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Clinton Takes The Stage At Democratic Summit, Trying To Quell Concerns

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Hillary Clinton's been making her case for why she should be the Democratic nominee for president for a while, and today, she made that case to leaders of the party. They were meeting in Minneapolis. At the start of her campaign, Clinton was seen as the inevitable candidate of the Democrats. But she spent much of the summer fending off questions about her private email account during her time as secretary of state. And now she's facing a possible challenge from Vice President Joe Biden. NPR's Sarah McCammon reports on Clinton's pitch today.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Speaking to the Democratic National Committee Summer Meeting, Clinton repeated promises to stand up for the rights of women and workers. She said she knows this isn't going to be easy.

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HILLARY CLINTON: But I have been fighting for families and underdogs my entire life, and I'm not going to stop now. In fact, I'm just getting warmed up.

MCCAMMON: In addition to Biden's possible run, Clinton is up against a surge of support for Independent senator Bernie Sanders, who's also seeking the nomination and drawing large crowds around the country.

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CLINTON: I'm here to ask for your help. I'm not taking a single primary voter or caucusgoer for granted.

MCCAMMON: Biden it is not attending the meeting in Minneapolis. But in a conference call this week, he told DNC members that he has been talking with his family about whether or not to enter the race. He said if he runs, he wants to give the campaign his whole heart and soul.

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JOE BIDEN: And right now, both are pretty well banged up.

MCCAMMON: Banged up because his son Beau died of cancer in May. Ahead of her speech, Clinton's campaign released a series of memos highlighting her organizational strength in four early voting states. She campaigned in Iowa this week with U.S. agriculture secretary and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack. Vilsack was asked if his endorsement of Clinton while Biden is considering a run will make for awkward cabinet meetings.

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TOM VILSACK: I love Joe Biden just like we all do. He's a wonderful man.

MCCAMMON: But Vilsack said campaigns require difficult choices, and he and his wife are supporting Clinton.

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VILSACK: And we firmly stand behind Hillary, and we will till the last dog dies.

MCCAMMON: Asked about Biden, Clinton said she believes the vice president is facing a tough decision, and she wants to give him the space and time to make it. She told reporters in Minneapolis that she's learned some lessons from her primary loss to Barack Obama in 2008.

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CLINTON: As some of you might recall, in 2008, I got a lot of votes, but I didn't - I didn't get enough delegates. And so I think it's understandable that my focus is going to be on delegates as well as votes this time.

MCCAMMON: That's a smart strategy, says Mo Elleithee, executive director of the Georgetown Institute for Politics and Public Service. He's a former DNC spokesman who worked for Clinton's 2008 campaign. Elleithee says the more Clinton can demonstrate she has voters and donors behind her, the harder it would be for Biden to get in.

MO ELLEITHEE: He will not have oxygen in the room if she has locked people down.

MCCAMMON: For Biden, Elleithee says he thinks the decision will come down to whether or not he believes there's still room for him in the race.

ELLEITHEE: I think he is probably looking at the field and saying, OK, at this late date in the process, can I build the organization? Can I raise the money? And can my message break through?

MCCAMMON: And one more question - whether or not he'd risk dividing his party in what could be a close general election. Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.