10/15/2016 13:19 EDT | Updated 10/16/2017 01:12 EDT

White House Brief: Things to know about Hillary Clinton

WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton may be within striking distance of becoming the first woman to win the White House, now that the U.S. is in the final weeks of one of its nastiest presidential campaigns in recent history.

The former secretary of state leads rival Donald Trump in preference polls in a series of battleground states as the Republican nominee has struggled to overcome allegations of sexual misconduct against several women. But the race is far from settled.

Both Clinton and Trump have been viewed harshly by the electorate. For her part, Clinton has tried to use Trump's provocative statements and policy proposals to make the case that he is unqualified to lead the nation.

A look at some things to know about her.



Entering the primary race as the overwhelming favourite, Clinton won the Democratic nomination after a lengthy, unexpectedly competitive battle against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Her general election campaign against Trump has amounted to a series of explosive exchanges: a convention dustup over a Muslim Gold Star family, Clinton's description of Trump supporters as "deplorables," her bout with pneumonia and collapse at a 9-11 ceremony, then her strong, momentum-shifting first debate with Trump. The revelation of an 11-year-old video in which Trump crudely said he forced himself upon women rocked the Republican's campaign and prompted him, in retaliation, to bring forward several women who had accused former President Bill Clinton of sexual impropriety.



Clinton has been a trailblazing figure as an attorney, senator, first lady and diplomat. In Arkansas, she became the first female partner at the Rose Law Firm while Bill Clinton served as governor and acted as his key political and policy brain trust. In the White House, she helped redefine the role of first lady as a top adviser to her husband, overseeing an ill-fated health care overhaul. At the end of her husband's second term, Clinton became the first presidential spouse to be elected to the Senate, helping secure benefits for 9-11 responders as a New York senator. Her vote for the Iraq invasion became a dividing line in her 2008 presidential primary campaign against Barack Obama and she later described her support for the war as a "mistake." As secretary of state, she was a hawkish member of Obama's national security team and helped set the foundation for nuclear talks with Iran.



In her campaign against Trump, Clinton has stressed her foreign policy expertise through her plans to combat the rise of the Islamic State group abroad and terrorism at home. And in recent months she has rolled out endorsements from retired generals and admirals and convened a meeting with national security experts. Clinton likes to highlight her experience, frequently telling voters about being in the Situation Room with Obama when Osama bin Laden was killed. Her foreign policy credentials have helped Clinton to cast Trump as lacking the temperament and experience to handle global affairs. She has said that Trump's call for a temporary ban on foreign Muslims entering the U.S. and restrictions on immigration send the wrong signals to allies in an increasingly complex world.



Clinton was convincing against Trump in the first presidential debate, forcing him to defend his part in conspiracy theories about President Barack Obama's citizenship and pressing him to release his income tax returns and recant derogatory comments about women. Trump frequently interrupted Clinton and failed to put her on the defensive about her use of a private email system. When he suggested that Clinton had been a less-than-stellar campaigner, Clinton noted that she had prepared for the debate and "prepared to be president." The second encounter in St. Louis was among the most tense in debate history, as Trump said he would call for a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton's email practices, telling Clinton, "you'd be in jail," if he oversaw the Justice Department.



In the first debate, Clinton carefully laid a trap for Trump by mentioning Alicia Machado, a 1996 Miss Universe pageant winner whom Trump allegedly demeaned for gaining weight. In the days that followed, Trump kept returning to Machado again and again. The story turned damaging for Trump, as he was seen disrespecting and degrading women. An explosive "Access Hollywood" tape of Trump bragging about sexually predatory behaviour followed by a series of women publicly accusing him of assault only deepened that problem. By mid-October, Trump was trailing Clinton by double-digits among female voters, setting up a gender gap difficult for any candidate to overcome.



Clinton has been dogged by the fallout from her choice to use a private server located in her home as secretary of state. A month before she announced her presidential bid, she held a news conference to address the matter. Her responses only sparked more scrutiny, raising new questions about her transmission of classified material, use of two devices and knowledge of best practices. The issue lingered long into the general election campaign, with an FBI investigation that included testimony from Clinton and several lawsuits. Republicans seized on the investigations to hammer her as untrustworthy and willing to flout the rules for personal gain. An October hack of top campaign official John Podesta's personal account only compounded her email problems, by exposing the internal machinations of her campaign and new concerns about her policy positions. Clinton aides will not confirm or deny the veracity of the messages. If she wins in November, those issues are likely to trail her into the White House with top congressional Republicans vowing the investigations will continue and liberal Democrats concerned about her commitment to their platform.



Clinton has been battling doubts about her health ever since a troubling video emerged of her being helped into a van at a 9-11 anniversary ceremony. Her campaign kept silent for nearly eight hours before revealing she had been diagnosed with pneumonia several days earlier. After several days of rest, Clinton — age 69 on Oct. 26 — returned to campaigning. She also released additional medical information to try to reassure voters about her health. "Obviously I should have gotten some rest sooner," she said on CNN. Trump has repeatedly questioned Clinton's stamina. Clinton has been a more vigorous presence in battleground states in recent weeks but the episode reinforced public perceptions about Clinton's preference for secrecy and privacy, which has contributed to a lack of trust in her candidacy.



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Associated Press writers Lisa Lerer and Catherine Lucey contributed to this report.