US presidential campaign serves up odd bedfellows

Daniel Woolls

Washington (AFP) - In one corner stands Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate backed by practically all mainstream US newspapers, women, minorities, greens, Hollywood and many other groups.

In the other is her Republican opponent Donald Trump, with a motley crew of supporters and allies -- stated or not, direct or indirect -- ranging from Vladimir Putin and Julian Assange to a smattering of celebrities like Dennis Rodman.

Here is a breakdown of the often unconventional and sometimes surprising forces at play, mostly in the Trump camp, ahead of Election Day on November 8.

- A campaign like no other -

"It is an enormously confusing election," says George Washington University's Gary Nordlinger, who calls Trump and Clinton the two most unpopular presidential candidates in US history.

"And they're running against each other. Each person is running against the only other human being they could possibly defeat."

Traditional US coalitions are in place for the most part, he says, with gun rights activists pro-Trump, for instance, and environmentalists backing Clinton. But although middle-class whites generally favor Trump, Clinton has syphoned off support among suburban, college-educated Republicans who can't stomach the idea of a Trump presidency.

"That might be the one unusual cohort in the coalitions," Nordlinger says.

But there are other forces at play.

- Putin's Russia -

The United States has formally accused Putin's Russia of hacking into the emails of American institutions and public figures with the apparent aim of disrupting the election.

That includes a hack of the Democratic National Committee on the eve of the party convention in July that proved a huge embarrassment for Clinton.

Some argue the Russian president has reasons to prefer Trump as US leader.

The real estate billionaire has suggested he would consider recognizing the Russian annexation of Crimea. He has also questioned US support for NATO, praised Putin while endorsing closer ties with Moscow and generally advocated a foreign policy that would make America more inward-looking with a smaller leadership role in the world.

Putin meanwhile accuses Clinton of having encouraged mass protests in Russia when she was secretary of state in 2011 after Russian elections the opposition said were rigged.

"President Putin demands respect and is driven by revenge," Nordlinger says of the rationale for the hacks.

- Assange and WikiLeaks -

Assange, founder of the pro-transparency organization WikiLeaks, is a fierce Clinton critic.

"I have had years of experience in dealing with Hillary Clinton and have read thousands of her cables," he wrote in February. "Hillary lacks judgment and will push the United States into endless, stupid wars which spread terrorism."

It was WikiLeaks that published the Democratic National Committee emails that made Clinton look bad -- some of them showed party staff had worked to undermine her primary rival Bernie Sanders -- and forced the resignation of the DNC's chair.

WikiLeaks also dumped emails containing the texts of paid speeches Clinton gave to Wall Street bankers.

Assange has refused to say whether Russia provided him with the email content.

Here, too, revenge is in play, Nordlinger says. Assange, he argues, blames President Barack Obama and Clinton for forcing him to spend the past four years holed up in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London to avoid arrest and extradition to the United States over major WikiLeaks drops of classified US data.

- Evangelicals, even after groping remarks-

American evangelicals traditionally represent a solid voting bloc for Republicans because of the party's opposition to abortion and support for other conservative values.

However, allegations of sexual misconduct against Trump from nearly a dozen women have raised howls of protest in the latest and perhaps worst storm to hit his struggling campaign. Still, many evangelical leaders continue to stand by him.

That's because of the religious right's strong links to the Republican Party and emphasis on family values, and because it loathes Clinton above all else, says David Gushee, professor of Christian ethics at Georgia's Mercer University.

Trump has yet to disqualify himself among evangelicals, Gushee wrote this week in Religion News Service.

"For the Christian right folks," he said, "that point has apparently not been reached yet. Despite everything. And that is the religion news story of this election."

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