Kevin Lamarque, Pool, File, Associated Press
In this Oct. 18, 2011, file photo, then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton checks her Blackberry from a desk inside a C-17 military plane upon her departure from Malta, in the Mediterranean Sea, bound for Tripoli, Libya. It’s a photo that became an Internet meme: Hillary Rodham Clinton, wearing sunglasses, staring at her BlackBerry. Now it’s becoming a focal point for Republicans on the House committee that’s investigating the deadly attacks in Benghazi, Libya. The chairman, South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy, wants to know why the panel has no emails from the day the photo was taken as Clinton, then the secretary of state, was en route to Tripoli.

CONCORD, N.H. — In a direct step toward a run for the presidency, Hillary Rodham Clinton is hiring political staff to guide her Democratic primary efforts in the early voting state of New Hampshire.

The team in waiting is made up of top operatives to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen's successful re-election bid in 2014, when she survived a Republican wave that knocked out many other Democrats. Mike Vlacich, Shaheen's campaign manager, will serve as Clinton's state director, said a New Hampshire Democrat with knowledge of the move. The Democrat spoke on condition of anonymity because people will not be officially hired until Clinton announces a campaign.

Clinton is expected to announce her 2016 White House bid in the next few weeks, a race that presents few primary rivals at this point in contrast to the crowded Republican contest.

The former secretary of state has been trying to dig out from a controversy over her use of a private email account and server after acknowledging days ago that she should have avoided relying exclusively on personal email while at the State Department. Word of her hirings in New Hampshire came as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, expected to be a leading contender for the Republican nomination, is in the state on his first visit in years.

In addition to Vlacich, Clinton is turning to Kari Thurman, Shaheen's political director, and Harrell Kirstein, Shaheen's campaign communications director, to serve in the same functions for her, the source said.

Clinton won the 2008 New Hampshire primary and many prominent New Hampshire Democrats are already backing her assumed campaign, including Democratic National Committeewoman Kathy Sullivan. Democrats recently told The Associated Press that she has begun retaining staff in the early voting states of Iowa and South Carolina as well.

Vlacich emerged from the 2014 election as one of the most successful Democratic operatives in the country, helping Shaheen beat back a challenge from Republican Scott Brown, a former senator from Massachusetts, when Democrats lost competitive races across the country. Vlacich's wife, Liz Purdy, is also a Clinton confidante, serving as a top adviser to Clinton's 2008 bid in the state.

"Mike is the kind of person who can just pull activists together," said Peter Burling, a former Democratic National Committeeman from New Hampshire. "I think that's going to be an essential part of this next campaign, getting Democrats to come out and participate."

Robby Mook, Clinton's likely campaign manager, also has ties to Shaheen, serving as her 2008 campaign manager.

In Iowa, Clinton's campaign is expected to be run by Matt Paul, a longtime adviser to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor. South Carolina Democrats have told AP that Clinton will again hire Democratic consulting firm Sunrise Communications, owned by Darrell Jackson, a state senator and pastor.

Associated Press writers Ken Thomas and Steve Peoples in Washington contributed to this report.