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What the candidates say they'll debate but probably won't

Donald Trump faces an uphill battle against Hillary Clinton on Wednesday night in the third and final presidential debate.

The event, this time at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is the final 90 minutes of face-to-face confrontation before voters hit the polls Nov. 8. It is meant to be both a forum for the public to hear the candidates' views and an opportunity for the candidates to articulate why they deserve a vote on Election Day. This being 2016, things have gone in a different direction.

A list of six topics for the third and final debate was released last week: foreign policy, entitlements and debt, the Supreme Court, the economy, immigration and each candidates' fitness to serve as president. These topics have all been touched on in the first two debates, according to a CNBC analysis of debate transcripts. Some only for a few minutes.

In recent weeks and days, Trump's chances of winning the election have narrowed as more women have gone public with accusations of unwanted sexual advances and Republican politicians have distanced themselves from the beleaguered campaign. Some betting markets have already paid out on wagers that Clinton will be elected on Nov. 8.

Analysts say Trump's best chance at reversing the trend is a strong performance at Wednesday's debate after subpar performances in the first two match-ups. Here are the topics of the third debate, and what the candidates have said so far:

"We're a debtor nation."

Both candidates have so far managed to avoid addressing the dreaded "third rail" of politics — entitlements. Neither Social Security nor retirement were mentioned in the first two debates by either the moderators or nominees. AARP has been pushing for the issue to be raised in the debates, and this is the last chance.

As for other entitlements, Clinton briefly mentioned Medicare in the second debate as an effective single payer system as she talked about the Affordable Care Act. Trump also brought up the nation's $20 trillion in debt in both debates, while Clinton did not reference it at all.

"Our country has tremendous problems. We're a debtor nation," said Trump. "We're a serious debtor nation. And we have a country that needs new roads, new tunnels, new bridges, new airports, new schools, new hospitals."

"Beautifully reviewed by just about everybody."

Whoever wins this election will be able to appoint a new Supreme Court justice to replace Justice Antonin Scalia — a power that has been called one of the most important issues in the election. Moderators asked about the issue in the second debate, and we heard two to three minutes of discussion from the candidates.

Clinton listed a number of issues she would like the new Supreme Court to address: reversing Citizens United, voting rights, sticking with Roe v. Wade and marriage equality. Trump has published a list of 20 names he would consider nominating, and Clinton said some of those nominees would reverse abortion and marriage rights.

Trump simply said he wanted to appoint judges who are "very much in the mold of Justice Scalia" and that his candidates are "actually very beautifully reviewed by just about everybody" and would respect the Second Amendment.

"And some, I assume, are good people."

For a campaign that kicked off in June last year with strong anti-immigration sentiment, there have been surprisingly few mentions of immigration from Trump during the debates so far — about six minutes total.

The Trump campaign has backpedaled on many of its earlier policy suggestions. When asked if his running mate was correct in saying that the campaign was no longer calling for "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States," Trump said the position had "morphed" into "extreme vetting."

He also called Syrian refugees "the great Trojan horse of all time," and said he would force murderers and drug lords back to their own countries. Clinton spoke on the topic for less than two minutes, saying that Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric was being used to recruit terrorist fighters. The third debate could be an opportunity for both candidates to clarify their positions before the election.

"We will defend the citizens of this country."

The country's foreign policy — especially in the ongoing campaign against ISIS and cybersecurity — played a big part in the first debate, but wasn't as major a topic in the second.

Trump stopped short of his repeated — and repudiated — claim that Clinton and President Obama "founded ISIS," but did say that the group was founded in the "vacuum" created by the U.S. Trump said he would "knock the hell out of ISIS" but did not offer specifics. He also criticized Clinton for what he described as publishing her plans to defeat ISIS on her campaign website, saying, "I don't think General Douglas MacArthur would like that too much."

In a discussion of the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo, Trump revealed that he disagreed with his running mate on whether to use American military force to strike targets in the Assad regime.

Clinton defended the country's handling of terror abroad, saying that as secretary of state, she was involved in many campaigns against al- Qaeda, including the killing of Osama bin Laden. She also questioned Trump's ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose nation is under suspicion of hacking emails from the DNC. Amid increased saber-rattling in Syria and around the Baltic nations, Clinton spoke to the times: "We don't want to engage in a different kind of warfare," she said. "But we will defend the citizens of this country."

"Have the wealthy pay their fair share."

Questions of the economic recovery following the Great Recession have surrounded the campaigns since the beginning. Much of Trump's rhetoric has appealed to rural white voters who have felt left behind in a recovery concentrated in metropolitan areas. He has criticized companies for shipping jobs overseas and said that as a businessman who has done it, he is uniquely positioned to force them to come back.

Clinton has questioned Trump's business acumen, arguing that he started his career with $14 million borrowed from his father and his four corporate bankruptcies. Since the general election began, she has shifted to the left on some economic issues and now has called for affordable childcare and debt-free college. Additional spending on economic improvements would be paid for, she's said, by "having the wealthy pay their fair share and close the corporate loopholes."

In the second debate, both candidates agreed that they would get rid of carried interest. Trump said he would bring the tax rate down from 35 percent to 15 percent, a plan that Clinton criticized as a "massive gift" for richer Americans like Trump.

"Locker room talk."

The candidates' fitness to serve has garnered the most attention so far in the debates, about 49 minutes total, or 27 percent of the total. In the first debate, Trump questioned Clinton's "stamina," an allusion to her taking time away from the campaign trail to recover from pneumonia a few weeks prior. Clinton hit back saying that Trump could criticize her after he'd testified before Congress for 11 hours among other things.

Trump came under fire in audience questions during the second debate surrounding his explicit language about sexual assault while speaking to Billy Bush in an off-camera recording released by the Washington Post. Trump called the comments "locker room talk," and said they were no worse than things Bill Clinton had said to him on the golf course.

In the second debate, which aired days after the tape went public, Trump said he wasn't proud of what he said, but pointed to alleged attacks against women by the Clintons, Clinton's private email server and Benghazi, and other instances of what he called "bad judgment." Since the second debate, several women have gone public with their stories of unwanted sexual attention from Trump.

The third debate offers the potential for a substantive conversation about economics and the future of the nation. But considering how effective and repeated these personal attacks have been, it's more likely that we'll see more of the same.