By Stephen Collinson, CNN
(CHICAGO) Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are striking a more sober tone Wednesday after two brutal debates, largely sticking to substance and keeping personal slights to a minimum during their final face-to-face showdown.
The presidential debate in Las Vegas began on a frosty note as the candidates once again abandoned the tradition of shaking each other’s hands at the outset. And there were moments of serious clashes, including over Trump’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Republican nominee’s immigration positions.
“We have some bad hombres here and we’re gonna get them out,” Trump said.
But overall, the first 30 minutes of the debate were dominated with exchanges over substantive policy issues harkening back to previous election cycles that lacked the drama and bitter personal battles of 2016. Clinton and Trump had a serious exchange, for instance, about the Supreme Court and gun rights.
Clinton said the court should “stand on the side of the American people, not on the side of powerful corporations and the wealthy.”
Trump said that the Supreme Court is “what it is all about” and rebuked liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for recent remarks in which she criticized him, before apologizing. He warned that if Clinton was President, she would gut Americans’ Second Amendment right to bear arms.
“If my opponent should win this race, which I don’t think will happen,” Trump said, the Second Amendment will be a “small replica of what we have now.”
Clinton denied that she opposes the Second Amendment but called for firearms legislation that included comprehensive background checks, and efforts to close the so-called gunshow loophole.
The candidates also clashed over abortion rights with Clinton insisting she would defend Planned Parenthood and the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.
“I will defend women’s rights to make their own health care decisions,” Clinton said, bringing up a previous remark by Trump when he said that women should be punished for getting an abortion.
Trump hit back, saying she would allow late-term abortions.
“You can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month,” Trump said.
Clinton accused Trump of adopting “scare rhetoric” on the issue.
Heated clash over Putin
The debate became more heated Clinton and Trump furiously clashed over Russia, with the Democratic nominee blasting her foe as a “puppet” of Putin. Clinton directly called on Trump to condemn what she said was a Russian effort to use cyber attacks to influence the election in her opponent’s favor.
Trump replied that Putin had no respect for Clinton or President Barack Obama.
“That’s because he would rather have a puppet as President of the United States,” Clinton said, implying that Putin wanted Trump to win the election.
“No puppet. You are the puppet,” Trump said.
Trump said he had never met Putin but allowed that the Russian leader had said nice things about him, and said it would be good if Washington and Moscow worked together to fight ISIS.
But he added: “This is not my best friend.”
Clinton is seeking to consolidate her strong position, knowing that a winning performance could help close out Trump. But she is facing a barrage of new attacks following an avalanche of hacked emails released over the past week from WikiLeaks. She is bracing for a ferocious counterattack from a foe who has proven in past debates that there’s no line he won’t cross.
Since the second presidential debate, Trump has faced a string of accusations of sexual assault, all of which he has branded as lies. He also made an accusation that no candidate in modern times has dared to level — that the election is rigged against him.
The GOP nominee has repeatedly lashed out at House Speaker Paul Ryan, whom he believes is not giving him the support he deserves. As a result, Trump has declared himself “unshackled” and intends to close out his campaign free from an obligation to toe the Republican line.
He’s said that Clinton should be forced to take a drug test before their final debate clash, and doubled down on his vow to put her in jail if he is elected.
First two debates
But Trump can’t afford to replicate his performances in the first two debates, when he was diverted from his most potent attacks on trade and the economy, by traps laid by Clinton or her jabs at his personality and business record.
Trump, down eight points in the latest CNN Poll of Polls, is almost out of time to launch what would be one of the most remarkable comebacks of modern times. A new edition of the CNN Electoral Map on Wednesday moved two key swing states, Florida and Nevada, to “lean Democrat.” Two states that have voted almost exclusively Republican for decades, Utah and Arizona, are now considered battlegrounds.
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