“The faces he made — he rolled his eyes!” said Janet Melton, who bought a cake and doughnuts at Yori’s Bakery, where a blackboard on the sidewalk advertised “Pumpkin Everything.” “He doesn’t come across as being very professional to me.”
Ms. Melton, a registered Republican who manages a team of software engineers, said that if the election were today, Mrs. Clinton — whom she, too, called “so much more presidential” — would get her vote. That alone was a milestone, she added: “I come from a long line of Republican family members who will turn over in their graves.”
Mr. Trump, who was rising in national polls before the debate, has also narrowed the gap in important battleground states. A CNN/ORC poll released Monday showed him running about even with Mrs. Clinton among likely voters in Pennsylvania, a state Democrats regard as a blue wall barricading Mr. Trump’s path to the White House.
This year, as in past elections, the key to winning the state is expected to be winning the trove of educated voters, especially women, in the counties surrounding Philadelphia. Here in Chester County, Mitt Romney defeated President Obama in 2012 by less than one percentage point; Mr. Obama won nearby Bucks County by a margin nearly as close.
Even among Republican and independent women who do not support Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Trump’s debate performance — frequently interjecting “wrong” while displaying a thin command of policy details — failed to allay doubts.
“I’d rather have almost anybody in there except Hillary,” said Debbie Windle, a 63-year-old office administrator from Glenmoore. “I didn’t like her last night. I thought she was smug. She thought she was better and was putting him down.
“But I look at Donald Trump, and I think, oh my God, he’s rough,” she added. “He could cause us a lot of damage.” Ms. Windle said she was considering not voting.
And Diana Martens, 51, of Jeffersonville, a Republican who works at a pharmaceutical company, said she might write in a candidate.
“Hillary, I’m not a big fan of hers,” she said. But she said many of Mr. Trump’s answers lacked details or substance. “I don’t think he has the experience,” she said. “His behavior is unpresidential, unkind, un-everything.”
Not everyone thought Mr. Trump appeared unprepared for the White House.
Barb Haag, a retired teacher of the emotionally disturbed, said Mr. Trump’s interruptions did not bother her. “Kids interrupt you all the time if they have a point to make,” she said.
“His manner of speaking was thorough, to the point; I liked the way he sounded,” said Ms. Haag, 69, who said she was leaning toward voting for Mr. Trump.
But others who sounded somewhat sympathetic toward Mr. Trump expressed disappointment at the debate’s outcome. One woman in her 50s, who said she was a registered independent but refused to give her name, took out her phone to display a text message she had sent her husband, she said, at the moment Mr. Trump had lost her: when he dodged responsibility for stoking the so-called birther movement that questioned whether Mr. Obama was American-born.
“I had hoped he’d be smarter and better prepared,” the text message read. “It’s not like he didn’t know that birther thing would come up. He thought he could wing this.”
Democrats here expressed great relief, saying they had taken note of Mr. Trump’s rise in the polls and worried that he might unleash one of his trademark name-calling, slashing attacks.
“I was nervous before the debate because I thought it could have gone much worse,” said Sarah Kelly, a graduate student at Villanova University, in Radnor Township. “I’m feeling kind of proud of Hillary. Every time she gave a smile, kind of a big one, made me feel confident.”
But Mr. Trump’s confirmed supporters found reason to cheer, too. “I’m going to go with Donald because he didn’t lose much ground,” said Brian Lance, 30, an accountant, who watched the debate in a sports bar in Rosemont. “I thought Hillary was a little crass.”
Midway through the debate, Betsy Gehlot, a Republican watching in the same bar, Gullifty’s, complained that Mr. Trump kept talking over Mrs. Clinton. “He’s doing all the talking,” said Ms. Gehlot, who works in a boys’ private school. “He’s kind of bullying her, I think.”
The next morning, Bob and Mary Ann Jann were still digesting the debate over breakfast at Mil-Lee’s Diner in Yardley, Pa. Mr. Jann, a psychologist, said he thought Mrs. Clinton had won “hands down.” He pointed to “Donald’s dark view of America, and the fact that he couldn’t control his mouth and couldn’t follow the rules of the debate.”
But what stuck with Ms. Jann — and not admiringly, either — was the way Mr. Trump had answered Mrs. Clinton’s attacks about his having failed to pay vendors to his businesses. “His way of succeeding in business did not seem to have helped out the people who worked for him,” she said.