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Do the Sexual Assault Allegations Against Trump Matter to Voters?

Eric Pianin
Do the Sexual Assault Allegations Against Trump Matter to Voters?

The last week was arguably the worst of the campaign for Donald Trump, yet the Republican presidential nominee trails Hillary Clinton by just four points in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted Oct. 10-13.

Republican and Democratic voters heavily discount Trump’s denial during last Sunday’s second presidential debate that he ever made unwanted sexual advances to women despite being caught on an Access Hollywood video 11 years ago boasting of doing just that. Some 68 percent of voters interviewed in the Washington Post-ABC poll said Trump probably has made unwanted sexual advances on women while 14 percent said he probably hasn’t. Yet the controversy has had only “minimal” impact on the course of the campaign, according to a Washington Post analysis of the results.

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Overall, Clinton leads Trump by 47 percent to 43 percent among likely voters, while Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson received 5 percent and Green Party nominee Jill Stein garnered 2 percent. In a two-way race, Clinton leads Trump, 50 percent to 46 percent.

The latest findings — essentially a statistical tie when accounting for the poll’s margin of error — are at odds with other fresh polling. A newly released Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll shows Clinton with an 11-point lead over Trump, 48 percent to 37 percent, while Johnson, the former New Mexico governor, picked up seven points and Stein received just two points.

The latest Real Clear Politics cumulative national average has Clinton leading Trump by 5.5 percentage points. More importantly, however, Clinton has begun to pick up steam in key battleground states, including Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Ohio, and has begun to surge past Trump in the all-important race for the 270 electoral votes needed to secure the presidential election.

On the key question of whether the Oct. 7 revelation of the Access Hollywood video would affect voters’ attitudes, 35 percent said it would make them less likely to vote for Trump while 64 percent said it won’t make any difference, according to the Post-ABC News poll.

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Since last Sunday night’s debate, when Trump sought to showcase the sexual misconduct of former President Bill Clinton and flatly denied that he had ever engaged in the crude behavior he talked about in the video – including grabbing women by their genitals, nine women have come forward with stories about how they had been sexually assaulted and humiliated by Trump. The GOP nominee has flatly denied all of those allegations and sought to portray them as part of a conspiracy involving the Clinton campaign and the mainstream media to discredit him.

Mike Pence, the Indiana governor and Republican vice presidential nominee, today joined Trump in casting doubt on the allegations of incidents that in some cases date back decades.

“Frankly, the timing of these unsubstantiated claims that have been coming forward, all of which Donald Trump has categorically denied, is I think deeply troubling to millions of Americans," Pence told Fox News Sunday host Bret Baier.

Later, in an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation, Pence doubled down on Trump’s contention that the news media is conspiring with the Clinton campaign to try to destroy the Republicans’ candidacy with unfounded allegations of sexual misconduct.

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“Look, Donald Trump has made it very clear that he deeply regrets those words that he used 11 years ago, that they don’t represent who he is, and then he has categorically denied these unsubstantiated allegations,” Pence told John Dickerson, the program host. “What’s really remarkable though, John, is that in a week where you have this series of unsubstantiated allegations — and of course there is competing evidence that is coming regarding these particular incidents — we have an avalanche of hard evidence ... about Hillary Clinton’s years as secretary of state and the Clinton Foundation.”

ABC News reported last week that during the hours after the massive 2010 Haiti earthquake, a senior aide to then Secretary Clinton signaled to department officials in an email that they should give special attention to “FOBs” or friends of Bill Clinton and the Clinton Family Foundation in the awarding of billions of dollars of reconstruction contracts.

Clinton’s campaign insists that no donors or supporters of the foundation ever received special treatment with regards to those contracts. However, the Republican National Committee obtained dozens of emails between State Department and foundation officials through a Freedom of Information request suggesting such an arrangement, and then provided those to ABC News.

“We found out this week because of another network’s efforts that while she was secretary of state Hillary Clinton actually – her team directed contracts to the reconstruction of Haiti after the earthquake to friends of the Clintons,” Pence said today.  “This is exactly the kind of political favoritism that she said wasn’t happening that has largely been ignored by this network and largely ignored by the mainstream national media. Frankly the American people see right through it.”

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Clinton has been reeling from the release of a steady stream of emails stemming from Freedom of Information requests, the now completed federal probe of her improper use of a private email server during her four years at the State Department, as well as a massive cache of emails written by officials of her campaign and the Democratic National Committee that were released by WikiLeaks, the international whistleblower organization. The Obama administration has officially accused Russia of attempting to interfere in the U.S. elections by taking part in the hacking of the DNC emails, and there are suspicions the Russians were involved in the hacking of Clinton campaign emails, including those of John D. Podesta, the former White House chief of staff under Bill Clinton and now the unpaid chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Many of those internal emails show, among other things, Clinton’s cozy relationship with Wall Street bankers even while she publicly assumed tough stands against Wall Street, and sharp differences among campaign officials over how best to respond to the State Department email scandal and to sharpen Clinton’s campaign message. One exchange among campaign staffers seemed to be critical of Catholics and Evangelicals.

While not totally dismissing the authenticity of many of the leaked emails, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, today said that “we just have got to be a little careful” in taking them at face value, especially with strong evidence that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Russian operatives are working to undercut Clinton’s campaign and help elect Trump.

“When a foreign government tries to do this, there has to be a consequence ... but you can’t let it go unchallenged, because if you do, it could just encourage more of it,” Kaine said on Face the Nation.

Kaine blamed Trump for earlier encouraging Russian hackers to unearth evidence against Clinton — comments Trump later dismissed as a fit of sarcasm — and cautioned that some of the documents posted by WikiLeaks may have been doctored.

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“Not only are these emails an effort by WikiLeaks and Russia to try to destabilize our election,” Kaine said, “but second, you can’t assume they’re all accurate. One of the emails that came out this week referred to me. It was completely inaccurate.”

“And I don’t know if it was inaccurate because the sender didn’t know what he or she was talking about or it had been doctored,” Kaine added. “But anybody who is going to try to cyber attack and then try to destabilize an election, you can’t trust that they’re going to maintain scrupulous honesty about the content of what they’re dumping out for the world to see.”

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