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Clinton Calls For Party Unity As Biden Challenge Looms

Hillary Clinton on Friday told Democratic Party leaders to “stand together” and defend the party’s values at the party's annual summer meeting.

Hillary Clinton on Friday told Democratic Party leaders to “stand together” and defend the party’s values, capping a week aimed at reaffirming her advantage as the party's presidential front-runner.

“It’s time to stand together and defend those values — because others are doing everything they can to take our country in a very different direction,” she said during remarks at the Democratic National Committee’s summer meeting in Minneapolis, Minn.

The fiery speech, punctuated by chants of “Hillary!” from the crowd, capped a week marked by a series of aggressive strategic displays from the campaign intended to show strength in the face of slipping poll numbers and growing interest in a potential Biden run.

With some Democratic strategists reportedly questioning her campaign strategy behind closed doors, Clinton promised DNC members: "I'm not gonna stop—in fact, I’m just getting warmed up. I’m not taking a single primary voter, or caucus-goer, for granted.”

And she framed the race as a debate over "who best understands the pressures facing the families of America, and the challenges facing us in the world — and who has the skills and tenacity to tackle them."

As Biden stoked that speculation by meeting privately with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a progressive darling, and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka over the past week, Clinton went nearly punch-for-punch: Rolling out high-profile endorsements in early voting states of Iowa and South Carolina; making her first campaign stop in the key swing state of Ohio, where she enjoyed strong support in 2008; and on Friday making the case to Democratic party officials that she understands, and will fight for, their priorities.

She focused mostly on the idea of supporting middle class families and touched on college affordability, substance abuse, health care and gun control—mentioning this week’s shooting in Virginia, and promising "I am not going to sit by while more good people die across America.”

Clinton also played to her audience, pledging to take an active role in rebuilding the party in time for the next round of redistricting, in 2020.

And she targeted Republicans with a number of sharp jabs, hitting Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush on women’s issues and taking particular aim at Donald Trump — while seeking to show her softer side by poking fun at herself.

“A lot of people have said a lot of things about my hair over the years, so I do kind of know what Donald is going through,” she joked. “And if anyone wonders if mine is real, here's the answer: The hair is real; the color isn’t."

As the DNC meeting kicked off on Thursday, Clinton’s campaign circulated a series of memos outlining her organizing strength in a number of key primary states. And Bloomberg reported Friday that top Clinton advisers were already touting their strength among Democratic superdelegates, the Democratic Party elites who ultimately help decide the party’s nomination.

“A lot of people have said a lot of things about my hair over the years, so I do kind of know what Donald is going through.”

But while the moves were implicitly intended to signal to Biden that there’s no room for him in the Democratic primary, Clinton publicly offered the vice president space to make up his mind.

“I have great deal of admiration and affection for him," Clinton said of Biden during a Wednesday campaign stop in Iowa. "I think he has to make what is a very difficult decision for himself and his family. He should have the space and the opportunity to decide what he wants to do."

Biden advisers say he’s seriously considering a bid, but time is running out for the Vice President to build a campaign operation and raise the money he’d need to make a credible run. Aides say Biden would likely lean heavily on an independent group created to encourage him into the race, Draft Biden, and that he’s waiting to see what sort of organization they’ll be able to pull together in the coming weeks.

Though Biden didn’t attend the DNC meeting, representatives of Draft Biden were there, holding four briefings for committee members and super delegates interested in their plans. An adviser to the group told NBC News that they were telling delegates during those briefings to “keep an open mind,” and noting that Clinton held a similar 20-point lead over then-Sen. Barack Obama at this point during the 2008 primaries.

The adviser signaled that operation Biden is waiting for may soon come — the group plans to announce hiring additional staff to organize Biden supporters in all four of the early voting states in the coming weeks, and a number of endorsements from “state legislators, party chairmen and other elected officials.” The group is also expanding its data operation in an effort to identify and target potential Biden voters, feeding off of a mailing list gathered from the group’s website that the adviser said was a quarter-million supporters strong.

Clinton remains the prohibitive front-runner, however, and her warm reception at the DNC meeting — she drew friendly laughter and applause, and high-fived longtime Democratic strategist Donna Brazile before exiting the stage — underscored how tough it would be for Biden to overcome her establishment support.

But while Clinton sought to show strength, it was clear the controversies that have sapped her campaign in recent weeks weren’t far from Democrats’ minds.

At least one of her challengers — nominal though former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee may be — seemed to hint at the trust issues Clinton faces as she continues to struggle to sufficiently answer questions surrounding her email use as secretary of State.

"After nearly 30 years in public service, I've had no scandals,” Chafee said, in an otherwise subdued speech. He later called the controversy surrounding her emails "self-inflicted."