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Character seems to be the Key Issue in Waning Days of US Election Campaign

Polls show many voters question whether Clinton is trustworthy. An even greater number, though, fear that Trump lacks the temperament to be president

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FILE - Supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump hold signs at a Memorial Day parade in Chappaqua, N.Y., May 30, 2016. VOA
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Washington, November 5, 2016: Americans will elect a new president on November 8, and while issues like the economy and foreign policy will be important, polls indicate many voters are likely to make their decision based on how they feel about the personal attributes of the two major candidates, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.

Character issues have dominated the 2016 campaign from the beginning, and there seems to be no let-up in the final days as Clinton and Trump remain focused primarily on each other’s perceived flaws.

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The renewed FBI probe of Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state has pushed the issue of her trustworthiness once again front and center. And Trump wasted little time in highlighting the development in his campaign rallies, including one in Phoenix, Arizona.

“This is the biggest political scandal since Watergate, and it’s everybody’s deepest hope that justice, at last, will be beautifully delivered,” said Trump.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a campaign event in Miami, Florida, Nov. 2, 2016. VOA
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a campaign event in Miami, Florida, Nov. 2, 2016. VOA

FBI probe

While Clinton now finds herself on the defensive over the email controversy, she also has shown a willingness to continue to lash out at what she believes are Trump’s character flaws in the final days of the campaign, including a recent get-out-the vote event in Miami.

“Donald Trump is out there stoking fear, disgracing our democracy and insulting one group of Americans after another,” said Clinton.

Presidential campaigns often center on issues like the economy, foreign policy and immigration. But this year is clearly different, said George Washington University political scientist Matt Dallek.

“This race has primarily become about character and about personality,” said Dallek. “I think this issue of character is going to remain front and center. I don’t think it is going away and I think to an unusual degree, issues and policies are not really as central as they typically are.”

Polls show many voters question whether Clinton is trustworthy. An even greater number, though, fear that Trump lacks the temperament to be president.

U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton greets voters outside of an early voting site in Lauderhill, Florida, November 2, 2016. VOA
U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton greets voters outside of an early voting site in Lauderhill, Florida, November 2, 2016. VOA

Trust vs. temperament

Clinton’s challenge was clear in a recent CBS News poll that found only 36 percent of those surveyed said they found Clinton “honest and trustworthy,” compared to 60 percent who did not.

Trump has an uphill battle, however, on the issue of temperament. In that same CBS poll, 65 percent of those surveyed said Trump did not have “the right kind of temperament and personality” to be president, compared with 59 percent who thought Clinton did.

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The perceived flaws of the two candidates have dominated the campaign to an unusual extent, said West Virginia University political scientist Patrick Hickey.

“I think that is a very odd American presidential election in that both candidates are viewed unfavorably by the majority of the American people,” Hickey told VOA on the WVA campus in Morgantown recently. “Usually that might happen to one candidate, but not both.”

This combination of pictures created on October 09, 2016 shows Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. VOA
This combination of pictures created on October 09, 2016 shows Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. VOA

Debate confrontations

The questions about character have been center-stage in the campaign and came into sharp relief during the three presidential debates. Trump went after Clinton over the email issue in the second presidential debate and took the unprecedented step of promising an investigation if elected.

“If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation because there has never been so many lies, so much deception,” said Trump.

Clinton also seized opportunities to question Trump’s character. In the third debate, it was Clinton who went on the offensive over a series of controversial Trump comments about women.

“Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger. He goes after their dignity, their self-worth, and I don’t think there is a woman anywhere who doesn’t know what that feels like,” said Clinton.

For much of the campaign, when one candidate or the other has been focus, that person has generally suffered in the polls. And that’s why the cycle of repeated attacks on each other continues, said American University analyst Austin Hart.

“I think they are happy right now focusing on the candidates themselves, and less about the issues. But that could change, and if it does then something like the economy, like immigration, could matter more,” said Hart.

APTOPIX Campaign 2016 Clinton. VOA
APTOPIX Campaign 2016 Clinton. VOA

Tighter race

That seems less likely now in the wake of the FBI announcement that brought Clinton’s email troubles back into focus. There has been some tightening in the polls since the FBI announcement as Clinton’s advantage over Trump has slipped bit.

