From Henniker, New Hampshire –
There are little moments on the campaign trail that sometimes make you wonder if you are seeing the seeds of something that will grow later into a bigger election story, and that was the case at two events that I covered on Saturday.
The weather was much nicer than Friday, when a heavy snow had made travel difficult. Saturday morning dawned with a lot of snow, but warm enough to insure that it would melt soon.
My first stop was a school in Bedford, where Jeb Bush was holding a town hall. I had heard that Bush was drawing bigger crowds in the Granite State, and this one was proof of that.
“I hope you vote for me Tuesday,” Bush told the crowd, “because you all have the chance to shape this election.
Several hundred people were left outside – unable to get into this middle school cafeteria, as it is plainly obvious the Bush message is being received better in the Granite State than it had been last week in Iowa.
As he did in Iowa, Bush has been hitting Donald Trump hard.
“I’m not a psychologist or a psychiatrist, but the guy needs therapy,” Bush said to laughter, as the crowd clearly appreciated the jabs at the real estate magnate.
It was a very good event for Bush; and then he followed it up with another good debate performance on Saturday night.
“I think he’s the man for the job,” said Mike Angiulo of Manchester, who arrived at the Bush event as an undecided voter.
“He’s sensitive to a lot of the issues that we are dealing with,” Angiulo added.
Are we witnessing a late surge for Jeb? Or will this just be a passing thing in New Hampshire?
I know it may seem odd to Republicans outside of New Hampshire, but there is a distinct reservoir of support here for Bush, John Kasich and Chris Christie, as voters in the Granite State like the idea of people who have governed, and achieved success.
While soaring rhetoric seems to be attractive in Iowa and down south inside the GOP, it sort of falls flat here with the typical flinty New Hampshire voter.
On to Hillary Clinton
After finishing my stories about the Bush event, I started on the road to Henniker, home to the small New England College, about an hour’s drive to the northwest of Manchester.
As I stopped for lunch, one of the restaurant workers suddenly approached me – I guess it’s my jacket and tie – and launched into a political diatribe.
“I got a one of those automated phone calls last night about Marco Rubio,” she said in a hard New England accent.
She then went into a full some review of the GOP race, accurately noting that Ted Cruz could afford a lesser performance, and still go south to South Carolina.
This wasn’t the Wayfarer Bar, so I ate quickly, worried what else might happen.
Once I got to Henniker, the public line was also long for the Hillary Clinton event – and for the news media as well.
The event got off to a somewhat rocky start for Clinton, as she faced a crowd that obviously was young – and likely skewed to Bernie Sanders.
She tried to address it immediately.
“I for one, know that there are a lot of young people supporting my opponent, and I want you to know that even if you don’t support me, I support you,” Clinton said, making a very quick reference to Sanders in the first minute of her remarks.
As Clinton swiftly opened the floor to questions, the event started oddly, as a young man referred to her as “Secretary Sanders.”
“You’ve undergone enormous amounts of scrutiny for controversial topics such as Benghazi and your emails; now that also surrounds you with a certain amount of distrust,” he said.
If Clinton was knocked off stride, she didn’t show it.
“Let’s talk about Benghazi; it was investigated nine times,” Clinton said to applause in the room, arguing that she has been under attack by Republicans for many years.
“I’m still standing and they’re still trying to bring me down,” Clinton added.
After getting a softball from a little girl wearing a cute hat – “Why do you want to be President?” – Clinton then had another jarring questioner.
“First I would like to say that I actually worked for you eight years ago,” the woman said softly, as she went back to the first question for Clinton.
“My concern is that your answer that ‘nothing new is found’ in the Benghazi hearings continues to give me some doubts,” as the woman talked about the shifting explanations of the Obama Administration in the aftermath of the attacks.
Before it became too extended of a discussion, Clinton grabbed control of the microphone and the issue, again defending herself against attacks on Benghazi and her emails.
But combined with the fact that many Democratic voters here are much more attached to Bernie Sanders – and that they seemingly have no qualms about asking in-your-face questions about Clinton’s past – it makes you wonder about what’s next for Clinton on the campaign trail.
As I left Henniker, the lights of Clinton’s motorcade raced in front of me on the highway, as I followed her and the state police on the way to a last event Portsmouth.
That Portsmouth event was a much more friendly crowd. A friendly Governor. Fellow U.S. Senators. No questioners to suddenly divert the event onto the wrong election exit.
“I will work my heart out for you,” Clinton told the gathering.
As the applause swelled, her voice rose as well.
“I hope you can imagine what we can do together,” Clinton said.
For now, New Hampshire Democrats don’t seem to be imagining that type of future with Hillary Clinton, as Bernie Sanders remains the favorite in the Granite State.
Bush and Clinton. Both trying to push ahead in New Hampshire. Both facing longer term hurdles as well.