NASHUA, N.H. — The most telling line in Sen. Hillary Clinton’s speech Saturday night to the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s “100 Club” fundraising dinner was not about policy, but about the presidential race itself: “We’re going to have a long campaign,” she told the crowd, stretching out the word “long” in a comical tone of voice.
“Really, it is long.” she added, “I can’t even imagine. I try to think forward and it’s hard to see over the horizon. But we’re going to be here, week after week after week after week after week.”
That line got a laugh from the crowd of more than 1,000 Granite State Democrats at the Sheraton Hotel in Nashua.
Was Clinton implying that she’d get weary of campaigning in New Hampshire or that voters would tire of listening to the candidates?
There seemed to be another message implied: it is only March of 2007, and the votes in the New Hampshire primary won’t be cast for another ten months. The candidate with the biggest treasury –likely to be Clinton – will have the best chance of withstanding a war of attrition.
That war will be waged not just here in New Hampshire, but in the 15 to 20 primaries which states with costly media markets such as California and Texas are now moving to schedule on one day: Feb. 5.
Some New Hampshire Democrats who were in the audience for Clinton’s speech are still resistant to the idea that her money, her husband, and her status as potentially the first woman president make her inevitable as their party’s nominee.
Clinton dynasty and other fears
This weekend in New Hampshire there also seemed to be an undercurrent of concern that the Feb. 5 mega-primary day might eclipse the state’s first-in-the-nation primary, especially if Clinton loses the Granite State primary but goes on to outlast her rivals in the Feb. 5 contests.
Some New Hampshire Democrats think she can’t carry toss-up states such as Wisconsin in the general election; some fear that she’s too polarizing.
Other New Hampshire Democrats don’t like the idea of a Clinton Dynasty and have worries about her husband.
“My concern about Hillary is that it’s Hillary and Bill,” said Democratic lawyer Steve Gordon who was at the “100 Club” event.
Clinton is the front runner, if you accept early polling data as valid. But is she the inevitable nominee?
Former Democratic state chairman Joe Keefe, who is backing Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut for the nomination, called New Hampshire “a state that’s tailor-made for some sort of insurgency. The key here is staying power and being in a position to win it at the end.”
Keefe said, “In New Hampshire, inevitability never works. New Hampshire voters love to thwart inevitability.”
Case in point: the 1984 primary, when long-shot Sen. Gary Hart beat the front-runner Walter Mondale.
At the “100 Club” dinner, former state senator Burton Cohen wore a “What Would Wellstone Do?” button on the lapel of his jacket, a sign of his devotion to the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, D- Minn., who, despite the political risks, voted against the Iraq war in October 2002, even as Clinton and 28 other Democratic senators voted for it.
“We have to set a date (for exit from Iraq),” said Cohen. “We have to get out of there, we should not continue to fund the war. Fund the protection of the soldiers, fund veterans, but not the escalation.”
Options being held open
For Cohen, Clinton is a kind of anti-Wellstone. He said Clinton would be “a disaster” if she were the Democratic nominee. “I think she’d lose, because she tries to be all things to all people, you know the flag-burning amendment,” he said alluding to her support for a constitutional amendment to punish burning of the American flag. “I don’t think there’s great support in the Democratic Party for her because she hasn’t admitted she made a mistake when it comes to the war.”
Cohen said he is undecided on the 2008 nominee, but thinks highly of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Sen. Barack Obama, and former Sen. John Edwards.
Like Cohen, another “100 Club” attendee, Joyce Askenaizer of Hollis, N.H. was up in the arms about Clinton’s war vote.
“She’s not it for me,” Askenaizer said flatly after hearing Clinton’s speech. “It’s the Iraq war. She voted for the war and voted twice for the Patriot Act.”
The war is unforgivable for Askenaizer. “It’s a disaster. I can’t support someone who supported that. I look at this Iraq war as a crime. I’m looking for whoever didn’t vote for this war.”
After her speech, other Democrats gave Clinton polite reviews, but were still holding their options open.
State senator Lou D’Alessandro was both positive and diplomatically guarded in his reaction.
“People are beginning to appreciate that she is very definite, very self-assured and has gotten the greatest speech-writers in town,” he said. “Her delivery is improving every time.”
But reminding us that his vote is still up for grabs D’Alessandro added, “Obama called today.”