New York: Democrat Hillary Clinton and her Republican rival Donald Trump were combative, sarcastic and even downright funny on Monday during their 90-minute face-off. They sparred over the economy, creating jobs, how to keep the US safe, taking out the Islamic State and healing racial tensions. The excitement surrounding the high-octane debate six weeks ahead of the 8 November elections pulled in an audience pegged at nearly 100 million viewers. Clinton strode onto the Hofstra University debate stage looking relaxed and she landed some killer punches with élan. When Trump poked fun at Clinton for staying at home in New York while he blazed the campaign trail through Chicago, she responded with a well-timed repartee.
"I think Donald just criticised me for preparing for this debate," said Clinton who commanded facts and figures at her fingertips, "And yes, I did. And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president. And that is a good thing."
The whip-smart repartee drew involuntary mirth and applause from the audience. In that lightning exchange, Clinton reminded the audience about the yawning difference between her and Trump: As a political veteran she has painstakingly prepared for the White House job, while Trump the reality television star has no idea that he even has to prep. Later in the course of the debate, Trump made his counter-argument: “Hillary has experience, but it’s bad experience.”
Despite some good one-liners, Trump found himself on the defensive during the bulk of the debate, especially during the charged discussion about racial tensions. Clinton cornered Trump by saying he started his political career by harassing the country's first African-American president with his "racist birther lie" that President Barack Obama was not born in the US. Clinton then assailed her Republican rival for not releasing his taxes and having a history of being anti-woman.
"This is a man who has called women 'pigs', 'slobs' and 'dogs'. And someone who has said pregnancy is an inconvenience to employers," said Clinton. She then shared an anecdote where Trump had called a Latina beauty contestant "Miss Piggy" and "Miss Housekeeping," warning that the woman in question has now become a US citizen. "And you can bet she's going to vote this November."
Right from the start, Clinton has enjoyed a strong edge among Hispanics, African-American and Asian-American voters. Trump's get-tough stance on immigration has fired up working-class whites, many of whom think immigration has damaged them, but it has made him a "dark" candidate for the more diverse American electorate.
The US media had no trouble picking the winner for the first showdown and declared Clinton the winner for her "poise and analytic talking points".
"Clinton puts Trump on defence at first debate," declared CNN. "Clinton, who has seen her dominance of the presidential race fade in the weeks since the Democratic National Convention, delivered a strong performance in which she demonstrated a command of policy and a sense of humour, smiling through some of Trump's strongest attacks," it added.
Los Angeles Times declared that "Clinton remains in the lead after a feisty second round."
According to The Wall Street Journal, Trump was "determined to leave viewers with two impressions tonight: That he would do something to stop the outsourcing of American jobs and that Clinton is a creature of the political past and that he is not... If viewers care only about those issues, he gave them something to remember. But in doing so Trump showed little grasp of policy detail, taking Clinton’s bait on a series of topics. She drew him off-topic on his own past without letting him press the case against her."
Byron Tau wrote that "it was a studied, measured performance" from Clinton, who needed to win the debate to help stop "the erosion" she has seen in the polls in recent weeks.
The presidential race has tightened with a wafer-thin gap between Clinton and Trump in recent national opinion polls. In the past week, the latest Reuters/Ipsos polling shows Clinton ahead by four percentage points, with 41 percent of likely voters. The Clinton camp is hoping that her star turn at the debate will tip the election and help her win support from an unusually high number of undecided voters.