WASHINGTON (AP) — Hillary Clinton sought Wednesday to parlay her widely praised debate performance into stronger support from women, young Americans and other critical voter groups, while Donald Trump kept focus on the die-hard backers who have thronged his rallies this year.
Two days after her first debate against Trump, Clinton was trying to extract maximum political gain from the more controversial aspects of Trump's performance. She dispatched former Virginia Sen. John Warner — a Republican — to accuse Trump of disrespecting the U.S. military while President Barack Obama hammered the billionaire over his business practices and treatment of women.
Obama told Steve Harvey's radio show, particularly popular among black audiences, that his own legacy was "on the ballot" in November. He said Clinton wasn't getting enough credit, possibly because she's a woman, and said Trump's apparent acknowledgement in the debate that he's paid no taxes some years and failed to pay people who worked for him proves Trump only cares about himself.
And his wife, first lady Michelle Obama, hammered Trump for trying to undermine her husband's presidency for years by questioning his birthplace, while dismissing his recent attempt to sweep the issue "under the rug." Calling Trump "erratic," she sought to pre-empt any attempt by the Republican to soften his image in the race's final weeks.
"Trust me, a candidate is not going to suddenly change" once they take over the presidency, Mrs. Obama said at a rally for Clinton in Pennsylvania. In a dig at his reality TV show background, she added: "It is not an apprenticeship."
Trump, who had appeared defensive about his performance the day after the debate, was working to flip the script. He continued to claim he'd won the debate while boasting of the roughly $18 million his campaign says Republicans raised in the day after the first showdown between the nominees.
"I love the debate. I love the process. Something very beautiful about the process," said Trump, who spent several months earlier in the campaign insisting the process was rigged against him.
Yet while Republicans fretted his performance and apparent lack of preparation, Trump offered no signs he planned to adopt a different approach in the future. Instead, as he campaigned in Iowa and Wisconsin, the Republican seemed content to employ the same tactics that worked for him in the primary: massive, high-octane rallies that appeal more to his longtime supporters than to undecided voters he might sway to his side.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a frequent Trump critic, suggested Trump had only made things worse in the first debate. Despite being critical of Clinton in the past, Graham praised Clinton's performance while arguing Trump had "missed a lot of opportunities."
"The only advice I could give him, and take it for what it's worth: Prepare better," Graham said at an event in Washington.
Hoping to broaden her appeal among "millennials," Clinton planned to join her primary rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, on the trail for the first time since they held a "unity" rally in July in an attempt to unify the Democratic Party. Since then, Clinton has continued struggling to win over young Americans who formed a critical pillar of the coalition that twice elected President Barack Obama.
The 2016 election marks in the first in which millennials are the largest generation among U.S. adults, having surpassed baby boomers during the last four years. In August, an Associated Poll-NORC poll suggested that Clinton's biggest hurdle to attracting young people isn't necessarily Trump but millennials' widespread dissatisfaction with both of the major parties that has led many young voters to consider casting their ballots for the Green Party's Jill Stein and Libertarian Gary Johnson.
The setting for the latest display of unity between Clinton and her primary rival — New Hampshire — was indicative of the areas where Clinton's campaign believes she still has the most work to do. Sanders, from neighboring Vermont, resoundingly defeated Clinton in the February primary in New Hampshire, a battleground state in the November election.
Trump was hoping to regain his footing after veering into problematic territory the day before, when he revived his decades-old criticism of a former beauty pageant winner for gaining "a massive amount of weight." Trump's combative tone after Monday's debate — he also lashed out at the debate moderator and complained about his microphone — was perceived as a tell by the Republican nominee that he knew his debate performance had been lacking.
The president and other Democrats were hoping voters wouldn't forget.
"You had somebody who basically insulted women, and then doubled-down," Obama said.
Peoples reported from Chicago. Associated Press writer Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report.
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