Hillary Clinton

Hillary Rodham Clinton, seen here speaking in Iowa on Aug. 14, is trying to assure nervous Democrats that she would be the party’s strongest presidential nominee in the general election. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

By Dan Balz and Philip Rucker
August 29, 2015 at 9:00 PM

MINNEAPOLIS — The Democratic Party, whose presidential race has been mostly overshadowed by Donald Trump and the Republicans, heads into the fall with its nomination contest far less certain than it once appeared and braced for a series of events that will have a significant effect on Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign.

Clinton’s standing has been eroded both by her own shaky handling of the e-mail controversy and by the populist energy fueling the challenge of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Her weakened position in the polls has stoked talk about a possible late entry from Vice President Biden, which could dramatically change the dynamic of the race.

As the Democratic National Committee wrapped up its summer meeting here Saturday, members were left with a series of questions not just about Clinton, but also Biden, Sanders and the party as a whole.

What can Clinton do to regain the trust of voters, generate genuine enthusiasm among grass-roots activists and reassure nervous Democrats that she will be a strong nominee atop the party’s ticket in November next year?

Will Biden get in the race? Or, as many party leaders privately asserted, is it already too late? DNC members who were on a conference call with the vice president last week came away with significant doubts that he was emotionally ready to run as he and his family still grieve the death of his son, Beau.

“People love him,” Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said. “But I think it would take one incredible sales pitch to convince the people right now who are energized about Bernie Sanders to move away from him or the people who are gung-ho about ­Hillary to move away from her.”

A new poll released Saturday night showed Clinton on a dangerously downward trajectory in Iowa, whose caucuses will kick off the nominating contest. She leads Sanders there 37 percent to 30 percent, according to the Des Moines Register-Bloomberg Politics poll, with Biden in third with 14 percent.

The questions hovering over Sanders include whether he can convince enough Democrats that he is electable and, if he falls short, whether the movement behind him would shift its allegiance willingly to Clinton or the eventual nominee.

And can Democrats capi­tal­ize long-term on what they see as significant vulnerabilities that Trump and other Republican candidates have exposed in recent weeks, especially with women and Hispanic voters?

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