MANCHESTER, N.H. — Before Bernie Sanders showed up, New Hampshire was supposed to be the easier of the first two Democratic state presidential contests for Hillary Clinton to win. Now, 20 points back in the latest polls, Clinton is saying a long goodbye to the state that rescued Clinton campaigns twice before.
“I’m going to make my case for the people of New Hampshire. This state has been so good to my husband and me, and my family,” Clinton said as she urged campaign staff and volunteers to brave heavy snow for a day of knocking on doors. “I am fighting for us, and I am not going to stop fighting for New Hampshire.”
A victory in New Hampshire revitalized Clinton’s demoralized campaign in 2008, when she lost unexpectedly, and badly, in Iowa. In 1992, Bill Clinton crowned himself the “comeback kid” because of his primary performance here.
“I love this little place,” he said on one of his many return visits, which are always warmly received by Democrats. Bill Clinton is also campaigning for his wife in New Hampshire this weekend.
Hillary Clinton got advice to pocket her narrow victory in Iowa this time, then cut her losses here since it was next to impossible to defeat the Vermont senator on what is nearly home ground. She isn’t listening, Clinton said.
“I am going to keep fighting until the last vote is counted on Tuesday, because I want the people here in this state to know what I think you saw in the debate last night,” Clinton said, referring to a contentious one-on-one session with Sanders on Thursday night in Durham. “There is only one candidate who is prepared to do all aspects of the job on Day 1.”
Clinton has campaigned heavily in New Hampshire for eight months, spending almost as much time here as she did in Iowa. On the trail elsewhere, she frequently invokes the stories she heard from New Hampshire residents, including some who made heart-rending appeals for more help to confront a small-town opiate addiction crisis.
Chief Clinton pollster and adviser Joel Benenson told reporters earlier Friday that the campaign goal is to make up as much ground as possible in New Hampshire and then move on. Without conceding defeat, he did not suggest she can win.
“Success is winning,” he said at a breakfast with reporters sponsored by the Wall Street Journal. “We want to make this as close as we can.”
Benenson rejected findings of a Quinnipiac poll Friday showing the national race in a statistical tie, and noted that much of the rest of the spring voting calendar looks favorable for Clinton. Benenson insisted that the longtime Democratic front-runner remains on a path to win the nomination and pointed to her feisty debate performance as evidence.
A hastily-arranged trip to Flint, Mich., on Sunday will take Clinton away from New Hampshire for most of the day. The trip is neither a response to Sanders’s claim of growing minority support or an effort to change the subject from her flagging fortunes in New Hampshire, Benenson said.
“It’s because she is a person who spoke about Flint, Michigan, early in this campaign. She cares about this, and she’s meeting people there to try to get more done,” he said.
A cost-saving decision led to poisonous levels of lead in the water of the poor, heavily black, rust-belt city. Clinton takes credit for goading the state’s Republican governor into accepting federal help to remedy the crisis.
“She’s not going to stop fighting to get more help, because this isn’t about showboating and calling for somebody to resign,” Benenson said, a sidelong dig at Sanders’s initial response that the governor should quit. “She’s not changing the subject. She’s doing another event. She’s doing an event in New Hampshire that day, she’s going to be back in New Hampshire.”
Clinton and Sanders were both appearing later Friday at a New Hampshire Democratic Party event here. Sanders is also leaving the state briefly, on Saturday.
Speaking alongside women senators who have endorsed her, Clinton sounded both nostalgic and determined.
“I know from my last experience here,” she said fondly. “We only had five days. I wasn’t running against a neighbor, but an incredibly charismatic candidate as we all remember,” she said, referring to then-Sen. Barack Obama.
Hard work by loyal supporters is “the only reason, I was able to pull that off,” she said.
It’s a much harder sell this time, as Clinton tacitly acknowledged.
“Knock on those doors, talk to your friends. Talk to your neighbors about what is at stake in this election. That’s what I need now. We can all sleep on Wednesday,” she joked.
The pitch, she said, should be “how we’ve got to keep our eye on the November election. We need to start now. We need to nominate a candidate who is somewhat experienced in standing up to Republicans,” in November.
And to those wavering as a choice between “their head and their heart,” Clinton said, “well I can solve that for you.”
You need both, Clinton said, saying she has passion for the job and the skills to do it.
“Tell people you’re talking to at the doors today, bring both their heart and their head,” she said.
And she had a pitch of her own, right to Sanders supporters.
“I want to say a word to all the extraordinary people, particularly young people, who are supporting Senator Sanders,” she said. “I know you may not be for me now, but I am for you, and I will work hard for you, and I will be a president who puts your futures at the top of our national priorities.”
That’s a bittersweet case to make in a still-friendly state. Many New Hampshire voters supporting Sanders say they also like Clinton and think she is qualified.
Sanders’s next-door-neighbor status probably gives him an automatic 15-point advantage, Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta said after the Thursday debate.
“We have a lot of work to do here,” Podesta said. “She loves this state, and she’s going to fight.”