Who wins the presidential debate? Trump or Clinton?

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Mukurima X Muriuki

Today, history will be made at the first Presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. In the history of American politics, there will be a woman presidential candidate debating a rival contender with zero previous political experience. In addition, pundits estimate that around 100 million viewers in America will watch the debate. This is a record number unprecedented in political debates.

Going into the debate, Hillary Clinton has the advantage over Trump in national polling. Realclear politics poll of polls has Clinton up by 2.1 points in a two-way battle against Trump, and 1.5 points Gary Johnson and Jill Stein are added to the poll. However, presidential election in America is not determined by national poll or the popular vote; electoral college vote decides the winner. Trump has the momentum in electoral college polling. Going into the debate, the Clinton camp should be concerned about their declining battleground states numbers. A poll released today by CNN shows Trump leading in Colorado, and Clinton leading in Pennsylvania, although within the poll’s margin of error. If Trump wins all the states that Mitt Romney won in 2012 and adds to this column Ohio, Nevada, Iowa, and Florida-states that Obama won in 2012; then steals Colorado, he will be the next president of America. It will not even be a contest if Trump wins Pennsylvania.

That is why debate is important for both sides.

Hillary Clinton goes into the debate as a clear favorite. A recent Washington Post poll shows 44% of American favor Clinton to win the debate; 34% project Trump to win the debate. Pundits, as well as the Clinton camp, have managed to set very low expectations Trump. This may turn out to be a bad strategy. We saw how low expectations worked in Trump’s favor in his pseudo-diplomatic visit to Mexico City. If Trump refrains from boisterous insults and merely looks the part of a president, as he did in Mexico, then he’ll be rewarded with positive reviews for having exceeded the rock-bottom assumptions

There is no candidate in recent history who has superior debating skill than Secretary Clinton; skills honed over a long electoral career. She has downed, debate after debate, perceived eloquent and knowledgeable men including Barack Obama. It should therefore be anyone’s guess that she should have an easy time against Trump, whose sketchy knowledge of world affairs was concealed by his limited talk time in the crowded Republican primary debates.

Clinton’s experience is not just limited to the debate stage. Her all around policy knowledge is second to none. In fact, Associated Press has pointed out that the policy page on Trump’s website has just 9,000 words, incomparable with Clinton’s policy page that has 112,735 words. In as much as on paper Clinton appears the clear favorite, her vast experience may also be her waterloo. How does she sum up all the vast policy mastery into a 90-minute debate without sounding like a Chemistry teacher preaching about the mole concept!

The two candidates go into the debate with enough baggage that each rival will try to exploit. Hillary Clinton will likely task Trump about his failure to make public his tax returns. The counter punch from Trump will definitely be about Clinton’s 33,000 deleted emails and her speeches to WallStreet that she has refused to make public. Trump has denigrated women and shown a lack of empathy to the disabled. There is a thin line between his claim for nationalism and his spew of racist remarks. Yet, Clinton will have to contend with the “deplorable” statement as well as her reference, in the 90’s, of African American youth as “Super predators.” Bernie Sanders called this a racist reference. As such, no candidate has an advantage over the other in terms of baggage.

My crystal ball tells me that the name Kenya will surface in the debate tonight as the candidates jab over the birther issue. Clinton’s camp argue that Trump popularized this movement that tried to delegitimize the first African American president by contesting the fact that he was born in Hawaii, saying he was born in Kenya. I expect Clinton to bring this up. The counter argument by Trump will come in the form of an admission by a former McClatchy Washington bureau chief that Clinton also had a link to the birtherism during the 2008 democratic primary race against Obama, and her camp went so far as sending a reporter to Kenya to investigate the matter.