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Five things to watch in tonight's Democratic debate

<p>She knocked out Linc and Jim and frightened away Joe. She brushed off her Republican inquisitors on Capitol Hill. Her poll numbers have turned around. It’s been a good month for Hillary Clinton, who has never seemed more in command of her race for the White House.</p><p>But despite signs that she’s pulling away from Bernie Sanders in key early states, Clinton hasn’t sewn up the nomination yet. Both Sanders, with his grassroots money machine, and Martin O’Malley, who is campaigning like a man with nothing to lose, remain dangerous — though you wouldn’t know it from the game of patty-cake they played during October’s debate in Las Vegas.</p> <p>Will Sanders and O’Malley finally throw some real punches? Or will they stick to polite disagreement? Here’s what POLITICO will be watching for during tonight’s Democratic presidential debate in Des Moines:</p> <p><b>1. Emails! (Really)</b><br />Clinton’s email problem was never going to go away, even after Sanders let her off the hook in Las Vegas last month by telling the former secretary of State that Americans “are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.&quot; Now Sanders’ camp is sending signals that, while the Vermont senator still won’t mount a full-on attack of Clinton’s character, he won’t shrink from the email question when it inevitably comes up on Saturday.</p> <p>Team Sanders turned his friendly line into a fundraising pitch before the candidates even left the stage in Las Vegas, but in recent days he has sounded almost regretful that he grabbed those particular headlines. The controversy over Clinton’s private email server raises “valid questions,” Sanders told the Wall Street Journal earlier this month. “There’s an investigation going on right now. I did not say, ‘End the investigation.’ … Let the investigation proceed unimpeded.&quot;</p> <p>So when CBS News moderator John Dickerson gets to the likely email round of questioning, Clinton is certain to face a more hostile front than last time.</p> <p><b>2. Sharper contrasts on policy</b><br />If Sanders and O’Malley have one goal, it’s to slow Clinton down. The pair will go after her shifts on a range of issues, aides say, and they’re spending the days leading up to the event sharpening attack lines.</p> <p>They intend to corner her on immigration and environmental issues in particular. O’Malley, for one, has projected outrage at her use of the term “illegal immigrants” in New Hampshire this week, as well as her mention of votes in favor of a border barrier. </p> <br><p>Sanders is especially counting on a Clinton stumble to help him regain some momentum, which his allies and staffers hope could keep open a now closing window to the nomination. He will attack her shifts on the Keystone XL pipeline and her positioning on Wall Street reform. Also, Sanders will almost certainly talk about Clinton and Iraq, believing it undid her once and could again.</p> <p>As a result, the pressure is on Clinton to parry without looking like she’s punching down. She’s unlikely to go on the offensive against Sanders as she did last time, according to Democrats close to her camp, but she’ll have to forcefully rebut his and O’Malley’s aggressive jabs at her long and varied record.</p><p><b>3. A presidential moment for Clinton</b><br />After Friday evening’s bloody attacks in Paris, the debate is likely to take a somber turn.</p><p>This sudden shift to international issues provides an opportunity for all three to appear presidential, provided they don’t over-politicize the events: The former secretary of state’s foreign policy credentials are unmatched in the Democratic field, and she’ll have a chance to demonstrate her command of international issues.</p><p>Sanders, meanwhile, usually just talks about his vote against the Iraq war — drawing a contrast with Clinton — when he mentions foreign affairs on the campaign trail. As for O’Malley, perhaps the best he’ll be able to do is note his executive experience, and express sympathy for the victims.</p><p><b>4. Martin O’Malley unleashed</b><br />At least, O’Malley better hope it’s his show if he plans on sticking around.</p><p>Languishing in the polls, the former Maryland governor didn’t get the bump his team was banking on after the first debate. Without Jim Webb, Lincoln Chafee, and speculation about Joe Biden cluttering the stage this time around, O’Malley’s camp is hoping he can finally catch Democrats’ attention.</p><br><p>One thing they’ve learned: His tactic of not attacking the front-runners failed to raise his name recognition among primary voters. So tonight, he enters Des Moines with razor-sharp elbows. He will paint Clinton as a representative of the past and Sanders of not being a real Democrat.</p><p>A big part of his Saturday plan will be telling the inspiring story of new leadership that he often uses to rev up Iowan Democratic crowds, but he’ll need to turn the screw if he wants viewers to do more than just appreciate his effort.</p> <p><b>5. Dueling money bombs</b><br />There’s a reason Sanders’ online fundraising operation has caught the eye of Democratic Party leaders nationwide: He raised $3.2 million in just the two days after the last debate — roughly as much as O’Malley raised over June, July, August, and September combined.</p> <p>The senator’s team isn’t expecting a repeat performance this weekend, particularly since the event is likely to get far less attention than its Las Vegas counterpart. But aides say the campaign still wants to capitalize on the spectacle, hoping for another spike when Sanders delivers the gruff calls for political revolution he’s become known for.</p><p>This time, though, Clinton’s team may join with targeted online appeals for cash. Her campaign said it had its most lucrative hour of fundraising ever in the final hour of Clinton’s Benghazi testimony, proving that it’s capable of hauling in cash when the candidate is under fire — as she’s expected to be in Des Moines.</p><br>

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