WASHINGTON – A presidential campaign that started before it began now might not end on Election Day.
And as strange as that sentence may sound, it only hints at the strangeness of the White House race – which turned on the following 10 turning points:
- Emailgate begins: A month before Clinton hopped in a van to drive to Iowa to start her campaign, the New York Times ran a front-page story headlined: Hillary Clinton Used Personal Email Account at State Dept., Possibly Breaking Rules. That story, published on March 2, 2015, defined this race to this day, giving Donald Trump a fresh reason to call his opponent “Crooked Hillary” – as well as a chance of winning on Tuesday.
- Trump announces: Much of the media thought it was a fitting metaphor when Trump rode an escalator down to the news conference where he announced his presidential bid on June 16, 2015. But there, for the first time, Trump promised to “make America great again.” And for the first time, some people started believing that promise.
- Trump wins New Hampshire: The pundits thought Trump was nothing but name recognition and bad hair and puffy poll numbers – until New Hampshire proved the pundits wrong. Trump didn’t just win New Hampshire: He won by nearly 20 points, starting a relatively easy march to the Republican nomination.
- Sanders says: “I’m with her”: For much of the spring, Democrats seemed deeply divided between Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. But after losing the California primary in June, Sanders united the party announcing he would work to defeat Trump. Sanders then acted on his promise by campaigning tirelessly for Clinton through the fall.
- Comey clears Clinton: FBI Director James Comey announced on July 5 that the FBI’s investigation into Clinton’s private email server would not prompt his investigators to recommend indicting her. The FBI took another look at things after investigators found more emails in October, but in the end, that conclusion stuck. Comey said the FBI would not prosecute Clinton even though she had been “extremely careless” in the handling of classified information.
- A father’s plea: The crowd of thousands fell to silence at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 28 as Khizr Khan, the father of the late Army Capt. Humayun Khan, delivered a damning indictment of Trump’s call for a ban on Muslim immigration. Predictably, Trump looked for revenge, lashing out at Khan’s wife and picking a losing battle with a Gold Star father.
- Sick Hillary: Felled by the heat – and by a case of pneumonia that she and her aides hid from the public – Clinton nearly collapsed as she approached the SUV that would carry her to the cool confines of her daughter’s apartment. Clinton emerged hours later, saying she felt fine. But that near-collapse made her health a campaign issue and, for a time, appeared to give Trump a boost.
- The first debate: Clinton’s political recovery from her near-fall came at the first debate on Sept. 26, when she looked polished and prepared in comparison to Trump, who fell apart after the first half hour and ended up back at the start of his political career: defending his contention that maybe, just maybe, Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States.
- The “Access Hollywood” tape: Presidential candidates typically don’t get caught bragging about groping women, but that’s what happened to Trump on Oct. 7, when the Washington Post revealed that he had done just that before an appearance on “Access Hollywood” back in 2005. Trump apologized and said he was just bragging, but there’s nothing as damaging in politics as a damning unscripted moment.
- “I will keep you in suspense”: That’s just what Trump said at the third debate on Oct. 19 when asked if he would concede if he loses the election. After weeks of complaining of a “rigged” system, Trump took things one step further, saying he might not accept the results of the election – which is why, in terms of rhetoric and vitriol, this election may not end on Election Day.