When star power poses a prob­lem

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Evan Halper evan. halper@ latimes. com

CONCORD, N. H. — Af­ter wait­ing in a line that snaked on through the rain, en­dur­ing a se­cu­rity check, then wait­ing more while jammed into an or­chard out­build­ing packed with peo­ple, Deb­o­rah Belle­feuille said she was happy to see Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton — but would also be happy to see her leave.

The idea of Clin­ton’s com­ing back again and again to have re­peated per­sonal con­tact with vot­ers did not thrill Belle­feuille.

She gazed at the col­lec­tion of wary Se­cret Ser­vice agents, gruff se­cu­rity guards, ill- man­nered re­porters and over- caf­feinated cam­paign aides milling about the scene.

“She doesn’t need to be here on a weekly ba­sis,” Belle­feuille said. “She would bring all this B. S. with her.”

“We don’t need you peo­ple here ev­ery day,” she added.

Clin­ton’s celebrity gives her in­stant ac­cess to the media, an un­par­al­leled abil­ity to raise money and near- uni­ver­sal name recog­ni­tion.

But as the scene here showed, it also un­der­mines her abil­ity to forge one- onone con­nec­tions with vot­ers, per­haps to her detri­ment in early pri­mary states, where vot­ers have come to ex­pect close and re­peated con­tact.

Not that Clin­ton’s cam­paign isn’t try­ing. There is no “Hill- A- Copter” thun­der­ing above as there was in Iowa in 2008. Events are ar­ranged to look more like com­mu­nity meet­ings than Bon Jovi con­certs. The cam­paign mantra is hu­mil­ity.

But no mat­ter what else she does, she can­not es­cape be­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton, with all the spec­ta­cle that im­plies.

Even Jeb Bush, hardly an un­known, can slip into New Hamp­shire with­out any­thing close to the fuss that sur­rounds Clin­ton.

The day af­ter Clin­ton’s event here, Bush, the for­mer gover­nor of Florida, held a town hall in Derry, at which one New Hamp­shire voter re­minded the can­di­date that they had met three times. “I’m al­most start­ing to have an opin­ion about you,” the voter joked.

The event bore lit­tle re­sem­blance to Clin­ton’s New Hamp­shire ap­pear­ances. It was ad­ver­tised ahead of time on the mar­quee of the his­toric opera house in which it was held, tick­ets were easy to come by, there were no long lines, and no Se­cret Ser­vice guards di­rected at­ten­dees to empty their pock­ets. Bush, dressed in prac­ti­cal trousers and a rum­pled shirt, was hard to dis­tin­guish from the vot­ers.

Nor did the Bush or­ga­niz­ers take the kind of pre­cau­tions the Clin­ton cam­paign of­ten does to avoid un­com- fort­able mo­ments. The f irst ques­tion came from a vet­eran de­mand­ing to know whether this Repub­li­can want­ing to be com­man­der in chief had ever served his coun­try in the armed forces. Bush said he hadn’t.

A fo­rum Clin­ton had held the day be­fore with vot­ers in the town of Rochester, N. H., had been more no­table for who was not al­lowed in. Media ac­cess was re­stricted to a pool of jour­nal­ists who would share their notes with other or­ga­ni­za­tions. But the cam­paign had turned away that day’s des­ig­nated pool re­porter, a writer from the Daily Mail, a Lon­don tabloid.

The fuss over the pool de­tracted from Clin­ton’s mes­sage of the day — on child care — and gave the New Hamp­shire Repub­li­can Party an open­ing to pounce, ac­cus­ing Clin­ton of a “se­cre­tive cam­paign … based on a clear sense of en­ti­tle­ment and ar­ro­gance.”

The jabs aren’t com­ing from just op­po­nents. A Nashua Tele­graph ed­i­to­rial last month de­clared one Clin­ton event to be “the an­tithe­sis of what New Hamp­shire is about.”

