Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016 | 2 a.m.
It was here in Las Vegas on Wednesday night that the two presidential candidates placed their final bets — to use a classic, if worn, Sin City metaphor.
The third presidential debate at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center brought Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump face to face for the last time before Election Day. But it was a full circle of sorts for the candidates, who both secured key victories early this year in Nevada’s caucuses, helping them ultimately secure the presidential nominations and bringing them to the cusp of the presidency.
For Clinton, her narrow but decisive victory in the February caucuses took the wind out of the sails of her opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. For Trump, his resounding Nevada victory secured his front-runner status and demonstrated how wide and deep his message resonated with everyday Americans across the country.
During the debate, the candidates both sparred over policy positions and needled each other with personal attacks. They also made their closing arguments to voters, many of whom have already begun voting in states across the country and others, like Nevadans, who will soon be able to cast their early-vote ballots.
Trump’s message ended where it started, with making America great again, in terms of its military, its economy, and its education system.
“We are going to make America strong again, and we are going to make America great again, and it has to start now,” Trump said. “We cannot take four more years of Barack Obama, and that’s what you get when you get her.”
Clinton’s closing thoughts reflected theme of her post-convention campaign, “Stronger Together.”
“Well, I would like to say everyone watching tonight that I’m reaching out to all Americans — Democrats, Republicans, and independents — because we need everybody to help make our country what it should be, to grow the economy, to make it fairer, to make it work for everyone,” Clinton said.
Throughout the debate, Chris Wallace, the first-ever general election debate moderator from Fox News, pressed both candidates at their weak points. He asked Trump why so many women would have come forward over the last week to share untrue stories about being sexually assaulted by the Republican candidate.
Trump suggested that either the women were seeking attention or that the Clinton campaign had somehow persuaded them to make up the accusations.
“It was fiction,” Trump said of the allegations. “It was lies and it was fiction.”
Wallace also pressured Clinton to explain any conflicts of interest between the operation of the Clinton Foundation and her tenure as secretary of state. He asked her whether she had kept her pledge to avoid even the conflict of appearance between the two.
“Everything I did as secretary of state was in furtherance of our country’s interest and values,” Clinton said, before trying to pivot to talking about the good work that the Clinton Foundation has done.
In one the more surprising moments of the debate, Wallace asked Trump whether he would accept the results of the election, given the fact that Trump has recently been stoking concerns that the election might be “rigged.” Wallace noted that, no matter how fraught elections have been, there is always a “peaceful transition of power” in the U.S.
Trump, however, declined to say that he would outright accept the results of the election.
“I will tell you at the time,” was Trump’s response. “I will keep you in suspense.”
Clinton immediately fired back, calling Trump’s response “horrifying” and saying that the country has long “accepted the outcomes when we may not have liked them.”
The two also sparred over Russian President Vladimir Putin, who both said wants a “puppet” president at the helm of the United States.
“He’d rather have a puppet” as president, Clinton said.
“No, you’re the puppet,” Trump fired back, interrupting Clinton.
Clinton called on Trump to admit that the Russian government is behind the recent hacking and release of internal Clinton staff emails through the website WikiLeaks and condemn such actions. Trump did condemn any type of foreign interference in U.S. elections, adding that he doesn’t know the Russian president and that Putin “is not my best friend.”
Nevada also made a couple of brief cameos during the debate. During a discussion on immigration, Clinton highlighted the story of 11-year-old Karla Ortiz, the daughter of undocumented immigrants who lives in Nevada.
Ortiz shared her story with Clinton earlier this year and was invited to share her story at the Democratic National Convention this summer. She was also in the audience Wednesday night as one of Clinton’s guests.
“Well, as he was talking, I was thinking about a young girl I met here in Las Vegas, Karla, who is very worried that her parents might be deported because she was born in this country but they were not,” Clinton said. “They work hard, they do everything they can to give her a good life.”
Four of Trump’s guests, by contrast, were mothers of children killed by immigrants here in the country without authorization. “We have some bad hombres here, and we’re going to get them out,” said Trump, promising to deport those immigrants here illegally and with criminal records.
Clinton also took a shot at Trump over his Las Vegas hotel, the Trump International, saying that Trump has shipped jobs to 12 countries, including China.
“The Trump Hotel right here in Las Vegas was made with Chinese steel,” Clinton said. “So he goes around with crocodile tears about how terrible it is, but he has given jobs to Chinese steelworkers, not American steelworkers.”
UNLV political science professor John Tuman said that while Trump performed better in Wednesday's debate than in the first two contests, Clinton still came out on top.
Tuman said Clinton surprisingly outperformed Trump on the economy.
"Things are trending very much in her favor," Tuman said. "Trump's tendency to lose his discipline, get off script and engage in Twitter wars has really affected his ability to connect with voters."
After the debate came to a close, Clinton made a surprise visit to more than 5,200 of her supporters who had gathered at Craig Ranch Park for a debate watch party along with the band Los Tigres del Norte, musician Vicente Fernandez, and actress Angelica Maria. There, she promised the largely Hispanic crowd that she would introduce comprehensive immigration reform during her first 100 days in office.
She also noted that half of undocumented workers in the country pay federal income taxes. “You know what that means? That means you pay more to support this country than Donald Trump pays,” Clinton said. “You are supporting our military and our veterans and our roads and our health care and our education and I want to say thank you, thank you for your hard work.”
With early voting only three days away, Clinton counseled them on the importance of turning out to the polls.
“We are not going to let Donald Trump have a deportation force that will round up 11 million people along with their 4 million children who were born in this country,” Clinton said. “But the best way to stop that is to be stronger together and come out and vote.”
By the time Clinton’s plane was wheels up at about 10 p.m. Wednesday evening, Trump’s Boeing 757 was nowhere to be seen on the tarmac.
Early voting in Nevada starts Saturday and lasts through Nov. 4. Election Day is Nov. 8.
Sun reporter Chris Kudialis contributed to this report.