Clinton in campaign command after great week

Clinton appears to be on a glide path to the party’s presidential nomination.
Clinton appears to be on a glide path to the party’s presidential nomination.REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - It's been a great week for Hillary Clinton.

First, Democratic rival Joe Biden abandoned his presidential dreams.

Then, she emerged unscathed from a marathon congressional grilling over the 2012 Benghazi attacks that threatened to sabotage her campaign - but now looks to be a boost.

Throw in her star turn at the first Democratic debate 10 days ago, when she gave a command performance and received a political gift by rival Bernie Sanders who declared America has heard enough about her "damn e-mails," and Clinton appears to be on a glide path to the party's presidential nomination.

In addition to the vice-president opting out, low-polling candidates Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee also stepped aside this week, and Clinton has seen her poll average surge seven points in October, after a months-long slide.

The bouquet of political successes came as welcome relief for the former secretary of state aiming to become America's first female commander-in-chief, and she appeared to exult in her decidedly improved position on Friday.

"Whoa," she exclaimed as she received a hero's welcome at a women's leadership forum in Washington.

"It's been quite a week, hasn't it?"

No question. Even her onetime rivals see the writing on the wall.

"Obviously it's a good week for Secretary Clinton," Chafee said at the same forum, where he used the occasion to announce he was bowing out of the race.

"There is no one left," said David Parker, a professor of American politics at Montana State University, dismissing democratic socialist Sanders as unelectable and former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley as failing to gain any traction.

"There is no doubt in my mind that Clinton will be the nominee," he told AFP.

BUILDING MOMENTUM

Ripping a page out of husband president Bill's never-say-die playbook, Clinton - who led rival Barack Obama early in their 2008 battle only to see him snatch the nomination later in the race - may be proving that she too can be the comeback kid.

Just a few weeks ago, her poll numbers were worryingly low - she was running neck-and-neck with Sanders in Iowa, the state that votes first in the 2016 primary race, and trailing him by double digits in New Hampshire, which votes second.

Bill Clinton suffered early rejection by voters in 1992, losing 10 of the first 11 primaries before turning things around to win the nomination and then complete a stunning upset over incumbent president George H.W. Bush.

Hillary Clinton, who turns 68 on Monday, appears to be repairing damage before the first primary votes. She has closed the Sanders gap in New Hampshire and, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Friday, has opened an 11-point lead over Sanders in Iowa.

She is riding high after her performance Thursday, when she stood her ground during an 11-hour marathon grilling in Congress as Republicans tried unsuccessfully to trip her up over her role in responding to the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya that left four Americans dead.

Clinton maintained her cool, deftly handling Republicans' questions about why she was not involved enough in beefing up US security in Libya in the run-up to the attacks, and how a friend and political operative had closer personal contact with Clinton than US ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, who died in Benghazi.

"If she had performed poorly, it could have produced some nice general election ads for the Republicans," Parker said.

Instead of a Clinton implosion, many observers say the opposite happened.

Clinton retweeted freshly convinced supporter Alka Gupta, who posted after the lengthy hearing: "If I was on the fence before, I stand with her now more than ever."

The former secretary of state topped off her wonder week with a grassroots rally Friday outside Washington, brimming with renewed confidence.

"There's no question there's a lot of momentum right now," her spokesman Brian Fallon told reporters in Alexandria, Virginia as crowds gathered for Clinton.

"Republicans and others have tried to test her and Hillary Clinton is battle-ready. She's a fighter."