NASHUA — During her second town hall meeting in the state, former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton answered a wide range of questions for over an hour Tuesday in a sweltering elementary school gymnasium.
A pharmacist wanted to know why the country’s health care system didn’t focus more on wellness and prevention. A criminal justice professor asked about sentencing disparities faced by African-American men. An 8-year-old wanted to know what Clinton deemed the most important part of life.
And Clinton, who the day before released an aggressive plan to boost the country’s clean energy production, had a direct answer — more or less — for each of the 11 questions asked, save one about the Keystone XL oil pipeline. (“Love,” by the way, was her response to the 8-year-old.)
Bruce Blodgett, a software developer and conservative from Amherst, asked for a “yes or no” answer to whether Clinton “as president” would support the proposed pipeline — an $8 billion project abhorred by environmentalists — that would transport oil from Canada to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico.
Clinton sidestepped the question, saying: “This is President Obama’s decision. If it’s undecided when I become president, I will answer your question.”
She kept to that stance after the event while speaking with the media, saying it “would not be appropriate or fair” for her to publicly comment on something that her former boss and predecessor has yet to decide on. Two rivals for the nomination — Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former governor Martin O’Malley of Maryland — oppose the pipeline.
“I’m in a different position than any other candidate,” Clinton said. “I was there. I know what the president’s standard is to make sure it does not increase greenhouse gas admission. [But] there has been additional research and investigation done since I’ve left that I’m not privy too. And that’s where I’m leaving it.”
Clinton is one of five candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for president in an overall field crowded with an unprecedented number of White House hopefuls. (There are 16 Republicans seeking their party’s nomination.)
Tuesday’s town hall marked Clinton’s seventh visit this cycle to New Hampshire, a state long vital to her and her husband’s political fortunes. Clinton won the New Hampshire primary in 2008 when she first ran for president against Obama.
A line of people had formed at Amherst Elementary School two hours before Clinton spoke to the crowd of 450. At the front of that line were Dan Bergeron, 53, and his two friends, who all started their day at 6 a.m. decorating his father-in-law’s nearby house with massive signs showing their support for Clinton.
Bergeron and his friends voted for her in 2008 and said they plan to do so again.
“I believe she’s probably the most qualified candidate for president that we’ve ever had, when you take into consideration her years at the White House as first lady, secretary of state, and a senator,” Mary McDermott, 61, of Manchester, said before Tuesday’s event.
Her friend Thalia Floras, 53, of Merrimack, said she is supporting Clinton not just “because she’s a woman. She supports the middle class, and I’m in the middle class.”
Floras said she admires the way Clinton has weathered “25 years of scrutiny” without responding with venomous comments.
Clinton referenced the vitriol during her remarks on Tuesday, telling the crowd: “Among the many things that people call me, and you know they call me a lot, they’ve never called me a quitter.”
Unlike the town halls and meet-and-greets held by many Republicans on the stump, much of Tuesday’s conversation centered around domestic issues and not foreign affairs, although the former US secretary of state was asked how she, as president, would combat Islamic State militants.
“We’ve got to get the United States working with others to put together a coalition to begin to push ISIS out of Iraq and get going after them in Syria,” Clinton said, saying that the country is better equipped than others to provide air power, surveillance, intelligence, and training. “Secondly, and just as important, we have got to shut down their Internet presence.”
Clinton said ISIS uses the Internet “to propagandize and recruit, train, and even direct attacks.” But, she added, the situation is complicated by cultural feuds and the shifting loyalties amongst people and countries in the region.
The last question of the morning came from Emily Wall, a soon-to-be fifth grader at Amherst Elementary, who asked to “shake hands with the first woman president of the United States.”
And, just what did Emily know about the White House hopeful before today?
“I don’t think I knew anything,” she said afterward, admitting that her mom dragged her to the event.