As Vice President Biden edged closer to a decision on whether to run for president in 2016, Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday that his entry would have no effect on her own campaign strategy.
“He has to make what is a very difficult decision for himself and his family” and should have the time and privacy to do so, Clinton told reporters after a campaign appearance in Ankeny, Iowa.
“I’m going to be running for president regardless,” Clinton added. “I am going to continue to be putting forth my policies.”
Clinton is said to have been surprised by the seriousness of Biden’s deliberations at this relatively late moment on the campaign calendar. But her tone Wednesday betrayed no sense of unease or irritation at the prospect of so hefty a challenger coming off the bench as her own political problems have deepened. She maintains a strong lead in the polls, but the numbers also indicate that her approval has dropped sharply amid an FBI probe about whether sensitive information was compromised in her use of a private e-mail server while she was secretary of state.
In her Iowa remarks, Clinton focused on the personal side of Biden’s decision, which comes soon after the death of his son Beau and is yet another tragedy to strike a man who lost his first wife and 1-year-old daughter in a traffic accident decades ago.
“I cannot even imagine the grief and the heartbreak,” Clinton said, emotion straining her voice. “Joe has had more terrible events than most people can even contemplate,” she said. “He has to do what he has to do. I’m going to continue with my campaign.”
Yet her supporters have grown more nervous about the changing primary landscape, which also includes an unexpectedly vigorous challenge by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) from the left, and the campaign’s handling of the widening e-mail problem.
Clinton took a less legalistic and defensive tone about the e-mail issue Wednesday, even as she insisted what she did in setting up the unorthodox system was allowed under State Department rules. She acknowledged that the issue has not gone away, and seemed to adopt a defense that did not blame the controversy on Republicans.
“I understand why. I get it,” Clinton said. “Here’s what I want the American people to know: My use of personal e-mail was allowed by the State Department. It clearly wasn’t the best choice. I should have used two e-mails,” one for work and one for personal communications, she said.
“I take responsibility for that decision, and I want to be as transparent as possible,” she added.
She pointed to her upcoming testimony scheduled in front of the select committee investigating the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012. The e-mail system — previously unknown beyond a circle of aides, friends and administration officials during her tenure — came to light through that congressional inquiry.
“I’m confident that this process will prove that I never sent nor received any e-mail that was marked classified,” Clinton said.
At a widely criticized news conference a week ago, Clinton took a far more dismissive stance, offering an exaggerated shrug at reporters who asked about her judgment in communicating outside official government channels. Asked about having wiped the contents from her private server, she made a joke about having done so “with a cloth.”
Her campaign has stepped up its response to questions about Clinton’s e-mails over the past week. Campaign press secretary Brian Fallon released a question-and-answer video knocking down what he called falsehoods and poor reporting, and issued a barrage of Twitter messages to say Clinton did nothing wrong.
The fact that the e-mail issue appears to have gotten worse for Clinton politically may have created more of an opening for a Biden candidacy, allies said, but she is not conflating the two challenges.
“You have to put that in a separate box,” one Democratic strategist close to the campaign said of a Clinton strategy to deal with political fallout from the e-mail issue.
Several allies said Biden had long since been assumed to have stood down, no matter his longstanding ambitions. The Clinton camp is also playing down the significance of reports that President Obama had given his “blessing” to Biden’s deliberations.
As one ally put it: “The only thing [Obama] could say [to Biden] is what he said to Hillary: ‘If that is what you want to do, do it.’ ”