All that may be tak­ing a toll, help­ing to cre­ate an open­ing, at least in this state, for Sen. Bernie San­ders, the in­de­pen­dent so­cial­ist from neigh­bor­ing Ver­mont, to ap­proach within strik­ing dis­tance.

“The en­tourage, the Se­cret Ser­vice, and all that runs con­trary to what New Hamp­shire vot­ers ex­pect,” said David Pa­le­ol­o­gos, di­rec­tor of the Suf­folk Univer­sity Po­lit­i­cal Re­search Cen­ter in Bos­ton. His latest sur­vey of New Hamp­shire vot­ers sug­gested that a 30to 40- point lead Clin­ton had held over San­ders a cou­ple of months ago had now shrunk to about 10 points. Another re­cent poll found much the same.

There are many rea­sons for the nar­row­ing. San­ders had not yet an­nounced his run when the ear­lier polls were in the f ield, and much of his gain could be sim­ply his con­sol­i­dat­ing the an­tiClin­ton vote at the ex­pense of other ri­vals. But Pa­le­ol­o­gos be­lieves the en­tourage fac­tor un­doubt­edly has damp­ened Clin­ton’s pop­u­lar­ity.

“Peo­ple are say­ing they feel dis­con­nected with her, she doesn’t en­gage, she is run­ning a poor cam­paign,” he said. “New Hamp­shire vot­ers need to be courted of­ten.”

At the Concord event, which was less re­stricted than the fo­rum in Rochester, Doug Whit­beck of Ma­son, a town along the bor­der with Mas­sachusetts, ex­pressed hope the day would pro­vide a “two- way in­ter­ac­tion.”

“We see Bernie all the time,” Whit­beck’s wife, Gwen, re­marked.

There was some. Clin­ton took no ques­tions from the dais, but those who per­se­vered were able to get a quick hand­shake as two Se­cret Ser­vice agents hov­ered. Some peo­ple had been at the event for three hours.

Stu­dents of the New Hamp­shire pri­mary say they have seen this be­fore. In 2000, ev­ery step Vice Pres­i­dent Al Gore took in New Hamp­shire seemed a pro­duc­tion, in­volv­ing te­dious plan­ning and heavy- handed se­cu­rity. His ri­val, for­mer U. S. Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey, ex­ploited that.

“Bradley could just show up in a mini­van with a cou­ple of staffers and start go­ing through a crowd,” said Christo­pher Galdieri, a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal science at St. Anselm Col­lege in Manch­ester. Galdieri sus­pects that af­ter the latest polls, Clin­ton op­er­a­tives are try­ing to pivot.

“There are prob­a­bly peo­ple in Clin­ton­land talk­ing right now about how they can make it seem like less of a chore to go see her.”

Cam­paign of­fi­cials say their plan all along was to get the can­di­date in front of more vot­ers. It’s still early in cam­paign sea­son, they em­pha­size, adding that they al­ways an­tic­i­pated the race would tighten.

At the mo­ment, much of their fo­cus has been on get­ting Clin­ton into house par­ties and other small groups where she can meet the ac­tivists who are key to spread­ing her mes­sage and build­ing the get- out- thevote ma­chine the cam­paign will need.

“She is go­ing to be do­ing fo­rums and town halls,” said Jen­nifer Palmieri, the cam­paign com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor. “She is go­ing to be do­ing all of that.”

The im­pres­sion of Clin­ton as trapped in her en­tourage is largely a cre­ation of the media scrum that sur­rounds her, Palmieri said.

“She does walk down the street,” Palmieri said. “Some­times it is fine. Some­times you guys are there.”

Dar­ren McCollester Getty I mages

HIL­LARY CLIN­TON takes a photo with a sup­porter in Concord, N. H., last week. The pres­i­den­tial can­di­date’s celebrity may make it diff icult for her to per­son­ally con­nect with vot­ers in the early pri­mary state.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.