Clinton, the Democratic nominee, repeatedly sought to correct Trump’s statements — going so far as referring viewers to fact checks on her website — as she aimed to portray him as out of touch with the complexities of the American economy.
“I know you live in your own reality,” she told Trump.
Clinton and Trump began the debate by shaking hands before stationing themselves behind their podiums at Hofstra University on New York’s Long Island for the 90-minute clash, which could become a turning point in their ferocious battle for the White House. The debate is attracting worldwide interest with a television audience expected to approach 100 million, lured by the extraordinary drama of the 2016 campaign.
And that drama quickly unfolded.
An increasingly angry Trump slammed Clinton for putting her plans to fight ISIS on her website — and thereby tipping off America’s enemy.
“Well, at least I have a plan to fight ISIS,” Clinton responded, referring to his previous statements that he has a “secret” plan to destroy the terrorist group.
Battling over taxes
Clinton hammered Trump over his refusal to release his tax returns.
“Why won’t he release his tax returns?” Clinton asked.
“Maybe he is not as rich as he says he is,” she went on. “Maybe he is not as charitable as he claims to be,” “Maybe he doesn’t want the American people to know that he has paid nothing in federal taxes.”
Clinton pressed Trump on the issue, saying “There is something he is hiding.”
Trump replied that he would release his taxes when Clinton made public 33,000 emails that were deleted from her private email server. When Clinton said that Trump had paid no income tax in some years, Trump replied “That makes me smart.”
Clinton also set about Trump’s business record, pointing out that he had called himself “The King of Debt” and accusing him of “stiffing” thousand of contractors who did work for his business.
Campaign at a critical point
Trump and Clinton are facing off with the campaign at a critical point, as the race is a dead heat just 43 days before Election Day.
Under the relentless spotlight of the presidential debate stage, Trump faces his toughest examination yet of whether he has the knowledge and temperament to be president. Any gaffes or emotional eruptions by Trump could play into Clinton’s claim he would be a dangerous risk in the Oval Office.
Clinton, meanwhile, faces the vexing assignment of fact-checking Trump’s often outrageous statements while making an emotional connection with voters and building enthusiasm for her candidacy, especially among millennials.
The rivals spent the day preparing for their big battle.
Clinton participated in mock debates with her tart-tongued former aide Philippe Reines playing Trump. In one practice debate, Reines assumed the character of the unpredictable nominee by praising Clinton for her role as a pioneer for women, campaign sources said.
Reines even wore the kind of signature red tie that Trump favors and adopted his characteristic hand gestures in a bid to fully prepare Clinton for her unpredictable foe.
The Republican nominee has watched videos of Clinton, but his preparation has been less intense than his opponent’s, in keeping with his more freewheeling style. He did not hold mock debates, for instance, with someone standing in for Clinton.
Latest polling shows the stakes for the debate are monumental.
The former secretary of state is relying on both states to help pave her way to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.
Nationally, CNN’s Poll of Polls finds Clinton and Trump neck-and-neck 44%-42%.
Clinton and Trump are making political points with their choice of guests for the big event.
Clinton has invited billionaire businessman and prominent Trump critic Mark Cuban; 9/11 survivor Lauren Manning; Maxine Outerbridge, who benefited from a children’s health insurance program the Democratic nominee backed as first lady; Anastasia Somoza, a disability rights advocate; and Aleatha Williams, her longtime pen pal.
Boxing promoter Don King, no stranger to big heavyweight fights, is in the audience and is backing Trump. The Republican invited two former members of the military brass who have backed his campaign, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg. He has given great seats to Karen Vaughn, who lost her Navy SEAL son in Afghanistan, and Mark Geist, a survivor of the attacks on a US compound in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012.