Clinton seeks to assure Dems: I’m trying to do a better job

Hillary Clinton and her supporters tried hard to convince Democratic National Committee members Friday that she’s running a strong, well-organized campaign.
Hillary Clinton and her supporters tried hard to convince Democratic National Committee members Friday that she’s running a strong, well-organized campaign. AP

Hillary Clinton battled to position herself at the Democrats’ summer meeting as the party’s strong, inevitable presidential candidate, but she couldn’t escape the furor over her use of a private email server while secretary of state.

Clinton didn’t mention the emails during her 25-minute speech to the Democratic National Committee meeting, an address interrupted several times by rousing cheers and standing ovations.

The emails came up later at a news conference. Clinton repeated three times her contention that “I did not send or receive material marked classified.”

Clinton conceded that her efforts to untangle herself from the furor have fallen short. “I’m trying to do a better job of explaining (the email controversy) to people,” she said.

DNC members gathered for their summer meeting continued to express concern about the emails. Rival candidates are pushing their own agendas, and in an upstairs suite, supporters of Vice President Joe Biden were inviting officials to visit. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont; Martin O’Malley, a former governor of Maryland, and Lincoln Chafee, a former governor and U.S. senator from Rhode Island, also were speaking to the DNC session.

Sanders took on the Democratic establishment that made up much of his audience.

“We need a movement which takes on the economic and political establishment, not one that is part of that establishment,” he said. Supporters cheered, but most DNC members didn’t.

They were more curious about Clinton, whose forces pushed hard this week to reassure insiders that the email controversy will subside and that she is far ahead in organizing and fundraising. She wouldn’t criticize other Democrats. When asked where she and Vice President Joe Biden could differ, Clinton declined to answer.

Draft Biden supporters passed out candy bars to DNC members Friday. The wrapper said “I’m Ridin’ with Biden.”

The centerpiece of her effort was a speech that went nearly four times as long as candidates were supposed to speak. These are the party officials who will carry her message back home, and many could become delegates at next year’s nominating convention.

Clinton hit every note that members wanted to hear. She promised to carry on the legacies of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and President Barack Obama. She recalled her working-class roots and talked about her grandchild.

“This election is about who best understands the pressures facing the families of America and who has the skills and tenacity to tackle them,” Hillary Clinton said.

She addressed the concern that she’s too distant from ordinary Americans, saying she’s criss-crossed the country listening.

Clinton took on the Republicans, notably Donald Trump, once a friend. Other Republican candidates, she said, are “Trump without the pizazz or the hair.”

Then there was her own hair. “A lot of people have said a lot of things about my hair over the years, so I do kind of know what Donald is going through,” she said.

My hair is real. The color isn’t.

Hillary Clinton at DNC meeting on Friday

The Clinton offensive began Thursday evening, when her staff hosted a briefing at a downtown office building for about 125 supporters on the state of the campaign. Afterward, Clinton herself appeared, mingling for about 40 minutes.

She spoke briefly, not mentioning the email controversy. The staff “didn’t dwell on it” either, said Alice Huffman, a DNC member from Sacramento, Calif.

Earlier this month, Clinton turned over to the Justice Department a server that has stored her email traffic since a few months after she left the State Department in early 2013.

Her lawyer also handed over a thumb drive containing copies of her official email. Clinton turned over 30,490 official emails to the State Department in December, and in March she said she simultaneously deleted more than 31,000 personal emails.

State Department officials first found classified information in Clinton’s official emails last May, long before the controversy reached its current fever. It’s uncertain what she and her lawyer did in the ensuing weeks to fully secure the sensitive data, McClatchy has found. It also reported that her top aides are part of a federal probe into possible security breaches. Two emails on Clinton’s private account have since been classified above “Top Secret.”

A new Reuters/Ipsos survey Friday found Clinton’s lead among Democrats the smallest since it began asking 2016 questions in late 2012. She leads Sanders 45-25 percent.

The briefings for DNC members have been “mostly about the mechanics of the campaign,” added David Worley, a DNC member from Georgia. The staff mentioned Biden but “only spoke of him with respect,” said Joni Marie Gutierrez, a DNC member from New Mexico.

Friday began with emails from Clinton’s staff detailing the campaign’s efforts in four key early primary and caucus states. In South Carolina, for instance, campaign state director Clay Middleton listed 508 grass-roots campaign events and 791 one-on-one meetings with voters.

Also speaking were Chafee, who noted he’s been a mayor, a governor and a U.S. senator, and O’Malley. O’Malley drew loud cheers protesting the Democrats’ plan to hold six debates. He wants more. “Will we demand equal time to showcase our ideas?” he asked.

David Lightman: 202-383-6101, @lightmandavid