Hillary Clinton has a lot of work to do if she wants to be the family’s latest Comeback Kid.
Like her husband, Bill Clinton, some 24 years ago.
The former secretary of state lags far behind Vermont’s Sen. Bernie Sanders in every major New Hampshire poll. Not only is Sanders from next door, but a young, energized electorate aided by colleges and active students, is eagerly working for Sanders. And Clinton has no mandate from Iowa, having just barely won there this week with the closest win in the history of Iowa’s Democratic caucuses.
But there’s an expectations game ahead of next Tuesday’s primary vote. Narrow the gap and Clinton presumably could embrace the same moniker Bill Clinton did in 1992 when he finished a strong second in New Hampshire’s primary, behind Paul Tsongas – who was from neighboring Massachusetts.
Clinton worked to cast herself as the underdog Wednesday, saying she had an “uphill climb” in New Hampshire.
“The goal has to be to prevent the Republicans from getting back into the White House and undoing all the progress that has been made under President Obama,” she said in a town hall forum Wednesday evening hosted by CNN.
I have to tell you I just could not ever skip New Hampshire.
Sanders dismissed Clinton’s “expectations game” as a media fiction at the same forum. He insisted he’s the underdog, “taking on the most powerful political organization in the country,” the Clinton operation. He argued that the Clinton family has campaigned four times in New Hampshire, including most recently in 2008 when Clinton won the state.
“Some of these polls are off the charts,” Sanders said. “This is going to be a very close election here in New Hampshire.”
Clinton officials have sought to temper New Hampshire expectations for months, downplaying the significance of a win here as they look to states where she’s stronger, such as Nevada and South Carolina.
Her campaign on Tuesday began airing its first TV ad in South Carolina, which will hold its Democratic primary Feb. 27, featuring former Attorney General Eric Holder. Former President Bill Clinton traveled to South Carolina on Wednesday.
But while some supporters had hoped Clinton would not invest so heavily in New Hampshire, her persistence speaks to “who Hillary Clinton is,” said Clinton campaign communications director Jennifer Palmieri.
“She’s saying she’s not going to quit on this state,” Palmieri said as Clinton took questions from the audience at an event in Derry.
Of course, as the national front-runner up against a previously little known self-described socialist, Clinton could not really write off the first primary, especially in a state that’s often also a general election battleground.
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In fact, her campaign has a dozen offices in the states and thousands of volunteers. It sent 150 staffers from its campaign headquarters in New York to help in early states, primarily in New Hampshire.
And they have their work cut out.
The gaps with Sanders persist, particularly among young voters. Entrance polls in Iowa showed that Sanders received large margins among voters under 45 in the Iowa caucuses. A whopping 84 percent under the age of 30 backed Sanders.
Clinton had a similar problem during her first run for president when younger voters flocked to Barack Obama in 2008, helping him win the Democratic nomination. Obama beat Clinton by 20 percentage points among voters younger than 30.
Sanders events are filled with young enthusiastic supporters drawn to his unorthodox campaign, while Clinton’s audience skews older, even at the boys and girls club.
Not so Emma Groenewal, who at 15 is too young to vote but canvasses for Clinton. The Derry high schooler said she knows friends who like Sanders and his proposal for free tuition at colleges, but she considers it “not realistic.
“I’ve been an activist for a long time and she’s really inspiring,” Groenewal said of Clinton. “I like how she fights for women’s rights.”
Political observers say Clinton should not attack Sanders, but instead focus on courting those younger voters and liberals.
“Hillary will insist that while she understands and even agrees with the passion of Sanders’ supporters, she is the electable candidate and there has to be an element of pragmatism to the movement,” said Stephanie Martin, a communications professor at Southern Methodist University.
Clinton will also focus much more strongly than Sanders on what’s happening in the Republican race, because she wants voters to remember what’s at risk.
Stephanie Martin, a communications professor at Southern Methodist University
Jan Jacome, who owns a construction company in Derry, said she decided to go with Clinton because she believes Sanders can’t win in November.
“He says he’s a socialist, and the country’s not ready for that,” she said. “As much as I and a lot of people want change, that word is scary.”
Clinton also has struggled throughout the campaign with voters who say she is not honest and trustworthy, now a major challenge for her candidacy.
Voters cite her use of a private email server while secretary of state, getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to deliver speeches and taking money from big banks as some of the reasons they don’t trust her.
More than 80 percent of those who think honesty is the quality that matters most in a candidate backed Sanders in the Iowa caucuses, according to entrance polls.
While Sanders hasn’t attacked Clinton on her email use, he has repeatedly cited her donations from Wall Street.
“What we are hearing from young people is a real disgust with the campaign finance system in which billionaires and Wall Street are putting in money,” he told MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Wednesday.
David Lightman contributed to this report.
Kumar reported from Washington.