Gearing Up for the Granite State
PORTSMOUTH, N.H. -- The scene was straight out of New Hampshire campaigns of the past. An intimate setting on a gloomy day, a presidential candidate, a handful of voters and a lively, substantive conversation.
This was how Hillary Clinton spent part of a rainy Monday afternoon, devoting more than an hour of her time to a discussion with just five voters at the Goffstown home of Judy and Joe Lanza. She talked health care and education and she asked as many questions as she answered.
But this was more than a casual conversation about policy or a photo op for the cluster of reporters and photographers peering in from the adjacent living room. It was a critical part of Clinton's methodical effort to build a New Hampshire firewall in the event that things go badly for her in Iowa.
Two months ago, Clinton enjoyed a formidable edge in the Granite State, leading Barack Obama by 23 points in the University of New Hampshire poll. Today she still runs ahead of Obama, John Edwards and the rest of the Democratic candidates, but her lead has narrowed.
Given the competitiveness of the race in Iowa and how rapidly the terrain here can change after Iowans vote, Clinton's standing in New Hampshire could look dramatically different after the Jan. 3 caucuses in the Hawkeye State than it does today.
Under the best of circumstances, the Clinton campaign has viewed New Hampshire as the state that could ratify a victory in Iowa and bring the Democratic nominating contest to a swift conclusion. A Clinton victory in Iowa alone might effectively end the race but a pair of victories would leave no doubt about her nomination.
But Clinton must be prepared for a pitched battle in New Hampshire rather than a victory lap. As she campaigned here on Monday, Obama and Edwards were also in the state, a reminder that they too recognize that they must be prepared for any outcome in Iowa well before Iowans vote. With just five days between the first two contests, there will be no margin for error in New Hampshire.
The order of finish in Iowa will be critical in shaping the New Hampshire primary. All three leading campaigns are thinking through the possible range of outcomes and how they will deal with them.
Edwards's advisers know that a loss in Iowa would likely end his hopes for the nomination. But unlike four years ago, they know that if he were to win Iowa, he must have a campaign in place in New Hampshire that can take advantage of that momentum. Over the past few months, he has systematically worked to correct the deficiency of his first campaign. "He learned the lesson of four years ago," one Clinton adviser said.
Clinton and Obama each worry most about losing to the other in Iowa, both believing they can survive an Edwards victory there (though Edwards believes they may be underestimating what his winning Iowa will do to the race). A third-place finish for either in Iowa would be difficult to overcome.
Obama has built a large organization here. Until recently, his cadre of organizers outnumbered Clinton's, and he has spent far more money on television here than she has. His advisers believe that some of the movement in his direction they are seeing in Iowa is also translating into progress in New Hampshire. An Iowa victory, they believe, would shrink Clinton's advantage here overnight.
Given the uncertainty in Iowa, New Hampshire becomes all the more important for Clinton. Between now and Jan. 8, the date of the New Hampshire primary, her campaign here will be focused on two tasks: converting the many undecided voters and deepening the commitments of those voters who have already said they are supporting her.
New Hampshire always looked better to the Clinton campaign than Iowa. The Clintons have a long history in the state and therefore an extensive network of supporters. As my colleague Alec MacGillis pointed out in a Trail posting on Monday, Clinton is the establishment's candidate in New Hampshire. In Iowa, Clinton has faced resistance from the very beginning of her campaign, in part because there is no Clinton network comparable to the one here.
In many other ways, however, the demographics of New Hampshire should help Obama. The electorate here is better educated and more upscale than it is in other early states and his appeal to those voters has consistently been stronger than Clinton's. He also has appeal to independents, who could vote in heavy numbers in the Democratic primary.
Three issues dominate the landscape in New Hampshire: Iraq, health care and the economy. Clinton campaign advisers have concluded that the bulk of undecided voters do not see huge differences among Clinton, Obama and Edwards on those issues.
What these voters want, according to one Clinton adviser, is rapid change after the Bush years. They are looking for a Democratic nominee who knows the process and the players and who they trust to quickly deliver on promises to provide universal health care coverage, end the war and boost the economy.
That's why Clinton packages her health care proposal or her anti-war rhetoric a message that she has the knowledge and experience that neither of her rivals can match. And that was what she told the four undecided voters in Goffstown on Monday afternoon.
Spending that much time with just a few voters may seem like an unproductive use of a candidate's time this close to the primary, but the Clinton team believes intimacy works -- and that these citizens, if converted, will help spread the word to friends and neighbors with a credibility that other means of communication cannot match.
Clinton advisers believe Edwards's message of change is too hot for many voters here. They still believe Obama faces hurdles on the question of experience. They also argue that the more Clinton talks about her senatorial style of reaching across partisan lines the more she will appear as someone who can ease the polarization in Washington. Judging from conversations with voters here this week, that may be more difficult than they assume.
The Clinton campaign also has learned a lesson from Howard Dean's experience of four years ago. Dean built an impressive organization in New Hampshire but learned after Iowa that it was wide but not deep. Clinton's advisers intend to do everything they can over the next month to deepen the roots of their support in New Hampshire.
Said one adviser, "We want to make sure the roots are so deep in New Hampshire that we can sustain anything that happens out there."
Posted by: lanefiller | November 27, 2007 11:59 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: zukermand | November 27, 2007 9:19 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: newagent99 | November 27, 2007 9:09 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: freespeak | November 27, 2007 8:27 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: ralphdaugherty | November 27, 2007 8:26 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: puciret | November 27, 2007 8:14 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: mdtaichi | November 27, 2007 6:51 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: sskyvickers | November 27, 2007 6:40 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: merganser | November 27, 2007 6:06 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: bsimon | November 27, 2007 6:04 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: henryvu | November 27, 2007 5:58 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: jesuscastillon | November 27, 2007 5:42 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: AIPACiswar | November 27, 2007 5:37 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: bsimon | November 27, 2007 5:37 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: ohio4580 | November 27, 2007 5:22 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: jesuscastillon | November 27, 2007 5:21 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: 1Sxytoy | November 27, 2007 5:19 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: jesuscastillon | November 27, 2007 5:04 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: thebobbob | November 27, 2007 4:57 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: john16 | November 27, 2007 4:43 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: iowanic | November 27, 2007 4:38 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: skpedersen | November 27, 2007 4:35 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: peterdc | November 27, 2007 4:33 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: iowanic | November 27, 2007 4:30 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: freespeak | November 27, 2007 4:30 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: bsimon | November 27, 2007 4:27 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: dc_attorney | November 27, 2007 4:17 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: american1 | November 27, 2007 4:09 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: michaelguss | November 27, 2007 4:03 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: jesuscastillon | November 27, 2007 3:38 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: david_sites | November 27, 2007 3:32 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: jesuscastillon | November 27, 2007 3:32 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: garrettpomeroy | November 27, 2007 3:23 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: nkgilb | November 27, 2007 3:07 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.