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Steve Barnes | Hillary Clinton in Arkansas

The former first lady of Arkansas, who is the former first lady of the U.S., and who is running for president as hard as anyone can run without announcing as a candidate, stopped by the other day to sign books and shake hands. Her book is a memoir of her time as secretary of state, and it has been selling quite well if not in the numbers that her White House recollections scored. The hands she shook almost certainly belonged to Arkansans who can be expected to vote for her in the 2016 Democratic primary and again in the November election.

Book tours are about media interviews as well as autographs and Mrs. Clinton has given a bunch of them. Overall she’s handled herself pretty well, with a couple of stumbles that have attracted more attention from the Republican National Committee and the press than voters. Nothing politically fatal.

And she managed to return to Arkansas with no shots fired in her direction, contrary to a quip by the former chair of the Republican Party’s Second Congressional District caucus, who presumably thought he was being funny.

In fact there’s little reason to believe Mrs. Clinton can expect to walk away with Arkansas’s delegates just as she did in 2008: she took 70 percent of the primary vote and 27 delegates to Barack Obama’s 26 percent and 8 delegates.

Now comes the latest Langer poll, conducted for the Washington Post and ABC News, which found Hillary to be the favorite of 70 percent of likely Democratic primary votes nationwide. Her nearest rival would be Vice President Biden, who, at 12 percent, is the only other Democrat in double-digits. Independents view her favorably in quite high numbers, and she wins excellent marks from average voters as a “strong leader” and someone “understanding” of middle Americans.

The same poll, however, found that her handling of the Benghazi consulate tragedy, in which the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans died, is a potential problem: only 37 percent of those polled approve of her performance, a number Republicans are determined to build on in another congressional hearing.

Those interviews: the commentary they have spawned has dealt less with Hillary’s time at the State Department than with her responses to the substantial wealth she and the former president have amassed since leaving the White House.

“We were dead broke,” she told Diane Sawyer of ABC News, noting that the couple owed as much as $10 million in legal bills from the Whitewater investigation. Indeed they were under water. But, as Sawyer observed, they surfaced rather quickly, erasing their debts in a matter of months through book advances and speaking fees that have carried their net worth today to perhaps $50 million. Republicans howled, not a few Democrats winced. Hillary didn’t help things when she tried, with not much success, to explain that, well, they have to pay taxes, and even want to raise taxes on those in their bracket, and on others who are “truly well off.” Too, they had the expense of buying not one but two homes, each at a million or better. Ahem.

A better answer: “Let’s face it, former presidents do well. Even the ones who were rich when they came into office make big money when they leave. Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan and both Bushes — they were millionaires long before they got elected. They got richer afterward. Jerry Ford did quite well, too. It’s free market economics, you might say. Ask any member of Congress.”

And that, I should think, would have been the end of that, though I suspect most Americans know as much already and are fairly unconcerned with the Clintons’ bank balances.

Me? I wished for a different answer to another question put to Hillary by Sawyer, who asked whether sending American diplomats abroad necessarily placed them in danger of their lives.

Hillary: “We have to be very thoughtful … where we send people, why we send them, what we expect from them, and how we … best protect them. We cannot eliminate every threat, every danger.”

A very, uh, diplomatic answer. I’d like to hear that from every presidential candidate. I doubt I will.

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