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Hillary Clinton wins, with an assist from Bernie Sanders

Top moments from the Democratic presidential debate
Top moments from the Democratic presidential debate

With help from Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton won the night.

The lead-up to the Democratic showdown in Las Vegas Tuesday night was all about the e-mails Clinton kept on a private server during her tenure as secretary of state, and how they are sinking her standing with the American public. Her political obituary was playing out in pre-debate tweets, all seeming to set the stage for Vice President Joe Biden, the darling of the Beltway media, to get into the race.

It was premature grave-dancing. Clinton is nobody’s darling. But she can never be counted out. She has walked the gauntlet before and is willing to walk it again. Thanks to Sanders, it was easy.


When the e-mail matter came up, Sanders — her toughest declared rival — rescued her. “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails,” he said. “Enough of the e-mails. Let’s talk about the real issues.”

And for much of the debate they did, from gun control to immigration, from foreign policy to banking regulation.

Sanders — a self-described “Democratic socialist” — had to prove he can grow support beyond his cult of lefty true believers. He showed passion and conviction, but not much ability to grow his base. Still, he will continue to be a force in this primary contest. A Sanders-Clinton debate would be fun to watch.

The other three Democrats on the stage — Jim Webb, a former secretary of the Navy; Martin O’Malley, a former governor of Maryland; and Lincoln Chafee, a former Republican — had to show why they are even in the race. Chafee and Webb failed completely at that task. O’Malley had some good moments, but not enough to establish himself as a true challenger to Clinton or Sanders.

Clinton’s task was more complicated. Could she remind supporters of the connection they felt in 2008, when she ran and lost against Barack Obama? Could she get voters to trust her again?


She was clearly the best candidate on the stage for a general election fight. That will help her with donors who were getting nervous about her prospects.

So, she lives to fight another day.

But she didn’t put the “trust” issue to rest. Sanders gave her a pass. But the press and Republicans won’t let that stand.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.