Anyone else would be in handcuffs by now, not in a presidential debate……

A defiant Hillary Clinton defended her policy flip-flops and downplayed her personal email scandal while sparring sharply with her primary rivals at the first Democratic presidential debate, where the front-runner played the role of nimble-footed goalie to a field taking shots at her long record in public life.

In comparison with the Donald Trump-dominated GOP debates, the lead-off showdown in Las Vegas Tuesday night was a relatively cordial affair for the Democrats, with the lively disputes centering on policy differences and not personal put-downs. But Clinton was the clear lightning rod, challenged early and often on her shifting positions – while also hitting back and trying to position herself as a practical progressive with every bit as much credibility with the base as candidates like Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“I’m not taking a backseat to anybody on my values, my principles and the results that I get,” Clinton said, describing herself as a “progressive who likes to get things done.”

The front-runner, who has faced an insurgent challenge from her left in Sanders’ campaign, was visibly ready to tangle Tuesday with him and the three other candidates on stage at the CNN-Facebook debate.

While Sanders railed against a “casino capitalist process,” Clinton warned against abandoning the system that built America’s middle class. And Clinton sparred with Sanders and others as they questioned her call for a no-fly zone in Syria, and criticized her 2002 support, as a senator, for use of force in Iraq, a decision she’s since called a mistake.

Former Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee called it a “poor decision” and said he did his “homework” when he opposed that measure.

Clinton, in her defense, noted that President Obama asked her to be secretary of state because “he valued my judgment.”

When former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley suggested lawmakers were overtaken by “war fever,” Clinton quipped: “I am in the middle here – lots of things coming from all directions.” She then tweaked O’Malley by thanking him for endorsing her in 2008.

Whether Clinton’s performance Tuesday night will help her recover slipping support in the polls remains to be seen, as Sanders draws big crowds and catches up to her in recent fundraising. The two Democrats each gave little ground at the debate – though the Vermont senator mostly avoided aggressively attacking Clinton on stage.

When Clinton was pressed on her personal email scandal, Sanders even jumped to her defense.

In one of the more memorable moments of the night, Sanders said: “I think the secretary is right. … The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.”

Clinton said, “Me too.” She thanked him and shook his hand.

Chafee, though, added that “credibility is an issue.”

The exchange came after Clinton responded to a question on the email scandal by saying she’s taken responsibility for it and acknowledged it was a mistake.

She quickly pivoted to challenging the work of the congressional Benghazi committee, calling it “basically an arm of the Republican National Committee.”

The former secretary of state was also challenged on her policy flips by moderator Anderson Cooper, who asked if she will say anything to get elected.