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