KEENE, N.H. — On her first trip to New Hampshire as a 2016 presidential candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton courted liberals Monday and sought to dispel suspicion among them that she is too close to Wall Street.
Clinton built on the kind of populist themes she voiced in her Iowa debut last week, where she made it clear that she was out to win the hearts and minds of the left — taking the same message to the backyard of two high-profile liberals, Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
During a stop at Whitney Brothers, a furniture company in Keene, she laid out a tax reform philosophy that would differentiate between businesses like that one and those that “are just playing back and forth in the global marketplace to get one tenth of one percent of advantage” and were “at the root of some of the economic problems that we all remember from 2008.”
She also cast herself as a defender of Social Security and tried to demonstrate that she shares common cause with factory workers struggling to get by.
“There has been a lot of loose talk about Social Security,” Clinton said, speaking to a group of about three dozen Whitney Brothers employees. “What do we do to be sure it is there and we don’t mess with it and we don’t pretend it is a luxury?”
At a house party in Claremont Monday she repeated that theme. “We need to rebuild that opportunity society and make it available for everybody,” she said to fewer than 50 people who gathered to hear her.
Clinton’s focus at these early events in her new campaign has been consistent: Talk in small settings about how the “deck is stacked” in favor of those at the top and offer ladders of opportunity for businesses and workers to succeed. The language and ideas are designed to shore up the left-leaning wing of the party that has shown little enthusiasm for her candidacy.
Despite Clinton’s huge advantages in name recognition, organization, and fund-raising, a crucial challenge for her as she enters the race for the Democratic nomination is convincing liberal activists — including Warren’s ardent fans — that she is prepared to challenge big banks and shares a commitment to closing America’s yawning income gap.
“The majority of Americans understand that of course the deck is stacked,” said Sanders, the socialist independent who is mulling a challenge of Clinton in the Democratic primary. “You have to get beyond rhetoric and generalities.”
Sanders wants Clinton to take a clear stand on a set of issues, including building the Keystone XL pipeline; a possible trans-Pacific trade pact; and breaking up some of the largest financial institutions.
“Some of us have been talking about these issues for years,” he said. “The devil will be in the details.”
Warren has adamantly denied interest in running for president. She nonetheless has a huge national following that will be a crucial constituency in the Democratic primary and the general election. In another nod from Clinton to the Warren wing of the party, word leaked last week that Gary Gensler, an advocate for tighter rules on Wall Street, would be the chief financial officer of Clinton’s campaign. Gensler, the former chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, is the rare financial regulator who had support from both Clinton’s and Warren’s worlds.
Clinton also gushed over Warren last week, writing in Time magazine that “she never hesitates to hold powerful people’s feet to the fire.”
The message that Clinton, too, is willing to challenge the rich seems to be resonating, in New Hampshire at least.
“I think she has to move to the left or she won’t have the base with her to win the general election,” said Frank Fahey, 71, a retired school principal who attended the house party for Clinton in Claremont.
Clinton’s Wall Street supporters cautioned not to read too much into the rhetoric.
“It’s not that I think she’s pivoting left or pivoting right,” said Tom Nides, who worked under Clinton as a deputy secretary at the State Department. “She’s articulating the positions she’s always had.”
Nides, who is a vice chairman at Morgan Stanley, said Gensler was picked because of his competency, not his ideological bent. “She hired Gary Gensler because Gary Gensler has a track record of being effective,” he said.
Clinton also made a veiled criticism at President Obama’s track record on small businesses. “We’ve stalled out,” Clinton said, saying she’s been hearing repeatedly from small business owners who cite regulatory barriers to growth.
Clinton on Monday also visited Kristin’s Bakery and Cafe, a coffee shop here, where she cooed over a baby girl, ordered black tea with milk, and mostly stayed out of earshot from a pack of reporters following her around. She arrived in New Hampshire after a four-hour drive from her home in Chappaqua, N.Y., in her so-called Scooby van, a black Chevrolet with tinted windows.
Clinton’s campaign is trying to focus her candidacy on “everyday Americans” by holding a series of small and tightly controlled events.
She’s been a disciplined messenger so far, taking only a handful of questions from the media and offering little reaction to news of the day. Clinton was pressed Monday about a new book due out next month that raises questions about foreign and corporate donors to the vast network of Clinton charities. The Globe reported last week that a Boston-based arm of the Clinton Foundation doubled its intake of grants from foreign governments while Clinton was secretary of state.
“We’re back into the political season and therefore we will be subjected to all kinds of distraction and attacks and I’m ready for that,” Clinton said, batting away the question. “It is worth noting that the Republicans are talking only about me.”
Annie Linskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.