MANCHESTER, NH – Hillary Rodham Clinton attempted to rally thousands of influential New Hampshire Democrats on Saturday with a fiercely partisan message, as she struggled to regain her footing in the primary contest.
In recent weeks, Clinton’s message of middle-class prosperity has been overshadowed by interest in her use of a private email account and server while she was secretary of state. In the meantime, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ anti-establishment campaign seems to be resonating with rank-and-file Democrats. Speculation is also growing that Vice President Joe Biden may jump into the race, a possibility that would scramble the primary field and only complicate Clinton’s prospects.
Clinton remains the front-runner nationally, with tens of millions in her campaign account, endorsements from top party officials and hundreds of paid staff at her Brooklyn headquarters. But though she still leads in early national polls, she trails Sanders in surveys taken in the first two states to hold nominating contests: Iowa and New Hampshire.
Calling viewers of the three-hour Republican debate and two-hour undercard on Wednesday night “gluttons for punishment,” Clinton accused Republicans of focusing on problems the country faces rather than solutions.
“Fifteen candidates, five hours and not a single fighter for the middle class,” she told more than 3,500 party activists and elected officials gathered Saturday for the New Hampshire state party’s annual convention. “Republicans are not just deeply inaccurate, they’re increasingly out of touch and out of date.”
Her fiery, nearly 45-minute address marked Clinton’s effort to turn the focus of her party beyond primary divisions, casting herself as the strongest contender for Democrats eager to maintain control of the White House. She vowed to combat attacks from super political action committees funded by wealthy Republican donors such as the Koch brothers and promised to fight for causes that have rallied the Democratic base like gun control, criminal justice reform and paid family leave.
But she saved her toughest critique for front-runner Donald Trump, whom she accused of “trafficking in prejudice and paranoia.” Clinton has repeatedly sought to link Trump’s controversial statements to the rest of the Republican field, arguing there’s little difference between his views and those of the Republican Party.
Though Clinton has repeatedly declined to comment on Biden’s presidential aspirations, she’s portrayed herself as the clear successor to President Barack Obama, praising his signature achievements and arguing that she would continue much of his work.
“I will proudly carry forward this record of Democratic achievement,” she told the party activists on Saturday. “We know what works and what doesn’t.”
Most Clinton backers left after her address, leaving an audience of raucous Sanders supports behind for his speech.
Sanders, a longtime liberal fighter, highlighted his fidelity to progressive causes. He stressed his opposition to the war in Iraq, a contrast with Clinton whose support for the invasion undermined her 2008 primary bid against Obama.
“I am a proud progressive,” he said. “That is what I did yesterday, that is what I did 25 years ago, that is what I’ll do tomorrow and that is what I’ll do if elected president of the United States.”
And like Clinton, Sanders spent a fair amount of time going after his would-be Republican challengers on a long list of issues. It “really hurts,” he said, to hear “so many of his Republican colleagues” talk about entering a war with Iran. He charged that Republican “family values” are simply code for opposition to abortion rights and gay marriage. And he accused them of sabotaging future generations to keep corporate dollars flowing from fossil fuel companies opposed to tacking climate change.
“They’re more worried about their campaign donations than their kids or their grandchildren,” he said.
LISA LERER, Associated Press
KATHLEEN RONAYNE, Associated Press