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  • File photos of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

    File photos of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. | Photo: Reuters

Two bombastic candidates, a dead heat, protesters outside, dueling celebrities inside, and a huge TV audience may make for a hot night at Hofstra. 

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is surging in the polls going into Monday's much-anticipated presidential debate, with a spate of recent surveys showing the billionaire developer pulling into a dead heat with Hillary Clinton.

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A new national poll by Bloomberg finds that the two are locked in a close race in the head-to-head competition, with each polling at 46 percent of likely voters. But when third-party candidates are included in the results, Trump's poll numbers give him a small edge, 43 percent to Clinton’s 41 percent.

And the latest poll by the website Real Clear Politics, which is a composite of several of the most recent, credible polls, shows Clinton winning 45.9% of votes cast by likely voters, or 2.1 percentage points more than Trump, which is within most polls margin of error.

If there is a silver lining for Clinton–who some polls showed ahead by as much as seven percentage points as recently as August–it is that most poll respondents believe the former secretary of state will out-perform Trump in the debates, by a wide margin. The Bloomberg poll showed that 49 percent of respondents favor Clinton in Monday's debate, while 39 percent of people expecting Trump to outperform Clinton.

Part of what lends this debate a kind of prizefight quality is the debate guest list. In an effort to burnish her reputation as a fighter on behalf of women and children, Clinton's guests include a 9/11 survivor, a domestic violence survivor, Clinton's lifelong pen pal, and a supporter with cerebral palsy, Anastasia Somoza, who once said she pitied Trump.

The Clinton campaign earlier announced that Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban, a vocal Trump critic, would also be among her invited guests, prompting Trump to respond that he would invite Gennifer Flowers, who had an affair with former President Bill Clinton while he was governor of Arkansas. On social media, Flowers very publicly accepted Trump's invitation.

George W. Bush and Al Gore debate during the last of three debates at Washington University in St. Louis in the year 2000. | Photo: Reuters

Hundreds of demonstrators began assembling outside the Hofstra University sports arena at the Long Island campus in the pre-dawn hours Monday, many to protest what they say is the failure of both major party candidates to address police violence against Blacks and other people of color nationwide. A Super Bowl-sized audience – perhaps as many as 100 million – is expected to watch from home.

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But the unprecedented unpopularity numbers of both candidates may make it difficult for either to capitalize on the debate.

“It will be hard for either candidate to criticize the other too harshly on this form of integrity,” Ann Selzer, the Iowa-based pollster who oversaw the Bloomberg survey said. “They are the pot and the kettle.”

Many are also warning Clinton, an Ivy-League educated lawyer, to not repeat the doom-slated gaffes of Al Gore in the run-up to the 2000 presidential election when the then-vice president impressed many as a know-it-all in debates against the simpler, and more plain-spoken George W. Bush.

“Like Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Gore was perceived as knowing far more about domestic issues, foreign affairs and the art of debating than the Republican nominee,” wrote Patrick Healy in the New York Times.

But his haughty and presumptuous debating style led many to believe it cost Gore the presidency.


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