Hillary Clinton stepped out onto the stage in Old Town Alexandria on a gorgeous fall day with her old friend, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, and worked the rope line, shaking hands with supporters and smiling.
“Let me ask you, Virginians: do we love Hillary Clinton?” McAuliffe bellowed, to cheers from the crowd.
Welcome to Clinton’s victory lap.
Friday’s rally was a fitting way to wrap up what’s been the best 10 days of Clinton’s six-month-old presidential campaign. Between good reviews for her debate performance in Las Vegas last week, Vice President Joe Biden’s Rose Garden announcement that he’s not planning to seek the presidency, and an 11-hour Benghazi testimony that supporters and critics both agreed went well for her, Clinton’s position as the clear Democratic front-runner has solidified in the last week and a half.
The good news didn’t stop there. Just a few minutes before she walked on stage in Alexandria, she got the backing of AFSCME, the 1.6-million-member public-employee union. And, according to campaign aides, Clinton had her best fundraising hour of the campaign Thursday night during the end of her testimony, from 9 to 10 p.m. Clinton announced during her speech that, as of Friday, more than 500,000 people had donated to her campaign—including 100,000 in October alone.
McAuliffe nodded to the good headlines for Clinton in his opening speech. “How about those 11 hours of testimony yesterday? That’s what I’m talking about!” McAuliffe said, to cheers from the crowd. “… And how about those debates last week? Folks, she’s got it all.”
In Alexandria, Clinton delivered her standard stump speech, but her good spirits were evident as she lingered before and after the speech to shake hands and meet voters.
“You know, a lot of things have been said about me, but quitter is not one of them,” she said to the crowd.
The former secretary of State was in equally good spirits first thing Friday morning when she spoke at the Democratic National Committee’s Women’s Leadership Forum in Washington. She joked about having a “pretty long day” the day before, saying she was glad she “finally got to answer questions.”
For Clinton’s aides, the recent spate of good news gives them confidence that she will be able to deal with the next round of rough headlines.
“Come what may in terms of headwinds over the course of the campaign, when she has an opportunity to appear on a national stage and speak to voters, we see them respond to that in a positive way,” Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon told reporters before the event. “That’s a constant in terms of her attributes as a candidate that we think will position her to weather whatever headwinds come, because we know they’ll come back.”
Her stop across the Potomac River in Virginia was important for another reason, too: it underscored the campaign’s new focus on building up its organizing efforts beyond the first four early states.
For the first few months of the campaign, Clinton’s team virtually refused to discuss what it was doing outside of the traditional early-voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. They were anticipating a competitive Democratic primary, they said, and weren’t taking anything for granted in the more traditional Democratic primary battlegrounds.
But now, Clinton’s team is stressing its focus on expanding into the slate of states that hold primaries in March. In the spring, Clinton’s campaign dispatched paid staffers to all 50 states to help kickstart their volunteer and organizing operations there. Those staff were only in place through the end of May, hired on a temporary basis, but the campaign now has single paid staffers in Colorado and Minnesota again and will be putting aides on the ground in other key March primary states.
And in other March primary states—including Virginia—the campaign has rolled out “leadership councils” of local and statewide elected officials. Apart from Virginia, those councils are in place in Maine, Georgia, Minnesota, Colorado, Tennessee, and Texas.
Virginia, in particular, is a focus for the campaign, given that control of the state Senate is hanging in the balance next month. “You do have a big election coming up in two weeks,” Clinton said. “It will determine how much more Terry [McAuliffe] can get done.”
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