NEW YORK, N.Y. – Enough, already.
In a campaign in which the size of a candidate’s genitalia has been publicly discussed, in a week in which shockingly sexual video has been unearthed and after a debate in which the leading contenders for the White House exposed new depths of down-and-dirty exchanges, some voters are ready to deny either major-party candidate their support.
“We’re screwed with either one of them,” said Sally Stevens, 63, of New Orleans.
Stevens tried to keep herself from tuning into Sunday night’s debate. “I completely lose hope and my anxiety level goes through the roof,” she said. But she relented after about a half-hour, saying it was like attempting not to look when you drive by a car wreck. Watching brought no solace.
She is a lifelong Democrat and has, until now, always cast her vote for the party’s presidential candidate. She had hoped Sen. Bernie Sanders would be the nominee; in his place, she has decided to vote for Green Party nominee Jill Stein. Both Clinton and Trump are too flawed, she said, and more similar than distinct.
“It’s just spectacle, that’s all it is,” she said. “I don’t find anything substantial.”
Those feelings abound: An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll conducted Sept. 15-18 found three out of four Americans felt frustrated by the election, and majorities also described themselves as angry and helpless. Fewer than one in five people said they felt proud of the 2016 race.
In Washington, Ron Bonjean said the campaign already was “in a very sad state” before the debate. The longtime Republican congressional staffer, who now runs a corporate communications firm, said Trump’s suggestion he would jail Clinton if he’s elected amounted to “a nuclear bomb went off in American politics.”
Bonjean calls himself “a very confused Republican.” He won’t vote for a third-party candidate. He’s weighing whether to go with Trump or not vote at all. Even so, the 46-year-old expects the campaign to get even worse and for even more shocking revelations to arise as opposition researchers scrounge for more dirt.
“This is a historical low campaign of modern times and last night was the lowest moment in debate history,” he said.
Jin Hua, a 28-year-old marketing consultant in St. Petersburg, Florida, already has resigned himself to skipping voting for president, calling deciding between Clinton and Trump a “lose-lose.” He voted for President Obama four years ago and was hoping for Sanders this year, but won’t accept a candidate he says is simply “the lesser of two evils.”
“On one hand, we have Hillary Clinton, who has consistently demonstrated consistent deception,” he said. “On the other side, there’s Donald Trump. He’s a toxic human being to the consciousness of this country. If he becomes president, our human values as a nation will degrade to the dark ages.”
Christina Greer, a political science professor at New York’s Fordham University, said the tone for the debate was set before it even started, with Trump holding a news conference with three women who accused former President Bill Clinton of sexual harassment and even rape, accusations that have never brought any criminal charges.
“It’s just a new low in American politics and just set a tone of shock and awe for a lot of journalists and scholars,” she said.
The latest bombshell about Trump, via the “Access Hollywood” recording from 2005 in which the businessman boasted of groping women, has spurred many in the Republican’s own party to say they won’t vote for their nominee. But few big-name party members have made the additional jump of saying Clinton will get their vote.
In New Hampshire, former Republican National Committeeman Tom Rath said he can’t bring himself to vote for either party’s nominee and will likely write in either Mitt Romney or John Kasich, the candidates he advised in the last two primaries. It’s an uncomfortable spot for a lifelong Republican, and he is bracing for things to devolve even further.
“Anytime you think it can’t get worse, it gets worse,” he said. “There is no reason to have any hope that the tenor is going to improve or not get worse. If past performance is any indication of future action, this is a race to the bottom right now.”
Tito Marcos, a 30-year-old system administrator for a small Denver company, said he’s tired of what he called the drama and the immaturity shown by the major-party candidates. He is a registered independent and is leaning toward voting for a third-party candidate, turned off by both Clinton and Trump.
“It just seems like a heavyweight wrestling match,” he said. “That’s what it feels like.”
Sedensky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or https://twitter.com/sedensky .
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Andrew DeMillo in Little Rock, Arkansas; Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg, Florida; Jim Anderson in Denver, Colorado; Holly Ramer in Concord, New Hampshire, and Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City, Utah.