Democratic Candidates Cross Paths at Dinner With only three days before the New Hampshire primary, presidential candidates are rushing around the state so fast it can be hard to catch them. But Friday night, almost all of the Democratic contenders managed to be in the same hall in Milford.
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Democratic Candidates Cross Paths at Dinner

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Democratic Candidates Cross Paths at Dinner

Democratic Candidates Cross Paths at Dinner

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Only three days before the New Hampshire primary, and the presidential candidates there are rushing around the state so fast it's hard to catch them. Last night, almost all the Democratic contenders wound up in an arena in Milford, at the same time, to raise money for the state Democratic Party.

As NPR's Robert Smith reports, the event turned into a full-contact sport.

ROBERT SMITH: The 100 Club fundraiser is usually consigned to a dim hotel ballroom - but not this year. The tables were set up on the artificial turf of an indoor soccer arena, which only added to the competitive spirit. The Clinton campaign was playing a zone defense. It purchased the most expensive VIP seats in the midfield, right in front of the stage, and they were ready to swarm when their candidate emerged.

Unidentified Man #1: Please welcome to the stage, Senator Hillary Clinton.

(Soundbite of cheering crowd)

SMITH: It seemed like the evening might just be a fun practice game for the candidates, until Clinton began to charge at her opponents. First, a little friendly elbow on Barack Obama's theme of change and hope.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Democratic Presidential Candidate): Some people think you make change by demanding it, and some people think you make change by hoping for it. I think you make change by working really, really hard and…

SMITH: The Obama supporters, back at the cheap tables near the goal lines, started to boo. Clinton had promised that after finishing third, she would be more aggressive about taking on Obama, and sure enough she butted again, this time in reference to Obama's health care proposal that doesn't mandate coverage for everyone.

Sen. CLINTON: Would I leave out the young couple from Manchester who have their own business, whom I met door-knocking and are wondering whether they're going to be able to afford health care for themselves and their children?

SMITH: When she got to the part of the speech, where she asks rhetorically who will be the best president on day one, Obama supporters started to chant his name. All throughout the night, the Obama team had been distributing signs at a secret playbook. When their candidate's turn to speak came near, the crowd of young supporters rushed the midfield from their cheap seats then crowded into the $500-plate section.

Unidentified Group: Obama. Obama. Obama.

SMITH: The fire department tried in vain to get all the young people back to their tables.

Unidentified Man #2: For safety concerns, before we can proceed, please take your seats.

(Soundbite of groaning crowd)

SMITH: With all these chaos on the soccer field, Obama himself appeared. He couldn't have asked for a better metaphor. Whereas, Clinton never mentioned the four-letter word Iowa, Obama was happy to rub it in.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Democratic Presidential Candidate): We expanded the reach of the Democratic Party by rallying not just the tried and true Democrat, but the independent and even the Republican to our cause by bringing in more young people into the caucus process than at anytime in the history of the Iowa caucuses.

(Soundbite of cheering crowd)

SMITH: As soon as the speech ended, Clinton supporters were headed for the parking lot while a line of young men and women tried to shake Obama's hand.

Stephanie Powers(ph), a Clinton volunteer from Washington, D.C., said she's still amazed by all these young women who've abandoned the chance to elect a female president.

Ms. STEPHANIE POWERS (Clinton Volunteer): I saw younger women. They should have been through the struggle.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POWERS: They ought to get on their knees and thank her for all the work that she did and for those of us who are in her age group because we've paved the way. And you know what, it's a lot easier now.

SMITH: There were other candidates at the event. Dennis Kucinich got a standing ovation for his call to impeach Vice President Cheney. Bill Richardson gave a serious speech on Iraq. But they didn't recruit a crowd of crazed supporters and so didn't make much of impact. A clear message was set by former Senator John Edwards, who skipped the event altogether to talk to voters in Portsmouth.

On the soccer field crowded with paid organizers and fundraisers, there probably wasn't an undecided vote to be had. There was lots of action, plenty of cheering, but like many a soccer game, no goals scored last night.

Robert Smith, NPR News, Manchester.

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