Some analysts believe Trump’s long list of controversial comments and perceived insults, however, have made it tougher for him to make up much ground.

“He’s viewed as less knowledgeable, obviously less experienced, less empathy, doesn’t have the right temperament to be president,” said Charles Prysby, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. “So he is being hurt a lot on character traits, more than anything else.”

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With all the attacks and focus on the character of the candidates this year, West Virginia’s Patrick Hickey said the election outcome likely will depend on which supporters are more motivated to vote.

“And this is a kind of anti-election, as opposed to a pro-election, which I think means that on Election Day, turnout is really going to be what matters, which side can turn out voters to actually get to the polls,” said Hickey.

Given all the focus on character and the multitude of negative attacks, voters seem as eager for the end of the campaign as they are to know the outcome on November 8. One of the longest and most divisive U.S. election campaigns will come to a close next Tuesday, and for many voters, the end can’t come soon enough. (VOA)

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Kavanaugh Gets A Green Card From Senate; FBI Granted Permission to Investigate

When asked if he would consider replacing Kavanaugh, Trump said, "Not even a little bit." He said the Senate has to do what it thinks is right.

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FBI
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., speaks during the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on Sept. 28, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington.VOA

President Donald Trump on Friday directed the FBI to launch a new investigation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh at the request of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In a statement, Trump said the updated investigation, which follows sexual misconduct allegations, “must be limited in scope” and “completed in less than one week.”

The decision is a reversal for the administration, which had argued that Kavanaugh had already been vetted.

The Judiciary Committee voted to send the nomination to the full Senate after securing a vote in favor of the nod from Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona, who had requested the delay and additional background investigation of Kavanaugh. Before voting, Flake consulted with Democrats, who repeatedly had demanded that the FBI investigate the allegations.

Ultimately, the vote by the committee of 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats was along party lines.

“I’m not expecting them [Democrats] to vote ‘yes’ but not to complain that an FBI investigation has not occurred,” Flake said. “This country is being ripped apart here and we’ve got to make sure that we do due diligence. I think this committee has done a good job, but I do think that we can have a short pause and make sure that the FBI can investigate.”

FBI
Republican Senator Jeff Flake reacts during a confrontation with a protester in an elevator in Washington, Sept. 28, 2018 in this still image obtained from a social media video. VOA

The committee vote followed a day of dramatic testimony by the Kavanaugh, an appellate judge, and Christine Blasey Ford, a woman who has accused him of sexual assault when they were teenagers in 1982. Both told their stories to the Judiciary Committee separately in lengthy hearings.

Kavanaugh has angrily denied the allegation that he sexually assaulted Ford at a gathering at a home in suburban Washington.

Kavanaugh needs at least 50 votes to be confirmed by the 100-member Senate. Vice President Mike Pence would cast the deciding vote if the Senate is evenly split. If all Democrats vote against Kavanaugh, two Republicans would also have to do the same to block his confirmation.

Shortly after Flake announced his support of moving the Kavanaugh nomination to the full Senate, Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly of Indiana said he would vote against the appellate court judge. Donnelly said Ford’s sexual assault accusation against Kavanaugh was “disturbing and credible,” and he repeated the Democrats’ call for the FBI investigation.

Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat from North Dakota, a state that voted heavily for Trump, backed Flake’s call for additional FBI investigation. “We need to get politics out of this process and allow an independent law enforcement agency to do its job,” she said.

FBI
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 27, 2018.. VOA

Senator Doug Jones, a first-term Democrat from Alabama, also a state Trump won by a wide margin, said Thursday he was voting “no” on Kavanaugh’s bid for the Supreme Court. “The Kavanaugh nomination process has been flawed from the beginning,” he said, adding that Ford was credible and courageous.

Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of swing state Florida also said Thursday he would vote against Kavanaugh. Republicans are trying to gain the vote of Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, another state that Trump won comfortably, along with Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Bar Association calls for full background check

The American Bar Association late Thursday called on the Judiciary committee and the full Senate to delay the vote until the FBI has time to do a full background check on the claims made by Ford and other women.

“We make this request because of the ABA’s respect for the rule of law and due process under law,” the ABA letter to committee leadership said. “Each appointment to our nation’s highest court [as with all others] is simply too important to rush to a vote.”

