With Year-End Plea, Clinton Tries To Stop N.H. From 'Feeling The Bern'
Hillary Clinton is generally considered the front-runner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, but that's not true in one state candidates really want to win — New Hampshire. She's facing a tough challenge in the Granite State from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The New Hampshire primary is Feb. 9, and, with little time left, Clinton is trying to fight back quickly.
She took a final 2015 road trip through New Hampshire, campaigning across a snowy state on Tuesday.
"I've learned a lot listening to folks here in New Hampshire," Clinton told hundreds of people packed into a historic church in Portsmouth, along the New Hampshire coast. She went on to describe how opiate addiction was not initially on her list of campaign policy priorities, but after meeting with people in New Hampshire affected by the heroin crisis, it's become a "big issue" for her.
It was a year-end plea in a state often dubbed "Clinton Country." Clinton won the New Hampshire primary in 2008 against Barack Obama after a big defeat in Iowa. And her husband was known as the "Comeback Kid" for his better-than-expected performance in the 1992 primary.
So Clinton is a familiar name.
This is the first time University of New Hampshire student Jesse DePaolo, 21, will be voting in a presidential election, and she says all her relatives are Clinton fans. She's sitting next to her grandmother in a church pew.
"[Clinton's] been waiting for her time," said DePaolo. "And I think that she's earned it. She hasn't just come out of nowhere. She's gone slow and gradually up the chain."
DePaolo admires Clinton's experience and resilience.
"I know a lot of people are just Democrats, they're not sure [between] Bernie/Hillary — things like that. I've always been Hillary," she said, as she held a Hillary Clinton pantsuit action figure in her lap.
Clinton also has the backing of the Democratic elite in New Hampshire — the governor, the Democratic U.S. senator, and nine of 10 Democratic state senators.
"She's the one; I just think she's so smart," said DNC committee member Kathy Sullivan, who was co-chairwoman of Clinton's 2008 New Hampshire bid. "I think she's no question the most qualified candidate running in either party this year. ... She knows so much about so many things."
Clinton fans often describe the former secretary of state as "smart" and "experienced," but some voters say they want someone more "authentic" and "clean," and so in this election cycle Clinton Country is facing an invasion from neighboring Vermont.
Sanders supporters are not necessarily as involved in the Democratic machine, but they're easy to find and outspoken about their passion.
"When you shake [Sanders'] hand and look him in the eye, and ask him about raising the minimum wage to a livable wage, he's clear, concise and consistent," said Sylvia Gale, 66, a progressive activist in Nashua who supported Obama in 2008.
"This guy hasn't changed his tune; he's really talking about what he believes," she added.
About 45 minutes north, in Concord, Lindsey Brackett feels similarly. She's a young photographer struggling with $70,000 of student debt who plans to vote for Sanders because of his economic agenda.
But part of her support for Sanders is also a Clinton protest.
"I don't trust Hillary in terms of what she says," said Brackett, 27, as she shopped the salad dressing aisle at a food co-op. "I don't know, I just don't believe everything she says. I feel like Bernie Sanders is like somebody that speaks what's on his mind."
The Clinton campaign claims it always knew New Hampshire would be competitive.
Clinton's state director Mike Vlacich says the tough fight with Sanders is partly because of geography. "In the last 25 years, states neighboring New Hampshire have not had a candidate that's finished less than second," he said.
Vlacich points out that the only time a neighbor has not won the New Hampshire primary was when there were two neighbors running at the same time — Howard Dean and John Kerry in 2004.
But that's not a convincing argument for Julia Barnes, who runs Sanders' New Hampshire operation.
"I don't think that his proximity is any way, shape, or form more compelling to them than the fact that Secretary Clinton has been campaigning here in one form or another for 20 years," said Barnes. "You know, like they say — this is Clinton Country, right?"
Both Sanders and Clinton have made more than a dozen trips to the state (18 for Clinton and 14 for Sanders, to be precise). And the most recent stats from both campaigns suggest relatively similar numbers of manpower (thousands of volunteers).
But according to liberal activist and radio host Arnie Arnesen, there is a key difference.
"The Hillary campaign is incredibly organized. You are definitely a cog in a very precise machine," she said.
Arnesen — who has not yet committed to any candidate, but is leaning toward Sanders — says Clinton's advantage is her Rolodex.
"In the end, getting out the vote is gonna be crucial. Hillary understands that because it's what she used effectively against Barack Obama," said Arnesen.
Clinton is also trying to fight back with face time. She returns to New Hampshire Sunday. And on Monday, she's sending her husband.
Though they might just bump into someone else — Sanders plans to be in the state next week too.
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