NEW YORK • Mr Donald Trump and Mrs Hillary Clinton came to bitter blows on Wednesday, savaging each other as unfit for office and launching rival pitches to middle-class America as they sharpened their talons ahead of the general election in November.
The Republican White House hopeful kicked off the day with a blistering assault on the Democratic former secretary of state.
"Hillary Clinton... is a world-class liar," said Mr Trump. "Just look at her pathetic e-mail and server statements, or her phony landing in Bosnia where she said she was under attack, but the attack turned out to be young girls handing her flowers," he said, referring to her claims that on a 2008 trip to that country, she came under sniper fire.
Mrs Clinton, who is determined to make history as America's first female commander-in-chief, ridiculed Mr Trump hours later as the "self-proclaimed king of debt" with a "hollow sales pitch" who threatened to bankrupt the US economy.
US elections often hinge on a handful of swing states, leaving the candidates battling to win over the middle ground and court some of the passionate supporters of self-declared Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders.
TRUMP? NO DICE!
We can't let him bankrupt America like we are one of his failed casinos. We can't let him roll the dice with our children's futures.
MRS HILLARY CLINTON, on Mr Trump.
CLINTON? JUST A LIAR!
She's a world-class liar. Just look at her pathetic e-mail server statements or her phony landing in Bosnia, where she said she was under attack, and the attack turned out to be young girls handing her flowers.
MR DONALD TRUMP, on Mrs Clinton.
"Hillary Clinton may be the most corrupt person ever to seek the presidency," declared Mr Trump, 70, in a speech in which he accused Mrs Clinton of running "the State Department like her own personal hedge fund - doing favours for repressive regimes, and many others, in exchange for cash".
"In just four years, secretary Clinton managed to almost single-handedly destabilise the entire Middle East," he added. Mr Trump even sensationally alleged that the US ambassador to Libya, Mr Chris Stevens, who died in an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi in 2012, was one of the victims of her decisions.
At a rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, a largely Republican state, the 68-year-old Mrs Clinton was not to be outdone. "Donald hates it when anyone points out how hollow his sales pitch really is; I guess my speech yesterday must have got under his skin," she hit back. "He's going after me personally because he has no answers on the substance. All he can do is try to distract us."
Mr Trump assailed Mrs Clinton's support for trade deals, saying they had cost the US nearly a third of its manufacturing jobs and the trade deficit with China soared by 40 per cent while she was secretary of state.
Mrs Clinton countered that Mr Trump had "no credible plan for rebuilding infrastructure" and "no real strategy for creating jobs... just a string of empty promises".
"Maybe we shouldn't expect more from someone whose most famous words are, 'you're fired'," she said in a jibe about his former career as a reality TV star. "As president, I'm going to make sure that you hear 'you're hired'."
She added: "We can't let Donald Trump bankrupt America the way he bankrupted his casinos."
Besides assailing Mrs Clinton, Mr Trump used his speech to row back from months of offensive remarks against Muslims, who he has said should be banned from entering the US in the wake of terror attacks at home and overseas.
He said the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group had victimised "peaceful Muslims across the world... who only want to raise their kids in peace and safety."
NEW YORK TIMES