KEENE, New Hampshire – Hillary Clinton’s first outing on the 2016 campaign trail, to Iowa last week, was about paying penance to a state that scorned her in 2008. This week, Clinton gets to have a bit of a homecoming.
While allies say Clinton will fight for every vote, few Democrats here candidly see a scenario where the former secretary of state does not win New Hampshire’s first-in the-nation primary.
New Hampshire rescued the presidential aspirations of the Clinton family not once but twice, and Clinton now holds an “unprecedented” lead in early polls. More than half of the state’s Democrats are ready to vote for her today.
“New Hampshire is Clinton country,” says Terry Shumaker, a longtime Clinton ally in the state who hand delivered the papers to get Bill Clinton on the 1992 presidential primary ballot, and went on to serve as an ambassador in Clinton’s administration. “But that doesn’t mean [Hillary] Clinton will take anything for granted here.”
The newly minted presidential candidate’s two-day swing through New Hampshire Monday and Tuesday will look very much like her visit last week to Iowa, with the campaign still emphasizing small events in its go-slow “ramp up” phase.
The main event Monday was a roundtable with a small furniture manufacturer here in Keene. “It will be the first of many conversations with Granite Staters about how to make the economy work for everyday Americans,” a Clinton campaign official said. Tuesday’s anchor will be a similar event at a community college in Concord. In between, she is likely to stop at coffee shops and diners to meet with local Democratic officials and everyday voters.
Her campaign added that the overall focus of the trip will be the first of the “four big fights” Clinton laid out in Iowa — the economy. While some new economic policy ideas could come forward, major policy rollouts are not expected in this early phase of the campaign. In May, Clinton will kick off a more public phase of her campaign with a large rally.
For Clinton, visiting New Hampshire always brings up warm feelings.
“Starting way back in 1991, you opened your homes and your hearts to us,” Clinton said while campaigning for Democrats here during last year’s midterm elections. “And in 2008, during the darkest days of my campaign, you lifted me up, you gave me my voice back, you taught me so much about grit and determination.”
For Bill Clinton, New Hampshire became the first place he had to face adultery accusations on the national stage. He entered the New Hampshire Democratic primary contest leading in the polls, but quickly lost ground after Gennifer Flowers came forward with accusations against Clinton.
Both Clintons in ‘92 sat for a joint “60 Minutes” interview after the Super Bowl to deny the allegations. And supporters from Arkansas flocked to New Hampshire to go door-to-door to vouch for their then-governor.
Clinton ended up coming in second place on Election Night, after only Paul Tsongas from neighboring Massachusetts. The finish was hailed as an upset victory, and led Clinton to dub himself “the comeback kid.” He went on to nearly sweep the Super Tuesday primaries, and later the nomination.
For his wife 16 years later, New Hampshire marked a turning point. Throughout 2007, Clinton and her juggernaut of a campaign aimed to portray the former first lady as inevitable and the only candidate with the experience and toughness to be commander-in-chief.
But her humiliating third-place finish in Iowa shook the campaign to its core. In New Hampshire, Clinton began to shake things up and showed a more sensitive side, especially during the famous moment when she teared up in a Portsmouth coffee shop. The moment was credited with humanizing Clinton and turning around her prospects in the state.
On election night, she pulled out what NBC News described at the time as “a stunning victory … in a contest that she had been forecast to lose.”
“Over the last week, I listened to you, and in the process I found my own voice,” Clinton told the crowd at her victory party in Manchester. “I felt like we all spoke from our hearts, and I’m so glad that you responded.”
And it was in New Hampshire that Clinton stumbled on a strategy expected to be critical to her 2016 campaign – women in the state voted for Clinton over Obama by a whopping 13 percentage points. And after softening her image, Clinton nearly doubled her share of the vote from voters who said in exit polls that empathy was the most important quality for them in a candidate.
As longtime Obama adviser David Axelrod has often said, Clinton was a poor candidate in 2007 and a very good candidate in 2008, after she lost Iowa. “Once she wasn’t the frontrunner anymore, once she was fighting for her place, she threw all the caution away and I think she started relating to voters in a much more visceral way that reflected who she really is,” Axelrod said at a recent event at the University of Chicago.
It was in New Hampshire that that underdog Clinton – one she’s trying to emulate now – first emerged.