New York, Sep 27 (IANS): US presidential contenders Hillary Clinton (Democrat) and Donald Trump (Republican) clashed in their first head-to-head debate of the general election season mainly over job cuts, tax payments, rise of the Islamic State (IS) and racism.
Moderator Lester Holt of NBC News opened the 90-minute debate on Monday night at Hofstra University, Long Island, New York, the first of three such.
Clinton, who looked radiant and fierce in a bright red pant suit started the debate by asking Trump, looking sober in a sharp black suit with a cobalt blue tie: "How are you, Donald" as the crowd cheered -- in spite of being cautioned against doing so.
The debate, which CNN gave to Clinton 67:22, centred around three broadly defined topics: America's Direction, Achieving Prosperity and Securing America. It was split into six 15-minute segments. Two minutes was allotted to answer a question asked by Holt, two minutes to reply and the remaining time for the nominees to debate.
The first question about putting money back into Americans' pockets and creating jobs was directed to the former Secretary of State and she started her speech by defending the idea to create "an economy for all" and stressed that she intends to do so "by having the wealthy pay their fair share".
Clinton, who is also the first woman presidential candidate representing a major US political party, claimed that her economic plan would create 10 million jobs, while Trump's plan would cost the nation 3.5 million jobs.
The former first lady insisted that she would work to achieve equal pay between men and women, paid paternity leave and debt-free college.
Clinton accused her rival for being one of the real estate tycoons who benefited from the economic crisis that hit the country in 2008.
On employment in the US, Trump said that China and Mexico were "stealing" American business and jobs.
"We have to stop our jobs from being stolen from us, we have to stop companies from leaving the United States," he said, reiterating his proposal to impose taxes on companies that move from the US to other countries and then seek to sell their products in America.
He also threatened to scrap or renegotiate some of the "bad" trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that came into force in 1994, or re-define the terms of military agreements like NATO.
One of the longest exchanges came not on tax policy -- but Trump's refusal to release his taxe records, breaking decades of precedent for presidential candidates.
"Why won't he release his tax returns," Clinton asked, adding: "Maybe he is not as rich as he says he is. 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."
Trump responded by saying that he would release his taxes when Clinton made public 33,000 emails that were deleted from her private email server while she was in office from 2009 to 2013. She immediately responded by saying that it was a "mistake".
The real-estate mogul also blamed Clinton for the rise of the IS. He attacked her for being weak on the terror group and mocked her by saying: "You've been fighting IS your entire adult life."
When the debate turned to racial issues and crime, Clinton said that it was important for police to work together with local communities to restore trust.
Trump accused Clinton of refusing to say the phrase "law and order" and bemoaned the state of the inner cities. He said that African-Americans and Hispanics were "living in hell".
He also said Clinton did not have the stamina to be president, to which she replied that she visited 112 countries as secretary of state.
One key exchange was over Trump's long-held belief that President Barack Obama was born outside the US, a position he finally reversed two weeks ago.
Clinton also recalled Trump's stream of insults to women over the years.
"This is a man who has called women pigs, slobs and dogs, and someone who has said pregnancy is an inconvenience to employers, who has said women don't deserve equal pay unless they do as good a job as men," Clinton said.
In other attacks, Clinton criticised Trump for terming climate change a Chinese hoax and also for praising Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Moderator Holt, in the final question of the night, asked both Trump and Clinton if they would accept the will of the voters on Election Day.
Clinton said: "Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but I certainly will support the outcome of this election."
Trump pointed that he would "want to make America great again. We are a nation that is seriously troubled ... If she wins, I will absolutely support it."
The latest CNN poll released earlier on Monday showed Clinton and Trump neck-and-neck 44 per cent to 42 per cent.
The audience included the nominees' families. Hillary's husband and former US President Bill Clinton and Trump's wife Melania shook hands while they entered the varsity's David S. Mack auditorium.
This was the 20th US presidential debate and was organised by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a non-governmental organisation.