Clinton's New Hampshire Machine
CONCORD, N.H. -- Barack Obama may be gaining in Iowa, but Hillary Clinton touched down here yesterday to issue an implicit reminder: when the race moves to New Hampshire, she'll have the Machine.
That may be an overly harsh word to describe the New Hampshire Democratic establishment -- state legislators, retired officials and lawyer-lobbyist types who tend on the whole to be as personable as most of their small-state neighbors. But there was no mistaking the show of Establishment force at the historic carriage house here where Clinton came to pick up yet another high-profile Democratic endorsement, from Susan Lynch, the wife of the state's popular governor John Lynch. Clinton was introduced by the speaker of the New Hampshire House, Terie Norelli, and the relatively small audience packed into the room included the president of the state Senate, Sylvia Larson; an influential veteran senator from Manchester, Lou D'Allesandro; and at least a dozen other state legislators from the Concord area.
Larson said the local establishment backing for Clinton is a reflection of legislators' belief that she is better prepared for presidency than her rivals. "She's the experienced, capable candidate who's ready to go to work on the first day," said Larson. "Those of us who've worked in the field all these years recognize that it takes time to make things happen, that you need that background to succeed."
Just how much weight the local poobahs' backing will carry come the Jan. 8 primary remains to be seen. Al Gore had a similar lineup of support in 1999 and 2000 and barely eked out a victory in New Hampshire over Bill Bradley. In 2004, the establishment was more splintered among the Democratic candidates.
The Clinton campaign is hoping that Susan Lynch's endorsement, for one, could pack some real punch. It will be seen in many quarters as an implicit blessing from her popular husband, who is officially remaining neutral, much as John Kerry benefited from the endorsement of then-Gov. Tom Vilsack's wife in Iowa in 2004, and as Clinton benefits in New Hampshire from the backing of power broker Billy Shaheen, husband of New Hampshire's former governor Jeanne Shaheen, who is officially remaining neutral as she prepares to run for Senate. In addition, Susan Lynch, a pediatrician, is well-liked and respected in her own right, and her word may carry some extra weight given that she has generally shied from politics.
"As a first lady, pediatrician and most importantly, a mother, I do not take my endorsement light heartedly," she said today with Clinton at her side. "But I truly believe that Hillary Clinton is the right person to lead our country."
After the event, former state representative Carol Burney said Clinton may be getting such particularly strong establishment support in New Hampshire because that establishment includes so many women leaders. "We got women running the state here," she said. "It's wonderful so many [establishment Democrats] support her because it says our New Hampshire machine is in the process of getting her elected."
Confirmation of this theory was provided a moment later when Mary Louise Hancock, a former state senator and the unofficial grand dame of New Hampshire Democrats, called Clinton to her wheelchair to give her a Susan B. Anthony coin that Hancock had won as part of a women's leadership award. The coin was a good luck charm, Hancock said, to be returned when Clinton became president. "If you've been a legislator then you understand government," Hancock said, later explaining her strong support for Clinton. "What people don't understand is that politics is about government. Because she understands government, she'll be able to run the country."
After Clinton left with the coin, Hancock was swarmed by television crews asking her to elaborate on the moment. The significance of the blessing of the 87-year-old Mrs. Hancock -- a longtime fixture of the Concord scene -- was lost on some of the Secret Service agents looking on. "Can I ask you a question?" one of them asked a reporter. "Who is she?"
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