Clinton, Sanders to See if Granite State Set in Stone

Clinton, Sanders to See if Granite State Set in Stone
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After winning the Iowa caucuses by a margin so slender that her underdog challenger appeared stronger as a result, Hillary Clinton is trying to figure out if Bernie Sanders remains a contender for weeks, or for months.

New Hampshire could be the high point of Sanders’ presidential bid, considering the hefty lead he has racked up in Granite State polls, or it could put revolutionary fever on ice as the Democratic contest moves past the tiny, liberal and overwhelmingly white New England state to venture into more diverse, populous territory.

Clinton and the Vermont senator flew to New Hampshire, determined to press ahead to that state’s Feb. 9 contest, then to Nevada’s caucus Feb. 20 and the regionally important South Carolina primary Feb. 27.

“I have to really get out there, make my case, which I intend to do this week,” Clinton said Tuesday during an MSNBC interview. “I feel really good about my campaign in New Hampshire. … We're not leaving anything on the ground. We're moving forward. And I think we'll do well.”

Sanders currently enjoys an 18-point lead over the former secretary of state in New Hampshire, where Clinton won in 2008 following her memorable burst of teary-eyed candor following a loss days earlier to Barack Obama and John Edwards in Iowa.

With expectations of a Sanders victory there, the two foes are mulling three challenges.

First, do they have the right messages for New Hampshire?

Clearly, Sanders’ rallying cries to think “big” and triumph over a rigged political system and an economy tilted to advantage the “billionaire class” drew young liberals, first-time participants, and the less affluent during the Iowa caucusing. The senator channels the angst of fed-up idealists and reflects the aspirations of struggling families. His message will not change in New Hampshire.

Clinton’s campaign pitch, on the other hand, could get retooled. Her message is often perceived to be about herself more than about the electorate. And the former first lady is arguing she is steeped in policy, tough enough to trounce a GOP nominee, and seasoned on the world stage.

Her counter-arguments to Sanders’ aspirations for free college tuition, a Medicare-for-all health system, and higher taxes on the wealthy are intended to be pragmatic and deliverable. Some Democrats pointed to the Iowa results to wonder if Clinton’s rationale for the presidency comes off as pale beige in a wild-paisley kind of race.

“I just want them to understand what I'm offering, what I believe we can do,” Clinton told MSNBC about New Hampshire voters. “You know, ideas that sound good on paper but can't create results for people are just that -- good ideas on paper. I have a track record of producing results.”

When New Hampshire Sen. Jean Shaheen was asked Tuesday if Clinton needed to alter her campaign message, the senator fell back on talking points about experience often used by the former secretary of state’s political advisers.

“This is a long campaign. People are just beginning to pay attention. And I think when those young people hear the differences between Hillary and her opponents, that she's going to come out on top,” Shaheen said.

Second, how are the two candidates playing the expectations game?

Campaigning in New Hampshire after her Iowa squeaker, Clinton lowered expectations for victory, while Sanders behaved as if he has the home-field advantage. Anything Clinton can do to readjust expectations may help ease the vapors among her Democratic base of supporters, as well as with voters in the contests that follow New Hampshire, and among the media (up to a point).

Having represented nearby New York, won the New Hampshire primary once and watched her husband declare himself the “comeback kid” there in 1992, Clinton is not exactly a stranger to the Granite State. But she’s begun to define it as Sanders’ turf.

“I was thrilled by winning and getting that boost out of Iowa here in New Hampshire, where I am in Senator Sanders' backyard,” she said Tuesday. “New Hampshire votes for neighbors.”

Clinton supporter California Rep. Xavier Becerra told RCP she doesn’t need to win New Hampshire to prove a point, since she passed a test in Iowa and will be in the race into the summer and beyond.

“I think she just wants to keep building, keep moving, and show that she’s going to be there at the very end, and I think she will be,” he said. 

Third, Iowa offered a few lessons about turnout and demographics, as well as campaign organization, heading into New Hampshire’s primary.

Each candidate inspired enthusiastic turnout in Iowa. But exit polls underscored the generational and ideological splits that will continue to be important in the Democratic contest.

Sanders did well among younger voters and men, and among new participants in the process. His message resonated with less-educated voters and among those at the lower end of the income scale in Iowa. He attracted support from independent voters, a sizable bloc in New Hampshire’s open-primary process. Sanders won 69 percent of self-described independents in Iowa, according to exit polls.

Clinton’s backing skewed older, richer, and more female in Iowa. She appealed to the established, practiced Democrats who turned out. She has a head start with Latino and African-American voters.

The two rivals appeared to have sophisticated ground operations in Iowa, but because the results were a veritable tie, even after Clinton's considerable investment of resources there, each team will re-examine what it has built in New Hampshire and how much volunteer support it can count on from surrogates and contributors.

To emulate the successful campaign Barack Obama built in 2008 and 2012, neither candidate can afford to divvy up Democrats and independents by age, race, gender, philosophy, and income and expect to prosper in New Hampshire or other primary states. Clinton may count on that in the general election, but she has to get there first.

“I’m going to have some work to do with young voters,” she told CNN Tuesday. 

RealClearPolitics Congressional Correspondent James Arkin contributed to this report.

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com.  Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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