WASHINGTON -- The often bizarre 2016 presidential campaign is speeding toward its widely unsatisfying conclusion. One of the candidates will win.
Donald Trump was praising his pal, Russian President Vladimir Putin, reminding voters that the former KGB thug -- who plots to annex Ukraine in pursuit of his dream of reclaiming parts of the old Soviet Union -- has called him "brilliant."
At a national security forum this week, Trump defended his adoring admiration for Putin, saying he can get along with the Kremlin leader who is helping bloodthirsty Syrian dictator Bashar Assad bomb civilians in the besieged city of Aleppo.
Not known for being humble, the real estate business mogul said, "Well, I think when he calls me brilliant, I think I'll take that compliment, OK?"
"I think I would have a very, very good relationship with Putin," Trump said, "and I think I would have a very, very good relationship with Russia."
It was another alarming example of what his foreign policy would be toward Moscow. Unlike President Reagan, who flatly called Russia "an evil empire," Trump will take a "see no evil, hear no evil" approach to Putin's plans to seize sovereign territory and his support for evil despots.
Meantime, Hillary Clinton, who also participated in the forum, was defending her handling of classified materials, despite a lengthy, detailed FBI report that accused her of "extreme carelessness" in her use of an unsecured home computer system as secretary of state.
"I communicated about classified material on a wholly separate system," she said. "I took it very seriously."
Who is she kidding? That's not what the FBI found after months of digging deeply into her emails, discovering that she sent out untold messages that contained confidential or highly sensitive material.
But she has since invented a bogus defense for the campaign trail, based on the belief that she can fool most of the voters most of the time.
"Classified material has a header that says 'top secret,' 'secret,' 'confidential,'" Clinton said. "None of the emails sent or received by me had such a header."
While in certain cases this was true, the fact remains that the FBI determined that many of these unmarked emails did, in fact, contain information that was compromised by her cavalier approach to government documents. Equally irresponsible, her many email replies included details of such classified information.
Clinton's loose handling of classified information, and what the FBI called similar mismanagement throughout the department, has raised widespread doubts about her ability to be the nation's chief executive.
One of the questions raised at the forum came from a veteran who said that if he had mishandled classified information the way Clinton did, he would likely have been prosecuted and jailed.
While a number of issues continue to bedevil the two candidates, there's new evidence that illegal immigration -- which Trump has made the centerpiece of his campaign -- isn't considered that seriously by voters.
A massive, 50-state Washington Post poll of more than 74,000 registered voters on the election race reported this week that "immigration is a second- or third-tier issue for voters across the country."
When voters were asked to name the issue that was most important to them, the economy and jobs topped the list, at 32 percent, followed by health care and terrorism at 16 percent each, education at 10 percent and the environment at 8 percent. Immigration was fifth on the list at 7 percent, and foreign policy last at 4 percent.
Those responses generally mirrored the same findings of other polls over the years, particularly the Gallup Poll's voter surveys.
If Trump thought illegal immigrants alone were going to catapult him into the presidency, he's in for a surprise. But recent polls may explain why he is emphasizing the economy and jobs lately in his early ads in Virginia and elsewhere.
Despite the Obama administration's fiction, swallowed whole by the national news media, that the economy is doing fine and jobs are plentiful, quite the opposite is true. The economy is growing at a minuscule 1 percent, and is showing further signs that it is slowing down for the rest of this year.
"Last month, employers added a disappointing 151,000 jobs to their payrolls," Fortune said last week. "The number is another sign that the economy could be slowing down."
U.S. factory production and orders declined in August, according to the Institute for Supply Management's index, which fell 3.2 percent. Manufacturing lost 14,000 jobs, and the Labor Department said applications for unemployment claims rose by over 2,000 in the past week alone.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics put the jobless rate at 4.9 percent, but no one believes that figure. Gallup's daily tracking survey puts the real unemployment rate at 10 percent.
This and other economic data "raises the prospect that the economy will remain tepid," The Associated Press said this week. This is the dark economic cloud that will hover over the candidates for the last two months of this election.
Voters want stronger economic growth, good-paying jobs and a better future. But Trump is more focused on deporting hardworking immigrants, while Clinton offers us only four more years of the failed Obama agenda.