Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton was impressive in the cool way she handled the drama of a man seizing hostages at one of her campaign offices, some voters and analysts said on Saturday.
But the incident, which ended with the man surrendering peacefully at the office in the New Hampshire town of Rochester on Friday night, may not have much impact on a tightening Democratic race for the White House.
“If this had happened on the weekend prior to (party caucuses in) Iowa, I think it might have helped Hillary Clinton. But that’s 34 days away,” said Larry Sabato, a politics professor at the University of Virginia.
Clinton, a New York senator, did the right thing by going into “crisis” mode as soon as news broke about the man taking the people hostage and claiming to have a bomb, Sabato said.
She canceled her schedule and was available by phone to help police as they negotiated with the man, Leeland Eisenberg, for several hours. After the incident ended with no injuries and Eisenberg under arrest, Clinton flew to New Hampshire and thanked police for their efforts to keep the hostages safe.
“She looked good,” Sabato said. “I think it’s positive but it will dissipate long before the voting.”
‘A man who wanted attention’
Stephen Wayne, professor of government at Georgetown University, also saw no impact on the presidential race.
“You have a man who wanted attention,” he said of the hostage-taker. “I don’t think it would change anybody’s vote.”
Clinton leads national polls for the Democratic nomination to contest the presidential election in November 2008.
But the race in Iowa, where the party’s selection process starts on January 3, is a three-way battle of Clinton, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards, the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 2004.
In New Hampshire, where there is a primary election on January 8, Clinton is ahead with a substantial but shrinking lead. Some residents said on Saturday they were impressed by her reaction to the hostage drama but that it would not sway their votes.
“I was impressed that she came to New Hampshire last night,” said Eric Hunter, 30, of Amherst, who described himself as a longtime Republican supporter who lately has been leaning toward the Democrats. “I think she did a pretty good job, and I can’t believe I’m saying that.”
Still, Hunter said, he did not plan to vote for Clinton.
Barbara Moore, 50, of Bow, New Hampshire, said she thought voters would look positively on how Clinton handled the ordeal.
“But it wouldn’t be a deciding factor for me,” she added.
Security and accessibility
While Clinton was never personally threatened, the incident was a reminder of dangers faced by high-profile candidates and those who work for them.
“It affected me not only because these were my staff members and volunteers but as a mother it was just a horrible sense of just bewilderment, confusion, outrage, frustration, anger, every thing at the same time,” Clinton said in New Hampshire.
An aide to Republican presidential front-runner Rudy Giuliani, a former New York mayor, said the standoff at Clinton’s office had prompted a discussion about security.
“We held a call with our staff in the states to brief them about the incident and to discuss security measures at our field offices,” the aide said.
Giuliani has had security for years, the aide added. The candidate said in a debate this week he had round-the-clock protection while he was New York’s mayor because of “threats.”
Tough balancing act
Of all the presidential contenders in both parties, only Clinton and Obama have Secret Service protection. Clinton has it as the wife of a former president, Bill Clinton.
Obama, who often draws large crowds, was given the federal protection in May — earlier than any presidential candidate in U.S. history. Officials said the step was prompted by general concerns about the safety of a prominent black candidate.
Despite the dangers, presidential candidates need to be open and accessible to the public, as one of them, Republican Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, said on Saturday.
“Having direct access to the candidates is a time honored American tradition, and one of the true benefits of our democracy and election process,” Huckabee said through a spokeswoman while campaigning in New Hampshire.
“We’ll continue to take reasonable (security) measures, but it is important that we stay the course and rely on the basic goodness of people who attend our events.”