N.H. Was Clinton's "Firewall" in 2008. What Role Will It Play This Time Around?

Feb 3, 2016

No presidential candidate has more of a history with the Granite State than Hillary Clinton. Her comeback win here eight years ago set off what became a long battle for the Democratic nomination, which of course, Clinton ultimately lost to Barack Obama.

NHPR’s Senior Political Reporter Josh Rogers joined Morning Edition's Rick Ganley to discuss Clinton's 2016 race, and 2008's campaign compared.

Let’s start with some history. Back in 2008/ Hillary Clinton came from behind to win NH --- no polls were predicting it. That win came on the heels of a surprise loss in Iowa. This time Clinton arrives from Iowa having eeked out the narrowest of wins, apparently the narrowest in Democratic caucus history. What does this mean here?

Well Iowa showed Bernie Sanders campaign did a pretty good job harnessing the energy of his backers – some four in ten caucus goers were new to the process. If Sanders could does something similar here in New Hampshire, where he is perceived to be on better footing, he would do very well. For Clinton, a win is a win, but her campaign wants a strong finish here -- at a minimum that need is symbolic -- but it could be more than that.

You know, looking back to 2008, plenty of people used the term "firewall" to describe the role New Hampshire played for the Clinton campaign.

Well had then-Senator Obama started by carrying Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, the Democratic race probably would have been over sooner.

But it seems New Hampshire may play a different role this time.

Absolutely, times have changed. So has the electorate. According to a recent study by the Carsey institute, some 30 percent of voters eligible to participate in this election either didn’t live here or were too young to participate in 2008. So a good slug of the people deciding this race may be different than eight years ago. But there are some things to bear in mind about that race: Hillary Clinton lost most of the towns in the state but won by carrying cities like Manchester, Nashua, Rochester, Somersworth, places where moderate, traditional Democrats exist in some numbers. She also carried some high population towns in Hillsborough and Rockingham counties. She did better among older Democrats, and among women. Their support was huge for her: 57 percent of those voting the 2008 Democratic Primary were women; Clinton got 46 percent of them. Obama had 36 percent.

The Clinton campaign is obviously aware of this, and it’s been targeting women voters for some time.

Oh yes. If you want to win a Democratic primary doing well with women is pretty much required. And some of the moments from the waning moments of 2008 that people remembe - this famous bit when Clinton’s eyes welled up while campaigning at a Portsmouth coffee shop, for example:

“You know I have so many opportunities from this country, I just don’t want to see us fall backwards, so...”

And then recall this bit from the debate on the eve of the election:

“I don t think I’m that bad.”

“You are likable enough, Hillary. No doubt about it.”

Now these were seen as particularly helpful to Clinton with women voters. There were other things on this front, too like mailers and a letter the 2008 campaign sent out late in the election casting doubt on then-Senator Obama’s commitment to abortion rights based on votes he took as a lawmaker in Illinois. This letter was signed by prominent New Hampshire women, a bunch of state senators, including Governor Hassan, who was then in the state senate. How significant this was in terms of moving votes then is hard to know, but is illustrative of the sorts of things campaigns do at the tail end of close elections.

So far, the Clinton campaign, which is being run by different folks, has been less sharp-edged going after Sanders, save for on gun control. That may change this week.