US & Canada

US mid-terms: Hillary Clinton’s dry run for 2016?

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Media captionEverywhere she went, Mrs Clinton outshone the candidates for whom she was campaigning

The mid-terms are over. The 2016 presidential race starts now.

The results improved the chances of some Republican presidential hopefuls like Chris Christie, while it gutted the Democratic field of rising stars and undermined the chances of hopefuls like Governor Martin O'Malley.

But how did the Democratic favourite Hillary Clinton perform?

For two months, Mrs Clinton criss-crossed the country, campaigning hard to help Democrats in tight races, from Georgia to Louisiana and even Iowa where a seat held by a Democrat for three decades was up for grabs.

She and ex-President Bill Clinton were the surrogates every Democrat wanted while President Barack Obama was spurned.

Mrs Clinton threw her weight behind 25 vulnerable candidates, senators, governors and members of the House of Representatives. Just over half of them lost - and Republicans pounced.

"This was not only a repudiation of President Obama but I think really a repudiation of Hillary Clinton," said Republican Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.

A presidential hopeful himself, Mr Paul wasted no time turning the mid-term results into attack line against his potential rival.

"Everybody thought: 'Hey, I'm going to be a Clinton Democrat' - turns out that's not very popular, either," he added in an interview with CNN.

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Image caption Campaigning with Kay Hagan in North Carolina...
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption ...Mary Landrieu in Louisiana...
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption ...and Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire

On the face of it, this may be a facile measure of what Mrs Clinton delivered for her party on the campaign trail, or how well another potential presidential candidate, Chris Christie, did rooting for Republican candidates (14 out of 18 candidates that Christie campaigned for won).

But this ignores the electoral map for the Senate races which was stacked against the Democratic Party and, more crucially, it ignores the fact that even powerful surrogates can't do much about the inherent failures of the candidates.

Mr Paul even took to Facebook with a catchy meme about #HillarysLosers which will no doubt be brought up repeatedly in the event of a presidential campaign.

But Mrs Clinton's close aides will be examining other layers of the race and of her performance to determine what they can learn for a potential run, poring over exit polls, electoral maps and strategies deployed by Republicans.

On the near periphery, Tracy Sefl, a senior advisor for the Ready for Hillary political committee, said she saw more and more energy and enthusiasm at events where Mrs Clinton appeared in support of a potential candidacy.

"We've been hearing from people non-stop, asking how they can get involved in Ready for Hillary, saying how much we need her and sharing how much they hope to vote for her. So if anything about [the mid-terms] affects her, it looks like it's only emboldened support," Ms Sefl told the BBC.

In a piece titled Chicken soup for the Democratic Soul, penned before the mid-term results were even out, David Nather at Politico predicted the Democrats would need a whole a lot of healing after the election and that Mrs Clinton was one big helping "with instant healing power".

Even her opponents acknowledge she will be a formidable candidate if she runs.

The former first lady and secretary of state appeared at 45 events in two months across the country. Everywhere she went, no matter how much she tried not to overshadow the candidates, she was the main attraction.

On Sunday in Nashua, New Hampshire, the last day of her campaigning, she spoke at a rally for Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Governor Maggie Hassan (they both won).

"Are you ready for Hillary?" screamed Senator Shaheen as she introduced Mrs Clinton on stage and the crowd erupted in chants of "Hillary, Hillary, Hillary".

In speech after speech, Mrs Clinton honed her message and adjusted her pitch, while easing back into the rhythm of political campaigning after four years on the international stage.

The first event on her campaign schedule was the Iowa steak fry in mid-September with outgoing Senator Tom Harkin. Her performance there was somewhat stilted.

Two months later in Nashua, on her last day of campaigning, she had clearly evolved into a more comfortable persona, combining the politician with the stateswoman.

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Later in the day, at a campaign stop in Manchester, New Hampshire, Clinton shook hands with diners at the Puritan Backroom restaurant, flanked by Ms Shaheen and Ms Hassan.

As Mrs Clinton walked through the restaurant, taking selfies with young girls and talking about hockey with a six-year-old, surrounded by a scrum of cameras and journalists, the two candidates were gradually edged out of the spotlight.

But the race in New Hampshire was also a reminder of some of the issues that dogged her presidential campaign, including sexist attacks.

Mrs Clinton struggled to balance her need to appear tough with her need to connect with voters. Female candidates in the mid-term elections on both sides of the political faced sexism, raising questions about whether this line of attack would reach fever pitch if Mrs Clinton ran for president.

Culprits are called out more quickly now thanks to social media, but Republicans are already strategising for a potential Clinton run.

"(Mrs Clinton) is going to want to run as a historic candidate, the first woman president," said SE Cupp, a conservative commentator in Washington DC.

"Her campaign will make sure to promote this notion that if you're not with Hillary Clinton then you are against history, you are against women, you don't want a woman in the White House."

In New Hampshire, walking slowly through the restaurant, shaking hand after hand, offering to take selfies and giving gentle guidance to manage people posing for pictures with her, Mrs Clinton's key tactic for now seems to be to connect with voters in ways she didn't in 2008, until she's ready to announce a decision.

Image caption New Jersey Gov Chris Christie, himself a possible 2016 presidential candidate, campaigned with more winning candidates this mid-term season than did former Clinton