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Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Julie Pace

When Don­ald Trump chal­lenged Hil­lary Clin­ton’s stamina on the de­bate stage, Penn­syl­va­nia voter Pa­tri­cia Ben­nett said she heard a “dog whis­tle” that smacked of un­mis­tak­able sex­ism.

“Why doesn’t he just say that she needs more testos­terone?” said Ben­nett, a 69-year-old in­de­pen­dent from the Philadel­phia sub­urbs who plans to vote for Clin­ton in Novem­ber.

Across the coun­try, Lisa Lowe, a Col­orado Demo­crat who was luke­warm about Clin­ton be­fore Mon­day’s de­bate, said Trump be­haved like a “neg­a­tive bully.” Kris Stotler, an un­de­cided Vir­ginia Repub­li­can, was dis­ap­pointed by Trump’s jar­ring crit­i­cism of a for­mer beauty queen’s weight, com­ments Clin­ton force­fully con­demned dur­ing the face­off.

“It’s in­cred­i­bly dis­taste­ful, and it doesn’t stop,” Stotler, 48, said of Trump. “Even if you thought that, why would you say that?”

Ben­nett, Lowe and Stotler were among two dozen fe­male vot­ers from bat­tle­ground states who spoke with The Associated Press on Tues­day. Nearly all ex­pressed con­cerns with Trump’s crit­i­cal and of­ten de­mean­ing com­ments about women, as well as his ap­proach to­ward Clin­ton in the de­bate.

The con­cerns were shared, too, by some women who plan to vote for Trump in Novem­ber, though his sup­port­ers were more for­giv­ing in their assessments.

“I think you’ll see a dif­fer­ent come­back from him in the next de­bate,” said Ca­role Staats, a 60-year-old Repub­li­can from Lans­downe, Pa.

While Clin­ton has held a lead in pref­er­ence polls among fe­male vot­ers through­out her gen­eral elec­tion con­test with Trump, she aims to widen that mar­gin as much as pos­si­ble to off­set her weak­ness with men. She also needs to ur­gently en­er­gize younger fe­male vot­ers, who have been more skep­ti­cal of the first woman nom­i­nated for the White House by a ma­jor U.S. po­lit­i­cal party.

Af­ter Mon­day’s de­bate, Clin­ton’s team be­lieves it has all the am­mu­ni­tion it needs to rally women in the cam­paign’s clos­ing weeks.

That’s due in part to strong ex­e­cu­tion by Clin­ton, who ar­rived at the de­bate armed with nu­mer­ous past state­ments Trump has made about women. She was par­tic­u­larly as­sertive in call­ing him out for once la­bel­ing 1996 Miss Uni­verse win­ner Ali­cia Machado “Miss Piggy” af­ter she gained weight.

But Trump also did him­self few fa­vors. He in­ter­rupted Clin­ton re­peat­edly dur­ing the de­bate, at times lean­ing into his mi­cro­phone to de­clare “Wrong!” as she was talk­ing. And he per­plex­ingly stood by his crit­i­cism of Machado the morn­ing af­ter the de­bate, say­ing in an in­ter­view on Fox News Chan­nel that Machado was one of the “worst we ever had” in the beauty con­test he used to own.

“She gained a mas­sive amount of weight,” Trump said. “It was a real prob­lem. We had a real prob­lem.”

Clin­ton’s cam­paign quickly lined up Machado for a con­fer­ence call with re­porters. The Venezue­lan­born Machado, now a U.S. citizen, said she hoped her story would “open eyes” about Trump in the elec­tion.

Debby Bower, a 41-yearold Demo­crat who lives in the Den­ver sub­urbs, said Trump’s taunt­ing of the for­mer beauty queen was “painful to my soul.”

“It hurts my heart when I hear the hate­ful, spite­ful lan­guage that Mr. Trump uses,” Bower said.

JOHN LOCHER — ASSOCIATED PRESS

Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump vis­its a res­tau­rant in Miami on Tues­day.

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