Hillary Clinton 'an underdog' in New Hampshire where voters 'Feel the Bern'

Hillary Clinton barely beat Bernie Sanders in Iowa and now she trails him in New Hampshire as Tuesday's primary approaches. Her supporters say they don't trust the polls and predict it will be a close result. Both candidates have a lot at stake and are campaigning hard in the final days.

Bernie Sanders leads Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire polls ahead of Tuesday's vote

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at the New Hampshire Democratic Party McIntyre-Shaheen 100 Club Celebration dinner Friday, Feb. 5, 2016, in Manchester, N.H. (Matt Rourke/Associated Press)

Hillary Clinton supporters were on one side of the arena in downtown Manchester Friday night and Bernie Sanders supporters were on the other. It was an annual fundraiser for New Hampshire Democrats and while party officials talked about party unity in their remarks, the seating arrangements spoke for themselves.

Clinton and Sanders both attended the event and appealed to voters in the Granite State ahead of Tuesday's primary. A night earlier they had also been on stage, facing off in a debate that laid bare how tense their fight for the nomination has become.

After Clinton secured a win in the Iowa caucuses on Monday by the slimmest of margins, the battleground is now in New Hampshire. It's familiar terrain for Clinton and she has a soft spot for it, which she referenced in her remarks Friday night.

It's the state that allowed her husband Bill to mount a comeback when he ran for president in 1992, and that gave her a second chance in 2008 after she suffered a loss in Iowa to President Barack Obama.

Despite all her campaign experience and love for New Hampshire, Clinton is facing an uphill battle here. Sanders has enjoyed a decisive lead in the polls for weeks. In some surveys Clinton has trailed by more than 20 percentage points.

Bernie Sanders is leading in the polls in New Hampshire. He spoke to Democrats Friday night at an annual fundraising dinner in Manchester. (John Minchillo/Associated Press)

"I think she's coming in as the underdog," said Heather Baldwin, a Sanders supporter who was attending the event Friday night, adding she doesn't think Clinton can pull off a win.

Some Clinton advisers have the same view and told her to focus instead on the next primary in South Carolina. But Clinton rejected the advice, telling the crowd last night that the state has never quit on her and she won't quit on it.

In the crucial days between Iowa and New Hampshire, Clinton and Sanders have been honing their strategies to win this state. They are engaged in a war of words over who is the more progressive Democrat. Sanders is citing Clinton's ties to Wall Street, her vote in the Senate to go to war in Iraq, and her support of trade deals, as evidence that she's not a full-time progressive.

Clinton's line of attack is that Sanders has nice ideas but he'd never be able to implement them. She's the one who will keep her promises and get things done, she said during their feisty debate Thursday.

Ground game crucial in final days

On Friday, Clinton's campaign strategy included an event with fellow female politicians, including New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan and senators. Clinton doesn't have the women's vote locked up, Sanders is giving her competition for it, and the 74-year-old is also generating huge support among young people.

Michelle Rech, a 26-year-old Clinton volunteer, said while she is working with many politically active young women supporting Clinton, other women her age may not be aware of all the things Clinton's accomplished during her many years in political life.
Dave Pelletier, left, and Harry Bett, wave Hillary Clinton signs at passing cars outside an event for Democrats in Manchester, N.H., on Feb. 5, 2016. (Meagan Fitzpatrick/CBC News)

That's why the debates are important for Clinton, and so is meeting voters in person, she explained outside the Verizon arena ahead of the dinner. "The more they are able to directly see her, the more we learn about her and I think that will translate and people will pick up on that," said Rech.

A strong ground game is part of Clinton's winning strategy and to that end her campaign brought in volunteers from other states to help out.

New Hampshire voters are known for making up their minds at the last minute, so this, the last weekend before voting day, when people are home to answer their doors when volunteers show up, is critical. Clinton supporters are hoping those who haven't decided can be persuaded.

"That's why we're knocking on doors right up until the last person puts their vote in the ballot box," said Jodi Lonza, who was handing out Clinton T-shirts at Friday night's event.

Last-minute decisions

The last-minute decision-making is also why Lonza and others don't put much weight on polls.

"I think between now and Tuesday a lot can change," said Dave Pelletier as he waved a Clinton sign at passing cars. "At the end of the day Tuesday it's going to be a lot closer than the polls say."

Clinton's camp knows she has a steep climb in New Hampshire; their goal really is to close the gap with Sanders as much as they can.

This snowman, outside the Verizon Wireless arena in Manchester, N.H., shows some voters, regardless of the cold weather, are 'Feeling the Bern,' as Sanders supporters say. (Meagan Fitzpatrick/CBC News)

For Sanders, a win would bolster his case that his momentum is growing and has the potential to last beyond these early voting states. If he pulls off a big win over Clinton his campaign will point to it as a successful test of his electability.

But Clinton's supporters suggest Sanders is doing so well in New Hampshire partly because he is from next door in Vermont. His fans dismiss that notion.

"It's his policies and his authenticity that people are drawn to," said Ian Howes, a Sanders supporter at Friday's event.

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, co-founders of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, were also at the dinner, decked out in Bernie sweatshirts and they similarly praised Sanders for being "the real thing." They've known him for 30 years in Vermont and the pair came to New Hampshire to help him campaign.

"People are voting for Bernie, they are 'feelin' the Bern' because they are so inspired by what he is talking about, which is essentially, returning our country to the democracy that it is supposed to be," said Cohen, as he bopped along to the music playing over the speakers.

They don't hesitate when asked about his chances of winning the nomination. "He can absolutely beat Hillary Clinton," Greenfield declared.

Her supporters are equally confident, not just that she will win the nomination, but the whole election. It's not the end of the world if she loses New Hampshire, a Clinton supporter said Friday. "We move on and we will knock out the rest of the states," said Ellen Roy. She will win the November election against the Republican nominee, Roy predicts, and after the inauguration in January, "We will be able to say Madam President."

Hillary Clinton, accompanied by, from left, New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, gives a thumbs-up during a campaign rally in in Manchester, N.H., Friday, Feb. 5, 2016. (Matt Rourke/Associated Press)


Meagan Fitzpatrick is a multi-platform reporter with CBC in Toronto. She previously worked in CBC's Washington bureau and covered the 2016 election. Prior to heading south of the border Meagan worked in CBC's Parliament Hill bureau. She has also reported for CBC from Hong Kong. Follow her on Twitter @fitz_meagan


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