Pa. Demo­cratic leader sees de­bate first­hand

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Lisa Lerer and Steve Peo­ples

Penn­syl­va­nia State Demo­cratic Chair­man Mar­cel Groen was in the au­di­ence at the first pres­i­den­tial de­bate.

RALEIGH, N.C. >> A de­fen­sive Don­ald Trump gave Hil­lary Clin­ton plenty of fresh ma­te­rial for the next phase of her pres­i­den­tial cam­paign on Tues­day, choos­ing to pub­licly re­open and re­lit­i­gate some her most dam­ag­ing at­tacks.

The day af­ter his first gen­eral elec­tion de­bate, Trump blamed the moder­a­tor, a bad mi­cro­phone and any­one but him­self for his per­for­mance. Next time, he threat­ened, he might get more per­sonal and make a big­ger po­lit­i­cal is­sue of for­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton’s mar­i­tal in­fi­deli­ties.

Things are al­ready get­ting plenty per­sonal. On Mon­day night, Trump brushed off Clin­ton’s de­bate claim that he’d once shamed a for­mer Miss Uni­verse winner for her weight. But then he dug deeper the next day — ex­tend­ing the con­tro­versy over what was one of his most neg­a­tive de­bate night mo­ments.

“She gained a mas­sive amount of weight. It was a real prob­lem. We had a real prob­lem,” Trump told “Fox and Friends” about Ali­cia Machado, the 1996 winner of the pageant he once owned.

The com­ments were rem­i­nis­cent of pre­vi­ous times when Trump has at­tacked pri­vate ci­ti­zens in deeply per­sonal terms. Ear­lier this month, he was in­ter­rupted by the pas­tor of a tra­di­tion­ally African Amer­i­can church in Flint, Michi­gan, af­ter break­ing his agree­ment not to be po­lit­i­cal in his re­marks. Though Trump abided by her wishes, he went af­ter her the next morn­ing on TV say­ing she was “a ner­vous mess” and that he thought “some­thing was up.”

In July, Trump as­sailed the par­ents of Hu­mayun Khan, a Mus­lim U.S. soldier who was killed in Iraq in 2004, af­ter the young man’s fa­ther spoke out against the Repub­li­can at the Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion.

Trump’s lat­est com­ments about Machado were strik­ing in that they came just as he was work­ing to broaden his ap­peal among mi­nor­ity vot­ers and women — key de­mo­graphic groups he’s strug­gling to win.

Clin­ton aides on Tues­day ac­knowl­edged they’d laid a trap for Trump.

“He seemed un­able to han­dle that big stage,” said Clin­ton cam­paign chair­man John Podesta. “By the end, with kind of snort­ing and the water gulp­ing and lean­ing on the lectern that he just seemed re­ally out of gas.”

Clin­ton in­ter­rupted a dis­cus­sion of for­eign pol­icy in the fi­nal mo­ments of the de­bate to re­mind view­ers that Trump had called Machado “Miss Piggy” and “Miss House­keep­ing.” A video fea­tur­ing Machado, a Clin­ton sup­porter, was re­leased less than two hours af­ter the de­bate fin­ished.

Aim­ing to cap­i­tal­ize on Trump’s re­newed fo­cus on a woman’s weight, Clin­ton’s cam­paign also dis­patched Machado to tell re­porters how she spent years strug­gling with eat­ing dis­or­ders af­ter be­ing hu­mil­i­ated pub­licly by Trump.

“I never imag­ined then, 20 years later I would be in this po­si­tion, I would be in this mo­ment, like, watch­ing this guy again do­ing stupid things and stupid com­ments,” Machado said. “It’s re­ally a bad dream for me.”

Both cam­paigns knew the first de­bate, watched by some 80 mil­lion peo­ple, could mark a turn­ing point six weeks be­fore Elec­tion Day with Trump and Clin­ton locked in an ex­ceed­ingly close race.

Clin­ton moved quickly to cap­i­tal­ize on her per­for­mance, launch­ing new at­tacks on Trump’s failure to re­lease his tax re­turns and prof­it­ing from the sub­prime mort­gage cri­sis.

As Trump courted His­panic vot­ers in Mi­ami, Clin­ton ham­mered on an al­le­ga­tion she’d lev­eled the night be­fore: that he is re­fus­ing to re­lease his re­turns be­cause he goes years with­out pay­ing any fed­eral taxes. “That makes me smart,” was Trump’s coy re­sponse in the de­bate, but on Tues­day, Clin­ton in­sisted it was noth­ing to brag about.

“If not pay­ing taxes makes him smart what does that make all the rest of us?”

Added an in­cred­u­lous Joe Bi­den, cam­paign­ing for Clin­ton in Penn­syl­va­nia: “What in the hell he is talk­ing about?”

Democrats are also sure to keep fo­cus­ing on Trump’s false as­ser­tions about Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s birth­place, with the pres­i­dent sched­uled to make a Wed­nes­day ap­pear­ance on Steve Har­vey’s TV show.

Trump’s cam­paign aides had worked hard in re­cent weeks to keep him on mes­sage — and away from per­sonal at­tacks — per­suad­ing him to use teleprompters and reach out to mi­nor­ity au­di­ences.

Their mod­er­ate suc­cess in script­ing Trump came to a halt on Tues­day. Though he in­sisted he’d done “very well,” Trump ac­cused moder­a­tor Lester Holt of go­ing harder on him than Clin­ton. He in­sisted he had “no snif­fles” and no al­ler­gies de­spite the #snif­fle­gate spec­u­la­tion that had ex­ploded on so­cial me­dia. He sug­gested he’d been given a mi­cro­phone with lower vol­ume than Clin­ton’s.

Her cheer­ful re­ac­tion: “Any­body who com­plained about the mi­cro­phone is not hav­ing a good night.”

The Trump cam­paign plans to spend $100 mil­lion on tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tis­ing be­fore Elec­tion Day, spokesman Ja­son Miller told The As­so­ci­ated Press. Of the $20 mil­lion in TV air­time his cam­paign had al­ready sched­uled, a whop­ping $13 mil­lion is aimed at Florida vot­ers, ac­cord­ing to Kan­tar Me­dia’s po­lit­i­cal ad tracker.

Trump did not ad­dress his crit­i­cism of Machado as he faced His­panic vot­ers in a small the­ater blocks from Mi­ami’s Lit­tle Ha­vana neigh­bor­hood. In rather sub­dued tones, he only briefly ad­dressed his de­bate per­for­mance the night be­fore.

“It was an in­ter­est­ing evening cer­tainly. Big league. Def­i­nitely big league,” Trump said. “I re­ally en­joyed it.”

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Hil­lary Clin­ton takes the stage Tues­day at a cam­paign stop at Wake Tech­ni­cal Com­mu­nity Col­lege in Raleigh, N.C.

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