RALEIGH, N.C. — Donald Trump blamed the moderator, a bad microphone and anyone but himself Tuesday after he was forced onto defense by Hillary Clinton's cascade of criticism about his taxes, honesty and character in the first presidential debate.
The Republican nominee plunged into re-litigating some of Clinton's most damaging attacks, even when the explanations seemed only to further damage his image among the voters he needs to win. After brushing off Clinton's debate claim that he'd once shamed a former Miss Universe winner for her weight, Trump dug deeper the next day.
"She gained a massive amount of weight. It was a real problem. We had a real problem," Trump told "Fox and Friends" about the 1996 winner of the pageant he once owned.
Clinton, meanwhile, was in a celebratory mood, telling reporters on her campaign plane she had a "great, great time" and was "thrilled" by how it went. She accused Trump of making "demonstrably untrue" claims in the debate and mocked him for floating the possibility that debate organizers had set him up by lowering the volume on his "terrible" microphone so he was quieter than Clinton.
"Anybody who's complaining about the microphone is not having a good night," Clinton said.
Both campaigns knew the first debate, watched by some 80 million people, could mark a turning point six weeks before Election Day, but it was unclear if either candidate would reap significant gains. Trump and Clinton are locked in an exceedingly close race and competing vigorously to win over undecided voters.
Though he insisted he'd done "very well," Trump accused moderator Lester Holt of a left-leaning performance and going harder on him than Clinton. He insisted he had "no sniffles" and no allergies despite the #snifflegate speculation that had exploded on social media.
Still, Trump insisted he'd gotten the better of Clinton, awarding her a C-plus while declining to assign himself a grade. He also threatened to go harder after her in the next debate and said he'd planned to assail President Bill Clinton for his "many affairs" and stopped himself solely because daughter Chelsea Clinton had been in the room.
With precious few weeks left to campaign, both candidates returned promptly to the trail. Clinton was campaigning in North Carolina and Trump in Florida — both among a handful of toss-up states whose winners could help determine the outcome of the election.
The Trump campaign plans to spend $100 million on television advertising before Election Day, spokesman Jason Miller told The Associated Press. Of the $20 million in TV airtime his campaign had already scheduled, a whopping $13 million is aimed at Florida voters, according to Kantar Media's political ad tracker.
Clinton and Trump are slated to face each again on Oct. 9 in St. Louis. Asked about the possibility Trump could pull out, Clinton said she'd show up regardless.
Trump's latest comments about Alicia Machado, the 1996 Miss Universe, were striking in that they come just as he is working to broaden his appeal among women. Aiming to capitalize on Trump's renewed focus on a woman's weight, Clinton's campaign dispatched Machado — who is backing Clinton — to tell reporters how she spent years struggling with eating disorders after being humiliated publicly by Trump.
"I never imagined then, 20 years later I would be in this position, I would be in this moment, like, watching this guy again doing stupid things and stupid comments," Machado said. "It's really a bad dream for me."
As Trump courted Hispanic voters in Miami, Clinton hammered an allegation she'd leveled the night before: that he is refusing to release his tax returns because he goes years without paying any federal taxes. "That makes me smart," was Trump's coy response in the debate, but on Tuesday, Clinton insisted it was nothing to brag about.
Added an incredulous Joe Biden: "What in the hell he is talking about?" Campaigning for Clinton in Pennsylvania, the vice president noted that Trump had boasted of profiting off the housing market's collapse, and he questioned whether Trump had any "moral center."
The two nominees' first face-to-face showdown the night before was confrontational from the start, with Trump frequently trying to interrupt Clinton and speaking over her answers. Clinton was more measured and restrained, often smiling through his answers, well-aware of the television cameras capturing her reaction.
Trump tried aggressively to pin America's problems on Clinton. But the Democrat, showing her intensive preparations, went after him as hard or harder, including sharp criticism of his business practices and false assertions about President Barack Obama's birthplace, which she called part of a pattern of "racist behavior."
Trump, who has tried to paint Clinton as a career politician who has squandered chances to make a difference, conceded she was experienced, but said "it's bad experience." When Trump made a crack about Clinton taking time off the campaign trail to prepare for the debate, she turned it into a validation of her readiness.
"You know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president," Clinton said. And I think that's a good thing."
Lederman reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Julie Bykowicz and Steve Peoples contributed to this report.