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First Read: A Make-or-Break Month for Hillary Clinton

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

October is shaping up to a make-or-break month for Hillary’s campaign

It’s the beginning of October, and we can’t stress enough how big the month will be for Hillary Clinton -- and, by extension, the Democratic Party. Oct. 13 brings us the first Democratic presidential debate. Hillary’s testimony before the House Benghazi committee is on Oct. 22. Two days later, she (as well as the other Democrats in the field) speaks at the Iowa Jefferson-Jackson Dinner -- the same venue where then-candidate Barack Obama turned out his presidential fortunes in 2007. And October is the month where we SHOULD get an answer to whether or not Joe Biden is running. Bottom line: This is going to be a decisive month for Hillary, especially given that she’s been stuck in a negative feedback loop over the past three months (Emails! Falling poll numbers! Biden! Emails! Falling poll numbers! Biden!). If she somehow doesn’t end up as the Democratic nominee, we’ll likely be able to trace it back to the events in October. Conversely, if she does wind up as the nominee -- and remains the candidate to beat in the general -- we’ll likely be able to trace it back to the events in October.

As Clinton catches a big, big break with Kevin McCarthy’s comments

And Clinton starts off October having caught a significant break from likely Speaker-to-be Kevin McCarthy, who essentially admitted that the Benghazi committee was set up to hurt Hillary Clinton. "Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?” McCarthy said on Fox News. “But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would’ve known any of that had happened had we not fought and made that happen." Those comments set off a chain reaction -- Democrats called to disband the Benghazi committee; Clinton herself pounced in an interview with MSNBC’s Al Sharpton (“When I hear a statement like that, which demonstrates unequivocally that this was always meant to be a partisan, political exercise, I feel that it does a great disservice "); and even fellow Republicans slammed McCarthy (Rep. Jason Chaffetz said the likely speaker-to-be made an “absolutely inappropriate statement”). We’d add that McCarthy was even misreading his own conservative base: So many Republicans believe the exercise is more than scoring political points; it’s getting important answers to allegations of wrongdoing.

Biden’s still waiting to decide -- and it isn’t helping Hillary, Democrats, or even Biden himself

As for the Biden’s ultimate decision about 2016, CNN reports that Biden is NOT preparing for the first Democratic debate on Oct. 13, and he feels no pressure to reach a decision now. NBC’s Kristen Welker adds, according to a source in Biden World, that Biden is in no rush to decide and is now likely eyeing the second half of October/early November to decide. But as Biden appears to stretch his timeframe (remember when we were supposed to get a decision at the end of summer?), here’s an honest truth: The Biden waiting game is no longer doing him or his party any favors. With Clinton and Sanders having already raised a combined $115 million (more on that below), waiting to start raising money isn’t going to help him compete financially with Clinton, let alone Sanders. The waiting game has paralyzed parts of the non-Hillary wing of the Democratic establishment. And as our NBC/WSJ poll shows, Biden disproportionally takes away support from Clinton when the vice president is included in the polling. As we’ve said before, if Biden wants to run and win (and start preparing to build a $1 billion enterprise for the general election in our Super PAC/501c4 Era), he has to get in ASAP. He doesn’t have until late October or early November. Sure, we get that Biden seems to be waiting to see how October fares for Hillary (see above). But that waiting game comes at a cost.

Hillary outraises Bernie -- barely. But the big story here is the combined Democratic fundraising

Even before the 3rd fundraising quarter officially ended last night, we started to get the first reports of the money hauls:

  • Clinton $28 million-plus (giving her $75 million-plus so far for the campaign);
  • Sanders $26 million-plus (giving him $41 million-plus)
  • Carson $20 million-plus (giving him $30 million-plus)
  • Bush between $11 million and $20 million, per the Wall Street Journal.

The good news for Clinton: She outraised Sanders for the quarter. The bad news: She BARELY outraised him. But the big story here is the combined $115 million-plus that both Clinton and Sanders have raised so far in hard primary money, which is lapping the GOP field -- even Bush. As we learned from Scott Walker’s experience, hard money is still the most prized currency for a presidential campaign.

Who’s in (and out) of CNBC’s Oct. 28 GOP debate -- as of right now

On Wednesday, CNBC released its criteria for its Oct. 28 Republican debate in Colorado. To make the main debate, at 8:00 pm ET, candidates must be at 2.5% in an average of national polls conducted by NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, CNN and Bloomberg – and released between Sept. 17-Oct. 21. To make the 6:00 pm ET undercard debate, a candidate must be at least 1% in ANY ONE of these polls. According to the NBC, Fox, CNN, and Bloomberg polls released AFTER Sept. 17, the following 10 GOP candidates would make the main debate, according to CNBC’s criteria:

  • Trump 23.0%
  • Carson 17.0%
  • Fiorina 11.5%
  • Rubio 9.5%
  • Bush 9.0%
  • Cruz 6.0%
  • Kasich 4.0%
  • Christie 3.75%
  • Huckabee 3.5%
  • Paul 2.75%

Those who would make the undercard (because they get at least 1% in one of the polls): Santorum, Jindal, Pataki. Those who wouldn’t make either: Graham, Gilmore.

Syria turning into a debacle for the Obama administration

If Syria was already a black mark for the Obama administration, it’s now turning into a full-fledged debacle, with Russia now appearing to bomb Syrian rebels opposed to Assad. Yesterday wasn’t a good day for the administration (see the appearances by Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Secretary of State John Kerry). What is the president going to say? He still hasn’t commented publicly. All of this is a reminder that foreign policy could still very well be a big element in the 2016 issue matrix. By the way, don’t miss Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker’s tough words to the administration yesterday on MSNBC’s MTP Daily.

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