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Hillary Clinton Passes Her First Major Test

What We Learned From Clinton’s Debate Performance 3:05

Hillary passes her first October test -- and has momentum going into the upcoming ones: We’ve told you that October is an important month for Hillary Clinton and her presidential campaign. Well, she passed her first big October test on Tuesday night -- easily. And that performance gives her plenty of momentum going into her upcoming tests with the House Benghazi committee testimony and whatever Joe Biden decides to do. At last night’s first Democratic presidential debate, Hillary Clinton looked good, and the rest of the field made her look great. It was the Harlem Globetrotters vs. the Washington Generals. And sure, Hillary missed some shots and turned the ball over a couple of times (her comments on Wall Street, her “I never took a position on Keystone until I took a position on Keystone” line). But she dominated the debate, especially the first 30 minutes when most Americans are paying attention. And as a result (and also thanks to Kevin McCarthy), Clinton is stronger heading into next week’s Benghazi testimony than we imagined a month ago. Oh, and there was that email assist by Bernie Sanders, as NBC’s Perry Bacon writes. "The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails,” Sanders said. “The middle class in this country is collapsing, we have 27 million people living in poverty… The American people want to know whether we're going to have a democracy or an oligarchy as a result of Citizens United. Enough of the emails."

If Biden was looking for an opportunity (and rationale) to jump into the race, he didn’t get it: If Clinton was last night’s big winner, the big loser was … Joe Biden. If he was looking for a Clinton mess-up as a rationale to get into the race, he didn’t get it. What’s more, by hugging Obama as closely as she did, Hillary also closed off an important lane for Biden. And as Politico writes, Biden wasn’t even a presence at last night’s debate. “Over the course of two full hours of debate, no one even mentioned Joe Biden’s name.” If Biden is still truly thinking about a run, he made a big mistake by not being on that stage. He didn’t get the kind of moment he might have been looking for -- other than maybe realizing Hillary needs a better sparring partner. At this point, Biden might as well wait until after the Benghazi hearing, because his asset is as the guy warming up in the bullpen. The final word on a Biden candidacy might rest in Trey Gowdy’s hands.

On Sanders, O’Malley, Webb, and Chafee: As for Clinton’s actual sparring partners last night, Sanders was strong on the issues he enjoys talking about (Wall Street, income inequality) and weak on the ones he doesn’t (guns, foreign policy). If you’re a progressive feeling The Bern, his performance didn’t do anything to disappoint you. Indeed, per MSNBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald, Sanders raised $1.3 million in the first four hours after the debate began. But if you’re a traditional Democrat eyeing the general election, his line “I think we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway” might have scared the heck out of you -- and it was an opening Clinton didn’t miss on. Martin O’Malley was OK, but didn’t steal a Carly Fiorina-like moment. He needed to shine to gain traction, but didn’t. Jim Webb was comfortable talking foreign policy, but he appeared so stiff. And had he been participating in a GOP debate, his reference to killing a guy in Vietnam would have brought the house down. Unfortunately for him, he was talking to a Democratic audience, and the line fell flat -- at best. And as for Lincoln Chafee, he proved he didn’t belong on that stage. He made Mike Gravel of ’07-‘08 look good by comparison, and that’s saying something.

A (mostly) united Democratic Party: We have one final point to make about last night’s debate: The Democratic Party, right now, is much more unified than the Republican Party is. Sure, there were disagreements and jabs last night. But when you take a step back, it’s striking how often the five Democratic candidates agreed. And with just a few exceptions, the candidates weren’t running away from President Obama -- certainly not to the extent we saw the GOP field run away from George W. Bush in 2007-2008. The general election is 13 months from now, and that contest promises to be a close one. But there is little doubt that the Democratic Party is healthier than the Republican Party.

Outsiders continue to dominate GOP field: Speaking of the GOP field, the latest Fox News poll is evidence that the Republican outsiders are still dominating the presidential race. The numbers: Trump 24%, Carson 23%, Cruz 10%, Rubio 9%, Bush 8%, Fiorina and Huckabee 5% each. Indeed, over the past week, Ben Carson said as many -- if not more -- controversial things as Donald Trump has in this campaign, and his numbers went up in the poll (!!!). If the GOP establishment wants a candidate they can champion early next year, they better find one ASAP. Sure, outsiders leading the GOP field was a story many thought might be relegated to the summer. But it’s now mid-October.

Fiorina outraised Rubio: Yesterday, we learned that Carly Fiorina hauled in $6.8 million in the third quarter, meaning that she outraised Marco Rubio. Here are the overall 3rd quarter numbers -- with the filing deadline tomorrow:

  • Clinton: $28M-plus ($75M-plus for campaign)
  • Sanders: $26M-plus ($41M-plus for campaign)
  • Carson: $20M-plus ($30M-plus for campaign)
  • Bush: B/w $12M and $20M (raised $11.4 million last quarter)
  • Fiorina: $6.8M ($8.5M for campaign)
  • Rubio: $6M (about $18M for campaign)
  • Paul: $2.5M ($9.4M for campaign)

One thing has become obvious: The GOP campaigns, especially the establishment types, put MUCH MORE emphasis on Super PAC/outside group money than hard money. It shows.

On the trail: After the debate, Clinton remains in Nevada, where she makes appearances in Henderson and Las Vegas… Bernie Sanders heads to LA to raise money… On the GOP side, Donald Trump holds a rally in Richmond, VA… Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Marco Rubio stump in New Hampshire… Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, and Rick Santorum are all in Iowa… And Ben Carson campaigns in North Carolina and Georgia.

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