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Story highlights

Hillary Clinton helped Democrats campaign during the 2014 Midterm

Clinton found a voice campaigning for other Democrats and honed what will likely be her 2016 message

Clinton's Republican detractors also grew and learned how to effectively attack Clinton

(CNN) —  

Election night was terrible for the Democratic Party, and Hillary Clinton was not spared.

Clinton visited 20 states and stumped for 26 candidates ahead of Election Day 2014. Her midterm record was an abysmal 11 wins, 14 losses and one runoff, according to CNN projections.

But there is an argument - Clinton advisers will spin it to you - in the context of what appears to be an all-but-certain run in 2016, that her Midterm record is far less important than what she gained while campaigning for Democrats.

Re-learning to stump

Going into the Midterms, Clinton’s mostly paid speeches were corporate and dull. She addressed audiences that were full of executive types who did not alawys seem excited to see her; many of whom were attending conferences that had no connection to the former secretary of state.

That changed during Clinton’s time on the campaign trail.

The former secretary of state stretched her long-dormant political legs and toyed with what will likely be her presidential message. She honed a new message based on women’s rights and opposition to Wall Street and - perhaps most importantly - got some needed practice ahead of a possible presidential run.

When the former secretary of state took the stage at September’s Tom Harkin Steak Fry in Iowa - her first real political speech of the year - she appeared to reporters on the ground to be flat and out-of-practice. That afternoon, the crowd responded with far more excitement to Tom Harkin, their retiring senator, and Bill Clinton, Hillary’s husband and the former president.

But over time during the Midterms, Clinton became more comfortable on the stump.

“Elections come down often to who’s got more money, who’s peddling more fear and who turns out,” Clinton confidently told an excited audience in North Carolina in October. She didn’t she away from hitting her Republican opponents and drawing some contrast between them and the person she was endorsing.

Most noticeably, Clinton honed her focus on women.

Nearly every event Clinton did was geared towards some combination of mothers and grandmothers. In Pennsylvania she spoke to a “Women for Wolf” event, while in Louisiana it was “Moms and Grams with Mary” who filled the event space.

Clinton seemed to embrace the theme and recognize that fact that if she runs for president, it will be from a historic perch as possibly the nation’s first woman president.

“Don’t let anyone dismiss what you’re doing today as women’s work,” she told an audience in San Francisco. “Don’t let anyone send you back to the sidelines.”

As Clinton has grown back into the role of retail politician, though, so have her Republican detractors.

Groups like the Republican National Committee and America Rising learned how to prod Clinton and poked her with emails to reporters and tweets about her gaffes. They sometimes drove the media conversation and seized on mistakes she made.

Shortly after the Senate officially turned red on Tuesday, Rand Paul’s Facebook page uploaded a photo of Clinton and the six losing Senate candidates that she endorsed. “HillarysLosers,” read the photos that went gangbusters online. The morning after the country, effectively, turned red, the Republican National Committee blasted an email to reporters: “Hillary’s Policies Were On The Ballot.”

’This is bigger than a single surrogate

Clinton’s closest confidants also don’t see Tuesday as a repudiation of Clinton.

“This is bigger than a single surrogate,” said a Clinton source with knowledge of her midterm schedule who requested anonymity to speak candidly. “No surrogate is that, sort of, silver bullet.”

The source added that going into the midterms there was a realization that Clinton “hasn’t given a political speech, certainly on any regular basis, in six years.”

Given that, and despite her less than 50 percent batting average with successful candidates, people close to Clinton felt confidant that the midterms were time well spent for the former first lady.

“I think her going back in for Grimes was a good example [of not shying away from tough races], going to Iowa twice, too” the source said. “There was no, ‘Oh man, we ought to pull out of here because it is going to be a loss.”

The source argued that 2016 didn’t come up a great deal during the conversations about where to go in 2014.

Growing from the book tour

Hillary Clinton’s book tour was defined by her gaffes in the interviews trying to sell it.

Out of the gate, Clinton slipped up answering questions about her and her husband’s wealth - pointing out the now mega-rich couple was “dead broke” when they left the White House - and it seemed like she was never fully able to recover.

Longtime Clinton confidants were concerned about her book tour performance.

“With the book tour, there were a lot of unforced errors. That was concerning,” said one longtime Clinton adviser. “It was an open question whether she was going to fumble about her wealth.”

But watching Clinton on the stump, the source said, it seemed that Clinton kicked off the rust.

Republicans see it differently.

“She is going to have to meet a reality where talking about only war on women issues and raising the minimum wage is not sufficient to win a national election or elections in these states,” said Tim Miller, executive director of America Rising, said after Tuesday night. “I think that is a reality that the whole Democratic Party is going to have to meet but Hillary Clinton was gung ho about that message, too.”

The midterms also weren’t rhetorically flawless for Clinton.

In Boston, the former first lady “shorthanded” a line that seemed to hint it wasn’t “corporations and business that create jobs.” Clinton went on to walk back the comment that was, for the most part, her only noticeable gaffe for two months on the stump.

That is a departure from her book tour, a two month long affair riddled with slips of the tongue, and confidants were happy to see her gaffe on the populist side of the party.

“Was it completely without these sort of perceived bumps? No,” said the source with knowledge of Clinton’s midterm schedule. “But, at the end of the day, was it viewed as time well spent? Yes.”