Clinton shifts gears, tries to assuage doubts

January 05, 2008|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,Sun reporter

NASHUA, N.H. -- Hillary Clinton began altering her campaign strategy yesterday, saying she would spend the next few days addressing doubts that voters harbor about her candidacy.

Those questions were magnified by her third-place finish this week in the nation's first caucus, where Barack Obama's message of hope and change trumped Clinton's experience. A win for Clinton in Tuesday's New Hampshire primary would do much to restore optimism to a campaign whose sense of inevitability blew away in the snows of Iowa.

Recent polls have found a close race between Obama and Clinton in New Hampshire.

Also fighting for footing is Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who was bested by Mike Huckabee in Iowa despite spending vastly more on advertising and staff.

Romney said yesterday that Huckabee "isn't a factor" in New Hampshire, which has far fewer evangelical voters than Iowa does.

"I'm looking at John McCain, and he and I are going to be going head-to-head here," Romney said on MSNBC.

Candidates from both parties intensified their New Hampshire efforts yesterday, rushing from Iowa to prepare for the contest. New Hampshire primaries have long played a pivotal role in national elections, but this year's compressed voting schedule offers less time for comebacks or slips than ever before.

`Static in the air'

Addressing supporters in a frigid airport hangar before boarding a campaign bus with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and their daughter, Hillary Clinton said she was "very well aware that there's been a lot of static in the air" about her and other Democratic candidates.

Clinton said she wants to give New Hampshire voters enough answers for residents to determine "who will be the best president, based not on a leap of faith but on the kind of changes we've already produced."

That dig was aimed squarely at Obama, who carried momentum into New Hampshire, imploring hundreds of supporters at a rally in Concord yesterday to replicate "what Iowa did last night."

"I want to change the electoral map in America," he said. "I don't want another election like 2000 and 2004, where it's 47 percent of the people on one side and 47 percent of the people on the other and 5 percent in the middle - they all live in Ohio and Florida."

Younger voters and independents inspired by Obama's brand of optimism fueled his Iowa win.

As she tries to match Obama's change message, Clinton is relying on some backward-looking symbolism. Bill Clinton will campaign with his wife through the weekend, lending his considerable skills to his wife's campaign but reminding voters of an earlier, tumultuous time.

Huckabee rode a surge similar to Obama's into the Granite State, where he sought to fortify his likable image during a jam session yesterday evening at New England College in Henniker, N.H. A bass player, he sat in with the band Mama Kicks.

Huckabee tailored his message to the New England crowd, eliminating religious themes and emphasizing his populist economic beliefs.

"My coalition wasn't about just evangelicals," Huckabee said during a television appearance earlier in the day. "It was people who supported the fair tax, which is a really total overhaul of our current tax system."

With Clinton perceived as the underdog, Obama indicated that he was bracing for attacks. The Clinton campaign advertisements running in New Hampshire focus on the newspaper endorsements she has received, but that could change as her advisers respond to her Iowa showing.

"People will be saying, `Yes, I know you were really feeling good yesterday and really inspired, but, you know what, Obama has not been in Washington long enough. He needs to be seasoned and stewed. We need to boil all the hope out of him,'" Obama said at the Concord rally.

Iowa voters were exposed to the same message, he said, "and what they realized was that the real gamble was to have the same old folks do the same old things."

Clinton might try to use a debate in Manchester tonight - the final televised showcase for leading Democratic candidates - to portray Obama as inexperienced and to try to pressure the Illinois senator into a stumble, said Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire.

"The worry is that she hasn't found a way thus far to be effective when she is negative against Obama," he said.

Attacks could miss their mark, Scala said, because many undecided Democrats and independents in New Hampshire like the three leading Democratic candidates, including John Edwards.

Edwards hopeful

Edwards dismissed talk that his candidacy is nearly done because he did not win in Iowa.

"Voters here in New Hampshire are not going to be told what to do," he said during an appearance on NBC yesterday. "And we're not going to have an auction here; we're going to have an election. And I think people here have been known to surprise."

In coming days, analysts said, Obama and Clinton will be courting many of the same voters, younger people, women and those with college degrees.

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