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Will the Benghazi hearing change anyone's opinion?

That’s a legitimate question since our NBC/WSJ poll shows a huge difference down party lines on the issue.

High stakes for both Clinton, GOP at today’s Benghazi hearing… But will anyone’s mind change?... Your other essential Benghazi Hearing Day reading via NBC and MSNBC… What Biden’s no-go means: Hillary has clear command of the Democratic race… Biden’s 80-Plus Days of Indecision… Two new Iowa polls out this morning: Clinton ahead in Dem race, Carson now in the lead in GOP contest… And Ryan looks to have the votes to be speaker -- but it appears he’ll inherit the same dynamic Boehner faced.


*** High stakes for both Clinton, GOP at Benghazi hearing: Today’s highly anticipated hearing before the Select Benghazi Committee is an important event -- for both Hillary Clinton and the House Republicans leading the hearing. For Clinton, the goal isn’t necessarily to win the day; instead, it’s to survive and emerge unscathed. (One way you’ll be able to tell if she survived or not is by the number of Dem/media references whether Joe Biden made a mistake in not running.) Dogged by her email controversy and negative perceptions about her (just 26% of all voters gave her high marks for being honest and straightforward in the new NBC/WSJ poll), Clinton has plenty to gain -- and lots to lose. Meanwhile, for House Republicans, today is an opportunity to redeem themselves after House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (and other GOPers) admitted that this Benghazi committee was all about dragging down Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers. One way for them to look more credible is by spending more time on the subjects of embassy security and Libya policy instead of Clinton’s emails and Sidney Blumenthal. But House Republicans might have the more difficult job today: How do they come across as not looking political when parts of the base demand blood?

*** But will anyone’s mind change? That’s a legitimate question to ask even before today’s 10:00 am ET hearing begins. After all, our NBC/WSJ poll shows a HUGE difference by party line on questions about Benghazi and Clinton’s emails. In the poll, 44% of Americans say that they’re not satisfied with Clinton’s response to the Benghazi attack in 2012 -- including 77% of Republican respondents, 40% of independents but just 14% of Democrats. In addition, 36% of Americans think the current congressional investigation into the Benghazi attacks is unfair and too partisan (that includes 53% of Democrats); 29% of Americans believe it’s fair and impartial (including 50% of Republicans); and another 35% don’t know enough. And regarding Clinton’s private email server, 47% say it will be an important factor in their upcoming vote, versus 44% who disagree. But once again, these numbers are divided by party: 76% of Republicans believe Clinton’s private server is important to their vote, while 70% of Democrats say it isn’t important.  

*** Your other essential Benghazi Hearing Day reading: To catch up on your Benghazi Hearing Day reading, here are three pieces to read:

  • MSNBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald: “Hillary Clinton is on a roll. By the end of the day Thursday, she could be closer to winning the White House than she’s ever come. But first she’ll have to traverse a grueling eight-hour congressional grilling where anything less than perfection may not be good enough. Even though Clinton heads into her much-anticipated testimony before the House Select Committee on Benghazi with a strong wind at her back, the former secretary of state knows better than anyone that even a fleeting slip-up could bring her testimony and charmed month crashing back down to earth.
  • NBC’s Elizabeth Chuck’s “Benghazi 101: What You Need to Know Ahead of Clinton’s Testimony”
  • NBC’s Andrew Rafferty on the nine people to know ahead of today’s hearing.

*** What Biden’s no-go means: Hillary has clear command of the Democratic race: There are three immediate impacts to Joe Biden’s decision yesterday to forgo a presidential bid:

  1. The Democratic race all but becomes a two-person contest between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
  2. Hillary Clinton *likely* will see a bump in the polls: In our NBC/WSJ poll, Hillary's lead over Sanders is 20 points with Biden in the race (49%-29%); 25 points without him (58%-33%). And see below for how Biden’s absence impacts
  3. It frees up President Obama (and other on-the-fence Democrats) to possibly endorse Hillary Clinton before the Iowa and New Hampshire contests.

While this has been an incredibly unpredictable campaign season so far, those developments will give Hillary Clinton clear command of the Democratic presidential race.

*** 80-Plus Days of Indecision: Be sure to read NBC’s Alex Jaffe’s tick-tock on the 82 days of intense speculation about Biden’s presidential intentions, which all started with that Aug. 1 Maureen Dowd column. “For more than 80 days, Vice President Joe Biden kept America guessing about his next steps.

But in the end, even with 80 days of indecision, Biden's aides and allies echoed the vice president, acknowledging, as he did on Wednesday, ‘we're out of time.’  One South Carolina operative with Draft Biden, the group setting up the pre-campaign early-state infrastructure for Biden in case of a run, noted the sheer size of Hillary Clinton's operation would be tough to challenge. ‘A concern that we had at this point in the game was that we were coming in so late against such a massive machine [for frontrunner Hillary Clinton] that we may not have the time to build what we need to build,’ the operative said.” Our take: Biden decided yesterday with his head (the race was unwinnable) rather than his heart.

