Clinton confident in debate, may allay Democrats’ concerns

Las Vegas, October 14

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s forceful and confident performance in the first Democratic presidential debate may have heartened jittery Democrats who worried that her mishandling of an email controversy demonstrates more fundamental problems with her political skills.

Her success just might be enough to spark second thoughts among one of her biggest potential threats: Vice President Joe Biden, who is still deliberating whether to enter the race.

Clinton sparred on Tuesday night with four rivals for the Democratic nomination that she is overwhelmingly favoured to win. Nearly four months before the first round of primary voting, the Republican candidates have already held two debates, with billionaire Donald Trump overshadowing a crowded field of established politicians.

Perhaps conscious of the threat Biden could pose, Clinton sought to defuse questions about her record by portraying herself as President Barack Obama’s natural successor, the person he turned to when looking for his first secretary of state. When asked how she’d differ from Obama, Clinton mildly noted that she could be the first woman president.

Much of the forum amounted to a critique of the former first lady’s nearly quarter century in politics: Her vote for the Iraq war, shifts to the left on issues like trade, the private email server she used while secretary of state and her foreign policy judgment. She defended herself but acknowledged that everyone on stage had “changed a position or two” during their political careers.

The two-hour debate in Las Vegas presented a stark contrast to the early forums of the Republican field, ten-candidate brawls that revealed a party grappling with deep ideological divides over immigration, foreign policy and civil liberties.

The Democrats presented a far more unified front, arguing more about their personal pasts than the direction they’d each take the country. Unlike the Republicans, all largely supported their leadership in Washington, criticising the president rarely and carefully.

One of the most notable moments came when Sen Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Clinton’s most formidable opponent, rose to her defence on her much-criticised use of a private email server as secretary of state. “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails,” said Sanders. “Enough of emails.”

“Thank you Bernie,” said Clinton, as the two shook hands.

Clinton’s use of a private email server as the secretary of state has raised security concerns, and Republicans have pounced on the controversy. Clinton faces a slow-drip of email news, a result of a court order mandating daily releases of her correspondence.

Clinton also quickly tried to undercut Sanders’ image as a liberal icon, seeming to catch him a bit by surprise with a swift attack on his mixed record on gun control legislation in the early moments of the debate. When asked whether he’d been tough enough on the issue as a senator, she said simply: “No. Not at all.”

Clinton aides have long pointed to the debate as a turning point for the campaign, an opportunity to move past their summer slump.

Still, with over a year before Election Day, there will be more tests to come. “Well, I am in the middle, here, and lots of things coming from all directions,” Clinton said.