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Analysis: Benghazi hearing played to Clinton's strength

WASHINGTON — With a calm demeanor and detailed answers, Hillary Rodham Clinton sought to turn a daylong congressional grilling on the deadly Benghazi attacks into an opportunity to look more presidential than political.

Clinton, the front-runner for the 2016 Democratic nomination, was largely unflappable through long hours of testimony that began Thursday morning and stretched well into the evening.

She urged lawmakers to "reach for statesmanship" and rise above partisanship on national security issues. When asked by a friendly lawmaker how it felt to be accused of contributing to the deaths of four Americans, she spoke in a soft tone about the emotional toll.

"I imagine I've thought more about what happened than all of you put together," Clinton said. "I've lost more sleep than all of you put together."

And when the committee's Republican chairman and top Democratic member heatedly argued about making public the panel's earlier private hearings, Clinton sat back with an amused smile on her face for several minutes. She appeared more than happy to stay out of a partisan spat that seemed to bolster her campaign's contention that the hearing was more about politics than uncovering new information about the violence in Libya.

For Clinton, the hearing played to her strengths. She has been more comfortable delving into policy discussions than giving lofty speeches or engaging in other trappings of political campaigns. And she has often been at her best when she has an opponent with whom to draw a contrast — in this case, a Republican-led committee.

Clinton was sharply challenged by GOP lawmakers on a range of issues, from requests for additional security at the Benghazi compound that went unfulfilled to her frequent email exchanges about Libya with Sidney Blumenthal, a longtime Clinton friend who had no role at the State Department.

Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan also revived questions about the Obama administration's shifting accounts of what happened at the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi and nearby CIA compound.

"I'm sorry it doesn't fit your narrative, congressman," Clinton said in response. "I can only tell you what the facts are."

Clinton's testimony was unlikely to end Republicans' quest to use the Benghazi attack to question her judgment and leadership. Revelations that Clinton relied on personal email and a private Internet server during her tenure at the State Department have only heightened the GOP's interest in determining whether more information exists about the attack that killed Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans.

Clinton's competent performance was also unlikely to drastically affect her standing in the Democratic race, where she faces a challenge from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Nearly half of Democrats and a majority of independents said they don't have strong feelings about the Benghazi investigation, according to a new AP-GfK poll.

Clinton's advisers have long viewed the Benghazi hearing as a key hurdle as they seek to steady her campaign ahead of early voting contests in Iowa and New Hampshire. The campaign's expectations for the hearing increased after Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the No. 2 Republican in the House, said the committee had hurt Clinton's poll numbers, helping bolster the Democrats' contention.

Analysis: Benghazi hearing played to Clinton's strength 10/22/15 [Last modified: Thursday, October 22, 2015 10:22pm]
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