October was billed to be a make or break month for Hillary Clinton. The former secretary of state’s 2016 campaign was walking into a minefield of events that could have posed significant damage to her presidential candidacy. Ahead of the first Democratic primary debate, there was uncertainty over whether Clinton’s performance would live up to expectations. Her testimony before the House Select Committee on Benghazi gave her opponents a platform to poke holes in her record. A decision from Vice President Joe Biden on a possible 2016 bid was expected any day. And adding to the stakes, Clinton’s campaign had been bogged down by controversy over her private email server. All the while, Sen. Bernie Sanders was biting at her heels in the polls.
But with October almost over, and Monday marking her 68th birthday, Clinton has plenty to celebrate.
On the top of the list, Clinton cleared a major hurdle by coming out of the Benghazi hearing last week unscathed. She more than just survived the 11-hour grilling from House Republicans over the 2012 attacks on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya. She turned it into a victory while exposing the substance behind the hearing to be little more than political theater.
The takeaway: Clinton left the marathon hearing appearing poised, sharp and presidential. Republicans came out of it empty-handed and appearing petty on issues that have already been litigated in previous congressional investigations.
Rolling in the dough
If the subtext of the Benghazi Committee hearing was to land blows against the Clinton campaign, the Republican leaders at the helm of the efforts achieved just the opposite.
The Clinton campaign did a victory lap after seeing donations spike within an hour after the hearing concluded. The campaign picked up 100,000 donors in October alone – marking one-fifth of all individual donors who have backed Clinton since she formally entered the race. More than half of the donors who turned out the night of the Benghazi hearing were first-time supporters for Clinton’s 2016 run, and nearly all gave $250 or less.
Not bad, especially considering that Clinton aides told NBC News they hadn’t even solicited the cash.
Long-time Obama ally in Clinton’s corner
David Plouffe, who served as Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign manager and later as a top White House adviser, formally backed Clinton on Saturday. His endorsement marked a key signal for Obama allies to begin coalescing around Clinton ahead of a major Democratic event in Iowa. It also made clear that differences in the past were now water under the bridge.
“Now, to be honest, during the most intense days of the 2008 primary, I would never have imagined writing this piece. And I doubt Team Clinton felt any differently about me,” Plouffe wrote in a post on Medium.
After months of hand-wringing and overwrought speculation over Joe Biden’s presidential ambitions, the answer finally came – the veep would not be running. While Clinton has remained effusive in singing Biden’s praises, it’s likely that she met the former Delaware senator’s announcement last week with a sigh of relief. His potential candidacy posed as an existential threat to the Clinton’s 2016 ambitions by splitting up mainstream Democrats and top donors who remain loyal to Biden. Though it’s still too early for poll results after the announcement, it’s likely that Clinton will see a bump from Biden holdouts who now see Clinton as the eventual nominee.
And then there were three …
Biden was among a cascade of candidates to formally opt out of a 2016 run for the Oval Office. Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee both backed out of the race last week after each were barely registering on national polls. Their departure winnows down the options open to the Democratic Party – front-runners Clinton and Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who has struggled in the polls.