Clinton seeks to maximise debate advantage as Trump on defensive

Both candidates revive argument over Miss Universe contestant

28th September, 2016

Hillary Clinton moved quickly to exploit Donald Trump’s stumbles in their first presidential debate, bolstering her outreach to suburban women and seeking inroads with middle-class men and young voters, as the Republican’s aides scrambled to stem the political fallout.

Put on the defensive, Trump and his team veered between praising and criticising debate moderator Lester Holt of NBC News and the candidate himself suggested he was hobbled by a faulty microphone. But Trump on Tuesday also stepped back into a trap Clinton had set for him at the debate by lashing out at Alicia Machado, a former Miss Universe from Venezuela who was publicly shamed by Trump for her weight gain after winning the beauty contest he owned in the 1990s.

Rather than apologise for his past comments or ignore the issue, Trump defended his treatment of Machado as a business decision, saying in an interview on Fox News that Machado had gained a “massive amount of weight” and that it had been a "real problem".

Near the end of Monday night’s debate, Clinton criticised Trump for having dubbed Machado "Miss Piggy" and "Miss Housekeeping" because of her ethnicity, and warned Trump that Machado was now a US citizen and would be voting. Trump had no direct response at the time except, “Where did you find this?”

Adding to Debate

It was an attack meant to highlight Clinton’s appeal to both women and minorities and her campaign clearly had a plan to carry it forward in the days following the debate. Machado tweeted out her thanks to Clinton in Spanish on Monday night and the campaign organised a conference call featuring her on Tuesday. Also on Tuesday, Cosmopolitan magazine published a feature story about Machado, complete with fresh photos of her wrapped in an American flag.

"One week ago, Machado, 39, discussed Trump and her acting career while getting ready for a photo shoot in the Cosmopolitan.com office," the article said.

Trump’s response was reminiscent of his handling of the Gold Star parents of a fallen Muslim-American soldier, who at the Democratic National Convention criticised his stances on Muslims as uninformed. Trump lashed out at the grieving parents, fuelling an extended controversy that played directly into Clinton’s critique of him and his policies.

Swing States

Clinton was upbeat as she campaigned in Raleigh, North Carolina yesterday.

"Did anybody see that debate last night?" Clinton told a cheering crowd. "Ohhh, yes," she said. "One down, two to go." Clinton also told the swing-state audience there could be record-setting turnout in November, if blacks, Hispanics and young voters lined up at the polls.

Trump, campaigning in Florida, answered "sure" when asked if he would appear in the two remaining debates that are scheduled. He said that he did "very well" on Monday night despite Clinton’s suggestions to the contrary, citing unscientific online polls that favoured him.

Accepting a guayabera shirt from Miami-area supporters, Trump praised Hispanics backing him, including those of Cuban heritage. He credited them with enhancing his chances in the crucial battleground.

Later in the day, at a rally in Melbourne, Trump accused the press of working in cahoots with Team Clinton.

“The single weapon that she’s got is the media,” he said. “Without the media she wouldn’t have a chance.”

On his debate strategy, he said: “I took a deep breath and I just pretended I was talking to my family. … It was very interesting.”

And he characterised his debate performance as a winning strategy.

“They raised almost $18 million today can you believe it?” he said. “$18 million in one day, think of that. And that was largely because of last night.”

Close Race

Both candidates are seeking to persuade undecided voters in the closely fought race, and energise the groups that favour them. Clinton and Trump were tied at 46 per cent each in a two-way race among likely voters in a Bloomberg Politics national poll released on Monday. While there are some signs Clinton’s margin with women has eroded in the past few months, she continues to lead among them, getting 52 per cent support to Trump’s 39 per cent, the poll found.

One debate alone is unlikely to dramatically change the campaign’s trajectory or determine the results of an election. President Barack Obama botched his first debate against Republican rival Mitt Romney in 2012 but recovered in the final two and went on to win re-election.

Both global financial markets and everyday voters in polls said Clinton carried the day in their early reviews of the highly-anticipated showdown. A CNN poll showed that 62 per cent of voters who watched said Clinton won the debate compared to 27 per cent for Trump.

“Although the survey suggested debate watchers were more apt to describe themselves as Democrats than the overall pool of voters, even independents who watched deemed Clinton the winner, 54 per cent versus 33 per cent who thought Trump did the best job in the debate,” CNN polling director Jennifer Agiesta wrote.

These post-debate polls are methodologically similar to traditional election surveys unrelated to debates, in contrast to, for example, online reader polls on news websites.

In global markets, risk appetite improved in the debate’s immediate aftermath as traders judged that the possibility of a Trump presidency was receding, with the Mexican peso surging against the dollar as havens from gold to Treasuries retreated.

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