PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Two days before the New Hampshire primary, Hillary Clinton focused her campaign on a pressing local public health issue — in Flint, Mich.
The 1,400-mile campaign detour she took Sunday was designed to highlight her concern over the plight of families poisoned by lead in the municipal water, a play for African-American voters. The trip also turned attention away from New Hampshire, where she’s lagging in the polls.
“I am leaving here for just a few hours,” Clinton said at a Dunkin Donuts in Manchester Sunday morning shortly before leaving the state. “I’m going to take a quick break, go there, talk to them and then I’ll come back,” she promised.
Team Clinton once saw the Granite State as friendly territory — after all, voters here rescued her husband’s 1992 presidential campaign and injected energy into her 2008 contest. The relationship with the state’s voters seems to have frayed quite a bit since then, with even some top supporters acknowledging that a win Tuesday looks nearly impossible.
Instead her rival, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, has led in this state for months, outspending her on the largest TV station here in recent weeks.
Like Clinton, Sanders is also looking past the Granite State. He, too, exited the campaign trail over the weekend, looping down to New York City to appear on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” alongside comedian Larry David.
By Sunday afternoon Sanders was back in the Granite State talking to voters, and he headlined a rally that attracted 1,200 at Great Bay Community College in Portsmouth.
“This is a loud and boisterous crowd,” Sanders said to people packing the college gym. “Thank you.”
His stump speech was interrupted periodically by chants of “Feel the Bern.” The address he gives is so similar each time that a good chunk of the audience seemed to know exactly what was coming next. When he introduced a well-worn anecdote about corporate welfare, audience members recognized it centered on Walmart and called out the name of the company.
“You guys are smart!” Sanders said.
His audiences include people who’ve long been loyal to the Clinton family. That includes Joan Dion, a 71 year-old retired teacher who voted for Bill Clinton in 1992 and Hillary Clinton in 2008.
She still might back Clinton on Tuesday, but she swoons at Sanders’ message. “Bernie is just a breath of fresh air,” she said at an event in Rindge, where Sanders spoke over the weekend. “He has really struck onto something with the middle class.”
“She really has done it all and she is prepared to be president. But he has a message that I think is really important to support,” she said.
Clinton supporters say that part of her problem in the state is that she’s been subject to withering attacks from the GOP field, which has either ignored Sanders or at times sought to bolster his candidacy as a way of slowing Clinton’s march to the nomination.
Clinton supporters say that part of her problem in New Hampshire is that she’s been subject to withering attacks from the GOP field.
She’s also found herself discussing issues far afield from her core message of pragmatic progressivism.
On Sunday, ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos pressed Clinton on whether she would release the transcripts of her paid speeches, following up on her pledge from Thursday’s debate that she would “look into” making them pubic.
This time she was dismissive of the idea.
“Let everybody who’s ever given a speech to any private group under any circumstances release them,” Clinton said on the Sunday morning program. “We’ll all release them at the same time.”
Former president Bill Clinton stood in for his wife Sunday afternoon, pumping up volunteers in Keene and Milford.
Also a slew of surrogates spread out across the state for her — though some of them acknowledged Clinton’s route in New Hampshire is difficult.
“What she has said multiple times is even if people aren’t with her, aren’t fighting for her right now, she will always be fighting for them,” Governor Maggie Hassan said in an interview.
However, she added a Clinton talking point. “The New Hampshire primary tends to favor neighbors because it’s an easy state to come into,” she said, recalling that she frequently saw Sanders dip into the state in 2014.
Hassan added a note of optimism for the Clinton team: “Polls can go up and down and I have learned a long time ago that I should never predict what happens in a New Hampshire primary.”