Clinton’s very, very good week
WASHINGTON — As the weather cools and presidential candidates enter the last 100 days before the Iowa caucuses, Hillary Clinton seems to be slipping back into that warm cloak of inevitability.
With four straight days of political gifts in her pocket, the former secretary of state heads to Iowa this weekend for a gathering of state Democratic leaders with a glittering lineup: her husband — seen by many as the party's rock star — will make his first public appearance for her on the campaign trail, and real-life pop star Katy Perry will perform at a rally for her.
Even her opposition had to acknowledge her position of strength.
"She had an incredible week," said Brian Baker, a Republican strategist who runs the GOP super PAC Ending Spending. "The only thing that can stop her from winning the nomination now is the FBI," a reference to a Justice Department probe into whether her private computer server was mishandled.
This week alone, Clinton received a political present of varying worth nearly every day: On Tuesday, former Virginia senator Jim Webb dropped out of the contest. On Wednesday, her most serious potential threat, Vice President Joe Biden, decided not to seek the nomination. On Thursday, House Republicans admitted they were unable to trip her up after 11 hours of testimony about the 2012 deaths of four Americans. And on Friday, former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee ended his long shot bid.
"We all feel good," Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri said on Friday morning. "Don't think you can knock this woman down."
Clinton's biggest challenge still standing would seem to be herself.
"The history suggests that she hasn't handled political prosperity very well," said David Axelrod, who was the chief strategist for President Obama's campaigns. "Now that she is in a solid position, how does she handle that status? Can she keep campaigning in a way that is connecting?"
Axelrod said Clinton needs to be careful "to not to settle back into a cautious repose."
Clinton still must withstand the investigation into her server. The Justice Department has said she is not a target, but a finding that something was done wrong could be politically damaging nonetheless.
The State Department continues sorting through more than 60 percent of 50,000 pages of her work e-mails. The department is under court order to release new batches on a monthly basis until all are public in the end of January. Another set comes out next week.
And one singular weakness remains: Clinton's trouble connecting an emotional level with the base of the party. The dynamic leaves space for her strongest opponent, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, and his urgent message for vast political change.
"I worked my heart out for Barack Obama," said Beth Silberman, a Democratic activist from North Carolina who heard Clinton speak at a conference on Friday. "I'm not really excited about her."
She said she likes Sanders because she believes he means everything he says — but Silberman doesn't believe he can be elected president.
Her dilemma did not concern her, however. "I don't think you have to be excited about her when you look at the other party," she said.
That other party — the Republicans — helped galvanize the Democratic base on Thursday when they spent 11 hours grilling Clinton with scant new evidence about the September 2012 attacks on a US facility in Benghazi, Libya.
The hearing was perhaps best summed up by the Republican leading the committee, Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, who held a news conference minutes after it ended.
"I don't know that she testified that much differently today than she has in the previous times she's testified," Gowdy told reporters.
Clinton's campaign raked in donations from supporters watching her during the hearing. The 60 minutes after it ended — from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. — was the campaign's best fund-raising hour since Clinton announced her presidential bid, according to a campaign aide. The campaign didn't release the amount raised.
The Clinton money machine is now fueled by 500,000 contributors, and gained more than 100,000 new donors in just this month, the aide said.
Clinton has lagged behind Sanders with small donors. His campaign is mostly fueled by donations that are less than $200, and he announced last month that he had reached 1 million separate contributions.
Clinton made a plea for small donations on Friday as she addressed Democratic women gathered in Washington for a conference Friday morning, pressing those in the audience to give even $5 to the campaign. She referenced her time in the Benghazi committee witness chair.
"As some of you know, I had a pretty long day," she said.
In a nod to how potent a threat the sitting vice president could have been, Clinton struck a theme he'd been pushing. "I wanted to rise above partisanship and reach for statesmanship," she said.
And she offered kind words for her would-be challenger. "I'm confident that history isn't finished with Joe Biden," Clinton said. "If I know Joe he'll be right there with us on the front lines."
Clinton did not mention either of the other two men who left the contest this week — not even a nod to Chafee, who had announced his withdrawal from the same stage about an hour earlier.
Supporters were giddy the Clinton campaign appears to have found its footing.
"It turned a page," said Carol Pensky, a former DNC treasurer. "It turned a wonderful page."