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Clinton won the debate. Now what?

(LAT)

Some 84 million people watched Monday night’s debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump — a number equivalent to about one-third of the country’s voting-age population. 

Those potential voters — plus millions of others who saw, listened to or heard about snippets of the debate in the ensuing days — have made a clear judgment about which candidate won the faceoff.

Now, the question is whether winning the debate will actually help her win the election.

Good afternoon, I’m David Lauter, the Los Angeles Times’ Washington bureau chief. Welcome to the Friday edition of our Essential Politics newsletter, in which we look at the events of the week in the presidential campaign and highlight some particularly insightful stories.

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TAKING THE BAIT

Campaign debates aren’t won or lost just in the 90 minutes the candidates share the stage.

What happens in the days immediately after a debate — what moments news organizations focus on, what people hear from friends, how the candidates react — all helps to shape voters’ verdict on who prevailed.

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If you need a refresher on the debate, check out our fine debate-night story by Mark Z. Barabak, Evan Halper and Michael Finnegan, and the excellent analysis by Cathy Decker.

As both pieces noted, the near-unanimous assessment of analysts on debate night was that Clinton had won.

When a candidate does badly, the standard playbook says he should admit he had an off day, promise supporters to do better next time and prepare like crazy to make sure that happens. That’s basically what President Obama did four years ago after his terrible first debate with Mitt Romney.

Trump, as we’ve seen all year, follows his own playbook; it doesn’t seem to include a section on admitting error.

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The night of the debate, Trump said he had done well, although he complained briefly about his microphone. By the next morning, he was grousing loudly about the moderator, Lester Holt, saying Holt had asked him tougher questions than he had posed to Clinton. Trump’s surrogates, led by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, amplified those complaints.

By Day 3, as news reports began to quote Trump aides on the need for the candidate to prepare more, Trump’s tone shifted further. He volubly insisted that he had won — pointing to online opt-in surveys, which are meaningless for measuring public opinion — while still complaining that he had been treated unfairly.

And all the while, he kept up a running feud with Alicia Machado, the former Miss Universe whom Trump had publicly shamed over her weight 20 years ago — an incident Clinton had raised toward the end of the debate. Trump and his surrogates also hinted broadly that he planned to start openly attacking former President Bill Clinton over his affairs.

Whatever Trump’s intention, the effect of the week was to reinforce the idea that he had lost the debate. By now, at least a dozen surveys — nationally and in hotly contested states — have shown that voters believe Clinton won, and there’s some evidence that the voters’ verdict hardened as the week went along.

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Early indications from some key states suggest that Clinton’s debate victory has given her a boost in the race. By this weekend, as more polls come in, we should have a much clearer idea.

DON’T FORGET THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE

More state-by-state surveys are now starting to be published. That’s important, of course, because winning states is what ultimately matters in a presidential election. As our interactive electoral map shows, Clinton currently leads in more than enough states to secure the White House. But if the race tightens further, some of those states could begin to change.

Winning requires 270 electoral votes. How to get there? We’ve updated the map with our best estimates. Now you get to play political strategist and try out as many scenarios as you like.

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FOLLOW OUR TRACKING POLL

The USC Dornsife/L.A. Times tracking poll has been tracing Trump’s and Clinton’s trajectories since early summer. The poll has consistently shown a better result for Trump than many other surveys. Why is it different? Here are several of the reasons, and here’s what the poll tells us about Trump’s potential path forward.

TRUMP’S TROUBLE WITH WOMEN

The other impact of Trump’s comments this week has been to highlight issues that have alienated women voters. Poll after poll has shown Trump doing much worse with women than with men.

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To take just one example: A new poll of New Hampshire voters released this morning by WBUR in Boston showed 70% of women viewing Trump unfavorably. One-third of female registered Republicans in the state said Trump was not fit to be president. The poll showed Clinton winning New Hampshire, a key swing state, by 7 points, mostly because she was winning women by 24 points. Trump led among men by 9 points. 

As Barabak found in Colorado, another key state, suburban women voters are a key reason Trump has been losing in states that Republicans had hoped would fall their way this year. 

Part of the gender gap stems from the issues Trump stresses — trade, for example, and manufacturing — which appeal most directly to working-class men. Part of that stems from his macho style.

But much of Trump’s problem with women voters involves the way he talks about women and their appearance — a topic that he has found a lot to comment on over the years.

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This week, Matt Pearce uncovered one significant piece of Trump’s history — court documents in which women employees at his golf course in Rancho Palos Verdes said he had wanted to fire women who he said weren’t pretty enough and had made inappropriate comments to some female employees.

THREE OTHER STORIES NOT TO MISS

Lisa Mascaro went to Louisiana to interview David Duke, the former Klansman who is trying to revive his political career with a run for Senate. In Trump’s rise, Duke sees a victory for the white supremacist ideology he has pushed for years.

“The fact that Donald Trump’s doing so well, it proves that I’m winning. I am winning,” he declared.

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Decker looked at the contrast between Trump’s rhetoric and that of the candidate he sometimes cites as a hero, Ronald Reagan. As Decker noted, Trump conspicuously leaves out an essential element of the Reagan pitch: optimism.

Finally, one of the big problems that Clinton continues to face is tepid support from young voters. Chris Megerian examined how the Clinton campaign is trying to keep young voters from going over to third parties.

QUESTIONS ABOUT TRUMP, CLINTON? WE’VE GOT ANSWERS

Where they stand on issues, what they’ve done in their lives, their successes, their failures, what their presidencies might look like: We’ve been writing about Clinton and Trump for years, and we’ve pulled the best of that content together to make finding what you want to know easier. So check out All Things Trump and All Things Clinton.

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LOGISTICS

If you like this newsletter, tell your friends to sign up.

That wraps up this week. My colleague Christina Bellantoni will be back Monday with the weekday edition of Essential Politics. Until then, keep track of all the developments in the 2016 campaign with our Trail Guide, at our Politics page and on Twitter @latimespolitics.

Send your comments, suggestions and news tips to politics@latimes.com.

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