With only a week to go, how is the US presidential race looking?

Clinton is still ahead in polling, although Trump has been closing the gap in recent days...

With only a week to go, how is the US presidential race looking?

Image: Picture by Marcio Jose Sanchez AP/Press Association Images

It seems like the lead-up has lasted an eternity, but there is now only a week left until election day in the US.

Few would argue this has been one of the strangest, longest and ugliest political campaigns in recent memory, and so for many the end of the race will come as a source of relief.

Volumes of books will be written about the last year or so: the Clinton email scandal; Bernie Sanders' impassioned bid for the Democratic nomination and the impact of his progressive politics; the rise of Donald Trump from dark horse to Republican nominee; the associated rise of Trumpism and the alt-right; three of the most heated presidential debates in history. That's just the start of it.

Only a fortnight or so ago, the result seemed all but set in stone - Hillary Clinton was the runaway favourite for the White House. The October 7th release of a decade-old recording of Donald Trump making crude remarks about women proved a particularly nasty October surprise for the Republican hopeful, and one that seemed to severely curb any momentum his campaign had built. 

Opinion polls in mid-October showed Clinton with a dominating lead of 7-8 points. Trump's aggressive performances in the second and third debates - the former dubbed the 'ugliest debate ever' by some pundits - likely only reinforced existing allegiances on both sides. While leaked Clinton campaign emails from Wikileaks made headlines and proved embarrassing for the campaign, there was little in the way of a 'smoking gun' to fundamentally alter the race. A string of sexual assault allegations against Trump did not help the mogul - although he has denied the allegations in the strongest terms.

The struggling Republican campaign, however, was dealt a lifeline last Friday with another killer October surprise. While it remained a line-of-attack by all those opposed to 'Crooked Hillary', it seemed the Hillary Clinton 'private email server' scandal was ancient news (in presidential election terms). A vague letter from FBI director James Comey changed all that.

The fallout has been well documented across the media, even the 'mainstream outlets' Trump has frequently accused of bias (accusations, as is often the Donald's way, with little in the way of evidence, but then facts have lost some of their influence in this election). The Trump campaign was re-energised by the news, with the businessman even praising Mr Comey and the FBI for having "the courage to right the horrible mistake that they made". Democrats and even some Republicans, meanwhile, have criticised Mr Comey's actions, claiming it breaks with established protocol to release such a letter so close to an election.

As of now, there are no claims of wrongdoing being made against Mrs Clinton, except perhaps by her staunchest opponents. The FBI is only beginning to investigate the emails, which were found on a laptop belonging to Clinton aide Huma Abedin and her estranged husband Matthew Weiner, in connection with a separate investigation into Mr Weiner. Investigators will need to determine if there are pertinent emails that were not handed over during the initial investigation into Mrs Clinton's use of private email as Secretary of State.

That investigation is unlikely to be concluded by polling day, and even if it is there is every chance nothing new will be discovered - the Clinton campaign has insisted "we are confident this will not produce any conclusions different from the one the FBI reached in July". Regardless of the eventual outcome, though, the development came at the worst possible time for Clinton and the best possible time for Trump. Having already been closing the gap, the Republican candidate has seized on the fresh line of attack to lend a new lease of life to his campaign.

Opinion polls carried out after Mr Comey's letter have started filtering out. It is unclear the direct impact the letter has had - if it has had any measurable one - although the figures certainly suggest the Clinton campaign will be more anxious than they were a week ago. The headline-grabbing poll from ABC News and the Washington Post shows Trump ahead by a point, suggesting (allowing for the margin of error) the candidates are close to neck-and-neck. Aggregated polls, in contrast, still show Clinton maintaining a lead - of roughly two points, according to Real Clear Politics. The New York Times, as of writing, gives Clinton an 88% chance of winning (down from a peak of 93% ten days ago). Democrats appear to be performing well in key swing states in early voting. Still, the race remains very much on.

Meanwhile, fresh revelations - of varying seriousness and veracity - continue to filter out. A New York Times report has raised further concerns about Trump's mysterious tax history, claiming his declarations in the 1990s stretched US tax law ‘beyond recognition’. Further claims have also been made about alleged links between Trump and Russia. Slate magazine has published a widely reported article that explores whether or not a Trump server communicated regularly with a Russian bank - allegations that have been dismissed by Trump himself and even questioned by other journalists:

Clinton has also had to fend off further controversies, such as the news that CNN commentator (and acting Democratic party chair) Donna Brazile had resigned after it was suggested in leaked emails that she gave the Clinton campaign a 'heads-up' about a question ahead of a primary debate. It will be the FBI situation that will continue to really test the campaign in these closing days, however.

Oh, and there's also Donald Trump's continued refusal to say whether he'll accept the result if Hillary Clinton wins.

"A week is a long time in politics", the old adage goes. With only a week to go in what has been a nearly unprecedentedly dramatic, controversial and heated US presidential campaign, such a clichéd phrase has never seen more appropriate. Next Tuesday has never seemed so far away.