Hillary seeks to rally her loyalists amid campaign concerns

  • AP, Columbus, Ohio
  • Updated: Sep 13, 2015 18:03 IST

Hillary Rodham Clinton, with poll numbers declining and questions persisting over her use of private email while secretary of state, tried hard on Thursday to shore up support among some of her strongest backers and ease concerns about the trajectory of her presidential campaign.

As Clinton worked in Ohio to marshal female voters, a sturdy base of support for the Democratic frontrunner, top officials from her campaign updated allies in Congress on efforts to regain her footing.

However, in the early-voting nominating states of Iowa and New Hampshire, there was evident worry that Sen. Bernie Sanders was making inroads despite the formidable machinery of the former secretary of state's campaign.

The flurry of Clinton activity this week hints at the depth of concern about her campaign. On Thursday, a ballroom in downtown Columbus was half empty for her event, with supporters herded into a cordoned-off area to give the impression of a packed crowd.

Clinton's team has also escalated its response to the long-running email controversy, which reached a crescendo over the past week when Clinton told the AP she did not need to apologize because "what I did was allowed." The next day, she changed course and said, "I'm sorry."

In recent weeks, Clinton's message of middle-class prosperity has been overshadowed by interest in her use of a private email account and server while serving as secretary of state. In the meantime, Sanders' anti-establishment campaign has sought to project him as a viable option for Democrats.

Many Democrats fear that Sanders, an independent and self-identified socialist seeking their party's nomination, can't win a general election. And upcoming filing deadlines for key state primaries complicate the prospects of Vice President Joe Biden - or anyone else - jumping into the race.

Clinton remains the favorite to win the party's nomination, with tens of millions in her campaign account and hundreds of paid staff at her New York City headquarters. However, while she still leads in early national polls, she's no longer out front in surveys taken in the first two states to vote: Iowa and New Hampshire.

Clinton's campaign says it always expected a close race in both Iowa and New Hampshire, and unlike Sanders, it's up on the airwaves: A new ad, airing in both states, promotes a plan to raise incomes for working families, a subject that Sanders constantly emphasizes in his rallies and appearances.

In Washington, campaign manager Robby Mook and other Clinton officials briefed more than 40 congressional Democrats and aides on Thursday about the state of the campaign. Questions about emails came up briefly, some of the lawmakers said, but House of Representatives Democrats in attendance encouraged Clinton's aides to move past the controversy.

Congressman Mark Takano said the message was "let's get over this email bump" and focus on core issues like increasing incomes and college affordability.

Clinton and her team are focused on framing the race as a choice between her and the eventual Republican nominee. They're planning to place a heavier emphasis on Clinton's foreign policy record, which they see as a way to sharpen the contrast between her experience and the bombastic rhetoric of Donald Trump and others on the Republican side.

In Ohio, Clinton took a swipe at Trump, who made a stir overnight by insulting the physical appearance of Carly Fiorina, the former technology executive and only woman in the Republican field.

"There is one particular candidate who just seems to delight in insulting women every chance he gets," Clinton said. "I have to say, if he emerges I would love to debate him."

She also cast herself as an experienced policymaker who could get things done, arguing that breaking through the "dysfunctional mess in Washington" is more important than refusing to compromise - perhaps a swipe at Sanders' staunchly liberal platform.

"I've been accused of being a moderate," Clinton said. "I plead guilty."

In Milwaukee later Thursday, she took special aim at Wisconsin's Republican governor, criticizing him for legislation that weakened unions and moves to defund nonprofit agency Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions.

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