*** Two new Iowa polls out this morning: And we have our first poll since Biden’s exit -- well, kind of. A Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll has Hillary Clinton leading Bernie Sanders in Iowa among likely caucus-goers by seven points, 48%-41%. But the poll was conducted before Biden’s announcement. With him in the race, Clinton’s lead was five points, 42%-37%. But when Biden’s 12% was reallocated, Clinton’s percentage jumped up six points and Sanders went up four. Again: Clinton’s numbers tend to go up with Biden out of the race. Meanwhile, an Iowa poll from Quinnipiac shows Ben Carson ahead of Donald Trump by eight points in the Hawkeye State, 28%-20% -- followed by Rubio at 13%, Ted Cruz at 10%, Rand Paul at 6%, and Carly Fiorina and Jeb Bush at 5% each. A month ago, Trump led Carson by six points in the poll, 27%-21%. And with the caveat that it’s just one poll, don’t be surprised by Carson being in the lead in Iowa – a contest (due to its heavy concentration of evangelical voters) that Carson is more built for than Trump is.

*** Ryan looks to have the votes to be speaker -- but it appears he’ll inherit the same dynamic Boehner faced: Finally, after last night, it appears that Paul Ryan has the GOP votes to be speaker. But it also looks like he’ll inherit a dynamic that isn’t too different than what House Speaker John Boehner faced. Here is the statement the House Freedom Caucus issues last night, per NBC’s Frank Thorp: “A supermajority of the House Freedom Caucus has voted to support Paul Ryan's bid to become the next Speaker of the House… While no consensus exists among members of the House Freedom Caucus regarding Chairman Ryan's preconditions for serving, we believe that these issues can be resolved within our Conference in due time. We all know that Washington needs to change the way it does business, and we look forward to working with Paul and all our colleagues to enact process reforms that empower individual representatives and restore respect to our institution.” Bottom line: The House Freedom Caucus isn’t agreeing to (at least for now) changing the rule on vacating the chair, which is what forced Boehner to resign.

OFF TO THE RACES: Benghazi Hearing Day

CLINTON: Here's NBC's curtain-raiser on what to know about the Benghazi hearing going into today.

She'll make the case for keeping American diplomats in dangerous parts of the world.

NBC's Andrew Rafferty offers this list of nine people to know in advance of the hearing.’s Alex Seitz-Wald notes that the stakes for Clinton have never been higher.

From The New York Times: "Some Democrats have speculated that Republicans will spend the first part of the hearing asking questions about Libya and then shift to ones about the private email server that Mrs. Clinton used while in office, in the hope that she will be tired and commit a gaffe."

The AP's walkup notes: "Gowdy pledged in a recent interview that the hearing will be "Benghazi-centric," focused on security before and during the attacks. Some questions on Clinton's emails are likely, Gowdy said, but he maintains that his approach may 'shock you with fairness.'"

The Times also reports on her preparation for the day. "[F]or all of Mrs. Clinton’s mastery over the substance related to Benghazi, the hearing in many ways will amount to a test of patience and will: To succeed politically, she must remain calm, take every question seriously and avoid outbursts during what is expected to be a daylong appearance, even amid her private frustration over what she sees as a Republican-led effort to hurt her presidential prospects."

And a new Monmouth poll shows that 52% of Americans think Clinton's use of a personal email account was a matter of convenience, while 33% say it suggests she has something to hide.

BIDEN: NBC's Alex Jaffe reports on how Biden got to 'no' over 80 days of indecision.

The New York Times, on his relationship with Clinton: "Meetings with his foreign policy aides veered into lengthy discussions about Mrs. Clinton’s hawkish stance. At dinners with donors, Mr. Biden expressed astonishment at her handling of the controversy over her private email server. Those close to him say the mere mention of her name could make him fume, and he viewed her family’s potent, sometimes punishing political machinery with growing resentment."

CARSON: He beats Trump in a new Quinnipiac poll of Iowa, 28% to 20%.

SANDERS: He's at 41% in Iowa with Biden out of the mix, compared to Clinton at 48 percent.

He suggested on Jimmy Kimmel that "I am not unfavorably disposed to moving toward the legalization of marijuana."

TRUMP: Hispanic conservatives are planning to meet in Boulder the day before the CNBC debate to respond to Trump.

He said he'd be open to closing mosques to fight ISIS.

And he told an Iowa audience that he'll beat Clinton in the general election.

CONGRESS: Ryan meets with House Freedom Caucus

From our Capitol Hill team: "A large majority of the House Freedom Caucus threw its support behind Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin to be the next House speaker Wednesday — not enough of them to win the influential conservative faction's endorsement, but enough for him to declare that Republicans are unified."

More, from the Washington Post: "Ryan could still decide not to serve as speaker, and some conservative activists have engaged in a vigorous campaign to cast doubt on his record, which might give some members cold feet before votes are cast next week. But the level of Freedom Caucus support represents the first thaw in the increasingly frosty relationship between tea party conservatives and establishment Republicans. It also paves the way for fresh GOP leadership heading into imminent clashes with President Obama over the national debt and federal spending."

Roll Call: “Ryan’s ability to win over one of the most disagreeable groups in the House is perhaps a testament to the abilities that members say make him a strong candidate for speaker. Ryan met with the Freedom Caucus Wednesday in his ceremonial Ways and Means office in the Capitol, and over the course of an hourlong discussion, he seemed to win over many of his colleagues.”

—NBC News' Carrie Dann contributed to this article.