Debate spotlight shines on former Miss Universe, who calls Clinton her 'role model'

Alicia Machado during the NALIP 2016 Latino Media Awards at Dolby Theatre on June 25, 2016 in Hollywood, California.

Alicia Machado during the NALIP 2016 Latino Media Awards at Dolby Theatre on June 25, 2016 in Hollywood, California.  (2016 Getty Images)

Former Miss Universe Alicia Machado said she couldn’t believe it when she was watching the presidential debate Monday night and suddenly heard her name.

“I was really surprised,” Machado said during a conference call on Tuesday afternoon. “I began to cry because I couldn’t imagine someone so important telling my story.”

Machado, a former beauty queen turned actress, suddenly captured the political spotlight this week when Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton mentioned her name during the debate while she took a shot her GOP rival Donald Trump.

The Clinton campaign organized a last-minute conference call with Machado on Tuesday after she was suddenly thrust in the spotlight – a move she didn’t seem to mind very much.

She used the newfound 15-seconds of fame to trash her longtime nemesis, Trump, and plug her new friend, Clinton, who she called her “role model.” The Clinton campaign released a video after the debate in which the former beauty queen spoke about all the insults she claims Trump has thrown her way.

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The beef with Trump began 20 years ago, when the then-19-year-old Venezuelan won the Miss Universe pageant, which had been purchased by Trump the same year.

After being crowned Miss Universe, she gained 15 pounds and appeared with Trump at a press conference where he said he supported her weight-loss efforts. She said the affair turned into a “Fat Miss Universe” joke that haunted her for years. She blames Trump for years of suffering from an eating disorder. She claims Trump at the time was “rude” and “brutal.”

“I’ve worked very hard to forget that moment,” Machado said of the press conference with Trump. “I don’t want to see him anymore.”

While she couldn’t forget that moment, most people across the universe probably had, with those headlines now 20 years old.

Then Clinton uttered her name.

During the debate, Clinton brought up Machado’s claim that Trump called her “Miss Piggy” when she gained weight.

"One of the worst things he said was about a woman in a beauty contest – he loves beauty contests, supporting them and hanging around them – and he called this woman 'Miss Piggy,' then he called her 'Miss Housekeeping' because she was Latina," Clinton said.

Machado said that it has been difficult for her to follow this year’s presidential campaign as coverage of the race has been dominated by Trump and his proposals.

“I never thought I would be watching this guy again doing stupid things and making stupid comments,” she said. “It’s like a bad dream.”

Her disdain for Trump has prompted her to try to grab the spotlight several times after he decided to run for president.

In June, Machado appeared at a Virginia news conference hosted by two immigrant advocacy groups to encourage Latino voters to support Clinton. In July, she lent her name in support of housekeepers when she attended a Domestics Workers Assembly in South Florida, an event organized to push for a bill of rights for domestic workers in the Florida state legislature.

She has also gone door to door in Miami to rally voters to cast a ballot for Clinton in the battleground state of Florida.

“She’s prepared to be president,” Machado said. “That debate made it clear.”

But it wasn’t until Clinton mentioned her name during the debate that Machado finally got national media attention.

For his part, Trump has not backed down on his thoughts about Machado, telling "Fox and Friends" on Tuesday that she was "the worst we ever had."

"She gained a massive amount of weight. It was a real problem. We had a real problem,” Trump said.

Machado seemed to suggest that with Clinton’s words, she finally got some sort of vindication.

“He was not ready for that,” she said. “He must have wondered why she was bringing up my name.”

Follow Andrew O'Reilly on Twitter @aoreilly84.

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