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Front-runner fatigue? Series of gaffes stymies Clinton

Hillary Clinton campaigned in N.C.
Hillary Clinton campaigned in N.C.Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

WASHINGTON – Whether it’s fatigue from a grueling campaign, an uncharacteristic lack of preparation, or just forgetfulness -- or perhaps all three -- Hillary Clinton has committed several unforced errors in recent days on the stump.

She irritated AIDS activists and offended coal miners over the weekend. Then on Monday she stirred up the Benghazi controversy, stating falsely that no Americans died in Libya while she was secretary of state.

“Now, is Libya perfect? It isn’t,” Clinton said to Chris Matthews on MSNBC Monday night. She compared the American policy in Libya with the current approach to Syria, a country that’s been mired in civil war


“Libya was a different kind of calculation and we didn’t lose a single person,” Clinton said. “We didn’t have a problem in supporting our European and Arab allies in working with NATO.”

In fact, four Americans including US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens died in the September 2012 attacks on a diplomatic outpost in Benghazi. Republicans have long sought to blame Clinton for failing to secure the facility, which included a covert CIA base.

What’s most remarkable about Clinton’s Libya comments is that she’s cleared far higher hurdles on Benghazi than a cable talk show. She gave a near flawless performance during a grueling 11-hour hearing led by Republicans on House Select Committee on Benghazi that was established to determine whether high government officials like Clinton bore responsibility for the deaths.

Current rival for the Democratic presidential nomination Bernie Sanders has said little about the Benghazi flap – and it’s hardly come up during the Democratic debates. But Republicans are eager to talk about it.

Republican front-runner Donald Trump is particularly eager to bring up the American deaths – he rented out a movie theater in Iowa and offered a free showing of the film ‘13 Hours,’ which dramatizes the lead up and the lengthy firefight in Benghazi.


Clinton’s series of self-inflicted stumbles began Friday when she credited former First Lady Nancy Reagan with starting “a national conversation” on AIDS. In fact, the Reagan Administration’s slow response to the epidemic is considered by activists to be one of the darker stains on his presidency.

Chad Griffin, the president of the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, responded via Twitter, saying: “Nancy Reagan was, sadly, no hero in the fight against HIV/AIDS.”

Clinton later apologized for misstating Nancy Reagan’s role. “To be clear, the Reagans did not start a national conversation about HIV and AIDS,” Clinton wrote on Sunday.

Then, during a Democratic town hall Sunday night, Clinton gave a cringe-worthy answer talking about clean energy.

“We’re going to put a lot of coal companies and coal miners out of business,” Clinton said. The comment came in the context of investing more in clean energy. Clinton said she also wants to take care of workers who are forced to find new jobs.

However, the comment made for an easy attack line -- and Republicans immediately obliged.

On Monday afternoon Clinton press secretary Brian Fallon was left with little room to maneuver and could only accuse Republicans of “trying to score political points by misinterpreting the intent” of Clinton’s coal comments.

Annie Linskey can be reached at annie.linskey@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @annielinskey.