US presidential debate: 8 key moments from Round 2 of Hillary Clinton v Donald Trump

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The Republican and Democratic presidential candidates aren't without controversy in their second presidential debate, and the pressure's on with Election Day only weeks away.
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton speak during the second US presidential debate. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

A bitter second battle between presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump saw the duo spar over sex charges, taxes and terror group ISIS before a bizarre ending where they were forced to praise each other.

Did Mr Trump do enough to revitalise his flagging campaign hit by recent controversies? Or did Mrs Clinton further cement her position as the superior candidate?

Here are the key moments from the debate.

1. No handshake

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton - sans handshake - at the start of the second US presidential debate. PHOTO: REUTERS

With tension in the presidential race reaching new heights, the customary handshake between nominees before their showdown on the debate stage was conspicuously missing. Mrs Clinton and Mr Trump merely smiled and nodded at each other when they were introduced.

Cue hysteria on social media over the no-handshake moment, with the Washington Post reporting that it was the first time such a thing had happened. The New York Times, on its live blog, said there had been discussions in the Clinton camp whether she should shake hands with her opponent.

For the record, they did shake hands - albeit awkwardly - at the end of the debate.

2. "Locker room talk"

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'Certainly I'm not proud of it,' Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump says after video emerged of his lewd remarks about women.

The elephant in the room was addressed right from the start when debate moderator Anderson Cooper brought up Mr Trump's lewd comments from more than a decade ago and asked if he had bragged about sexually assaulting women.

A swift denial followed. "This was locker room talk. I'm not proud of it," said Mr Trump before abruptly switching topic mid-sentence to talk about the threat of terrorist group ISIS.

Mr Cooper's persistent interrogation paid off when Mr Trump blurted out quite possibly the most ironic statement of the debate: "I have great respect for women, nobody has more respect for women than I do."

3. When they go low, we go high

Mrs Clinton chose to take the moral high ground in her response to Mr Trump holding a surprise pre-debate press conference with women who had previously accused her husband Bill Clinton of sexual assault.

Quoting current First Lady Michelle Obama, Mrs Clinton said: "When they go low, we go high."

Later in the debate, she revealed that she had spent the past 48 hours thinking about the tape that had exposed Mr Trump's lewd comments on women to the world, which made her question his fitness to serve.

"I said starting back in June that he was not fit to be president... What we all saw and heard on Friday was Donald talking about women. What he thinks about women, what he does to women... I think it's clear to anyone who heard it that it represents exactly who he is."

4. Trump's threat

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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump vowed to 'get a special prosecutor' to investigate Democratic rival Hillary Clinton over her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.

In an unprecedented threat during a presidential debate, Mr Trump warned Mrs Clinton of further repercussions over her e-mail scandal if he were to be elected president.

"If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation, because there has never been so many lies, so much deception," he vowed.

"People's lives have been destroyed for doing one-fifth of what you've done and it's a disgrace. And honestly, you ought to be ashamed of yourself."

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Fireworks between the Republican and Democratic nominees at the second presidential debate in St. Louis.

Mrs Clinton shot back: "It's just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country."

Mr Trump retorted: "Because you'd be in jail."

5. Tax write-off is a "wonderful thing"

Confronted by Mr Cooper if he had used his declaration of US$916 million (S$1.26 billion) loss in 1995 to avoid paying federal income taxes for nearly two decades, Mr Trump did not deny.

"Of course I do, of course I do," he said. "I pay tax, and I pay federal tax too. But I have a write-off. A lot of it is depreciation, which is a wonderful charge. I love depreciation."

He then shifted the spotlight back to Mrs Clinton accusing her "friends" and donors to the Clinton Foundation of doing the same.

"I understand the tax code better than anybody that's ever run for president," he declared. "With her, it's all talk, and no action."

6. Muslim ban flip-flop

Mr Trump, who had insulted the parents of deceased American captain Hamayun Khan (who died in the Iraq War), did an abrupt turn and branded Captain Khan an American hero when quizzed on his call for a blanket ban on Muslims entering the country.

"Captain Khan is an American hero... and if I were president at that time he would be alive today," he declared, eliciting a gasp of disbelief from Mrs Clinton.

"The Muslim ban is something that in some form has morphed into extreme vetting," he added.

Asked to elaborate, his answer was equally head-scratching: "It's called extreme vetting."

7. Moderator battle

Debate moderators Anderson Cooper (left) and Martha Raddatz speak at the start of the debate. PHOTO: REUTERS

Debate moderator Martha Raddatz briefly became the unexpected star of the debate when she grilled Mr Trump repeatedly on his policy for Syria, exposing the split in opinion with running mate Mike Pence when it came to dealing with the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Aleppo.

Ms Raddatz recalled a recent statement from Mr Pence, the governor of Indiana, who said: "Provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength and that if Russia continues to be involved in airstrikes along with the Syrian government forces of Assad, the United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike the military targets of the Assad regime."

Mr Trump replied that he disagreed with Mr Pence's stance but could not provide a satisfactory answer to her questions about what would happen if Aleppo were to fall.

8. Mutual respect?

After all the attacking during the debate, a rare moment of civility ensued towards the end as a member of the audience posed an interesting question to both nominees: Name one positive thing they respect in each other.

Mrs Clinton, who went first, said she respected his "incredibly able and devoted" children as they speak well of him. "As a mother and a grandmother, it's very important. This election has become in part so conflict-oriented so intense because there's a lot at stake."

Mr Trump praised his rival's never-say-die spirit: "She doesn't quit, she doesn't give up. I respect that. I tell it like it is. She's a fighter... she does fight hard and she doesn't quit and I consider that to be a very good trait."

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