Clinton changes style in bid to stop Obama juggernaut
New Hampshire was supposed to be Hillary Clinton's firewall. Considered home turf by the Clintons, it would surely stop the prairie fire that Barack Obama was lighting in the hearts of million of Americans.
Instead as the polls open this morning, the spreading flames of Obama-mania threaten to immolate her historic bid to become the first woman president of the United States.
Mrs Clinton seemed to have everything on her side, a ferociously well-organised campaign, backed to the hilt by corporate America with Bill Clinton riding along on the campaign bus for good measure.
Yesterday she turned to raw emotion to try to prevent an all-out rout. Tears welled up in her eyes as she told voters just how difficult it was to fight against Republicans and bring about change. "Some of us put ourselves out there and do this," she said, her voice cracking, "against some pretty difficult odds and we do it each one of us because we care about our country. But some of us are right and some of us are wrong. Some of us are ready and some of us are not."
After her third place in Iowa, she came to New Hampshire with a drastically altered focus to her campaign. She has softened her appearance and beefed up her attacks on Mr Obama. "You campaign in poetry, but you govern in prose," she told a rally, underscoring her message that while her rival talks the talk, only she has a track record of delivery from 35 years of public service.
But the level of disaffection seems contagious. After her hammering in Iowa, Mrs Clinton has even changed the soundtrack of her campaign, shamelessly borrowing from her main rival. In Concord, as voters waited hours for her cavalcade to show up, they were treated to Sheryl Crow's "A Change Would Do You Good" as well as anthems by U2, long a staple at Obama events.
But while Mrs Clinton continues to draw large crowds at her rallies, the events are tightly choreographed rather than spontaneous. In the Concord audience were Dana and Mary Mitchell and their three children. Earlier, they had been to an Obama event and they were now waiting for Hillary. Both adults remained convinced by her message of experience and were not persuaded by Mr Obama's rhetorical antics.
"I think it's too big a risk to hand the presidency to someone so inexperienced," said Mr Mitchell, an estate agent, as his wife Mary nodded in agreement. But tellingly, their children begged to differ. Though far too young to vote, they had picked up the infectious enthusiasm among the young for the Obama campaign. During a mock election in their school Mr Obama handsomely won his ticket to the White House.
Mrs Clinton's problem is that voters have worked out that she represents the status quo. They want a sign that says "under new management" flying over White House, not another four or possibly eight years of stalemate and bickering between the Republicans and the Democrats.
Many not only see corporate interests behind Mrs Clinton, they also see legions of party hacks who until recently were rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of getting their noses back in the Washington trough.
Mrs Clinton's campaign chief Mark Penn is one of them. An old Clinton hand, he is still the head of PR at Burson-Marsteller, (with its myriad of special interest clients, some deeply conservative) while promoting Mrs Clinton as an agent for "change".
The Clinton campaign has also been hobbled by having only five days to campaign in New Hampshire after her upset defeat in Iowa. The Obama campaign got an immediate bounce in some polls of 12 per cent. The Clinton campaign resisted the temptation to flood the airwaves with negative ads about him as the Republican Mitt Romney has done about John McCain in the belief that it would backfire spectacularly.
"You can't launch a negative ad and expect that it's going to be effective over a three-day period," one Democratic strategist said.
Knowing that tens of millions of voters have embraced Mr Obama, the Hillary campaign is pulling its punches for the moment.
Apparently accepting that defeat may be inevitable in New Hampshire, there are worries that fallout from a full-blooded on attack on Mr Obama would be fatal to her plan to stay in the race and turn the Democratic nomination into a grinding marathon.
Meanwhile, Mr Obama continued to pull in the hordes of mostly youthful voters, comparing himself to a surfer. "You're the wave and I'm riding it," he told his young audience.
But there was also a note of caution. "Do not take this race for granted," he said.
Latest polls (last poll in brackets)
Fox 32 (25)
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Fox 28 (34)
Marist 28 (37)
Fox 18 (15)
Marist 22 (18)
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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