Politics & Government

Here’s what NC experts say Clinton, Trump need to do in last-chance debate

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, left, and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in these 2016 file photos.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, left, and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in these 2016 file photos. AP

Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton will debate one last time Wednesday night.

She’s ahead in the polls, but he’s still competitive in key battleground states.

Since their last face-to-face, both candidates have been besieged by new controversies. Several women have come forward to accuse Trump of groping or kissing them against their will. And WikiLeaks has released a steady stream of hacked emails that portray Clinton as a politician who shows a different face in private than she does in public.

What do Trump and Clinton need to do in this last-chance debate?

The Observer sought answers from six N.C. political experts.

Their advice for Trump:

Try to be presidential.

“He’s got his base firmly on his side. The problem is: The base alone will not win him the election. He needs to be more specific in laying out his proposals. And be more optimistic. … (GOP hero Ronald) Reagan talked about restoring America by making America believe in itself. But Trump’s slogan is all geared to the negative.” – Michael Bitzer, a professor of political science at Catawba College.

“He should act in a presidential way to suggest he has a steady hand, that he’s not shoot from the hip. … Bring in facts and figures that demonstrate a deeper grasp of policy. Give (voters) reason to say, ‘Wow, we can envision him in the Oval Office.’ ” – Andrew Taylor, a political scientist at N.C. State University.

“He needs to change the narrative on who Donald Trump is. … If he doubles down (on his scorched-earth rhetoric), it’s not going to help him get beyond his base.” – Susan Roberts, professor of political science at Davidson College.

“Try not to scare the hell out of people.” – Gary Pearce, a retired Democratic political consultant and co-author of “Talking About Politics,” a North Carolina blog.

Focus on issues, not insults.

“He needs to talk about things that would make an independent voter willing to support him, talk about how Washington isn’t working and this is how I want to make changes.” – Eric Heberlig, political scientist at UNC Charlotte.

“He always does best when he attacks (Clinton) as a Washington insider who has been up there 30 years, pointing to her supporting trade deals and being about politics as usual. But he often goes from there into name-calling and makes it look like he’s unhinged.” – Pearce.

“Folks definitely want a change election. But you’ve got to give them more than ‘Build a Wall’ and ‘The media is out to get me.’ He’s got to give them more (details) about what his change will look like.” – Bitzer.

Answer allegations with facts, not name-calling.

When asked about his women accusers, “if he’s got a fact that proves them to be untrue, share it. Just saying, ‘Oh, it’s not true ... People hear politicians say that all the time.” – Carter Wrenn, a Republican strategist and co-author of “Talking about Politics,” a N.C. blog.

“If he lashes out at these women, he’s in real trouble. What he might say is: These allegations are from many years ago. Why are they just coming out now?” – Roberts.

Their advice for Clinton

Preview your presidency

“Everybody already knows what’s wrong with Trump. She needs to make a positive case for her to be president. What difference will her presidency make in people’s lives? Tomorrow is the time to offer a positive message.” – Pearce.

“Project the gravitas of the office.” – Roberts.

“She has a detailed policy agenda. In previous debates, she’s referred to her website. It would be helpful this time to give an example or two. What would she do to make an ordinary person’s life better? She’s been accused of not connecting with ordinary people. Being specific would be a big plus for her.” – Heberlig.

Try to rattle Trump.

“Give him something to make him crazy.” – Pearce.

“Bait him with his low poll numbers.” – Roberts.

“It’s like a prize-fight. You’re looking at two people in the ring together, to see how they can react to criticism.” – Wrenn.

Be ready on those hacked emails.

“Question whether they’re legitimate. … Say, ‘I don’t know who’s behind them – Russia or WikiLeaks. Here’s what I’ll do as president and that’s why they’re trying to stop me.’ ” – Pearce.

“Treat them as petty internal campaign stuff – the kind of emails every kind of organization has.” – Heberlig.

“If she’s got an answer, take it head on. She needs to explain her side of it. Give some facts.” – Wrenn.