Dahleen Glanton: We still have several weeks until Election Day

n the next 60-plus days, you can bet that each of the presidential candidates will be putting on their best performance in hopes of getting a rave review on Election Day.

Labor Day marked the beginning of the real political season. Until then, we were watching the warmup act.

God help us now that the curtain has gone up.

In the next 60-plus days, you can bet that each of the presidential candidates will be putting on their best performance in hopes of getting a rave review on Election Day.

Now that our minds have turned away from planning vacations and keeping the kids busy while they’re out of school, many Americans are starting to think seriously about whom they want to lead the country for the next four years.

We’re still waiting for the juicy stuff, like TV debates, the October Surprise and that period close to the end when a candidate or a running mate — remember Sarah Palin? — has a complete meltdown.

At least, that’s how it usually happens. This race, however, has been quite unusual.

Unlike previous elections, this one has kept us engaged from the very beginning. We have been entranced by the performances of the major characters. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to political style, but they do have one curious thing in common. Both have a natural ability to infuriate us.

If the previews are any indication, we’re in for a lot more accusations, name-calling, character attacks and downright nastiness in the weeks to come. Hillary-haters will dig deep and find more vitriol for her than they knew they had inside. And Trump, no doubt, will supply his bashers with an endless flow of toxic material to sling back at him.

Anyone who hasn’t chosen a side by now most likely isn’t going to. They either plan to sit this one out or vote for a candidate from a third party, which never in the history of America has won a presidential election and virtually has no chance of doing so this time around.

In this crazy race, though, it isn’t clear whether Democrats or Republicans would benefit more from that.

A friend with whom I often engage in heated political debates told me recently that he never pays attention to polls until after Labor Day. Those post-convention bumps don’t mean a thing; they’re just folks hyped up on partisan hot air letting off steam. And in a puff, it’s gone.

Sometimes a candidate who appears to be heading toward a landslide can get knocked off course. It hasn’t happened lately, but in 1948, President Harry Truman pulled a fast one on Thomas Dewey and won re-election.

There’s still a lot of unsettled dust hovering over Clinton regarding the private email server she used during her tenure as secretary of state. Just when she thinks she’s seen the last of it, somebody lifts a foot and kicks it up again.

And who knows what secrets about the Clinton Foundation are still simmering on the back burner? For all we know, WikiLeaks is preparing to serve us another platter in October.

Of course, Trump isn’t protected against an unexpected setback in the final weeks of the campaign either. There’s a lot we don’t know about his personal finances and business dealings. Some media outlets are even suing to get access to his sealed divorce papers detailing his split with Ivana Trump.

I’m not willing to place any bets that Trump will come out of the three debates looking presidential. According to reports, he plans to wing it while Clinton is preparing like a bookworm on steroids.

We all know what that means. When Trump has nothing substantive to say, he starts picking fights over body parts. For the sake of the country, we should all hope that Clinton doesn’t take the bait.

There also are reports that Clinton is stockpiling a heap of intel to throw at Trump to get him riled up during the debates. She apparently plans to pick away at his insecurities to the point that he might stomp off the stage and admit that he never wanted the job in the first place.

Clinton, meanwhile, will finally be forced to say something definitive about those emails. Some wary voters might be willing to forgive her for the email fiasco, but she won’t know until she asks them.

Her toughest task, though, could be convincing a large number of Americans that she is someone they should like. Contrary to what they might have seen and heard in the past, she needs people to believe that she is a politician who doesn’t lie, that she is completely honest, above board on every issue and nearly flawless.

Trump already has started to try and present himself as a softer, gentler candidate. Last month, he threw out what appeared to be an apology, though he never actually said he was sorry. We don’t know for sure what he was talking about, but we assumed it was regarding his vile attacks on Mexicans and Muslims.

When he had the chance to sit down with President Enrique Pena Nieto in Mexico and demand that his country pay for the wall Trump has been touting, he didn’t even mention money. That’s the story Trump is telling, at least.

So this week, a new phase of the general election began. While Clinton was trekking off to Labor Day parades in Pittsburgh and Cleveland and on to a “Salute to Labor” event in Hampton, Ill., Trump got a head start in Detroit on Saturday.

In his first appearance before a predominantly African-American audience, he told the congregation at Great Faith Ministries that he was there to listen.

Then he stepped away from the podium without taking questions.

Dahleen Glanton is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Readers may email her at dglanton@chicagotribune.com.