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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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How The FBI Caught A Suspect With a DNA and a Fingerprint

Sayoc was taken into custody near an auto parts store in Plantation, Florida, north of Miami.

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Cesar Sayoc, who was arrested during an investigation into a series of parcel bombs, is escorted from an FBI facility in Miramar, Florida, Oct. 26, 2018 in a still image from video.. VOA

In the hours before his arrest, as federal authorities zeroed in and secretly accumulated evidence, Cesar Sayoc was in his element: spinning classic and Top 40 hits in a nightclub where he’d found work as a DJ.

As he entertained patrons from a dimly lit booth overlooking a stage at the Ultra Gentlemen’s Club, where Halloween decorations hung in anticipation of a costume party, he could not have known that investigators that very evening were capitalizing on his own mistakes to build a case against him.

He almost certainly had no idea that lab technicians had linked DNA on two pipe bomb packages he was accused of sending to prominent Democrats to a sample previously collected by Florida state authorities. Or that a fingerprint match had turned up on a separate mailing the authorities say he sent.

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The FBI released this poster, Oct. 25, 2018, asking for the public’s assistance in finding the people responsible for sending suspicious packages to multiple locations across the United States. VOA

 

And he was probably unaware that investigators scouring his social media accounts had found the same spelling mistakes on his online posts — “Hilary” Clinton, Debbie Wasserman “Shultz” — as on the mailings he’d soon be charged with sending.

Wealth of clues

In the end, prosecutors who charged Sayoc with five federal crimes Friday say the fervent President Donald Trump supporter unwittingly left behind a wealth of clues, affording them a critical break in a coast-to-coast investigation into pipe bomb mailings that spread fear of election-season violence. The bubble-wrapped manila envelopes, addressed to Democrats such as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and intercepted from Delaware to California, held vital forensic evidence that investigators say they leveraged to arrest Sayoc four days after the investigation started.

“Criminals make mistakes so the more opportunities that law enforcement has to detect them, the greater chance they’re going to be able to act on that, and that appears to be what happened here,” said former Justice Department official Aloke Chakravarty, who prosecuted the Boston Marathon bombing case.

First package

But it wasn’t always clear that such a break would come, at least not on Monday when the first package arrived: a pipe bomb delivered via mail to an estate in Bedford, New York, belonging to billionaire liberal activist George Soros. That same day, Sayoc, still under the radar of law enforcement, retweeted a post saying, “The world is waking up to the horrors of George Soros.”

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The gate is closed at the entrance to a house owned by philanthropist George Soros in Katonah, N.Y., a suburb of New York City. VOA

Additional packages followed, delivered the next day for Clinton and Obama and after that to the cable network CNN, former Attorney General Eric Holder, former Vice President Joe Biden and other Democratic targets of conservative ire.

Each additional delivery created more unease. But together they also provided more leads for the FBI, which mined each pipe bomb for clues at a laboratory in Quantico, Virginia.

A breakthrough

As the packages rolled in, technicians got a breakthrough: a fingerprint and DNA left on a package sent to Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat and one of the intended pipe bomb recipients, and DNA on a piece of pipe bomb intended for Obama. The FBI said it had identified no other possible matches on the evidence it had examined.

Besides that, the FBI said, his social media posts that traffic in online conspiracy theories, parody accounts and name-calling include some of the same misspellings as were noticed on the 13 packages he was charged with sending.

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Officers watch over the scene outside the Time Warner Center, Oct. 24, 2018, in New York. Law enforcement officials say a suspicious package that prompted an evacuation of CNN’s offices is believed to contain a pipe bomb. VOA

The clues, authorities say, led them to a 56-year-old man with a long criminal history who’d previously filed for bankruptcy and appeared to be living in his van, showering on the beach or at a local fitness center.

As the FBI worked around the clock, and as Americans were busy debating the hard-edged political climate and whether Trump had fanned the flames with his rhetoric, it was business as usual for Sayoc as he took to Twitter to denigrate targets like Soros. That was not uncommon for the amateur body builder and former stripper whose social media accounts are peppered with memes supporting Trump and posts vilifying Democrats.

‘We don’t talk politics’

On Thursday from noon to 9 p.m. as law enforcement grew ever closer, descending on a postal sorting facility in Opa-locka, Florida, Sayoc was working as a disc jockey at a West Palm Beach nightclub where he’d found work in the last two months. There, he spun his music from inside a small dimly lit booth overlooking a stage with performers dancing below. Autographed photos of scantily clad and nude adult entertainers were plastered across the walls like wallpaper.

“I didn’t know this guy was mad crazy like this,” said Stacy Saccal, the club’s manager. “Never once did he speak politics. This is a bar. We don’t talk politics or religion in a bar, you know?”

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Cesar Sayoc appears in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in this Aug. 31, 2005, handout booking photo obtained by Reuters. VOA

But Scott Meigs, another DJ at the club, had a different experience.

He said Sayoc had been talking about politics to everybody at the club for the last two weeks, preaching the need to elect Republicans during the November elections.

“I just figured he was passionate about the upcoming elections,” Meigs said.

The next morning, Sayoc was taken into custody near an auto parts store in Plantation, Florida, north of Miami. Across the street, Thomas Fiori, a former federal law enforcement officer, said he saw about 50 armed officers swarm a man standing outside a white van with windows plastered with stickers supporting Trump and criticizing media outlets including CNN.

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They ordered him to the ground, Fiori said, and he did not resist.

“He had that look of, ‘I’m done, I surrender,”’ Fiori said. (VOA)