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Hillary Clinton lurks in corners of Republican meeting

By Dan Merica, CNN
updated 6:23 PM EST, Fri January 24, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • An RNC committe referred to Hillary Clinton as "she who should not be named"
  • RNC member: "It is a party of one giant and a bunch of elves" who might challenge her
  • In a recent poll, 65% of Democrats said Clinton would be their choice for 2016
  • S.C. GOP chair: "We are doing everything we can do to define her early"

Washington (CNN) -- Even though it was Republican party leaders meeting in Washington this week, Hillary Clinton might as well have been there.

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In the halls between Republican National Committee meetings, the former secretary of state's name came up in conversation regularly. At a rules committee meeting on Thursday night, Clinton -- the prohibitive favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 -- was referred to as "she who should not be named." And at the powwow's most-watched events, Republicans pledged a laser-like focus on winning back the White House in 2016.

It seems as much as some Democrats are trying to fight the coronation of Clinton as their inevitable presidential candidate, most Republican bigwigs in Washington admitted they believe that all roads to the White House go through Clinton.

"I think it is the most realistic assessment," said Steve Duprey, national committeeman from New Hampshire. "It is a party of one giant and a bunch of elves who might be running against her."

"She has a political organization, she has the history, she has respect from being a senator, first lady, secretary of state, I think it is just prudent for the Republicans to assume she is the nominee and frankly I think it helps focus people," he added.

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And Republicans aren't wrong about Clinton's front-runner status -- Clinton has topped every poll taken about Democrats for 2016. In the latest Quinnipiac University poll, 65% of Democrats said Clinton would be their choice for the nomination. Vice President Joe Biden was in second with 8%, a whopping 57 points lower.

"Virtually none of the other Democrats could beat her," said Saul Anuzis, the former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party. "Now, lots of things could happen, but I think most Republicans assume we are going to run against her."

Since leaving the State Department in 2013, the former secretary of state kept up an active schedule, collecting paychecks on the corporate speaking circuit and picking up hardware at award ceremonies across the country.

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Democratic groups have begun lining up behind her possible candidacy in 2016. In addition to groups like Ready for Hillary and Emily's List -- two pro-Clinton fundraising machines -- the liberal Priorities USA moved this week to get behind Clinton and announced they will begin raising big money to help elect Clinton to the White House.

The one issue: Clinton has publicly said she is only mulling whether to run for president. Late last year, Clinton said she would decide whether to run or not by the end of this year.

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In touting Clinton as the inevitable candidate, Republicans have both heaped praise on her -- "She has a first-rate organization," Duprey said -- and tested out attack lines.

"We are doing everything we can do to define her early," Matt Moore, chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, said about Clinton, who he described as the "mother of Obamacare." "She is an opportunistic person who has been running for president for 20 years."

Moore said the ability to focus on Clinton almost three years out from election day means that the narrative Republicans will push has more time to take hold. Moore sees a parallel between Clinton in 2016 and Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee in 2012.

"The trouble we had in 2012 was that our nominee was defined really early over a five- or six-year period and it was hard to break through theses presuppositions," he said.

He added, for that reason, Republicans "are preparing in South Carolina and elsewhere that she is the nominee."

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