After over a year of campaigning, US presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump finally met on September 26 to debate each other for the first time. Going into the debate, Trump held a lead of one point over Hillary (39-38%). After the debate, Clinton gained a lead of three points in a poll conducted by the same company (41-38%). So, what changed?
Well, it could be the fact that the world realized that Trump once fat-shamed a former Miss Universe winner, calling her "Ms. Piggy." Or it could be the fact that Trump proudly announced to the world that not paying taxes "makes [him] smart."
Or it could be the fact that he appeared hopelessly clueless when discussing the nuances of American nuclear warfare. Or it could be the fact that when confronted about potentially profiting off the housing crisis, Trump said "that's called business."
Or it could be the fact that in the days that followed the debate, we learned once more about how Trump built his empire by refusing to pay contractors. More than focusing on any particular ideological policy, these hits on Trump have been personal in nature, which makes them more damning for him since they cannot be shrugged off as partisan.
As Michelle Obama says, being president "doesn't change who you are, it reveals who you are." Trump's debate performance revealed who he is to over 84 million people, many of whom were tuning into the presidential race for the first time.
In mid-August, noted political prognosticator Larry Sabato stated that Hillary was on track to win 348 electoral votes (270 are needed to win). Such a large victory would entail that she would win some traditionally Republican states, like North Carolina, as well as make a full sweep of traditional battleground states like Ohio and Florida.
Before the debate, however, Sabato revised his predictions to state that now Clinton could only count on 272 electoral votes-still enough to win, but a significant drop in her support. What happened between mid-August and late September?
First, Hillary referred to some Trump supporters as "deplorable" in publicized remarks that Trump then used in TV ads. Secondly, she fell ill with pneumonia and then appeared to conceal her illness from voters-an instance that was not particularly helpful as many voters already see her as untrustworthy.
Democrats were panicked, but it appears that, after the debate, the race has now been reset to where it was in August. Furthermore, Hillary appears to be gaining even more momentum. Traditionally conservative newspapers, such as the Arizona Republic and the Dallas Morning News, have endorsed her. And USA Today, a paper that has never taken sides in a presidential campaign, stated recently that Trump should not win.
Furthermore, a slew of new swing-state polls show Clinton with definitive leads in states like Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. This momentum is coming at exactly the right time for the Clinton campaign, as early voting begins in pivotal states like Iowa and some of the largest cities in Wisconsin.
There are still two more debates as well as the vice presidential debate but, for now, it appears that Clinton is poised to win big on Election Day.
(Bharat Krishnan is a veteran Indian-American Democratic campaigner and author of Confessions of a Campaign Manager)