MANCHESTER, New Hampshire — After watching her poll numbers slide well behind those of Bernie Sanders in this critical primary state, Hillary Clinton came alive Saturday at the first big Democratic forum in the Granite State, earning thunderous applause from an arena packed by her campaign with supporters.
The former secretary of state weathered a brutal August, with headlines dominated by questions over her private email account and polling that showed declining support from potential voters. And nowhere has that been more true than in New Hampshire — once dubbed “Clinton Country” — where six consecutive polls have shown her trailing Sanders by an average of 10 percentage points.
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But Clinton found her footing here at the New Hampshire Democratic Party Convention, stepping on stage in front of 4,000 activists after a strong week and a campaign strategy realignment. "My heart is just racing,” Clinton said as she took the stage to two minutes of sustained applause.
Sanders has drawn huge crowds at his own events, but this partisan convention is Clinton's turf. She has locked down support from Democratic Party leaders and officials, including many of the 1,000 state delegates here. New Hampshire’s governor and senator spoke here, as well, and they have both endorsed Clinton.
Sanders, an independent, has had a harder time winning over party apparatchiks.
Blowing well past the 15 to 20 minutes allotted to candidates, Clinton spoke for 45 minute, delivering a forceful stump speech using a teleprompter, which was absent in other recent events.
"I am sick of multimillionaires paying a lower tax rate than a teacher or nurse. That is wrong," Clinton said to cheers, vowing to close the carried interest loophole.
The reception showcased the Clinton campaign's organization muscle, which was used to fill the Verizon Wireless Arena with hundreds of enthusiastic supporters. The campaign handed out 700 t-shirts, along hundreds of sets of inflatable clappers, and signs printed with Clinton’s logo, which filled the stands when she came on stage.
“If you want a president who will listen to you, work her heart out to make your life better, to make a stronger better country, then you’re looking at her,” she said. As she worked a rope line after the speech, a clearly enthused Clinton broke into a little jig.
But speaking several hours after Clinton, Sanders demonstrated why he’s caught fire in New Hampshire, which holds the nation’s first primary.
Drowning in applause every time he threatened to conclude his speech, Sanders’ vocal supporters cheered as Sanders delivered a speech many may have heard before.
“I’ve probably gone on too long and will get yelled at,” Sanders said as he concluded. "No!" his fans, wearing light blue shirts and waving signs, chanted back. Outside, representatives from both campaigns waved giant signs and competed for space on the sidewalk.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who spoke between Clinton and Sanders, reiterated his call for the Democratic National Committee to add more presidential debates. He fired up the crowd, including many who likely have never heard him speak before, with a barn-burner speech tackling Republicans and calling out Donald Trump.
As Clinton’s poll numbers have tanked, all of her lost support appears to have flown to Sanders or Vice President Joe Biden, who is considering a run.
Why didn’t O’Malley pick up any of Clinton’s lost support? “I think in the early going of the summer, people in both parties gravitate to those candidates that are the most anti-establishment, candidates that sent the strongest message,” O’Malley told msnbc an interview after his speech. “But neither party ends up nominating angry.”
Asked if angry referred to Sanders, O’Malley demurred.
In the interview he also criticized Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz for choosing the debate schedule.
A video introducing O’Malley, meanwhile, took an apparent shot at Clinton: "This is America, we don't coronate, we don't hand out turns."
The convention also served as bit of coming out event for Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig, who only recently declared his presidential bid. Lessig is running to call attention the role big money holds in politics and warned that American “apathy” about democracy is a bigger threat than terrorists.
Unfortunately for Lessing and for former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who spoke before him, the crowds had largely vanished after seeing Clinton and Sanders.