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Hillary's New Hampshire Edge

No candidate running for president in 2008 has a bigger target on his or her back than New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). Every appearance Clinton makes is scrutinized, every speech is parsed.

Under this harsh microscope, it's easy to overlook the successes Clinton has had since declaring her bid for president.

No success is larger -- and more unnoticed -- than the campaign team Clinton has recruited in New Hampshire. Talk to unaffiliated Democrats who know their way around the Granite State and they will tell you that Clinton's team is far superior to those of Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) -- her two main rivals for the nomination.

Clinton's biggest coup was securing Nick Clemons as her state director. Clemons came to Clinton directly from his post as executive director of the New Hampshire Democratic Party. In that position Clemons oversaw Democratic takeovers of both of the state's U.S. House seats and the re-election of Gov. John Lynch (D). In 2004 he served as state director for Sen. John Kerry's (D-Mass.) winning New Hampshire primary effort.

Clemons was highly coveted by several of the top-tier campaigns and his decision to go with Clinton was cast by political insiders as the first major development of the 2008 New Hampshire primary season. He has since recruited several other Democratic operatives with ties to Lynch.

The most important Lynch aide to join Clinton is Liz Purdy, who managed the governor's first successful race in 2004 and then oversaw his transition team. Purdy, like Clemons a New Hampshire native, was a consultant to Lynch's 2006 re-election. Prior to her work for Lynch, Purdy headed up Gov. Jeanne Shaheen's (D) fundraising in 2000 and then served as deputy campaign manager for Shaheen's unsuccessful 2002 Senate campaign.

Clinton has also scooped up several coveted endorsements from New Hampshire elected officials and other party activists. The most recent came from Bill Shaheen -- husband of the former governor and a major player in his own right. Shaheen was regarded as one of the key free agents in New Hampshire after serving as Kerry's state chair in 2004 and Al Gore's co-chair in 2000. (Shaheen's endorsement has created a bit of controversy but both sides insist it's much ado over nothing.)

State House Majority Leader Mary Jane Wallner is also supporting Clinton, a key endorsement in a state where there are 400 state House members (yes, you read that right) -- each of whom is courted incessantly by presidential contenders. In the days following Wallner's endorsement earlier this month, 16 more state House members signed on with Clinton.

Clinton's early staffing and endorsement victories in New Hampshire are already producing results. Check out Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh's glowing review of Clinton's speech to the "100 Club" earlier this month.

Organization is everything in presidential politics. Clinton made major strides to bolstering her team in Iowa earlier this week by winning the endorsement of former Gov. Tom Vilsack and clearly has the best operation in New Hampshire. Does this mean she is a shoo-in for the nomination? Absolutely not. But, what it does mean is that those observers predicting Clinton's downfall already are vastly misreading the reality on the ground

By Chris Cillizza  |  March 28, 2007; 2:46 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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