Earlier Friday, committee Chairman Charles Grassley flatly dismissed the ABA’s request, saying, “I’ve explained many times an FBI investigation is not necessary. The ABA is an outside organization like any other that can send us letters and share their advice, but we’re not going to let them dictate our committee’s business.”

FBI
Christine Blasey Ford testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sept. 27, 2018, in Washington. VOA

Shortly after the committee convened Friday, it voted 11 to 10 along party lines to reject a motion by Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut to subpoena Mark Judge, who Ford said witnessed the alleged sexual assault.

“We have a responsibility to subpoena at the very least Mark Judge before we move to vote,” Blumenthal said. “It is our constitutional duty to do everything we can to uncover the truth after hearing yesterday that compelling testimony from Dr. Blasey Ford and we cannot vote in good conscience without hearing at least from Mark Judge.”

Before the motion was voted down, Grassley read from a letter that he received Thursday night from Judge in lieu of testimony.

“When I told the committee that I do not want to comment about these events publicly as a recovering alcoholic and a cancer survivor, I have struggled with depression and anxiety. As a result I avoid public speaking.” Judge’s letter went onto to say, “I do not recall the events described by Dr. Ford in her testimony.”

“That letter is no substitute for an FBI interview,” Blumenthal said.

Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota also called for an FBI probe and said Friday that Kavanaugh had the opportunity to do the same at Thursday’s hearing to clear his name.

FBI
From left, Senate Majority Whip Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and Ranking Member Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., gather before a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept 28. 2018.. VOA

“Judge Kavanaugh could have easily said, ‘Mr. President, for this to move forward, I want to at least clear my name but mostly I want to have the American people know whether this is true or not.’ He could have done that. Why didn’t he do it? Because they are afraid of what they will find out.”

Kavanaugh’s testimony

“I have never sexually assaulted anyone, not in high school, not in college, not ever,” Kavanaugh told the senators. “I have never done this to her or to anyone.”

Kavanaugh cried as he spoke of how the ordeal has affected his family. He presented the senators with what he said were handwritten calendars from 1982 showing his activities and whereabouts. He said they did not include the party. He said he welcomes whatever investigation the committee wants but would not directly answer whether he would seek an FBI probe.

Kavanaugh acknowledged a love for drinking beer, but he also pointed to what he said were his outstanding academic record and dedication to high school sports and church.

Ford’s testimony

Ford told the panel she was “100 percent certain” a drunken Kavanaugh pinned her down on a bed, groped her, tried to take off her clothes, and put his hand over her mouth to muffle her screams for help.

Rachel Mitchell, a prosecutor chosen by Republican members of the committee to question Ford on their behalf, asked her about timelines and peripheral issues and did not challenge her basic account of sexual assault. But Ford’s account lacked firm corroboration of her claims by others at the party.

FBI
U.S. President Donald Trump holds a news conference in New York. VOA

Trump stands by nominee

Trump nominated Kavanaugh to replace the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Following Friday’s development, Trump told reporters at the White House that he thought Ford’s testimony was very compelling, adding, “She looks like a very fine woman to me.” He also said that Kavanaugh’s testimony, likewise, was “really something that I haven’t seen before,” describing it as “an incredible moment” in the history of the country.

When asked if he would consider replacing Kavanaugh, Trump said, “Not even a little bit.” He said the Senate has to do what it thinks is right.

Earlier, Trump tweeted that Kavanaugh’s testimony showed America why the judge was nominated.

“His testimony was powerful, honest, and riveting. Democrats’ search and destroy strategy is, disgraceful and this process has been a total sham and effort to delay, obstruct, and resist. The Senate must vote!” Trump’s tweet did not mention Ford.

Also Read: Christine Ford Testifies Against Brett Kavanaugh; Decision Pending

A senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, Ilya Shapiro, says it is not clear if anyone came out ahead after Thursday’s testimony.

“We’re at a dangerous point because if we have no more evidence and Kavanaugh’s rejected, that sets the precedent that accusations are enough to derail…and if he’s approved, then still there will be people who think that he’s a sexual assaulter or rapist and there he is sitting at the Supreme Court.” (VOA)