Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonDemocrats step up calls that Russian hack was act of war Comet Ping Pong shooter pleads guilty Time for 'J. Edgar' Comey to take his leave MORE on Monday ripped Republicans for politicizing the Benghazi terror attack and declared herself the front-runner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, displaying some of the fire Democrats believe has so far been lacking from her campaign.
In a nationally televised New Hampshire town hall event broadcast on NBC’s “Today,” Clinton accused Republicans of exploiting the deaths of four Americans in the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, to score political points against her, crowed about her national and early-voting state polling leads and made impassioned liberal arguments for gun control and income equality.
“I would never have done that,” Clinton shot back. “Look at the situation they chose to exploit to go after me for political reasons, the death of four Americans in Benghazi. I knew [Ambassador Christopher Stevens]. I identified him. I asked him to go there. I asked the president to nominate him.”
Clinton said seven nonpartisan investigations concluded that “I and nobody did anything wrong, but there were changes we could make.”
She seized on a comment made last week by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) linking the House Select Committee on Benghazi with her falling poll numbers as a GOP accomplishment.
“This committee was set up, as they have admitted, for the purpose of making a partisan political issue out of the deaths of four Americans,” Clinton said. “I would never have done that. If I were president and there were Republicans or Democrats thinking about that, I would have done everything to shut it down.”
Clinton will testify in front of the committee later this month in what will be a critical moment for her presidential hopes.
She declined Monday to follow the lead of some Democrats, such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who have called for the committee to be shut down in the wake of McCarthy’s remarks. “That’s up to the Congress,” Clinton said. “If they’re going to have it still running, I’ll be there, and I’m looking forward to answering questions about real things when I’m there.”
Still, the Benghazi Select Committee’s revelation that Clinton used a private email account and server has contributed to her falling polling numbers, as an increasing number of voters now say she’s not honest or trustworthy.
Clinton’s stumbles have opened the door for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is pulling huge crowds on the presidential campaign trail and raising enormous sums of money from small-dollar donors.
Sanders also has surpassed Clinton in the polls in New Hampshire.
When Guthrie pointed that out to Clinton on Monday, the former secretary of State interjected before the host could finish.
“[Polling] also shows me winning in Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada and nationally, so I’m happy to be in New Hampshire to talk to the people here,” Clinton said to applause.
“I’ve got work to do in New Hampshire,” she said later. “I’m very excited to be leading everywhere else, and I’m going to keep working hard everywhere else, but I always thought this would be a great contest.”
Clinton acknowledged Sanders at far greater lengths than she has been willing to before, saying she believes Sanders “is great for the Democratic Party and for this election” because he’s energizing the base.
“We want to turn out as many people as possible in order to understand and believe what we both believe, that the difference between us on the Democratic side and the Republicans is a huge gulf. ... I happen to think my plans and my experience are going to get us where we need to go, and that’s what I’m advocating.”
On the issue of gun control, Clinton advocated for enhanced background checks, limiting gun purchases online and at gun shows and closing loopholes that she says have allowed those with criminal records to legally purchase firearms.
“We’ll take the law as it is, but we’ll have to look to see what we can do to make sure that we prevent these kinds of terrible crimes that are happening in our country,” Clinton said. She said the majority of Americans, including gun owners, “say background checks make a lot of sense. Let’s do everything we can to make sure the irresponsible and the criminals and the mentally ill don’t get guns.”
Clinton ripped into Republicans on the economy, accusing them of trying “to take us back to trickle-down economics,” and blamed the GOP for all of the past recent economic downturns.
“If they get a chance they will once again wreck the economy and the inequality that you and I care so much about will be even worse,” Clinton said. “I know how we can get incomes once again rising, how people can feel they have a stake in our country and where we can begin to narrow that inequality gap so we have broad-based prosperity that everyone can benefit from.”
It was a strong showing in a high-profile setting for Clinton, who has been battling the notion that she has a hard time connecting personally with voters on the campaign trail.
Clinton has been engaging more frequently with the press in recent weeks, and the campaign has been eager to put the candidate in settings where she can shine.
Indeed, over the weekend she jabbed at some of her shortcomings in a self-deprecating sketch on the season premiere of “Saturday Night Live.”
Guthrie on Monday asked Clinton if she believes she has trouble connecting with people.
“You can ask me that, and it’s obviously not the nicest question to hear, because I have a long record of working on the issues that I believe are important to people and I’m going to continue to do that,” Clinton said.
“I think some of it is just the idea that people want to know what you really feel like, and I’ll admit, I’m a more reserved person than maybe some people in politics are. But as you can see from the [“Saturday Night Live”] skit, I also like to have a good time. So we’ll mix it up a little bit in the campaign.”