Fresh from debate, will Las Vegas luck stay with Clinton?

Here's what happened at the first Democratic debate

The first Democratic presidential primary debate was held on October 13, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Five candidates: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley, Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb - took to the stage in hopes of propelling their can
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The first Democratic presidential primary debate was held on October 13, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Five candidates: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley, Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb - took to the stage in hopes of propelling their can

After a months-long slide, Hillary Clinton heads into fall with a new-found burst of energy thanks to her standout performance at the first Democratic debate.

She’ll need it as she still faces many critical tests on the road to the presidential nomination.

With more than three months before the first state kicks off the nominating process, Clinton still has to out-hustle chief competitor Bernie Sanders for money, still has to testify before Congress on the fatal Benghazi attacks, still has five more debates with her Democratic rivals, and still has to endure an ongoing FBI inquiry into her handling of sensitive information on a private email system while secretary of state.

Still, her confident turn on the stage at the Las Vegas debate will calm nervous supporters who had grown grown anxious with each new poll. It also sends a strong message to Vice President Joe Biden, who’s considering jumping into the race.

“I am feeling really lucky in Last Vegas,” she said during a visit Wednesday to a union hall in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson.

“Last night was a good night. Today is just as good,” she added picking up the endorsement of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades.

She declined to comment on whether her strong debate showing could keep Biden out of the race.

“I’m going to continue to run my campaign and make my case for my candidacy,” she told reporters. Clinton said she and Biden were friends, and would not comment on whether he should run. “It’s not my place to do so,” she said.

“She has the opportunity to take back the momentum,” said John Hudak, a fellow in governance studies at the Brooking Institution, a center-left policy research center. “She has the opportunity to take back the media conversation. She has the opportunity to take back her campaign.”

Clinton’s supporters couldn’t help but express their excitement. But they were quick to say that Clinton has several more significant hurdles in the coming weeks and months.

“She absolutely cannot declare victory,” said Donald Fowler, a former Democratic National Committee chairman who’s close to the Clintons. “She absolutely has to work hard.”

The first test comes Thursday. Clinton and Sanders must inform the Federal Election Commission how much they raised in the previous three months. Early estimates had Clinton only barely out-raising Sanders, $28 million to $26 million, in July, August and September, surprising given her vast network built over three decades of public life.

Next week, she will appear before a House committee to answer questions about her role in the fatal 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, as well as about her exclusive use of a personal email account routed through a private server at her Chappaqua, N.Y., house for all four years she served as secretary of state.

There are things coming up that could be problems for her.

Timothy Hagle, a political science professor at the University of Iowa

Though she benefited when House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy suggested the Republican inquiry was political, indicating Clinton’s poll numbers were dropping in part because of the Republican-led inquiry, the issue has harmed her standing in the polls, where more voters say Clinton is not trustworthy, in part, because of the email controversy.

Also, the FBI is looking into the unusual email setup, and the State Department is releasing her emails monthly in response to a lawsuit over an unanswered public records request, prompting questions about her judgment and the motive for actions that potentially led to national security risks.

Her unwillingness to fully explain the circumstances surrounding her secret email server, and the ongoing FBI investigation into it, further damages her credibility.

Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee

The first debate provided a national stage for Clinton to apologize to Americans for using the email system as well as to show her off her depth of experience on the issues and explain her recent policy shifts.

I’m a progressive. But I’m a progressive who likes to get things done.

Clinton at the first Democratic debate

She not only defended herself against criticism from all opponents, including her vote to go to war in Iraq, she unexpectedly shifted her role to the aggressor after largely ignoring the other Democrats for months. She tried to show she could relate to Americans, speaking about members of her family, including her grandfather, mother and granddaughter. And she turned at least three questions into attacks on Republicans, coming across as a possible stronger general election candidate who could unite the party.

“She made a compelling case for why she would make the strongest candidate and, frankly, she made the compelling case for why she’s the candidate Republicans fear the most,” said Antonio Villaraigosa, a former mayor of Los Angeles and a Clinton supporter.

After the debate, even Sanders’ campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, told reporters that the best line of the entire debate was the one uttered by Sanders defending Clinton.

“The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails,” Sanders said. “Enough of the emails! Let’s talk about the real issues facing America.”

He’ll still get more chances to talk about those issues, and the way he differs from Clinton. Democrats are scheduled to debate at least five more times between now and March.

Lesley Clark and David Lightman of the Washington Bureau contributed.

Did Hillary Clinton really win the first Democratic presidential debate? Can Vice President Joe Biden still run? McClatchy DC political editor Steve "Buzz" Thomma answers these questions and more. (Natalie Fertig/McClatchy)