Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton did not land a knockout blow, but she appeared to have an edge over her Republican rival Donald Trump in their first of three presidential debates.
Polls afterwards found that debate watchers had largely handed the win to Mrs Clinton, but experts are uncertain if it would translate to swings in national polls among likely voters. A poll of 521 debate watchers by CNN/ORC showed 62 per cent of the crowd thought Mrs Clinton had won the debate, while 27 per cent felt Mr Trump came out on top.
In the 90-minute exchange, they crossed swords on topics such as jobs and trade, but found themselves alternating between policy discussions and personal attacks.
The much-anticipated debate at Hofstra University in New York state on Monday night comes at a time when the race for the Oval Office is tightening.
Mr Trump dealt the first blows of the night, attacking Mrs Clinton's lack of results despite her years in public service. "Hillary, you've been doing this for 30 years," he said. He also claimed that she changed her opinion on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact because he opposed it, a charge that she rejected.
While Mr Trump seemed strong and passionate on the topic of trade in the first half-hour, Mrs Clinton hit her opponent hard for not releasing his tax returns, suggesting he might not be as rich as he claimed or that he was trying to hide "that he's paid nothing in federal taxes". He said: "That makes me smart."
When Mr Trump brought up Mrs Clinton's e-mail scandal - her use of a private server while she was secretary of state - she admitted her mistake. "That was more than a mistake," he said, pledging to release his tax returns if she made public the e-mails she had apparently deleted.
Mr Patrick Waldinger, assistant director of debate at Miami University, said of Mr Trump: "I think his momentum has stalled but I don't think we will see the polls swing 10 points or anything like that."
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