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Sunday, December 4, 2016

LAS VEGAS — A naughty moment from Hillary Clinton? A waggish, impish moment? And during a debate yet?

Standing onstage for two hours can test the mettle of the presidential candidates. And it also tests their kidneys — which is why when CNN cut away for commercials Tuesday night, the candidates rushed offstage and headed for the bathrooms.

But Clinton barely made it back on time after one break.

“Secretary Clinton, welcome back,” CNN moderator Anderson Cooper said, looking as relieved as Clinton did.

“Well, thank you,” Hillary replied. “You know, it does take me a little longer. That’s all I can say.”

The audience roared. Or at least the women in the audience did. They got the joke. And the men were then empowered to laugh along with them.

And for one highly unexpected moment, a whole bunch of people were laughing.

Why is this important? Or even noteworthy?

Because Hillary Clinton showed something she rarely shows in public: her human side.

In fact, she did more. She actually showed she could be human.

This is not a small thing for Clinton. She is bright, experienced, prepared. But she is often robotic — which is the opposite of human.

She is so used to being a target — having been one for so many years — and this has made her very, very cautious. Guarded, wary, even paranoid. Which is what the whole email thing is about. She was going to keep her emails private no matter what!

That one hasn’t worked out so well.

Being the brightest kid in the class has limits. Her husband always had to be the brightest kid. And he wanted everybody to know it. But he also had his aw-shucks, down-home, country-boy side, which was designed to humanize him.

In 2008, Hillary’s campaign found it almost impossible to humanize her (except for that famous choked-up moment in New Hampshire, which she refused to repeat).

This time around has only been slightly better. She went on Saturday Night Live and read some lines that somebody wrote for her.

But how would she show human and not be a robot in the very first Democratic debate, in a 50,000-square-foot ballroom at the Wynn resort and casino in front of an audience of more than 1,200, which could intimidate anyone?

Human is risky. Robot is not. Unless you have something to prove this time around.

That she would do well against the Democratic field is not to denigrate the field. Compared with the Republican clown car, the Democrats look like masterminds (well, maybe excepting Lincoln Chafee).

And Bernie Sanders was prepared to do battle. The first sign was that he had actually combed his hair, which was a new thing for him. Personal grooming is not Sanders’ strong point.

But it was Clinton who turned the tables on Sanders early on, when she attacked him on gun control. “Sen. Sanders did vote five times against the Brady bill,” Clinton said.

And from that moment on, she really had no opponents other than herself.

The others had some good lines.

Martin O’Malley called Donald Trump a “carnival barker” and said, contrasting the Democratic debate with the two Republican ones: “On this stage, you didn’t hear anyone denigrate women. You didn’t hear anyone make racist comments about new American immigrants. You didn’t hear anyone speak ill of another American because of their religious belief.”

And Clinton did occasionally try to cut corners. When asked how her presidency would be different from an Obama third term, she said: “Well, I think that’s pretty obvious. I think being the first woman president would be quite a change from the presidents we’ve had up until this point.”

That got a big whoop from the audience, but it was not a real answer, and Anderson Cooper did not let her get away with it.

“Is there a policy difference?” he asked.

And she somewhat weakly mentioned prescription drugs and financing education.

But it was a debate she knew she had won. Hit the issues. Showed the human.

So she relaxed and reverted to form in her closing statement.

“Who amongst us has the vision for actually making the changes that are going to improve the lives of the American people?” she said.

But this is not vision. It does not inspire. It does not uplift. It is merely safe.

So Clinton still needs the vision thing. But one debate at a time.

Roger Simon is Politico‘s chief political columnist. His new e-book, “Reckoning: Campaign 2012 and the Fight for the Soul of America,” can be found on Amazon.com, BN.com and iTunes. To find out more about Roger Simon and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

Journalists in the debate media filing center watch as Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during the first official Democratic candidates debate of the 2016 presidential campaign in Las Vegas, Nevada October 13, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Blake

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