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Five things to watch as Clinton testifies before Benghazi panel

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton listens to a question from the audience at a campaign town hall meeting in Keene, New Hampshire October 16, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Brian Snyder/REUTERS

Hillary Clinton.

As Hillary Clinton gets ready to testify before the House Select Committee on Benghazi Thursday, here’s a look at what to watch for during what promises to be extensive questioning.

Republicans may not be looking for fireworks

The politics of Hillary Clinton’s public testimony have changed since she first agreed to testify in May. Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader who recently dropped out of the race for speaker, gaffed in September when he cited the creation of the panel as a reason for Clinton’s sagging poll numbers.

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“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?” McCarthy said during an interview on Fox News. “But we put together a Benghazi Special Committee. A select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable.”

Democrats have jumped on that statement as proof that the latest Benghazi investigation is intended to damage Clinton’s prospects rather than get to the bottom of any failures that could have led to the deaths in Libya. As a result, an overly aggressive questioning session could bolster those claims and backfire on Republicans on the committee.

Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server will be a focus

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South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy, the chairman of the select committee, originally requested that Clinton testify at two separate sessions, one focusing on the Benghazi attacks and the second on her private e-mail server. Clinton agreed to appear at one session.

It was the select committee that first discovered the existence of Clinton’s private e-mail account as it was investigating Clinton’s State Department tenure. Committee staff realized that among the documents they had examined last year, none included Clinton’s official State Department e-mail address. Clinton aides have said that it was not the Benghazi committee but the State Department’s own record-keeping upgrades that prompted her to release her private e-mails.

Clinton’s standing in the presidential race is at stake

Voters have reacted strongly to Clinton’s performance during the first Democratic presidential primary debate. A recent Boston Globe/Suffolk University poll found that after trailing Senator Bernie Sanders among New Hampshire Democrats, Clinton’s support rebounded in the days following the debate. Tuesday, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found her lead growing nationally over last month.

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Clinton also continues to be dogged by trustworthiness issues. New Hampshire voters in the Globe/Suffolk poll found Clinton to be less trustworthy than Sanders and Vice President Joe Biden, who was included in the poll. Though the hearing is certain to draw far fewer viewers than the debate, her performance Thursday could either cement or erode her support in the critical primary state.

Clinton allies will be out in full force

Clinton allies were already doing damage control Wednesday, as a super PAC supporting Clinton released an ad praising her tenure at the State Department and accusing Republicans of “playing politics over Benghazi.”

A separate super PAC is releasing opposition research intended to damage members of the House committee ahead of the testimony, CNN reported Wednesday.

Clinton’s own campaign has also gotten in on the effort. It released an ad attacking McCarthy’s comments just one day after he made them on Fox.

It’s going to be a long day

Clinton’s testimony is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Thursday, and each member of the 12-person committee will be granted time to quiz Clinton, with four rounds of questioning taking place. The committee consists of seven Republicans and five Democrats. All told, it could last eight hours, according to The Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung. The hearing will be aired on C-SPAN, and will be livestreamed here.

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