After key wins this week, Hillary Clinton soaks up the sun (for now)

(CNN)There was no mistaking the new confidence pumping through Hillary Clinton's campaign Friday after a banner October.

Rather than spiking the football after her 11-hour showdown with Republicans over Benghazi, Joe Biden's decision against mounting on a 2016 campaign and a strong debate performance, Clinton sought to consolidate recent gains after a disaster-strewn summer.
"As some of you may know, I had a pretty long day yesterday," Clinton told around 600 people in a friendly crowd at the Women's Leadership Forum in Washington, referring to her daylong test of political stamina in front of GOP lawmakers seeking to trip her up over the Benghazi tragedy. "I finally got to answer questions, something I have been pushing for literally a year and I am just grateful I recovered my voice, which I lost a little bit, but like I said at the start, I wanted to rise above partisanship and and reach for statesmanship."
While the hearing did little to satisfy Republican critics who argue Clinton is responsible for lax security that contributed to the attack in Benghazi that left four Americans dead, she appeared to escape the showdown without serious damage.
    The hearing was seen by many Democrats as a bid by Republicans to incite a gaffe or public show of petulance by Clinton that could be used by GOP candidates later in the race to weaken her presidential hopes, and she managed to avoid serving up such a soundbite.
    Her campaign team awoke Friday convinced that the hearing, which garnered largely favorable press reviews and showed off Clinton's coolness under pressure and comfort with detailed policy questions, had strengthened the Democratic front-runner.
    "I think we have seen some shift in the numbers in the last week because of the debate, and I think yesterday, too, she looked extremely presidential, kept her cool," Clinton's spokesman Brian Fallon told reporters on Friday morning. "Her temperament was exactly what you want to see from a future president and I think voters will respond to that."
    Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a long time Clinton family political ally, was characteristically effusive.
    "Are you kidding me?" he roared as he introduced Clinton at her second event of the day in the picturesque and historic Washington suburb of Alexandria.
    "I almost want to thank (Republicans), because you saw in those 11 hours of testimony why she needs to be our commander-in-chief."
    Clinton herself did not mention what her brain trust clearly sees as a triumph in Alexandria, preferring instead to reel off a crowd pleasing speech on policy goodies for Democrats, hitting her lines on immigration reform, economic inequality, health care, gun control, voting rights and student debt.
    But Clinton is by no means in the clear from wider questions arising from the Benghazi committee.
    Republicans are sure to highlight the U.S.-led operation that led to the toppling of Moammer Gadhafi in Libya to frame a wider critique of Clinton's foreign policy acumen and record as secretary of state. They argue because the operation yielded to political chaos and a power vacuum exploited by terror groups like ISIS.
    And the furor over the private email server she used as secretary of state -- uncovered by the Benghazi panel -- is being probed by the FBI and has all the hallmarks of a political imbroglio that will be tough to shake.
    Still, the Clinton campaign believes the events of the last months will fill a reservoir of trust and confidence among voters that could sustain her through tough times.
    "People see her being substantive and in command on the issues, that is a constant in terms of her attributes as a candidate," Fallon said.
    "We think (that) will position her to weather whenever the headwinds come because we know that they will come back."
    The former secretary of state also referred in Washington to the other big news of her week, the decision by Biden to pass on the race, that spared Clinton a challenge by a Democratic heavyweight and further boosted her position atop Democratic polls.
    "I am confident that history isn't finished with Joe Biden," Clinton said, paying tribute to the vice president, who could still be a key general election asset among blue collar audiences she needs to court.
    "If I know Joe, he will be right there with us on the front lines," Clinton said.
    There was more good news for Clinton on Friday, as a Quinnipiac University poll found her leading her top Democratic rival Bernie Sanders 51% to 40% among Iowa caucus goers, a day after a Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register poll had her up seven points.
    Clinton's decision to host a noon event in Alexandria, Virginia, on Friday had several messages. First it was an easy trip for Washington-based news crews keen to follow up on Clinton's performance before the hearing on Friday.
    The event also allowed Clinton to pivot from deadly serious issues of life and death she faced before the Benghazi committee to a more political posture.
    The presidential campaign cranks up another notch for Clinton on Saturday, when she travels to Iowa for the state party's Jefferson-Jackson dinner -- a vital staging post on the road to the caucuses -- the first nominating contest scheduled for early February.
    For the first time in the 2016 race on Saturday, Bill Clinton, who has had a mostly behind-the-scenes role so far in her 2016 White House effort, will headline a rally for his wife, in Des Moines, that will also feature singing Katy Perry.