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Clinton debate boost may keep Biden on 2016 sidelines

15 october 2015, 15:51
0

Hillary Clinton bested her challengers in the campaign's first Democratic presidential debate, but her biggest accomplishment may have been to neutralize a potential rival who was not even on stage: Joe Biden, AFP reports.

Analysts and observers said Clinton delivered a commanding performance Tuesday in the party's two-hour Las Vegas showdown, reasserting her control of the presidential race after months of slipping poll numbers.

She reassured her many supporters that she is not the weakened candidate many had feared -- or hoped -- and it leaves Vice President Biden the odd man out in a Democratic primary that is suddenly going the former secretary of state's way.

For months Biden has been weighing whether to jump in. 

The 72-year-old has been an American political fixture for decades: 36 years in the Senate, seven years as President Barack Obama's wingman and twice a candidate for the White House, in 1988 and 2008.

A third run would come only if the vice president, whose early adult life was marred by tragedy with the death of his wife and daughter, could overcome the anguish of losing his son Beau earlier this year to brain cancer.

It has long been assumed he would be much more likely to run should Clinton's candidacy implode and supporters, particularly donors and key operatives, begin clamoring for him to ride in as a political savior.

Biden acknowledged the Democratic field performed admirably without him in the debate.

"I thought every one of those folks did well," Biden told reporters Wednesday in Washington.

  'Very personal decision'

Clinton's deft parrying of her rivals' attacks on her political judgment and her 2002 vote for the Iraq war left her the undisputed frontrunner less than four months before the first votes are cast in the Democratic primary race.

"Clinton's good night reduced the rationale for Biden's candidacy," David Axelrod, chief strategist for Obama's 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, wrote on CNN's website.

"After Tuesday, the calls on him to save the party from a weak frontrunner will be more muted. He is running third in the polls and nothing that happened in Tuesday's debate likely closed that gap."

Time is an enemy for Biden. His team has set a series of deadlines for a decision whether to run -- first it was the end of summer, then it shifted back to October.

But registration deadlines for key primary states are rapidly approaching.

Debate host CNN had teased viewers that Biden might jet in for the debate, dramatically preparing a podium for him in the event he showed up.

But he did not and the declared candidates -- Clinton, her main challenger Senator Bernie Sanders, and three low-polling hopefuls -- made no mention of the vice president.

"This debate was about the five people on this stage," Clinton strategist Joel Benenson said.

Biden "has a very personal decision to make."

  Gift to Clinton? 

Clinton parried former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee's accusation of "poor judgment calls" on Iraq and the Middle East, reminding viewers that she and Obama clashed at length over Iraq during their many debates but that he ultimately picked her as his top diplomat, having beaten her to the Democratic nomination last time.

"He valued my judgment," the 67-year-old Clinton asserted.

She hit back at Sanders on gun control and disagreed with him on how to rein in crony capitalism.

And she said Washington should stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin's "bullying," a veiled shot at the Obama administration's -- and ostensibly Biden's -- handling of the war in Syria.

Sanders was left proclaiming he is "not a pacifist."

Ultimately, Sanders may have given Clinton the greatest of campaign gifts: a call to move on from the obsession over her use of a personal email account and server while secretary of state.

"The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails," he said, turning to Clinton, who reached out to shake her rival's hand.

Longshot candidate Jim Webb, a former senator and navy secretary, may have inadvertently helped Clinton when he bluntly rejected the viability of Sanders' political revolution that targets the "billionaire class," despite its grass-roots appeal.

"Bernie, I don't think the revolution's going to come, and I don't think the Congress is going to pay for a lot of this stuff," Webb said.


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