Clinton savors a strong week as Democratic field narrows

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, accompanied by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, speaks during a campaign rally, Friday, Oct. 23, 2015, in Alexandria, Va.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, accompanied by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, speaks during a campaign rally, Friday, Oct. 23, 2015, in Alexandria, Va. AP

After months of campaign turmoil, Hillary Clinton heads to the critical state of Iowa for a major campaign stop on an upswing.

She’s down to just two opponents for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016 after standout performances at the first debate, on Oct. 13 in Las Vegas, and an 11-hour grilling on Capitol Hill about the 2012 fatal attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

The hour after the hearing ended was the campaign’s best fundraising hour, even without it asking for money, an aide said. More than half the donations were from new donors and 99 percent of them were from those giving $250 or less, small donors who have been flocking to her chief rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders. She now has more than 500,000 donors with more than 100,000 new donors in October alone.

“It’s been quite a week, hasn’t it?” Clinton said Friday to sustained applause and a few screams at the Democratic National Committee’s Women’s Leadership Forum in Washington.

The day felt a bit like a victory lap.

She received an important – though not unexpected – endorsement from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a 1.6 million-member union. Later, she appeared with a longtime friend, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, in Alexandria in a swing state at one of her largest rallies.

“Talk about a fighter,” said McAuliffe, chairman of her 2008 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. “How about that 11 hours of testimony yesterday?”

Clinton has endured months of dwindling poll numbers and bad publicity after her use of a personal email system during all four years she served as secretary of state prompted questions about her judgment and whether her actions created a national security risk.

But on Friday, in a nearly 30-minute speech in Alexandria, the nation’s former top diplomat enthusiastically portrayed herself as a progressive fighter ready to do battle.

She said the minimum wage needs to be increased, student debt should be reined in and paid family leave should be offered.

I’m not running for president to be President Obama’s third term, I’m not running for Bill Clinton’s third term. I’m running for my first term.

Hillary Clinton

Both Lincoln Chafee, a former governor and senator from Rhode Island, and Jim Webb, a former senator from Virginia, left the race this week. On Wednesday, Vice President Joe Biden announced he would not run for president.

“Obviously it was a good week for Secretary Clinton,” Chafee told reporters after he dropped out Friday during his DNC speech.

Clinton and her remaining rivals, Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, travel Saturday to the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, which in the past has been a turning point in the caucus contest in the critical state of Iowa.

It was a seminal event in 2008 for Barack Obama, who held a campaign rally with pop star John Legend, led a march through downtown Des Moines and lured thousands of supporters out on the day of the dinner.

Former President Bill Clinton will headline his first campaign rally for his wife before the dinner, joined by pop star Katy Perry, who endorsed Hillary Clinton earlier this year. It is Bill Clinton’s first trip to Iowa in the 2016 cycle.

Some caution that the former secretary of state should not be overconfident, as Sanders remains a serious threat with his intense following and campaign millions. But Clinton led the Vermont senator by 11 points in a new Iowa Quinnipiac University poll.

Our race, the Democratic Party’s race for president, has just begun. There are about 100 days to go until the voters first have an opportunity to have their opinions made in the Iowa caucuses. . . . I am excited about this contest. I am in this to win this.

Martin O’Malley

Although she has been reluctant to criticize Sanders in the past, Clinton took a few subtle swipes at him on Friday over his record on gun control – one area where he may be vulnerable with Democrats. Sanders at last week’s debate defended his more moderate gun control record by saying that “all the shouting in the world” won’t prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands.

“I’ve been told to, and I quote, ‘stop shouting’ about gun violence,” Clinton said at the Women’s Leadership Forum. “First of all I’m not shouting. It’s just sometimes when women talk people think we’re shouting.”

Later, at the rally in Virginia, Clinton pledged to take on the National Rifle Association, vowing to repeal a law that shields gun manufacturers from being sued. She voted against the measure as a senator; Sanders voted in favor.

Sanders, who will be joined by singer Marshall Crenshaw in Iowa, addressed the DNC forum ahead of Clinton, sticking mostly to his stump speech. He called for a “political revolution” to prevent what he said was a slide into oligarchy, bankrolled by deep-pocketed donors.

As a nation, we are going to have to answer whether it is morally acceptable, whether it is economically sustainable, that so few have so much and so many have so little.

Bernie Sanders

Clinton still has a lot to accomplish to clinch her party’s nomination: outraise Sanders, participate in five more debates with her Democratic rivals and endure an ongoing FBI inquiry into her handling of sensitive information on her private email system while secretary of state.