U.S. presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump headed back to the campaign trail Tuesday, a day after their contentious debate that independent analysts largely agreed she won and could give her a national polling boost six weeks ahead of the November 8 election. Political surveys before the debate showed the two candidates locked in a tight contest, with Clinton, the Democratic contender, holding a narrow 2-percentage-point advantage.
But political scientist Alan Abramowitz of Emory University in Atlanta and poll analyst Nate Silver both said Clinton could add another two points to her edge after she kept Trump on the defensive through much of the debate, attacking him for refusing to release his U.S. income tax returns, for failing to pay some contractors he hired to build his golf courses and casinos, and for his lengthy history of slurs against women.
"I wouldn't be surprised if her poll numbers move up a little," Abramowitz told VOA. "I think it might go up a couple points. I think it makes it a little more difficult for Trump," the Republican nominee, to reach a majority in the electoral college where U.S. presidential elections are decided based on state-by-state results rather than the national popular vote.
He called Clinton's debate performance "calm, cool and collected" and said she was "able to talk about the issues." He described Trump as "rather bombastic and superficial. I think he got in a lot of trouble on race and gender issues."
Emory professor Andra Gillespie said, "I think his campaign will try to regroup and he might practice a little bit more before the next debate, as opposed to bragging about how he may not have been practicing going into the [Monday] debate."
Silver, who runs the fivethirtyeight.com election prediction internet site, wrote that the contrast between Clinton, seeking to become the country's first female president, and Trump "might be expected to produce a swing of 2 to 4 percentage points in the horse-race polls" in her favor.
Another analyst, John Sides, a George Washington University political scientist, told VOA, "My initial sense is that most reporters and commentators think that Clinton outperformed Trump. Since there is evidence that any media consensus can shape how voters also perceive the debate, that suggests that Clinton is more likely to benefit than Trump."
Trump claims victory
In the hours after the debate, Trump, a brash real estate mogul seeking his first elected office, touted several unscientific instant polls of debate-watchers showing him the winner, all except one conducted by the CNN cable network that said she won.
But early Tuesday he blamed the debate moderator, NBC news anchor Lester Holt, for purportedly aiming harder questions at him than Clinton and what he claimed was a "terrible" debate stage microphone that he said was set to a lower volume than hers.
Clinton, as she headed to the crucial, mid-Atlantic battleground election state of North Carolina for a political rally, scoffed at Trump's microphone complaint. "Anybody who complains about the microphone is not having a good night," she said.
Pollster Douglas Schoen, who years ago conducted polls for Clinton's husband, former president Bill Clinton, wrote on the Fox News website, "The debate, taken in its entirety, demonstrates how much preparation really matters. She was ready for all of his quips with a litany of detail that may have bored the viewer at points, but showed why she is winning on qualifications, experience and temperament in every poll."
But Trump insisted in an interview on Fox News that he got the better of her, awarding her performance a C-plus, while declining to give himself a grade on the debate. According to Nielsen Company ratings, preliminary estimates show 81.4 million people watched the debate on 11 networks. Millions more watched online.
Trump 'eased up' to spare feelings
His advisers hinted that he might skip the next debate with Clinton set for October 9 in the Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri, but Trump said he plans to attend both of the remaining matchups with her.
Trump said he might "hit her harder" the next time they meet.
"I really eased up because I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings," Trump said, saying he would have "brought up the many affairs that Bill Clinton had," but did not because the Clintons' daughter, Chelsea, was in the audience at Hofstra University, outside New York City. "I didn't think it was worth the shot," Trump said. "I didn't think it was nice."
President Clinton was impeached over lying about an affair he had while in the White House, although the Senate did not convict him and he finished his eight-year tenure in early 2001.
Asked about the possibility that Trump might bring up her husband's infidelities, Hillary Clinton told reporters, "He can run his campaign however he chooses." Trump headed to Florida in the southeastern part of the country for a Tuesday rally in another key election state where both candidates have made numerous appearances.