When the hostages had been released and their alleged captor arrested, a regal-looking Hillary Rodham Clinton strolled out of her Washington home, the picture of calm in the face of crisis.
The image, broadcast just as the network news began, conveyed the message a thousand town hall meetings and campaign commercials strive for — namely, that the Democratic presidential contender can face disorder in a most orderly manner.
“I am very grateful that this difficult day has ended so well,” she declared as she stood alone at the microphone.
Little more than three hours later, just in time for the 11 p.m. local news, Clinton reaffirmed that perspective. In New Hampshire, she embraced her staffers and their families, and lauded the law enforcement officials who brought a siege at her local campaign headquarters to a peaceful conclusion.
It was a vintage example of a candidate taking a negative and turning it into a positive. And coming just six weeks before the presidential voting begins, the timing could hardly have been more beneficial to someone hoping to stave off a loss in the Iowa caucuses and secure a win in the New Hampshire primary.
Aides said Clinton was home Friday afternoon, getting ready to deliver a partisan speech in Virginia to the Democratic National Committee, when she was told three workers in her Rochester, N.H., headquarters had been taken hostage by a man claiming to have a bomb.
Police later arrested 47-year-old Leeland Eisenberg of Somersworth, N.H., and charged him with kidnapping and reckless conduct. They said he walked into the office, demanding to speak to Clinton and complaining about inadequate access to mental care.
The aides said Clinton immediately canceled her trip and began working the phones. She later told reporters she had New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch, a fellow Democrat, on the phone in eight minutes.
Over the ensuing five hours, as a state trooper negotiated with the suspect and hostages were released one-by-one, Clinton continued to call up and down the law enforcement food chain, from local to county to state to federal officials.
“I knew I was bugging a lot of these people, it felt like on a minute-by-minute basis, trying to make sure that I knew everything that was going on so I was in a position to tell the families, to tell my campaign and to be available to do anything that they asked of me,” the New York senator said.
At the same time, the woman striving to move from former first lady to the first female president was eager to convey that she knew the traditional lines of command and control in a crisis, even if the events inside the storefront on North Main Street were far short of a world calamity.
“They were the professionals, they were in charge of this situation, whatever they asked me or my campaign to do is what we would do,” Clinton said.
Along with taking charge while giving the professionals free rein, Clinton offered up a third dimension to her crisis character: humanity. She said she felt “grave concern” when she first heard the news of the hostage-taking.
“It affected me not only because they were my staff members and volunteers, but as a mother, it was just a horrible sense of bewilderment, confusion, outrage, frustration, anger, everything at the same time,” Clinton said.
It was a thawing moment for a stoic figure who once snapped that she opted for professional life instead of staying home to bake cookies.
She buttressed it with one final message. Clinton sought to use the sad moment as a national teaching opportunity, another skill often employed by presidents.
She paid tribute to the thousands of believers who set aside their lives every four years so they can propel presidential campaigns on little more than blood, sweat and tears.
“They believe in our future. They work around the clock. They are so committed to their cause, and I just want to commend every one of them from every campaign who really makes what is a sacrifice and a commitment,” Clinton said. “A lot of them postpone school, leave their families, move across the country, and I’m so grateful for them every single day, and I’m especially just relieved to have this situation end so peacefully without anyone being injured.
Glen Johnson has covered local, state and national politics since 1985. He covers the 2008 presidential race for The Associated Press.