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Hempstead, N.Y. — Presidential rivals Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton sparred over job creation, trade policy and police tactics amid growing racial strife during a bruising first televised debate that highlighted their personality and policy differences in a heated race for the White House.

Trump assailed the North American Free Trade Agreement, suggesting the trade pact is responsible for Ford Motor Co. shifting small car production to Mexico.

“So Ford is leaving, their small car division leaving, thousands of jobs leaving Michigan, leaving Ohio. They’re all leaving and we can’t allow it to happen anymore,” the New York businessman said.

Ford has said its shift of small car production will not result in the loss of any Michigan or U.S. jobs as the Dearborn automaker plans to assemble new vehicles at its Michigan Assembly plant, where small cars are currently built. The company even tweeted during the debate that it “has more hourly employees and produces more vehicles in the U.S. than any other automaker.”

Clinton defended her voting record on trade deals and sought to downplay the issue Trump has made the centerpiece of his campaign for the presidency.

“Let’s not assume that trade is the only challenge we have in the economy,” Clinton said.

Trump frequently interjected short comments during the former secretary of state’s answers, and she occasionally interrupted him. The 90-minute debate at Hofstra University on Long Island meandered from U.S. relations with Russia to the Islamic State group and Trump’s efforts to force President Barack Obama to release his long-form birth certificate in 2011 to prove he was born in Hawaii.

Moderator Lester Holt of NBC News questioned Trump on why for years he continued to question the president’s “legitimacy” as a native-born American even after Obama produced his birth certificate in 2011. Clinton said Trump perpetuated a “racist birther lie.”

“I was the one who got him to produce the birth certificate, and I think I did a good job,” Trump said, arguing that Clinton’s campaign also encouraged the rumor.

“He should have produced it a long time before. … I did a great job and a great service not only for the country but even for the president in getting him to produce his birth certificate.”

When it was her turn to respond, Clinton smirked slightly.

“Well, just listen to what you heard,” she said. “He really started his political activity based on this racist lie that our first black president was not an American citizen. There was absolutely no evidence for it. He persisted year after year because some of his supporters, some of the people who he was trying to bring into his fold apparently believed it or wanted to believe it.”

Talking economy

But much of the first half of the debate revolved around the economy. In a lively exchange, Trump questioned Clinton’s recent conversion to becoming a critic of NAFTA, which was signed by her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

“For 30 years you’ve been doing it and now you’re just starting to think of solutions,” Trump said.

Clinton: “Well, actually, I have thought about this quite a bit,” she said.

“For 30 years?” Trump asked.

“Well, not quite that long,” Clinton responded. “I think my husband did a pretty good job in the 1990s.”

The former secretary of state added: “We need to have smart, fair trade deals. We’re going to enforce the trade deals we have and we’re going to hold people accountable.”

Trump renewed his vow to renegotiate trade deals.

“We have to stop our jobs from being stolen from us, we have to stop our companies from leaving the United States,” he said.

Trump continued to contend Clinton will sign on to the Trans Pacific Partnership if she’s elected president, despite vowing not to do so. Clinton originally supported the TPP as Obama’s secretary of state.

“You called it the gold standard of trade deals, you said it was the finest deal you’ve ever seen and then you heard what I said about it and then you were against it,” he said.

“Donald I know you live in your own reality, but that is not the facts,” Clinton shot back. “The facts are I did say I hoped it would be a good deal, but when it was negotiated, which I was not responsible for, I concluded it wasn’t. I wrote about that before you even announced.”

‘Trumped-up trickle-down’

Clinton called Trump’s jobs plan “trumped-up trickle-down” economics that would only benefit the rich.

“That is not how we grow the economy,” she said. “We just have a different view on how best to grow the economy.”

Clinton assailed Trump’s record as a businessman, portraying the New York real estate mogul as part of a privileged elite.

“He started his business with $14 million borrowed from his father, and he really believes that the more you help wealthy people, the better off we’ll be and that everything will work out from there,” Clinton said.

Trump said his father gave him a “small loan” that he’s used to build a multibillion-dollar company.

“And I’ve built it into a company that’s worth many many billions of dollars,” Trump added.

Clinton claimed Trump “rooted for the housing crisis” two years before the 2008 recession by boasting that he could buy up real estate at bargain prices.

“That’s called business,” Trump responded.

“Nine million people. Nine million people lost their jobs,” Clinton continued. “Five million people lost their homes.”

Tax records and emails

Trump said he would release his tax returns – “against my lawyer's wishes” -- when Clinton releases 33,000 of her e-mails that were deleted from her home server that she used as secretary of state.

“As soon as she releases them, I will release,” Trump said to applause.

“Almost every lawyer says, you don't release your returns until the audit's complete. When the audit's complete, I'll do it. But I would go against them if she releases her e-mails."

Clinton called Trump’s tax release comments a “classic bait-and switch,” noting that every major presidential candidate in the past four decades has released their returns and the Internal Revenue Service does not prohibit such a release during an audit.

“So you've got to ask yourself, why won't he release his tax returns?” Clinton said, going on to offer a few theories, including potential ethical conflicts or the possibility he has not paid any federal tax in recent years.

“So if he's paid zero, that means zero for troops, zero for vets, zero for schools or health,” she continued. “And I think probably he's not all that enthusiastic about having the rest of our country see what the real reasons are, because it must be something really important, even terrible, that he's trying to hide,” she said.

Public safety sparring

The debate was held nine days after a terror bombing in Manhattan and after a week of violent protests in Charlotte, N.C. over the police killing of a black man.

Trump expressed support for the controversial police tactic of stop-and-frisk, which was found unconstitutional by a judge for its use in New York City.

“We have to be very strong, and we have to be very vigilant,” Trump said. “Right now our police in many cases are afraid to do anything. We have to protect our inner cities.”

Clinton derided Trump’s approach to community policing.

“We cannot just say law and order,” Clinton said. “We have to say, we have to come forward with a plan that is going to divert people form the criminal justice system, deal with mandatory minimum sentences that have put too many people away for too long for doing too little.”

Islamic State jabs

Trump and Clinton also mocked each other’s plans for fighting the Islamic State.

“She tells you how to fight ISIS on her website,” said Trump, who has refused to reveal his plan because he says it would tip his hand to the enemy.

“At least I have a plan to fight ISIS,” Clinton shot back.

“No, no, you’re telling the enemy everything you want to do,” Trump replied.

“No we’re not,” Clinton said.

Trump continued to argue Clinton is giving away her battle plan to a terrorist group that grew out of a destabilized Middle East caused by a botched withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

“No wonder you’ve been fighting ISIS your entire adult life,” Trump told Clinton.

With the polls tightening in Michigan Trump is headed back to the state on Friday for a campaign rally in Novi. Clinton is sending her daughter to campaign Friday in Traverse City, while Bill Clinton campaigns Tuesday in Toledo, Ohio.

clivengood@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3661

Twitter: @ChadLivengood

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