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Hillary Clinton: Don't 'mess' with Social Security

On her first trip to New Hampshire since declaring her second presidential run, Hillary Clinton played defense and promoted her economic message

KEENE, New Hampshire – On her first trip to the friendly territory of New Hampshire since declaring her second presidential run, Hillary Clinton promoted her vision for the economy while also playing defense on new allegations against her family’s charitable foundation.

She also discussed substance abuse -- an issue she has rarely addressed publicly but promised to make a centerpiece of her campaign – and took Republicans to task for messing with Social Security.

But it was clear the former secretary of state wanted to address accusations, made by a conservative author in a new book, that Clinton Foundation donors received special treatment from her State Department. 

"We're back into the political season, and therefore we will be subjected to all kinds of distraction and attacks. And I'm ready for that," she said. “It is worth noting that the Republicans seem to be talking only about me. I don’t know what they'd talk about if I weren't in the race. But I am in the race, and hopefully we’ll get on to the issues.” 

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She had plenty of time to talk policy during a roundtable discussion here with employees of Whitney Brothers, the furniture maker that hosted her event. The eight-person meeting was the latest of Clinton’s intimate campaign events, and focused on the importance of small business in the local economy.

In Iowa last week, Clinton laid out the “four big fights” of her campaign. And this week in New Hampshire she wants to focus on the economy.

Unlike in Iowa, Clinton was greeted by about 25 supporters, who braved a cold April rain to welcome her. She ventured straight inside from her black van without acknowledging the small crowd. Clinton drove to New Hampshire from her home in Chappaqua, New York, a campaign official confirmed. 

But when asked about substance abuse in the area, Clinton spoke at length about what she dubbed a new “hidden epidemic.” She lamented the lack of funding for mental health and substance treatment, and the decline of anti-drug messaging toward children.

“The drug abuse problem -- whether it's pills or meth -- is not as visible as it was 30 years ago,” Clinton said. “This is a quiet epidemic. It's striking in small towns and rural areas as much as major cities.”

Clinton said she heard a lot about the issue during her visit last week to Iowa, and vowed to make fixing the problem “a big part of my campaign.” 

And Clinton also took a moment to discuss the need to preserve Social Security. She chastised Republicans – though not by name – as “just wrong” for wanting to change the retirement program. “What do we do to make sure it is there? We don’t mess with it, and we do not pretend that it is a luxury -- because it is not a luxury. It is a necessity for the majority of people who draw from Social Security,” she said.

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“I think there will be some big political arguments about Social Security,” she continued. “And my only question to everybody who thinks we can privatize Social Security or undermine it in some way -- and what is going to happen to all these people, like you, who worked 27 years at this other company? What’s going to happen? It’s just wrong.”

Many liberals, who have been urging Clinton to embrace an expansion of Social Security, will likely be pleased by the remarks.

Whitney Brothers owner David Stabler, who supported Barack Obama in 2008, said he appreciated Clinton coming to his “tiny” business and listening to employees in the intimate setting. He added that he thought Clinton was “warmer” more “human” than when he saw her during her last presidential run. “I thought she did a really good job,” he said. 

As in Iowa, the event sometimes felt like it was for the benefit of the media more than average voters, with cameras and notepads outnumbering residents. 

But Pam Livingood, an employee who sat on the panel, found the candidate’s interest genuine. “She really wanted to know about us,” she said, noting that Clinton used Livingood’s name twice. “It was really really interesting and nice meeting her,” she said.

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The small events were exactly what Clinton should be doing in the first-in-the-nation primary state, Terie Norelli, the former speaker of the state House of Representatives, told msnbc. “I think it's really important to look at the way she is having these really small meetings. That used to be way how we did we things in New Hampshire,” she said. think it's a very positive approach and been very well received.” 

Clinton also stopped by a coffee shop to meet with local activists Monday Morning, and had a private meeting planned for the afternoon. On Tuesday, she heads to Concord for another roundtable at a community college.