WASHINGTON, Sept 30 (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump deepened his attacks on a former beauty queen Alicia Machado on Friday, calling her disgusting and alleging the existence of a sex tape as he refused to back away from an issue that threatens to damage his already weak standing among women and Hispanics.
Trump’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, raised Trump’s treatment of the Venezuelan-born former Miss Universe as an example of how he views women during the two candidates’ first debate on Monday night. Clinton said Trump, the former owner of the Miss Universe pageants, had called Machado “Miss Piggy” and also “Miss Housekeeping” because she was a Latina.
Trump did not apologize then and in a television interview the following day he strongly criticized Machado for having gained weight after she won the Miss Universe title in 1996.
With less than six weeks to go until the Nov. 8 election, Trump has refused to let the issue fade and he went on a pre-dawn tirade on Twitter on Friday.
“Did Crooked Hillary help disgusting (check out sex tape and past) Alicia M become a U.S. citizen so she could use her in the debate?” Trump said.
He said the Clinton campaign was unaware of the beauty queen’s past and was “duped” by her, but offered no proof of his claim. His attack came as he struggled to rebound from what was widely viewed as a loss to Clinton in Monday’s debate.
There was no immediate comment from either the Clinton campaign or from Machado. Machado, who is now a U.S. citizen, has appeared on major television and cable networks and has given numerous interviews this week in which she said she was humiliated by Trump.
Politico reported that Machado has starred in racy reality TV programs and posed naked for Playboy’s Mexican version, but said media outlets have found no evidence that she has starred in pornographic films.
Clinton, a former U.S. senator and secretary of state, is the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party.
In rising to bait over the Machado issue Trump is in some ways echoing his lengthy public dispute in August with the parents of a Muslim Army captain killed in Iraq. That incident caused anguish among many Republican leaders concerned that he had nothing to gain by attacking a grieving family.
His remarks on Friday could hurt Trump further with women and Hispanic voters, both groups that favor Clinton in opinion polls.
An average of opinion polls aggregated by RealClearPolitics showed Clinton ahead of Trump by 2.9 percentage points on Friday, or 47.3 points to 44.4, slightly lower than the previous margin of 3 points on Wednesday, but well up from 0.9 point on Sept. 19. The latest Reuters/Ipsos national tracking poll, released on Wednesday, showed Clinton leading by 42 percent to Trump’s 38 percent among likely voters.
In his comments on Tuesday morning, Trump told Fox News: “She was the winner and she gained a massive amount of weight. And it was a real problem. We had a real problem. Not only that - her attitude - and we had a real problem with her.”
Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Frances Kerry