SPOTLIGHT

Crossroads for Clinton

Democratic presidential candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton looks toward the dais as she settles into her seat on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015, prior to testifying before the House Benghazi Committee.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Oct. 22, 2015, noon

Oc­to­ber has been a month to en­joy for Hil­lary Clin­ton and her polit­ic­al for­tunes. She turned in a strong per­form­ance at last week’s Demo­crat­ic de­bate and re­gained some lost mo­mentum in the primary polls. And with Joe Biden’s an­nounce­ment that he won’t be run­ning for pres­id­ent, she avoided a ser­i­ous threat. After Biden’s de­cision, she can fo­cus on con­sol­id­at­ing cen­ter-left sup­port with­in the party and im­prov­ing her battered stand­ing among the broad­er elect­or­ate.

— Her testi­mony today in front of the Benghazi Se­lect Com­mit­tee marks both her greatest chal­lenge and biggest op­por­tun­ity on that front. The re­lent­less sum­mer cov­er­age of her sloppy (at best) or crim­in­al (at worst) hand­ling of her per­son­al e-mail serv­er drove her fa­vor­ab­il­ity num­bers down to dan­ger­ous levels. The on­go­ing FBI in­vest­ig­a­tion is likely to linger in­to 2016. If Clin­ton can cred­ibly con­vince the pub­lic that her email prac­tices didn’t en­danger na­tion­al se­cur­ity, it would be the cap­stone to a great week. But Clin­ton’s own ac­tions and in­con­sist­ent state­ments have giv­en the com­mit­tee many juicy storylines to ex­plore. So far, however, the com­mit­tee ques­tion­ing has fo­cused on her call for in­ter­ven­tion in Libya, an is­sue that’s not likely to make a dent on her polit­ic­al stand­ing.

— It’s im­port­ant to dis­tin­guish between Clin­ton’s pro­spects for the nom­in­a­tion and her elect­ab­il­ity in a gen­er­al elec­tion. Clin­ton’s weak­ness throughout the cam­paign has nev­er been with rank-and-file Demo­crat­ic voters; it’s with in­de­pend­ents (28/61 fav/un­fav in a re­cent Quin­nipi­ac poll) and those out­side the core Obama co­ali­tion of non-white voters, single wo­men and mil­len­ni­als.

— With Biden in the rear­view mir­ror, Clin­ton’s now well-po­si­tioned to use Bernie Sanders as a foil to un­der­score her prag­mat­ic pro­gress­ive cre­den­tials. But she still needs to fig­ure out how to dis­tin­guish her­self from a po­lar­iz­ing Pres­id­ent Obama while main­tain­ing his base of sup­port. She’s be­latedly ramped up her na­tion­al me­dia ap­pear­ances, and it has paid off. She’s de­flec­ted scru­tiny (for now) over the email con­tro­versy, hin­ted at a more hawk­ish for­eign policy and more pro­gress­ive view on trade than her former boss, and show­cased her com­mand of policy in sit­downs with CNN’s Jake Tap­per and CBS’ John Dick­er­son.

Fears about Clin­ton’s elect­ab­il­ity all but in­vited Biden to con­sider a chal­lenge this sum­mer. His pres­ence in the cam­paign forced Clin­ton to step up her polit­ic­al game. We’ll see if she can main­tain that mo­mentum, now that the in­tra­party pres­sure is gone.
Josh Kraush­aar

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