Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday in Nashua, N.H.
After a loss in Iowa, her campaign is fine-tuning its approach.
By PATRICK HEALY and JOHN M. BRODER
The New York Times
MANCHESTER, N.H. — Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton have been in career-threatening scrapes before, but never quite like the one they face in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, when nothing less than their would-be dynasty will be on the line.
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea, right,
at a news conference on Friday in Manchester, N.H.
In trying to battle back from her loss in the Iowa caucuses to Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, Mrs. Clinton is recalibrating her message in hopes of producing Comeback Kid: The Sequel — achieving the reversal of fortune her husband pulled off with his second-place finish here in the Democratic nomination contest in 1992.
Mrs. Clinton, after arriving here at 4 a.m. Friday, used a rally in Nashua to begin focusing on young voters and independents, two groups that flocked to the Obama banner in Iowa. She said she wanted to appeal to young people, and surrounded herself with them at the rally, in contrast to her caucus night party where older, familiar faces from the Clinton administration and her political team stood out.
Yet many of the challenges and questions she faced in Iowa — like Clinton fatigue and the generational showdown with Mr. Obama — remained part of her baggage as she flew east. While she is ahead in public polls here, she faces a popularity contest against Mr. Obama. There were empty seats, for instance, at a rally Mr. Clinton held with students at the University of New Hampshire on Friday afternoon.
And her campaign, while trying to fine-tune its strategy, is also engaging in some finger-pointing. Some advisers say that the campaign miscalculated in having Mr. Clinton play such a public role, that Mrs. Clinton could not effectively position herself as a change agent, the profile du jour for Democrats, so long as he stood as a reminder that her presidency would be much like his. Other advisers say that Mr. Obama now owns the “change” mantra and that Mrs. Clinton needs a Plan B.
“Hillary says she’ll change things, but then voters see Bill and hear them talk about the 1990s, and it’s clear that the Clintons are not offering change but rather Clinton Part 2,” said one veteran adviser to both Clintons. “That won’t win.”
Beating a sunny, charismatic opponent like Mr. Obama — especially given his embrace by such a cross-section of Iowa voters — is not part of the Clinton experience. When facing political crises, the couple’s modus operandi has been to attack their attackers and question their motives. But Mr. Obama is not Kenneth W. Starr, Newt Gingrich or Paula Jones; a presidential campaign is not a Washington scandal; and the Clinton strategy of attacking Mr. Obama’s readiness for the presidency did not work in Iowa.
Mrs. Clinton, of New York, suggested she would now be more direct in pointing out contrasts between her experience and policy ideas and Mr. Obama’s, both on the campaign trail and in their televised debate Saturday night.
“I am making the case for myself, but I think one of the ways I make that is by drawing contrasts,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters in Nashua.
But on Friday, she stuck to a theme she has been using against Mr. Obama for months, that her health care plan would mandate that all Americans get coverage while his would not.
She is also counting on her base of support and endorsements here, much deeper than in Iowa, to counter Mr. Obama’s appeal to young people and independents.
Fifty percent of voters who were 44 and younger supported Mr. Obama in Iowa, compared with 16 percent for Mrs. Clinton, according to a poll of Democrats entering caucus sites Thursday. Over all, 52 percent of voters said they backed the candidate who would bring needed change, and Mr. Obama won 51 percent of their support.
“You have to learn from what happened in Iowa,” said Howard Wolfson, Mrs. Clinton’s communications director. “But the message in New Hampshire has been working. It’s who she is as a person, her experience making change, the importance of picking a president that is ready. That won’t change.”
Speaking to reporters in Nashua, Mrs. Clinton played down her loss in Iowa and asserted that it was not a referendum on the strength of her candidacy.
“I was never a front-runner of any significance in Iowa — I knew it was always going to be hard for me,” Mrs. Clinton said. “Both of my two leading opponents, one had been there for years; one is from a neighboring state. So I feel that we executed what we thought was the limit of what we could produce in Iowa under the circumstances.”
Clinton advisers said Friday that they would not mount a negative advertising campaign against Mr. Obama in New Hampshire, saying the primary was too soon for such an onslaught to have any effect. And they said there were no plans to bring in new senior advisers to help right her campaign.
Yet no sooner had Mrs. Clinton finished her concession speech in Iowa on Thursday than second-guessing set in among her supporters.
One longtime adviser complained that the campaign’s senior strategist, Mark Penn, realized too late that “change” was a much more powerful message than “experience.” Another adviser said Mr. Penn and Mr. Clinton were consumed with polling data for so long, they did not fully grasp the personality deficit that Mrs. Clinton had with voters.
Advisers said that both Clintons had miscalculated the endurance and depth of what they called “the Obama phenomenon.” They both believed that, in the final months of 2007, more voters would question whether Mr. Obama was ready to be president and more reporters would pick apart his political record and personal character. Now anger inside the campaign at the news media has hardened; Mr. Clinton, in particular, believes reporters will be complicit if Mr. Obama becomes the nominee and loses to a Republican.
Former President Bill Clinton greeting supporters
on Friday in Nashua, N.H. His role has been debated within the campaign.
Mr. Clinton’s role in the campaign has also become fodder for debate in her camp. Some advisers laud him as a vote-getter and crowd-builder bar none, and Mrs. Clinton’s best character witness. But others increasingly look at him with a jaundiced eye, saying that some of his off-message remarks have proved a distraction, and that his looming presence has undercut her promises to make a break with the politics of the past.
Mr. Clinton seemed tired, almost downbeat as he worked his way through two 45-minute speeches in New Hampshire on Friday. He focused on Mrs. Clinton’s record of service and her qualifications for the presidency.
He never mentioned Mr. Obama’s name, but he seemed to draw a contrast between what he called her 36 years of public service and Mr. Obama’s relatively limited depth of experience, the very themes that did not succeed for the Clintons in Iowa.
Denny Gallaudet, an investment manager and undecided Democratic voter from Freedom, N.H., who attended a rally in Rochester on Friday with Mr. Clinton, said he sensed “a little Clinton fatigue” among voters. Mr. Gallaudet, who supported Mr. Clinton in 1992 and 1996, said he was skeptical that Democrats were still in the thrall of the former president.
“I got really mad at him about the Monica thing,” he said. “It really creamed the party.”
While Mr. Clinton hits the campaign trail for the next few days, Mrs. Clinton plans to spend the bulk of Saturday preparing for the debate, a crucial showdown with Mr. Obama in the eyes of Clinton advisers. Her allies, including Gen. Wesley K. Clark and former Representative Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, are also fanning out in New Hampshire.
Campaign officials held a conference call with reporters on Friday, where leaders of her efforts in some of the next states to vote — Nevada, South Carolina, California — all predicted that she would win the nominating contests there.