump is speaking to blue-collar people who haven’t voted Republican in the last 30 years. They feel he’ll fight for them.”

Gary Mauro is leading the Clinton campaign in Texas. He said many speakers at the Democratic convention, notably President (Barack) Obama and his wife Michelle Obama, corrected the “false image that Hillary is cold and not trust worthy.”

“As for Trump, I don’t think he can keep telling people that we need change and that only 'I can bring about that change' and not say how he’s going to do it,” Mauro said. “I don’t think that can work for the long term.”

Past Predictions Were Wrong

But predicting who will win is risky. Many political observers were wrong about the year-long nominating process Democrats and Republicans used to choose their candidates.

Few saw Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont, fighting so hard and so long against Clinton for the Democratic nomination. And many experts predicted a Republican with more political experience than Trump would win the party’s nomination.

Wayne Steger teaches political science at DePaul University in Illinois. He said the 2016 presidential campaign has been unusual. But this is not the first time two major party candidates faced mostly negative opinions from voters.

Steger noted that, in 1992, Hillary Clinton’s husband Bill had to answer questions about his trustfulness. The future president was asked about having relationships with women other than his wife while he served as governor of Arkansas.

His opponent, then President George H.W. Bush, also had a trust issue because he agreed to a tax increase after saying at the 1988 Republican convention, “Read my lips. No new taxes.”

Clinton won the election, helped by Ross Perot, an independent candidate for the presidency. Perot won almost 19 percent of the votes, taking support mostly from Bush.

Smaller parties are also nominating candidates for the presidency. Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson received 11 percent in the recent CBS poll, taking equal support from Democrats and Republicans.

I’m Bruce Alpert.

Bruce Alpert reported this story for VOA Learning English. His report was based on a VOA story by Chris Hannas and other reporting. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in this Story

poll -- n. an activity in which several or many people are asked a question or a series of questions in order to get information about what most people think about something

temperament -- n. the usual attitude, mood, or behavior of a person

bankruptcy -- n. a condition of financial failure caused by not having the money that you need to pay your debts

holding the bag -- a phrase that means stuck with the costs of a job or material

grasp -- v. to understand

swing state -- n. a state that has voted for candidates of different parties

bent out of shape -- a phrase meaning angry or annoyed by something

read my lips -- a phrase that means people should pay attention to what you are saying