(CNN)Hillary Clinton forced Donald Trump onto defense over his temperament, refusal to release his taxes and his past comments about race and women during a fiery debut presidential debate Monday — a potentially pivotal moment in a tight election campaign.
Clinton, who has seen her dominance of the presidential race fade in the weeks since the Democratic convention, delivered a strong performance in which she demonstrated a command of policy and a sense of humor, smiling through some of Trump’s strongest attacks. She delivered the best zinger of the night in response to criticism from Trump for staying off the campaign trail recently.
“I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate,” she said. “And yes, I did. And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be President. And that is a good thing.”
Trump came out swinging at the beginning of the debate, and made some effective points on the economy and jobs — some of the aspects of his outsider presidential campaign that have struck a chord with many Americans. But the debate highlighted Trump’s tendency to make false claims as he made inaccurate statements on everything from laws regarding policing, his support for the Iraq War and his contention that Clinton was behind the so-called birther conspiracy.
Appearing in the “spin room” after the debate to talk to journalists, Trump said he was happy with his performance.
“It went better than I ever thought,” he told CNN’s Dana Bash.
A CNN/ORC poll of debate watchers released after the event found 62% felt Clinton won compared to 27% for Trump. The poll suggests the debate audience was a bit more Democratic than the public as a whole, about on par with the Democratic tilt in the audience that watched the first debate in 2008 between Obama and John McCain.
One of the most powerful moments of the debate came when the conversation focused on the so-called birther debate following Trump’s recent acknowledgment that President Barack Obama was born in the US — a fact that has been evident for years. With Trump standing just a few feet from her, Clinton blasted him for perpetuating a “racist lie.”