Shift to Softer Approach Seemed to Boost Clinton


By: Wall Street Journal

Less-Scripted Speeches, A Display of Emotion And Weather Credited
By AMY CHOZICK

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Early this week, when polls showed Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton trailing Sen. Barack Obama by a double-digit margin, her campaign braced for another big loss. So how did a bruised Sen. Clinton walk away with a victory in New Hampshire Tuesday night?

Democratic strategists say her success could have been from the perception that rather than acting like an entitled front-runner, Mrs. Clinton for the first time showed a softer, more vulnerable side that voters responded to. She took more audience questions, spent more time meeting individual voters and delivered less-scripted speeches. And she famously displayed some extra emotion at a breakfast the day before the primary.

All that helped her carry a majority of women voters. In Iowa, Mr. Obama did better among females.

But that isn’t all.

The unseasonably warm weather in Manchester Tuesday also could have helped Mrs. Clinton. Forty-eight percent of voters 65 years or older voted for Mrs. Clinton, compared with 32% for Mr. Obama, according to exit polls.

Both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama have been running on the premise of change, but Mrs. Clinton has consistently argued that change comes only through experience. Many caucus-goers in Iowa rejected this idea, saying that Mrs. Clinton is part of the same old Washington establishment.

That perception was heightened by Mrs. Clinton’s concession speech at a Des Moines hotel last week as she stood on the stage with a somber-looking former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Gen. Wesley Clark and husband Bill Clinton behind her.

In New Hampshire, Mrs. Clinton appeared less frequently with her husband and emphasized her work with the Children’s Defense Fund “long before I held public office or cameras followed me around.” Tuesday night, the bleachers behind Mrs. Clinton were filled with young people waving signs that said “Clinton Country” and shouting “Hillary! Hillary!”

“We crafted her message here in New Hampshire,” said senior adviser Sidney Blumenthal. “She realized that her presentation [of change] was unimpressive in Iowa, and she had to reconsider how to make her argument.”

In addition to selling a softer Hillary Clinton, her campaign stepped up attacks on Mr. Obama. Last weekend, the Clinton campaign sent out mailings questioning Mr. Obama’s voting record on abortion. At a campaign stop Monday, Mrs. Clinton compared Mr. Obama’s likability to that of President Bush. Mr. Bush “came across as a real affable, personable guy,” she said. “But if you look at what he did in Texas, it didn’t show how he’d do any of these things.”

On the eve of the primary, Mr. Clinton said Mr. Obama hadn’t received the same kind of scrutiny Mrs. Clinton received. He likened the Obama campaign to “the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen.”

Mr. Obama quickly fired back, saying that “the real fairy tale, I think, is Bill Clinton suggesting somehow that we’ve been just taking a cakewalk here.”

In the end, the argument appears to have played in Mrs. Clinton’s favor. Many voters said they made up their minds when they watched the debates. As a result, 71% of voters who said that experience matters voted for Mrs. Clinton, compared with 5% for Mr. Obama.

Marsha Swift, a 57-year-old who works in health care, said she likes Mr. Obama, but after seeing the debates decided to vote for Mrs. Clinton. “He’s riding the wave, but I really think she’s the ship that will deliver,” she said.

Another part of Mrs. Clinton’s new message was a bigger emphasis on “kitchen table” issues like the economy and the foreclosure crisis, which have in recent weeks surpassed the war in Iraq as key issues for voters. Forty-three percent of Clinton voters said they have been “falling behind” economically, compared with 33% for Mr. Obama.

With polls predicting Mrs. Clinton would do poorly in New Hampshire, her narrow victory came as a surprise even to some of her own advisers. Some had even been discussing whether Mrs. Clinton should consider an early exit from the race if she lost in New Hampshire. Campaign contributors talked about putting their money into the Obama campaign instead.

On a conference call yesterday morning, campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe told reporters the campaign would be increasing its staff as it moves into “Super Tuesday” states that hold primaries Feb. 5.

Even though the campaign staff was resigned to a loss, campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson says he spoke to Mrs. Clinton Tuesday morning, and she said to him: “I know what the polls say, but I can tell you the reaction I’m getting from voters has been very, very strong in the last few days.”

–Jackie Calmes contributed to this article.

Write to Amy Chozick at amy.chozick@wsj.com

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