By Amanda Becker
HAVERFORD, Pa. (Reuters) - Democrat Hillary Clinton slammed Republican Donald Trump on Tuesday for making disparaging comments about women's physical appearance, accusing Trump of taking the issue of female body image "to a new level of difficulty and meanness."
Hours before vice presidential candidates Tim Kaine and Mike Pence face off in Virginia in their sole debate, Clinton urged women at an event in the Philadelphia suburbs billed as a "family town hall" to stand up to online bullying about how they look.
"It's shocking when women are called names and judged solely on the basis of physical attributes," the Democratic presidential candidate said in response to a 15-year-old girl's question about the problem of body image and the "damage Donald Trump does" when he talks about how women look.
"My opponent insulted Miss Universe," Clinton said, resurrecting her Republican rival's comments last week about former beauty queen Alicia Machado's weight gain after she won the Miss Universe contest in 1996.
"I mean, how do you get more acclaimed than that? But it wasn't good enough," Clinton said. "We can't take any of this seriously anymore. We need to laugh at it. We need to refute it."
Clinton, the first woman to be nominated for the presidency by a major U.S. party, has rushed to capitalize on Trump's public feud with Machado, who he once called "Miss Piggy" because of her weight gain, and make inroads with women voters five weeks before the Nov. 8 election.
Clinton and Trump's running mates, Democrat Kaine, a U.S. senator, and Republican Pence, governor of Indiana, will meet in a debate in Farmville, Virginia, starting at 9 p.m. EDT on Tuesday (0100 GMT on Wednesday.)
The debate will provide voters their first extended chance to evaluate the No. 2's in the White House race and is the only showdown between the vice presidential candidates. Trump and Clinton will meet in their second debate on Sunday.
Pence could find himself frequently on the defensive about Trump, a New York businessman who has been dealing with a torrent of bad news in the last week.
That includes a New York Times report that he took an almost $1 billion loss in 1995 that may have allowed him to avoid paying federal income taxes for up to 18 years. While Democrats have slammed him over the report, Trump, who made much of his business acumen on the campaign trail, has said he "brilliantly used" U.S. tax rules to his advantage to limit his tax bills.
In another blow to Trump's campaign, the New York attorney general ordered on Monday that Trump's charitable foundation should stop soliciting donations in the state after a series of reports suggesting improprieties, including using its funds to settle legal disputes involving Trump businesses.
On the campaign trail on Tuesday, Trump met with about a dozen energy executives in Denver, Colorado, querying them mainly about their concerns about regulations that he said had "gotten out of control."
John Harpole, chief executive of Mercator Energy, said he did not understand why the Obama administration’s response to the shale boom and Clinton’s energy positions had not come up during the first presidential debate last week.
Others told Trump they faced more immediate concerns with state-level regulators. Scott Stewart of Gilbert-Stewart Operating said his company had largely moved operations to Kansas because of stiff rules in Colorado.
At the Pennsylvania event with her daughter Chelsea and actress Elizabeth Banks, Clinton discussed substance abuse, caring for children and family members with health problems, college affordability and mental healthcare, among other topics.
Clinton has led Trump in national opinion polls in recent months. On Tuesday, an average of polls aggregated by RealClearPolitics website showed her with 48.1 percent of support compared to Trump's 44.3 percent.
(Writing by John Whitesides; Additional reporting by Emily Stephenson in Colorado; Editing by Frances Kerry)