Last debate looming, VP running mates cheer top of their tickets from the trail

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TOPSHOT - Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's plane (TOP) passes Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's campaign plane at McCarran International Airport on October 18, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada, on the eve of the two candidates' third and final US presidential debate.  / AFP / Brendan Smialowski        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

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HARI SREENIVASAN: Once more, with hard feelings.

Tonight’s presidential debate is a climactic moment in a bitter contest headlined by talk of sexual misdeeds and e-mail malfeasance.

John Yang begins our coverage from Las Vegas.

JOHN YANG: The final face-off comes as Donald Trump is facing sliding poll numbers, allegations of sexual assaults and is pressing his own claims about rigged elections.

SEN. TIM KAINE (D), Vice Presidential Nominee: He sort of telegraphed a little bit it’s going to be scorched earth.

JOHN YANG: Campaigning in Ohio today, Hillary Clinton’s running mate, Tim Kaine, predicted his nominee won’t be rattled.

SEN. TIM KAINE: Hillary is going to be very strong, very strong on facts and the details and demonstrating knowledge. And I think she will be what she was in the first two debates. She will be steady and calm, whatever Donald Trump tries to throw at her.

JOHN YANG: One thing Donald Trump could throw, a new allegation against former President Bill Clinton. Breitbart News reported today that Leslie Millwee, a former Arkansas TV reporter, claims that then-Governor Clinton sexually assaulted her three times in 1980. Trump campaign chairman Steve Bannon is on leave as Breitbart News executive chairman.

Trump’s number two, Mike Pence, didn’t mention the report today, but in Durango, Colorado, he argued that his man is set to deliver a strong performance.

GOV. MIKE PENCE (R), Vice Presidential Nominee: You sure saw that on the stage in his last debate a week ago Sunday, didn’t you, when he beat Hillary Clinton hands down. And I promise you, I’m going to get on an airplane. I’m headed to Vegas, because you’re going to see it happen again tonight.


JOHN YANG: Chris Wallace of FOX News will moderate the 90-minute debate on six topics in 15-minute segments: debt and entitlements, immigration, the economy, the Supreme Court, foreign hot spots, and fitness to be president.

And on the sidelines, psychological warfare. The Trump campaign has invited Malik Obama, President Obama’s Kenyan-born half-brother, but denies it’s trying to resurrect claims that the president was born in Kenya.

Another Trump guest, Patricia Smith, the mother of a State Department employee killed in the attack on the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. The Clinton camp has invited two business figures highly critical of Trump, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman and billionaire Mark Cuban.

Traditionally, these third and last two debates have featured the candidates sitting at a table together for a sort of more intimate setting, but tonight a change. The two candidates will be at lecterns for a more formal setting. It’s not clear who asked for it, but both campaigns agreed to the change.

And you want to know about those hard feelings. Don’t expect a handshake tonight when the two families are introduced into the hall — Hari.

HARI SREENIVASAN: John, what about the preparations? How did the candidates prepare today?

JOHN YANG: Well, Hillary Clinton has been true to form, the same way she has prepared the last two days — last two debates, rather.

She flew in last night. She’s at the Four Seasons Hotel here in Las Vegas doing several hours of debate prep on debate day, getting those last-minute debate preps in. Her entire debate team flew out with her, including Philippe Reines, who has been standing in for Donald Trump.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, is a little bit of change. He has acquiesced to advisers who wanted a little more serious and more formal debate prep, but still no mock debates. This morning, Kellyanne Conway, the campaign manager, was asked what her advice would be to her candidate. She said one word: focus.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Nevadans are used to fight night. They are used to the Mayweather battle, the showdowns and so forth.

And you have been reporting from there. Are the people in the state cognizant of how important their state could be in the grand scheme of things?

JOHN YANG: I think they are. They understand that this is a state that has voted for the winner in the election, the winner of the White House in every campaign except one since 1908.

There is a great deal of excitement. You talk about the heavyweight prize fights, the stunts like Evel Knievel jumping over the fountain at Caesars Palace. A lot of people are going to be watching here tonight.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, John Yang, reporting from Nevada, we will check in with you later tonight. Thank you.

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