Hillary Clinton's latest comeback

Story highlights

  • Hillary Clinton fights to put furor over a private email server behind her
  • Early signs suggest Clinton is doing what the Clintons do best: mounting a comeback

Washington (CNN)Hillary Clinton is pressing the reset button -- yet again.

She's quietly fighting back a week after her awkward and occasionally combative news conference on the furor over the private email server she used while running the State Department.
Clinton's Twitter account is buzzing this week with posts that test political messages on health care, college affordability, civil rights and jobs -- issues she hopes will help mobilize President Barack Obama's Democratic coalition and pave her way to the presidency.
    Meanwhile, her nascent operation is leaking details of future staffers in an unmistakeable message to Democrats spooked by the email flap that the campaign-in-waiting will become an official effort, possibly as soon as next month.
    A CNN/ORC International Poll out on Wednesday found that she's miles ahead of any potential Democratic challenger and would beat all potential Republican candidates by at least 10 points.
    Despite fretting among some Democrats who worried that the party's best -- and perhaps only -- viable Democratic candidate appeared to be in trouble, early signs suggest Clinton is doing what the Clintons do best: mounting a comeback.
    "The interest in the story is collapsing onto itself. I don't see an organic clamoring for more information," said a longtime Clinton ally who didn't want to speak for a campaign that hasn't yet been announced.
    This person, who has spent time in Iowa, argued that outside the community of political reporters and consultants in Washington and New York who fixated on the story, the people who really count -- voters -- weren't really interested.
    "People very much want to know what the campaign is going to be about ... what is she going to do about student loan costs, for example?"
    Tharon Johnson, a Democratic strategist who was Southern regional director of Obama's re-election campaign in 2012, agreed.

    'Kitchen table issues'

    "If and when Hillary Clinton decides to run, she will have to address this issue, but I believe the American people are more interested in her addressing the kitchen table issues that matter most to them," he said.
    Of course, Clinton still faces plenty of challenges and the email saga raised questions about whether she can run a more sophisticated, no drama campaign than the one she managed in 2008.
    But the CNN poll revealed that those critical of Clinton's role in the email affair appear to break close to party lines and her favorable rating remains at 53%. A slow recent decline in that rating appears to coincide with Clinton's slow re-entry into partisan politics and does not necessarily reflect her recent stumbles.
    Perhaps the most intriguing figure in the poll is that only 1% of respondents had never heard of Clinton.
    That supports the idea expressed by some Democrats that Clinton may be the most vetted figure in public life. There are people who will never vote for her and those who are dedicated to her quest to be the first female president, but very few whose minds may not be made up.
    A less well-known candidate might have made a terrible first impression if faced with the kind of hyper-covered flap Clinton was.
    But Republicans believe the email scandal could be a political gift that keeps on giving, as it touches on a narrative that the Clintons are secretive, resistant to transparency and often blur the rules.
    Poll: Clinton leads potential Democrat rivals by 47 pts
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    There are also other problems -- including the question of foreign funds sent to the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton's whopper speaking fees -- that Republicans believe could reach a political mass and fan doubts about the likely Democratic nominee's character.
    Then there are the foreign policy questions, including a now damaging photo op in which Clinton offered a "reset" button to Russia only for the country to revert to a Cold War-esque posture. She was also a central player in Obama's foreign policy, which often appears to be overtaken by the Middle East's swift descent into chaos.

    'Eggs in one basket'

    "For everything that I can see, the Democrats have put all of their eggs in one basket here," said Sean Spicer, communications director of the Republican National Committee. "That is more of a downfall in the general election than in the primary."
    Spicer argued that even with younger voters, who do not remember the Clinton years, the question of impropriety over her emails could provide an entry point into past scandals.
    Though Clinton is the prohibitive Democratic front-runner, her support in the party is not universal.
    But where she faces resistance, it is more likely to be over policy than emails, as grass-roots Democrats are suspicious over her centrist, pro-business and hawkish foreign policy leanings.
    "As this discussion was playing out inside the Beltway, our members were focused on issues," said Anna Galland, executive director of MoveOn.org, which wants Elizabeth Warren to challenge Clinton for the Democratic nomination.
    Galland said activists were preoccupied with the preservation of the social safety net, constraining Wall Street and those on the "ragged edge" of the middle class.
    Similarly, the young voters who flocked to Obama in 2008 and who will be crucial to Clinton's hopes of mobilizing an effective Democratic coalition in 2016 may also offer Clinton a political cushion.
    This group is hazy over historic references to long ago Clinton scandals like Filegate, Travelgate and even the Monica Lewinsky episode that led to President Bill Clinton's impeachment.
    "The media loves a Clinton scandal," said one Democratic source who didn't want to be named because he doesn't work for Clinton. "But young people are more likely to know her as secretary of state, and someone who ran for president in 2008."

    Young voters

    Polling bears out the theory. The CNN survey shows Clinton's favorability among voters age 18 to 34 with a 22 point positive differential.
    But she's barely in positive territory among voters age 50 to 64, who are likely to have strong memories of her time as first lady, and is underwater among those 60 or older.
    Another well-connected Democrat who didn't want to go on the record criticizing Clinton admitted that the email issue did play into GOP caricatures about the allegedly "conspiratorial" politicians and that it could challenge the former secretary of state's early efforts to get her message out about her ideas and rationale for running for president.
    But Democratic operatives think that once Clinton is actually running, with an infrastructure behind her, and striking messages about the minimum wage, college debt and middle-class economic issues, voters will engage.
    In many ways, the email furor was a story the media couldn't wait to write, so it may be that journalists have inflated the importance of the episode, at least in the absence of any evidence that Clinton broke the law or made classified information vulnerable. Political reporters have pined for weeks for Clinton to swing her campaign into action, and her failure to offer a storyline opened a vacuum that was easy for unflattering stories to fill.

    Lessons

    Her slow response breathed new life into a question that only Clinton can answer: Will her 2016 campaign be as dysfunctional, reactive and distracted as her chaotic and unsuccessful 2008 effort?
    But there were a few lessons.
    It's clear the Clinton machine is not about to morph into a humming, scandal-free effort in the image of Barack Obama's first presidential campaign.
    And Clinton's bitter relationship with political reporters seems as bad as ever. The days when she partied with a State Department press corps more preoccupied with policy than politics seem like ancient history.
    But here also, Clinton is trying a reset. Her nascent campaign has made it known that she is staffing up her campaign and press operation.
    John Podesta, who is expected to take a leadership role in her campaign, is respected by reporters, as is Jennifer Palmieri, the outgoing White House communications director expected to take on a similar role for Clinton. On Tuesday, it emerged that Clinton would name Brian Fallon, who has also good ties with reporters, to be lead press secretary.