After N.H., supporters fear Clinton is out of touch
CONCORD, N.H. — Hillary Clinton’s stinging 22-point loss in the New Hampshire Democratic primary prompted fretting Wednesday among the party elite, and raised the stakes for the caucus in Nevada.
Her backers worried that she is failing to meet the challenge of voters who want a total reboot of Washington politics.
“We got caught in a tsunami,” said Lou D’Allesandro, a New Hampshire state senator and a longtime Clinton ally. “The Clinton campaign never really grasped in totality the anger and the sentiment of the voters.”
Though Clinton expected to lose the first-in-the-
nation primary, the gaping margin was far beyond what most predicted and further legitimized Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ insurgent candidacy.
D’Allesandro e-mailed Clinton on Wednesday morning with some advice: “I said, ‘You’ve been kind to me. You’ve been a friend of mine,’ ” he recalled. “People have got to witness that. If they do, you’ll be gangbusters.”
Representatives of the Clinton organization, including campaign chairman John Podesta, held a half-hour conference call with members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation Wednesday morning, seeking suggestions as the campaign moves into Nevada and South Carolina.
“I said they need to tighten up who the messengers are,” said Representative Richard Neal, a Springfield Democrat. “There were a couple issues that threw us off at the end,” he said, an apparent reference to criticism by former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and feminist icon Gloria Steinem of young women who are backing Sanders rather than helping Clinton become the nation’s first female president.
Clinton will have to correct course quickly. The Nevada caucus looms Feb. 20, followed a week later by the South Carolina primary on Feb. 27. Then comes Super Tuesday on March 1, when 11 states vote, including Massachusetts.
Democratic strategists say Clinton can put her campaign back on track with resounding victories in Nevada and South Carolina. But if she falters in those states, sirens will begin to blare within the Democratic party.
There are some signs of danger for Clinton in Nevada, once viewed as the start of Clinton’s “firewall,” but where her campaign is now tamping down expectations.
Polling in Nevada is scant and unreliable, with the last poll in December showing Clinton leading by 23 percentage points. Political observers in Nevada expect Sanders to narrow the gap, even though Clinton has locked up many of the establishment endorsements, including from the state’s Latino politicians.
“The whole world has changed since then,” said Jon Ralston, a Nevada political analyst, citing Clinton’s surprisingly narrow win in Iowa and stunning defeat in New Hampshire.
While Sanders was six months behind Clinton in establishing a campaign organization in Nevada, he is expected to spend twice the amount on advertising than she has, with a $1 million ad buy for the coming week, according to Ralston.
Clinton’s first chance for a fresh start before a mass audience arrives Thursday night, when she meets Sanders for the next Democratic debate in Milwaukee.
Sanders, too, immediately began shifting gears, and flew to New York for a breakfast with civil rights leader Al Sharpton. The pair discussed the plight of families who have been poisoned by the water in Flint, Mich., and he has been invited to meet with additional civil rights leaders later this month.
“My concern is as the first black family in America moves out of the White House, the concerns of blacks don’t move out with them,” Sharpton said in an interview with MSNBC.
Sanders raised more than $6 million in the 24 hours after his victory speech, in which he proclaimed the beginning of a political revolution and called on his supporters to go online and donate money. The response was so strong that the website of his fund-raising vendor, ActBlue, slowed to a crawl.
Clinton’s emphasis on her deep government experience and her plans for achievable, incremental progress toward Democratic goals like universal health care has given Sanders — who is calling for a broader “revolution’’ — ample opportunity to portray her as part of the problem in Washington.
There are signs that Clinton was already shifting her message, heeding calls to show more passion and connect with everyday people. In her New Hampshire concession speech Tuesday, the former first lady, US senator, and secretary of state positioned herself as an Obama-esque agent for change — for minorities, seniors, women, immigrants, gays, and lesbians, and working families.
“Who is the best change-maker?” Clinton asked her cheering supporters, promising to “work harder than anyone to actually make the changes that make your lives better.”
Clinton surrogates are fanning out across the country to court minority voters. African-American mothers will campaign for her in Charleston, S.C., where nine were shot to death at a historic black church last year, to highlight her record on gun reforms. On Thursday Bill Clinton is heading to Tennessee, which votes March 1, to urge Democrats to vote early.
But relying on racial politics for a win in the more diverse upcoming states might not be enough for Clinton.
New Hampshire exit polls showed that Sanders won nearly every demographic group, including women, independents, and voters under 30 years old. The only group that favored Clinton were women over 45 years old.
Sanders “is connecting with voters and important chunks of the electorate that exist in every state,” said Anita Dunn, a Democratic strategist who isn’t affiliated with either campaign.
Clinton, she said, must find a way of talking to these voters. “She needs to go out and make a very strong case for her vision of where America is going and why she is going to be the best leader,” Dunn said.
Dunn noted that Clinton has structural advantages beyond her popularity among African-Americans and Hispanics. Call it the final firewall: Clinton already has the support of more than half of the so-called super delegates.
These are party leaders and elected officials from each state who have votes in the Democratic convention that are not tied to how their states voted.
Super delegates represent 712 of the 4,763 delegates who will select the Democratic nominee. A candidate will need 2,382 delegates to win the Democratic nomination.
So far, nearly 360 super delegates say they will support Clinton, compared with 8 who say they will support Sanders, according to a survey by the Associated Press.
Winning via super delegates isn’t a great outcome for Clinton because it could leave the already angry base even more convinced that the system is rigged against them.