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Hillary Clinton flexes political muscle in key states

The former secretary of state's campaign rolled out a list of 120 Democratic officials working on her behalf in Minnesota, Colorado and Virginia.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign is flexing its political and organizational muscle with the announcement Tuesday of leadership councils in Colorado, Minnesota and Virginia that feature virtually every major Democratic elected official in the three key states.

The list of 120 officials includes all three sitting governors, all five sitting Democratic senators, several House members, numerous Democratic National Committee members, dozens of state lawmakers, some statewide elected officials, former cabinet secretaries, major city mayors and more.

The leadership councils are meant to serve as “the in-state leadership for the campaign” to help with organizing and rapid response, according to the campaign. While most of these endorsements have already been declared, the announcement comes at a time when Vice President Joe Biden is reportedly days away from making a final decision on a presidential run.

History suggests that party insiders play the biggest role in deciding primary elections. While his win was an upset, Barack Obama at this point in the 2008 campaign had already consolidated support from formidable group of Democratic lawmakers and power-brokers. But as Clinton’s leadership council list suggests, there are few endorsements left up for grabs for anyone challenging her.

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In her corner are Democrats who offered critical endorsements to Obama’s primary campaign, including Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine and Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet (Bill Clinton later endorsed Bennet's primary opponent in apparent retribution). And it includes leaders who are seen as the future of the party and might be eyeing presidential bids themselves were they not supporting Clinton, like Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

The Democratic Party is ascendant in all three states, which each hold their nominating contests on March 1, also known as Super Tuesday, when 17 states hold caucuses or primaries. And Colorado and Virginia are also key general election swing states.

Clinton’s campaign has insisted they are doing nothing to discourage Biden from running, and Clinton herself has said she wants to give the vice president as much time as he needs to make up his mind. The campaign says the timing of the leadership council announcement was always planned for the end of September or early October, and is not meant to coincide with Biden’s final decision.

Regardless, it underscores a challenge Biden would face if he threw his hat in the ring. Even though he is the sitting vice president, there are currently only a handful of Democratic officials who have said they would support him, mostly concentrated in his home state of Delaware and nearby Philadelphia.

Last week, Rep. Bob Brady, the powerful Democratic Party boss of Philadelphia for 30 years, made waves when he said he would support Biden if the vice president got in.

“I do like Hillary Clinton, but Joe is my friend, my personal friend,” Brady said in a radio interview. He added that “we’d have to” back Biden “absolutely.”

A source close to Brady told msnbc the party chairman speaks for many Democrats in Philadelphia, who feel loyal to Biden after years when he was their go-to source for help in Washington, since Pennsylvania was represented in Senate only by Republicans for a long period.

“It is very difficult for us in Philadelphia not to support Joe Biden for any office that he seeks,” the longtime party source said. “It's not like we don't have great respect for President Clinton and Secretary Clinton, but if you look at Joe Biden and his relationship to us, he is an older brother rather than just a friend.” The sourced added that he doubted Biden would run.

But it’s unclear how many big fish in the Democratic Party there are left for Biden to catch, outside his natural power base.

It’s a similar problem to the one faced by Clinton’s current rival for the nomination, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Even though one-in-four Democratic voters back Sanders, zero Democratic members of Congress have endorsed him. 

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Political scientists say endorsements are the most likely predictor of who will win a primary campaign, though it's of course possible the historical precedent will prove wrong this year.

On Monday, NBC’s Savannah Guthrie asked Clinton in New Hampshire if she had any advice for Biden as he makes a final decision on a bid. "Once you're in the political fray, then, you know, everybody begins to ask you questions and you are being pushed and pulled in many different directions,” Clinton said, in what some viewed as a veiled warning to the veep.

A day later, New York magazine reported that the pro-Clinton super PAC Correct the Record, which coordinates directly with the Clinton campaign and conducts opposition research on her Democratic and Republican opponents, has begun compiling research on Biden.