NASHUA — She’s back.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, in her first political appearance in this first-in-the-nation presidential primary state since 2008, spoke to a crowd of hundreds here Sunday, strongly supporting the reelection bids of US Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Governor Maggie Hassan and offering a hint of themes that might animate a potential second White House run.
Clinton spoke in New Hampshire about expanding economic opportunity, raising the minimum wage, and protecting women’s rights.
She acknowledged that, across the country, there is “a lot of anxiety and insecurity.” But the former secretary of state and US senator from New York struck a hopeful note: She bookended her remarks talking about her new granddaughter and said seeing another generation in the family focuses the mind on what’s important.
Clinton said she and her husband were raised to believe the American Dream was within your reach if you worked hard.
“You should not,” Clinton told a packed gymnasium, “have to be the grandchild of a governor or a senator or a former secretary of state or a former president to believe that the American Dream is in your reach.”
That, Clinton said to hundreds at Nashua Community College, is what this election is about. The crowd cheered.
She also told the fired-up audience that the Republican agenda for this election, stripped down, is fear.
“It’s trying to instill fear. They’re staking everything on it. Fear is the last resort of those who have run out of ideas and run out of hope,” she said, adding that Shaheen and Hassan are “fearless.”
In one of the most passionate parts of her 22-minute speech, Clinton spoke about protecting and expanding women’s rights. She told the crowd it is astonishing, that in 2014, the country is having a debate about “equal pay for equal work” and at stake in this election is whether women have the right to “make our own reproductive health care decisions.”
Clinton said some have questioned why Democrats talk so much about women. Her answer: “Women’s rights, here at home and around the world, are like the canary in the mine. You start taking away, you start limiting women’s rights, who’s next?”
Clinton, who has said she will probably decide on a second White House bid after 2015 begins, won the New Hampshire Democratic primary in her ultimately unsuccessful 2008 campaign for her party’s presidential nomination and is seen as the leading Democratic contender to succeed President Obama.
She thanked people in the state for opening their homes and hearts to her and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, and said, in the darkest days of her presidential campaign, “you lifted me up. You gave me my voice back. You taught me so much about grit and determination.”
And while she did not explicitly mention a new run Sunday, it was on the minds of many at the event.
Before the rally, Joyce Armstrong, a 68-year-old from Pembroke, N.H., said she voted for Clinton in the 2008 primary and will be ready if she makes another bid. “If she does, I’ll be 100 percent behind her,” Armstrong said. “There isn’t anybody that has more experience than she does.”
As he was waiting in line with his wife and daughter to get in to the rally, Frank Cavignano, a 59-year-old from Amherst, N.H., said he had voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 New Hampshire primary but is now a Clinton supporter.
“I think she’d be a great follow-on to President Obama,” he said. “And I’m hoping that she does get elected next time around.”
Cavignano said he hoped she would expand upon on what Obama has achieved in the realm of health care.
The event with Clinton came two days before Shaheen and Hassan, both Democrats in competitive races, face voters.
Nationally, analysts predict strong currents of displeasure with Obama will pull down Democrats, who are poised to lose seats in the US House of Representatives and, potentially, control of the US Senate.
But recent polls have found Shaheen leading Republican challenger Scott Brown, a former Massachusetts US senator, and Hassan leading Republican businessman Walt Havenstein.
Brown, Havenstein, the GOP nominees for the state’s two congressional districts, and top New Hampshire Republicans held a rally Sunday evening in Manchester.
Jennifer Horn, the New Hampshire Republican State Committee chairwoman, released a statement ahead of Clinton’s visit. It said, in part, that Clinton and Shaheen “share one thing in common — they have both supported Obama’s failed leadership.”
In September, Clinton also paid a visit to Iowa, a key presidential proving ground.
In recent days, Democrats a cross New Hampshire have expressed mixed feelings about the potential of Clinton making another run.
At a cafe in Manchester, 79-year-old Pat Collins, a Democrat, said she felt “mezzo mezzo” about Clinton.
The reason? “I don’t think you should have the same family: like the Bushes and the Clintons and all of that,” said Collins, who lives in Manchester.
Emily Jacobs, chairwoman of the Coos County Democratic Party in northern New Hampshire, said some Democrats in the area have concerns about Clinton’s ties to corporations. “We’re a Bernie Sanders area,” she said with a chuckle, referring to the self-described democratic socialist US senator from nearby Vermont.
But Jacobs said emphatically, “When it comes down to it, she has the best shot, and we’re going to have her back. Overall, there’s a good feeling for her.”
She added she is excited about the prospect of a woman president: “It’s time.”