As the N.H. race tightens, Clinton goes door to door

Times Staff Writer

After a difficult week in which Hillary Rodham Clinton weathered the embarrassing resignation of a top state campaign official and faced new polls showing Barack Obama pulling even with her in New Hampshire, the senator from New York went door to door telegraphing the message that she wasn’t taking a single voter for granted.

The stakes for her campaign were highlighted by her husband, former President Clinton, who suggested in an interview with PBS’s Charlie Rose that the senator from Illinois was a symbol of change rather than “a change agent,” and said voters who chose Obama’s freshness over Clinton’s experience could be taking a risk with the country’s future.

In Manchester, more than 30 members of the media stumbled through the snowbanks beside Clinton as she walked the icy sidewalk of Montgomery Street with supporter Lou D’Allesandro, a state senator, clutching her elbow to make sure she didn’t slip in her boots.


With a Secret Service detail driving alongside, she popped in on more than half a dozen homes to the delight of some, but to the bewilderment of others unprepared to meet her. One woman in the midst of a conversation on a hot-pink cellphone kept it to her ear even as Clinton shook her hand and asked for her vote.

Later, in town halls in Plaistow and Nashua, Clinton promised “a new beginning in America” and expanded her argument that she could be a “change- maker” based on her more than three decades of experience working for children’s rights, for women’s rights and for the middle class.

Unlike her husband, Clinton did not criticize her chief rivals, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and Obama by name -- but she expanded on a dig she made earlier on their respective messages.

It isn’t enough to demand change or hope for change, she said, and added: “If you are too unyielding then you are likely to end up with nothing to show for it. If you are too compromising, you may very well give up your principles. . . . We need a president more than ever with a lifetime of experience making positive change for people.”

Her husband took a more direct tack in the Rose interview aired Friday night when he praised Obama’s “staggering political skills,” but continued: “If you listen to the people who are most strongly for him, they say basically we have to throw away all these experienced people because they’ve been through the wars of the ‘90s and, you know, they’ve made enough decisions and enough calls that they’ve made a few mistakes; and what we want is somebody who started running for president a year after he became a senator because he’s fresh, he’s new, he’s never made a mistake and he has massive political skills and we’re willing to risk it.”

The question for voters, the former president said, is whether “it is more important to have a symbol of transformation” or to have someone who has “actually done incredible numbers of different things to change other people’s lives.”

In the midst of a bus tour of rural Iowa, at a news conference in Waterloo, Obama waved off criticism from the Clinton camp.

“I understand that there’s a history of politics being all about slash and burn and taking folks down and what I recall the Clintons themselves calling ‘the politics of personal destruction,’ which they decried,” Obama told reporters.

“My suspicion is that’s not where the country’s at right now. They are not interested in politics as a blood sport. They’re interested in governance and solving problems,” Obama said.

Alluding to his surge in polls, Obama said with a laugh, “When I was 20 points down, they all thought I was a wonderful guy. So, obviously, things have changed here in Iowa and elsewhere in the country, and I understand that. That’s the kind of politics we’ve become accustomed to.”

Though Clinton was warmly received with standing ovations at both town halls Saturday, several tough questions from the audience underscored the work she has ahead of her.

One woman told her she was having trouble persuading her friends to support Clinton because the senator voted for the Iraq war and then voted for the resolution labeling the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. “It seems like a pattern,” said middle-school teacher Barbara Dennett, 53, of Newfields.

Clinton faced a more pointed question Saturday evening at Daniel Webster College from Roger Tilton, a Nashua financial analyst who said his daughters were pressuring him to vote for her.

“I like your programs, but there’s still a disconnect for me,” said Tilton, who later said he sent $25 to Obama and $15 to Edwards, but was undecided.

“Sometimes I think that you come off as cold and politically calculating. You say the fun part of the campaign [has begun] and then Barack Obama gets attacked by e-mails about his religion, about his drug use. There’s the disconnect. . . . What do I tell my daughters?” he asked, as the crowd began to hiss and shout.

“Well, your daughters sound very smart to me,” Clinton said, as the crowd whistled and applauded.

After defending her record and the experiences that led her to her political career, Clinton told Tilton: “I can’t be anything other than what I am and I do the very best I can.”