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For the second time, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump sparred in a debate marked by personal attacks on the other while fact checkers scrambled to verify the candidates’ claims.

The first half hour of the Oct. 9 debate focused primarily on the character of the candidates rather than on policy issues. As expected, media attention over the tape regarding Trump’s “locker room talk” about women prompted moderator Anderson Cooper’s inquiring on the matter. Trump denied ever bragging that he sexually assaulted women.

Instead, Trump skirted Cooper’s questions by saying repeatedly, “I have great respect for women.”

The Republican nominee drew a contrast between what he said and what Bill Clinton did, trying to deter attention from the tape. Then, Trump claimed that Hillary “viciously” attacked the women involved in her husband’s affairs.

Carrie Johnson, NPR Justice correspondent, fact checked Trump’s claim on Hillary’s antagonism toward the women of the candidate’s husband’s affairs. The instance Johnson brings up concerns Gennifer Flowers, a woman who had an affair with former president Clinton.

According to a 1992 Esquire Magazine article, Clinton said she “would crucify [Flowers]” if given the opportunity to cross-examine her.

The audience applauded Trump’s comment that Clinton “should be ashamed of herself” for bringing up the tapes. When Clinton responded by quoting Michelle Obama’s phrase, “When they go low, you go high,” the audience applauded again.

            Later, Clinton claimed that it is good someone “with the temperament of Donald Trump” is not in charge of America’s laws. In response, Trump said, “Because you’d be in jail,” which incited a roar of favor from the audience. Trump called for a “special prosecutor” to deal with Clinton.

            Scott Horsley, NPR White House correspondent, remarked on the special prosecutor issue by referring to the FBI investigation of Clinton’s emails in which FBI Director James Comey did not recommend charges against the candidate. Horsley noted that law enforcement operates separately from the White House. A special prosecutor, which Trump called for might mix in politics and improperly blur the lines between law enforcement and the White House.  

Moving on to substantial policy issues, the debate opened up talk on the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Clinton accurately described the stipulations of the Act, according to Alison Kodjak, the NPR Health Policy correspondent.

Trump then remarked on the “disaster” that the health care plan is as he said that costs are going up and making it “unbelievably expensive.” The Republican nominee also said that getting rid of state lines in buying insurance would increase competition.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, health insurance subsidies for Americans under the age of 65 totaled more than $600 billion in 2016. In terms of getting rid of state lines, it is controversial whether doing so would increase competition or not, as NPR Science Desk Editor and Correspondent, Joe Neel pointed out.

When asked about Islamophobia, Clinton noted the importance of including Muslims and making them feel welcome in America. Clinton said that Muslims have been in America since George Washington’s time, which is correct, according to James H. Hutson’s paper for the Library of Congress, about the tolerance of Muslim faith.

            Throughout the course of the debate, Clinton urged viewers three times to check out hillaryclinton.com to fact check Trump’s statements. Fact checking for her website, Danielle Kantor and Kat Kane came up with 37 statements from Trump, but did not fact check Hillary’s statements.

Trump asserted a victory in a tweet, citing polls from Drudge, Variety, and Breitbart, among others. The Drudge Report poll said Trump won by 72-28. However, other news sources indicate a win for Clinton. An NBC poll indicates Clinton beat Trump on a percentage of 44-34, which is a closer margin from the first debate’s poll, which was 52-21.

Other polls are similar to the NBC poll, displaying Clinton as the winner, although by a tighter margin than in the first debate. This might be explained by Trump’s improved performance from the previous debate. NBC’s poll indicates 23 percent of people believe Trump has changed for the better in comparison with 13 percent after the first debate.

Jillian Lorczak, secretary of the debate team at the University at Albany, acknowledged that neither candidate gave straightforward answers to the questions.

“The most important thing in debating is proving to a judge why your side won,” Lorczak said.

Each news source seems to have a different opinion of which candidate won, as evidenced by the differing poll results.   

The third and final presidential debate will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 19 at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Unlike the second debate which allowed citizen participants and social media influence on public interest questions, the third debate will feature Chris Wallace of Fox News as the sole moderator.


Elise Coombs, a Syracuse native, is the editor-in-chief of the Albany Student Press. She is the co-Vice President of the UAlbany Mock Trial team, a member of Presidential Honors Society, and a peer mentor for the pre-law section of Writing and Critical Inquiry. After her time at UAlbany, she plans to go to law school and become a First Amendment lawyer.

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