PHILADELPHIA – This is not the carefully-orchestrated, smooth-sailing book tour and foray back into the public sphere that Hillary Clinton had imagined.
The former secretary of state’s memoir “Hard Choices” hit bookshelves on Tuesday, but less than five days out of the gate, Clinton has faced a series of missteps – remarking that she was “dead broke” when she and her husband left the White House and getting testy when asked about her “evolution” on gay marriage. The recent escalation of violence in Iraq is a reminder of her 2002 Senate vote to green light military action in that country. After all, one of the biggest nuggets coming out of Clinton’s book is her acknowledgement that her vote was wrong – “plain and simple.”
Critics are pouncing, serving as a reminder that if Clinton – the overwhelming front-runner among potential 2016 Democratic presidential contenders – does decide to enter the race, it’s sure to be messy.
But you wouldn’t get that impression at Clinton’s book signings, which have been packed with her fans. At the Parkway Central Library in Philadelphia on Friday, people began lining up at 5:30 am, eager to have a few face-to-face seconds with the former first lady. Alix Gerz, director of communications at the library’s foundation, told msnbc that 1,000 tickets for $35 (which included the book) sold out in under 24 hours.
Many attendees described Clinton’s rough week as a minor hiccup.
“There are a lot of Hillary haters out there,” said Marcy Boroff, a 51-year-old event planner who lives in the city. “Everyone in leadership has a time when they misspeak. It doesn’t affect her ability to be a good leader.”
“I see it as Republicans looking for issues that aren’t there,” added Sue Masty, a 64-year-old retired school teacher from Blue Bell, Penn. “She’s a role model for all women.”
Back in 2008, when Clinton ran against Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination in Pennsylvania, she carried the state, winning by a decisive 10-point margin. And – at least judging from the book signing – that love for Clinton hasn’t faded. When she walked into the signing-room in Philadelphia, the crowd erupted in cheers. Clinton did not deliver any remarks, but beamed as photographers clicked away. “This is like the red carpet of books,” she said.
Even though Clinton has said she will wait until the end of the year to decide whether or not she’ll run for the nation’s highest office, the event had a campaign-like feel. Outside, buttons were being sold – three for $10 – with slogans like “Hillary Clinton 2016” and “Madam President.” The pro-Clinton political action committee Ready for Hillary was also there, parking its 37-foot-5-inch long “Hillary Bus” right outside the library. The PAC is following Clinton on her book tour this summer, with the PAC using the events as a prime opportunity to build on an existing 2-million-plus supporter list in the event that she does run.
Beyond Clinton’s book signings is a different story.
On Monday, Clinton came under criticism following an interview with ABC on Monday, in which the former first lady said she and her husband left the White House in early 2001 “dead broke” and struggled to pay mortgages on their two multimillion dollar homes. Conservatives are pointing to the initial gaffe as evidence that Clinton is out of touch with ordinary Americans.
On Tuesday morning, Clinton sought to clarify those remarks, telling the network: “I fully appreciate how hard life is for so many Americans.” She added, “Bill and I were obviously blessed. We worked hard for everything we got in our lives and we continue to work hard.”
Then, on Thursday, NPR’s Terry Gross wanted to know if Clinton changed her views on same-sex marriage or if the American public evolved on its views, which allowed Clinton to state her true feelings. Clinton did not endorse gay marriage during her 2008 presidential campaign, coming out in favor of it only last year.
After several minutes of questioning. Gross insisted that the former first lady did not answer her question. “I have to say, I think you are being very persistent, but you are playing with my words and playing with what is such an important issue,” Clinton said. Gross responded: “I’m just trying to clarify so I understand,” to which Clinton shot back: “No, I don’t think you are trying to clarify.”
Clinton added: “I think you’re trying to say I used to be opposed and now I’m in favor and I did it for political reasons, and that’s just flat wrong. So let me just state what I feel like you are implying and repudiate it. I have a strong record, I have a great commitment to this issue, and I am proud of what I’ve done and the progress we’re making.”
The conservative America Rising PAC tried to capitalize on the exchange, characterizing it in an e-mail as Clinton “verbally attacks” a radio host.
And now, Clinton’s involvement in Iraq is coming under scrutiny this week after two key cities in the war-torn country fell to militants working under the black banner of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Conservatives are pinning responsibility on the Obama administration, which withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011, when Clinton was secretary of state.
One person rushing to Clinton’s defense on Friday at the book signing was in-law Marjorie Margolies, whose son, Marc Mezvinsky, is married to the Clintons’ daughter, Chelsea. Margolies, a former one-term congresswoman from suburban Philadelphia, recently lost a primary to reclaim her seat even though Bill and Hillary Clinton both campaigned for her.
“She’s used to [the criticism]. She expects it and she handles it very well,” said Margolies, adding it’s a sign of just how ugly the race could get should Clinton run for president.
“I think this is very indicative of the negativity that’s out there and the need to be as tough as Hillary is,” she said.
After Elieen Furey of Drexel Hill Pennsylvania got her book signed, the 47-year-old Department of Labor employee recounted her conversation with Clinton. Furey said she told Clinton that she hoped the former senator would run for commander-in-chief in 2016. Clinton, according to Furey, smiled and replied: “I’m just happy to be here today.”