Final US presidential debate gets underway in Las Vegas
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Final US presidential debate gets underway in Las Vegas

A battered Trump looks to make up lost ground as Clinton enjoys growing lead in most battleground states

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are facing off on the debate stage for the final time.

Before the showdown, Trump issued an invitation to his Facebook page to join his team live at 8:30 p.m. EDT, half an hour before the scheduled start of the debate. Before the last debate, Trump appeared on the same platform with three women who have accused rival Hillary Clinton’s husband, Bill Clinton, of sexual assault. The former president has denied the accusations. Trump then sat the women in the debate hall.

At Wednesday’s final debate, Trump was expected to bring a woman who has accused Bill Clinton of sexual harassment, the mother of a man who was killed in the attack on the US compound in Benghazi and President Barack Obama’s half-brother, who supports Trump and has expressed support for the Hamas terror group.

Clinton guests include CEO Mark Cuban, basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, former Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman and former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Cuban, Whitman and Panetta are Republicans who support Clinton in the current election.

For now, at least, Clinton has a significant lead in most polls. Trump’s team says he’s planning to be aggressive on the debate stage in a bid to make up lost ground in swing states.

Businessman Mark Cuban stops to speak with members of the media as he arrives for the third presidential debate between Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Businessman Mark Cuban stops to speak with members of the media as he arrives for the third presidential debate between Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Cuban, a billionaire businessman and leading Trump critic, made the rounds at the third presidential debate in Las Vegas, and Hillary Clinton’s campaign insisted their high-profile guest is not here to troll the Republican nominee.

Clinton’s communications chief Jen Palmieri called Cuban “a very accomplished, serious business leader in our country.” And she touted him as “one of our most effective advocates” who “makes a really strong case for why Hillary Clinton will be a great president.”

Palmieri said Clinton has no regrets about inviting Cuban to the first debate, and said it had nothing to do with Trump’s invitation list for the second debate.

Palmieri added: “However Donald Trump chooses to react is his choice,” and argued that the Trump campaign “telegraphed well in advance of the debates” their intention to take a “nasty turn” in the campaign.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's plane (TOP) passes Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's campaign plane at McCarran International Airport on October 18, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada, on the eve of the two candidates' third and final US presidential debate. (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s plane (TOP) passes Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign plane at McCarran International Airport on October 18, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada, on the eve of the two candidates’ third and final US presidential debate. (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

Trump’s spokesman said Hillary Clinton will have an opportunity during the debate to apologize to the mother of a man who was killed in the 2012 attack on a US compound in Benghazi.

Jason Miller said the Republican nominee will press the issue whether the debate moderator asks about it or not. Miller made the comments Wednesday in an interview shortly before the debate.

Trump’s campaign confirmed that its guests inside the debate hall would include Pat Smith, whose son was an IT consultant killed in the deadly Benghazi attacks. Smith has accused Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time, of lying to her about what sparked the violence.

As the long and rancorous campaign lurches toward an end, the debate marks one of Trump’s last opportunities to turn around a race that appears to be slipping away.

While Clinton’s campaign is confidently expanding into traditionally Republican states, Trump’s narrow electoral path is shrinking. Already unpopular with a majority of Americans, the GOP nominee has been battered by recent revelations of his vulgar comments about women and a string of sexual assault allegations.

Republican vice-presidential nominee Gov. Mike Pence looks down at the debate floor from a television booth before the start of the third and final presidential debate between Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in Las Vegas, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Republican vice-presidential nominee Gov. Mike Pence looks down at the debate floor from a television booth before the start of the third and final presidential debate between Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in Las Vegas, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Clinton’s challenge in the last of three debates will be to both keep up her aggressive efforts to paint Trump as unfit to be president and start moving to ease America’s deep divisions, which have only been exacerbated during the campaign. The latter is no easy task for the Democratic nominee, given the public’s persistent questions about her honesty and trustworthiness.

Clinton will face debate questions for the first time about revelations in her top adviser’s hacked emails that show her striking a different tone in private than in public regarding Wall Street banks and trade. The Clinton campaign says the FBI is investigating the hacking of John Podesta’s personal email as part of a broader inquiry into Russia’s role in stealing emails from other Democratic groups.

The former secretary of state is also sure to be pressed about a senior State Department official’s request that an FBI employee re-review the classification of an email from Clinton’s private server. The now-retired FBI employee asked the State official to address a pending, unrelated request regarding space for additional FBI employees overseas.

Donald Trump, 2016 Republican presidential nominee, and Hillary Clinton, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, speak during the second US presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty Images, via JTA)
Donald Trump, 2016 Republican presidential nominee, and Hillary Clinton, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, speak during the second US presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty Images, via JTA)

The issue was raised after last week’s release of an FBI document in which an investigator who talked to the FBI employee said there appeared to be a proposed “quid pro quo.” Both the FBI and State Department say the two requests actually were never linked, and the two officials involved say the same. Neither request was approved.

Trump has called the matter “felony corruption” and worse than the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon. The Republican National Committee said Wednesday it had written the State Department’s inspector general requesting a full investigation.

Former NBA basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar stands with Jesse Jackson, Jr., before the third presidential debate at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016. (Joe Raedle/Pool via AP)
Former NBA basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar stands with Jesse Jackson, Jr., before the third presidential debate at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016. (Joe Raedle/Pool via AP)

Wednesday’s 90-minute contest in Las Vegas comes just under three weeks before Election Day and with early voting underway in more than 30 states. At least 2.4 million voters have cast ballots already, well above the rate for this time period four years ago.

Public opinion polls show Clinton leading in nearly all battleground states. On Monday, her campaign stepped up its efforts in Arizona, a state that has voted for a Democratic presidential nominee just once in the past 62 years.

Trump has leaned on an increasingly provocative strategy in the campaign’s closing weeks, including contending the election will be rigged, despite no evidence of widespread voter fraud in US presidential contests. He’s also charged that Clinton attacked and intimidated women involved with her husband’s affairs, bringing three women who accused former President Bill Clinton of unwanted sexual contact and even rape to sit in the audience for the second debate. The former president has never been charged with crimes related to the encounters, though he did settle a sexual harassment lawsuit.

Trump is bringing President Barack Obama’s half brother, Trump supporter Malik Obama, as his debate guest Wednesday night.

Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon said the Democratic nominee “will be ready for whatever scorched-earth tactics (Trump) tries.”

On MSNBC, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway summed up her advice to her candidate in a word: “Focus.”

Clinton, who has meticulously prepared for the three debates at the expense of time in battleground states, visibly rattled Trump in their first showdown by using his own controversial comments about women and minorities against him. The businessman was on defense at the start of the second debate — which came days after the release of a video in which he brags about kissing and grabbing women — but ended on stronger footing, hammering Clinton for being a creature of Washington who won’t be able to bring about change.

Trump denied in the second debate that he had made the kind of unwanted sexual advances he is heard describing in the video. His denial prompted some of the women who have since publicly accused him of assault to come forward.

Moderator Chris Wallace — the first Fox News journalist to moderate a general election debate — has said he plans to ask the candidates about debt and entitlements, immigration, the economy, the Supreme Court, foreign hot spots and their fitness to be president. He aims to spend 15 minutes on each topic.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.

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