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Third presidential debate 2016: Five things to watch

Last Updated Oct 19, 2016 12:59 PM EDT

This is it: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will meet in Las Vegas Wednesday night for their third and final debate. The debate will be held at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Fox News’ Chris Wallace is moderating.


Watch CBSN starting at 11a.m. ET for full coverage of the debate


WIth fewer than three weeks until Election Day -- and early voting already underway in many key battleground states -- this is one of the candidates’ last major moments to get in front of millions of viewers and change their minds before they head to the polls.

With that in mind, here are five things to watch from CBS News:

1) Late-breaking news

Any plans the moderators had had for the second presidential debate on Oct. 9 went out the window when, barely 48 hours beforehand, the Washington Post published a tape of Trump making lewd comments about his attempts to pick up women. “When you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump says in the tape, recorded before an “Access Hollywood” appearance in 2005. “Grab them by the p****, you can do anything.”

The 2005 tape completely upended the 2016 race, and became the first topic of discussion at the second presidential debate. As the candidates gear up for Wednesday’s debate, will any similar story drop? Trump has faced a near-constant barrage of tough stories since then, with multiple women coming out saying he has inappropriately touched them or made unwanted advances. Trump, meanwhile, has flatly denied all allegations made against him, calling all these women “liars.” Will there be any more bombshell announcements before Wednesday night’s debate?

And it’s not just Trump: With WikiLeaks dropping near-daily batches of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails, there’s always the chance that a bombshell will emerge before the candidates take the stage Wednesday night at 9 p.m. Clinton was asked about her Wall Street speech transcripts during the second debate; if anything else comes out, it will certainly be front and center for Clinton.

2) Can Trump change the narrative?

The two debates have not appeared to improve voters’ views of Trump: according to a CBS News poll released Tuesday morning, 32 percent of those surveyed said the debates made them view Trump worse, compared with just 18 percent who said the debates made them view him better.

Is there anything Trump can do during Wednesday night’s debate to turn the tide in his favor, and to help recover some of the ground he’s lost in recent weeks? The two previous debates have put Trump’s temperament and fitness to be president front and center; is there anything in Wednesday night’s showdown that makes voters consider him in a new light?

3) How far does Trump go?

 The second debate saw Trump take extreme measures. To recap: he held a press conference with four women who had accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct and rape, seated them with his family in the audience for the debate, then asserted there had “never been anyone in the history of this nation...who has been so abusive to women” as Bill Clinton.

For this debate, Trump is bringing along Malik Obama, the Kenyan half-brother of the president. He said in July that he was casting his vote for Trump -- in part because he blames Hillary Clinton for the death of Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi. Malik Obama claimed that Qaddafi was a friend. 

Where will Trump take things this time? In the days since, he’s evoked images of widespread voter fraud and has even suggested Clinton may have taken performance-enhancing drugs before the second debate. Is there anything else he can throw at Clinton that the audience hasn’t heard before?

4) Can Clinton keep her cool?

In both the first two debates, Clinton responded to Trump’s bluster and increasing frustration by staying calm and collected. At one point during the first debate, Clinton at one point even did a small shimmy on stage in response to one of Trump’s assertion that he had “much better judgment” and “a much better termperament than she does.”

But this is Trump’s last chance to share the stage with her before Election Day, so it’s a fair bet he’ll try to rattle her more than he has in previous debates. Will it work? Or can Clinton continue to stay collected in the face of Trump’s attempts to shake her?

5) The moderator

There’s been a lot of focus on fact-checking at the first few debates: namely, who does it and how will it play into the debate itself? (CBS News will, as it’s done for the other debates, also be running a fact-check live-blog Wednesday night).

In past debates, it’s always been an open question as to whether the moderators would plan to fact-check the candidates mid-debate—but this time, we know in advance that the moderator has said he doesn’t plan to actively play truth squad. Fox News’ Chris Wallace, who is moderating Wednesday’s debate, has said he does not believe it is his “job to be a truth squad.” “It’s up to the other person to catch them on that,” he said.

That remark may be a little misleading, and Trump and Clinton would be well-advised not to take Wallace’s words at face value. The Fox News anchor may not seek confrontation, but he doesn’t shy away from it either, and he approaches debates armed with facts, a point that Trump may still remember from the primary debates.

In April, after Fox News -- including Wallace -- had moderated one of the GOP primary debates, Wallace told the Washington Post that he had anticipated that Trump would argue that the U.S. could solve its deficit problems with massive cuts to the Education Department and to EPA. But Wallace pointed out to him that those two entire budgets combined add up to $86 billion -- a fraction of the $544 billion U.S. deficit. An extended discussion of Trump’s proposed cuts ensued-- all showcased by graphics Wallace had ordered in advance, under the assumption  Trump would be consistent in his arguments about the deficit. At the end of it, Wallace told him, “Mr. Trump, your numbers don’t add up.”  

CBS News’ Steve Chaggaris and Will Rahn contributed to this story.

 

  • Emily Schultheis

    Emily Schultheis is a reporter/editor for CBS News Digital.