Sen. Clinton Takes a New Hampshire Tour

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Sen. Hillary Clinton has been to New Hampshire many times before. But this is her first tour as a presidential candidate. How is the trip working out for the New York Democrat?

LIANE HANSEN, host:

Barack Obama wasn't the only high profile Democrat on the campaign trail in a key state yesterday. Senator Hillary Clinton made her first trip as a presidential candidate to New Hampshire, home of the nation's first presidential primary a year from now. Clinton attended a pair of town hall-style meetings yesterday, three more scheduled today. She was greeted by both enthusiastic supporters and tough questions.

NPR's Don Gonyea is in Manchester, New Hampshire this morning.

Don, paint the picture for us. The last time Hillary Clinton campaigned in New Hampshire, her husband was on the ballot. How did she present herself now that she is the one that's seeking the presidency?

DON GONYEA: Well, she opens by talking about the fact that she campaigned across this state with her husband in 1992. He, of course, you may recall, lost the New Hampshire primary that year to Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas. But he did finish a strong second. And as a result, he was able to label himself the Comeback Kid.

Well, she, in talking about that, says she is going to do things differently in New Hampshire in at least one way. And this is the joke that she's starting every event with. She says she's not going to visit so many Dunkin' Donuts because her husband put on about 20 pounds in New Hampshire. And she says she can't afford to do that.

But overall, watching her yesterday, it's the first time I've seen her in a campaign format. And these were town hall-style sessions, taking questions from the audience. She seems very comfortable in front of the crowds. She talks about her experience. She really underscores that. She talks about her work in the Senate, her time as first lady. And she covers in an opening statement that goes 20, 25 minutes a range of issues, from CEO pay to the environment to healthcare to student loans to national security.

HANSEN: Iraq is also a dominant issue in the campaign. And that's an area where a lot of Democrats haven't been happy with Senator Hillary Clinton. Yesterday, her vote to authorize the war came up in those town hall meetings, right?

GONYEA: Yes. That vote was October of 2002, during the run-up to war. It is very clear this is the toughest, trickiest issue she needs to deal with as a candidate, especially when dealing with Democratic voters. And that was very clear on this trip. Give a listen to this question that she got from a Nashua resident. It's a Democrat, his name is Roger Tilton. He spoke at the event in Berlin yesterday morning.

Mr. ROGER TILTON: And I want to know if, right here, right now, once and for all, without nuance, you can say that that war authorization vote was a mistake. And the reason I want to ask is because a lot of other senators have already done so, including some Republicans and including one of your competitors, Senator Edwards.

GONYEA: And then Mr. Tilton goes on to say that he does think Senator Clinton is saying all kinds of great things about all kinds of topics, but that he simply can't hear any of that because of how she voted to give President Bush that authority to go to war. Here's how she responded.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): Well, I have said, and I will repeat it, that knowing what I know now, I would never have voted for it. But I also - and...

(Soundbite of applause)

Sen. CLINTON: And obviously you have to weight everything as you make your decision. I have taken responsibility for my vote. The mistakes were made by this president, who misled this country and this Congress into a war that should not have been waged.

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: And later on I asked the man if he was at all satisfied with that answer. He said no. The question came up again at a second even, one at Concord High School. Someone asked if Mrs. Clinton was trying to have it both ways. She said no, but it's going to keep coming up.

HANSEN: So overall, how would you say that the audiences are reacting to her?

GONYEA: Oh, it's positive. There's a certain percentage of hardcore Hillary Clinton supporters. They come with books for her to sign. It's almost like they come not so much needing to get to know her like they might a lesser known candidate, but they want to see how she faces tough questions, as you just heard. And they really do want to size her up in person.

HANSEN: Any reaction from Senator Clinton to what was happening in Illinois and Iowa with Senator Obama?

GONYEA: She did not talk about any of her opponents. There's also a real sense that she didn't want to just leave him to have the weekend news coverage to himself. She wanted to make sure she was a piece of that story as well.

HANSEN: NPR's Don Gonyea in New Hampshire. Don, thanks a lot.

GONYEA: It's a pleasure.

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