Hillary comes up trumps in first presidential face-off

US-VOTE-DEMOCRATS-CLINTON Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks to press at Westchester County airport | AFP

US Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, looking poised and in control, came up trumps in the first presidential debate against her Republican rival Donald Trump as both clashed on job cuts, tax payments, rise of the Islamic State and racism in the most anticipated televised faceoff of the election campaign.

Clinton, whose striking red trouser suit lent her an added air of professionalism and capability, effectively countered Trump on several issues and cornered the New York businessman on his personal tax returns and business dealings and for peddling a "racist lie" about US President Barack Obama.

The former Secretary of State was declared the winner of Monday night's presidential debate by 62 per cent of voters who tuned in to watch, while just 27 per cent said Trump had a better night, according to a latest CNN/ORC Poll.

The 90-minute debate, the first of three debates, was held on Monday night at Hofstra University, Long Island, New York.

Clinton started the debate by asking Trump, looking sober in a sharp black suit with a cobalt blue tie, "How are you, Donald" as the crowd cheered —in spite of being cautioned against doing so.

The debate centred around three broadly defined topics: America's Direction, Achieving Prosperity and Securing America. It was split into six 15-minute segments. Two minutes was allotted to answer a question asked by moderator Lester Holt, two minutes to reply and the remaining time for the nominees to debate.

Trump, who started with a calm pace and deliberately measured tone, appeared to lose his composure as Clinton repeatedly referred to him as "Donald" and needled him on his business and wealth.

"There's something he's hiding," Clinton said, after Trump said he won't release his tax returns because he is being audited. She countered that one reason he has refused to declare it may be because he would have paid nothing in federal income taxes. Trump said: "That makes me smart."

Trump remains the first Republican nominee since 1980 to not release his tax returns.

Trump tried to corner Clinton, saying he would release his tax information when she produces more than 30,000 emails that were deleted from the personal server she used when secretary of state.

As Trump targeted Clinton for being a "typical politician: all talk, no action", she retorted: "Words matter when you run for president, and they really do matter when you are president."

"I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate. And yes, I did. You know what else I did? I prepared to be president," she added, never once looking flustered during the debate.

Clinton accused Trump of racism for questioning President Obama's citizenship.

"He has a long record of engaging in racist behaviour. And the birther lie was a very hurtful one," she said.

Clinton, who is also the first woman presidential candidate representing a major US political party, said her economic plan would create 10 million jobs, while Trump's plan would cost the nation 3.5 million jobs.

On employment in the US, Trump said China and Mexico were "stealing" American business and jobs.

"We have to stop our jobs from being stolen from us, we have to stop companies from leaving the United States," he said.

He also threatened to scrap or renegotiate some of the "bad" trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that came into force in 1994, or re-define the terms of military agreements like NATO.

The real-estate mogul also blamed Clinton for the rise of the IS. He attacked her for being weak on the terror group and mocked her by saying: "You've been fighting IS your entire adult life."

Trump attacked Clinton's suitability as president, and questioned her "stamina", repeating the word a few times, in obvious reference to her recent fainting spell when she was diagnosed with pneumonia.

"She doesn't have the look and she doesn't have the stamina," he said. "I've been all over the place. You decided to stay home," he added.

Clinton calmly rattled off her visit to 112 countries in four years as Secretary of State, and shot back: "When Donald Trump spends 11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee, he can talk to me about stamina."

Clinton also recalled Trump's stream of insults to women over the years.

"This is a man who has called women pigs, slobs and dogs, and someone who has said pregnancy is an inconvenience to employers, who has said women don't deserve equal pay unless they do as good a job as men," Clinton said.

In other attacks, Clinton criticised Trump for terming climate change a Chinese hoax and also for praising Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Moderator Holt, in the final question of the night, asked both Trump and Clinton if they would accept the will of the voters on Election Day.

Clinton said: "Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but I certainly will support the outcome of this election."

Trump pointed that he would "want to make America great again. We are a nation that is seriously troubled ... If she wins, I will absolutely support it".

The audience included the nominees' families with Hillary's husband and former US President Bill Clinton and Trump's wife Melania prominent among those present.

This was the 20th US presidential debate and was organised by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a non-governmental organisation.

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