RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
There were just five lecterns at the first Democratic debate. A sixth had been reserved for Vice President Joe Biden just in case he jumped into the presidential race. But even though that lectern stayed in storage and his name was not mentioned once, Joe Biden almost certainly was paying big-time attention to that debate. Joining us now is NPR's political editor Domenico Montanaro. Welcome.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning.
MONTAGNE: So that first Democratic debate had been touted as the moment when Hillary Clinton would soar or falter or something in between...
MONTAGNE: ...But - thus affecting Biden to get into the race. You know, how so? What happened?
MONTANARO: Well, it really made it less likely that Vice President Biden would get in. And you're right, people were looking to this debate to see what would be the case. Hillary Clinton in particular was very strong. She got a boost from Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont on those emails, and Sanders himself was pretty good on his core economic message in particular. And now it would look really overtly like Biden was waiting for Clinton to implode if he decided to get in shortly after that debate.
MONTAGNE: OK. But stepping back, what had been the rationale?
MONTANARO: You know, there were really three paths I think to Joe Biden getting in. People were pointing to his authenticity. There were some Democrats who were really nervous in particular about those emails from Secretary Clinton. You know, the three paths - if we look at those, the first one was if Clinton had faltered. And she really didn't, as we noted. You know, the second was if Sen. Sanders had faltered because Joe Biden would then look like he was the only alternative to Clinton. But even Martin O'Malley, the former Maryland governor, had a fairly decent night. Perhaps most importantly, though, it's really about Obama's legacy. There was no one else who was thought in days before the debate who could really hold up the Obama mantle. And that path appeared open because Hillary Clinton had been distancing herself from the president in recent days on things like trade. But Clinton and others instead embraced Obama in the debate, as we all heard. For example, when it came to foreign policy, Clinton took what's been a key difference with Obama back to 2008 on Iraq and turned it around. Let's take a listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
HILLARY CLINTON: Well, I recall very well being on a debate stage I think about 25 times with then-Sen. Obama debating this very issue. After the election, he asked me to become Secretary of State. He valued my judgment, and I spent a lot of time with him...
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MONTANARO: And that, of course, from CNN's Tuesday debate on Westwood One News. And you can hear from her emphasizing he there tying herself very closely to this president.
MONTAGNE: All right, now, does Joe Biden have time to get into this race?
MONTANARO: You know, he's really got less than a month to get in if that's what he wants to do. And if that - the window's really closing very quickly. A week from today, there is the Benghazi committee hearing that Hillary Clinton is prepping for. And to see how she does there - everyone's going to be watching if she falters at that. If she does well at that, that makes it even less likely that Vice President Biden would get in. And there are mechanics here, deadlines to get on the ballot, coming up very soon. If he doesn't get in by the end of the year by the way, he would have forfeited about 1,000 delegates that you would need to become the nominee. You need about 2,400 to get in. So he's got just a small window, maybe a few weeks, to get in.
MONTAGNE: Thanks very much. That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.