Hillary Rodham Clinton was born in Illinois, learned the nitty-gritty of politics in Arkansas and represented New York in the U.S. Senate. But her daylong visit here served notice that, should she run for president, she intends to make New Hampshire her political home turf.
Clinton’s first trip to New Hampshire since October 2008 featured a rally with state Democrats, where she linked arms with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Gov. Maggie Hassan, as well as off-schedule stops at popular restaurants in Manchester and Dover and, by nightfall, a fundraiser for Hassan in Portsmouth.
Taken together, Clinton’s appearances showed her ability to energize Democrats and underscored the network in New Hampshire that she and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have nurtured for more than two decades. At a Nashua rally, the mere mention of Clinton by Shaheen or Hassan prompted booming chants of “Hillary!” from about 700 activists in a community college gymnasium.
“Starting way back in 1991 you opened your homes and your hearts to us,” Clinton said in a nostalgic turn, recalling her husband’s first presidential campaign. “And in 2008, during the darkest days of my campaign, you lifted me up, you gave me my voice back, you taught me so much about grit and determination and I will never forget that.”
Clinton’s political upbringing often allows her to cite her connections around the country — and the world, for that matter. Growing up in Chicago’s suburbs, she was a self-described “Goldwater Girl” who supported Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater in his 1964 landslide loss against President Lyndon Johnson. She became a Democrat in college and her political views were shaped by the Vietnam War as a student in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
In Arkansas, Clinton joined her husband’s fast ascent to governor, helping him rebound from a failed re-election bid and serving as an influential first lady, attorney and child advocate. She played a strategic role in Bill Clinton’s presidential campaigns and two terms in the White House, overcame the couple’s public struggles during the Monica Lewinsky affair and moved to New York, winning an open Senate seat in 2000. After Barack Obama defeated her in the 2008 primary, Clinton campaigned for him and then logged nearly a million miles as secretary of state.
In New Hampshire, Clinton offered a glimpse of her family’s political staying power in the state that holds the first presidential primary. Her remarks pointed to specific ways Shaheen had helped voters — protecting jobs at the Portsmouth Naval Yard, efforts to wide Interstate 93 — and she echoed Democrats’ contention that Republican Scott Brown, Shaheen’s opponent, displayed a poor understanding of the state’s geography in a recent debate.
Later, she plunged into the type of retail politics New Hampshire is known for, stopping by the Puritan Backroom in Manchester. The restaurant has long attracted political leaders and is co-owned by an up-and-coming Democrat, Chris Pappas, who serves on the state’s executive council.
That type of campaigning helps maintain Clinton’s base here: a network of Bill Clinton loyalists, supporters of Hillary Clinton’s first presidential campaign and the melding of the Clinton and Obama teams in Ready for Hillary, a grassroots group encouraging her to run for president.
Democrats here said the dynamics would make it difficult for potential challengers like Vice President Joe Biden, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
New Hampshire, as many Democrats note, is full of Clinton-related landmarks: the Elks Lodge in Dover where Bill Clinton promised in 1992 to “be there for you until the last dog dies,” or the cafe in Portsmouth where Hillary Clinton got emotional a day before the 2008 primary, telling a group of voters “this is very personal for me.”
The Clintons have maintained their political network amid these memories, sending handwritten notes and checking in by phone when a local Democrat becomes a grandparent or loses a loved one.
“She doesn’t take people or relationships for granted,” said Terie Norelli, the outgoing New Hampshire House speaker who received a personal letter from Hillary Clinton this year after announcing she would step down as speaker.
Unlike Iowa, which has never sent a woman to Congress or the governor’s mansion, New Hampshire Democrats regularly elect women — with Shaheen and Hassan at the top. “We’re past due for a woman president,” said Rita MacAuslan, a candidate for state representative who wore a white Bill Clinton 1992 campaign T-shirt at the Nashua rally. “And she brings a co-president with her.”
But few expect Clinton to receive a free pass.
“New Hampshire is Clinton country,” said Terry Shumaker, a Manchester attorney and veteran of Bill Clinton’s campaigns. “But if Hillary runs, she can’t take it for granted — as is our tradition, she’s going to have to campaign here and earn it.”
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