Some Clinton allies in NH see the state as a lost cause
With Senator Bernie Sanders holding a 14-point lead in the New Hampshire primary polls – a lead that shows no sign of shrinking – several longtime Clinton political operatives and fundraisers in the state are telling her that it's time to "cut bait."
Clinton's strategy in New Hampshire is failing, and some of her closest advisers believe that it would be useless to pour additional resources into a lost cause.
Despite confidence emanating from the campaign’s paid leadership team that Clinton is well positioned with more than four months to go before the primary, this circle of informal advisers is whispering about more aggressively looking beyond New Hampshire after a summer that saw her polling advantage evaporate. These confidantes are not only granting the possibility that Sanders could win here: they see it as a near-certainty, and in some cases wonder about the usefulness of flooding the state with precious resources.
Instead, they’re arguing that Clinton’s campaign would be just fine focusing on the states that follow in early 2016.
“I look at New Hampshire and I say, ‘um, yeah, whatever.’ I like the people in Iowa. I like the people in New Hampshire. But you know what? They are distinctly different than most places in the country are. They are very white, they are very parochial. And they are not emblematic of the country,” explained one Washington-based Clinton friend who remains in touch with the candidate, adding that she would be comfortable relying on the campaign’s organization in the 48 other states.
"It’s about preserving the antique nomination process. I don’t know if I care so much. I’d like to win. But I don’t think it’s crucial, nor do I think it’s necessary, to win either of those two states."
The widening rift between Clinton’s team and the pocket of informal but influential advisers and old friends is quiet, but real. And it’s exactly this kind of off-strategy, off-message suggestion that drives the official Brooklyn-based campaign mad.
That’s because Clinton’s political team readily acknowledges her weakness in New Hampshire — she was down 14 points to Sanders by the end of September in the Huffington Post Pollster average. And the team is also well aware of the circumstances that the doubters see as evidence of a lost cause — Sanders’ next-door neighbor status, voters’ perceived inability to break into Clinton’s Secret-Service mandated bubble, and her own role as the establishment’s front-runner.
But to Clinton staffers in both Brooklyn and Manchester, the idea of shifting away from New Hampshire — the state that resuscitated Clinton’s 2008 campaign and her husband’s 1992 effort — is beyond ridiculous, and potentially campaign-killing. The state couldn’t be further from hopeless, they say.
So, who's right? The Manchester faction has a good point, but the campaign can't afford to write off New Hampshire. It would give Sanders a huge boost going into the South Carolina primary and heavily unionized Nevada caucuses in the following weeks. Besides, if Clinton wants to play the long game, she has to fight for every delegate she can. There's a difference between Sanders winning by 14 and Sanders winning by 7. The same could be said in other states where the two candidates are competitive. In the proportional representation game, coming close is as good as a win in some cases, depending on how the delegates are allocated. For example, in states that apportion delagates based on their performance in congressional districts, Clinton could lose the popular vote but win most of the districts.
Iowa and New Hampshire fanatically guard their positions as "first in the nation." And there are enough traditionalists in both parties who agree with them that creating some other system would damage the national party. Until then, candidates treat those two states lightly at their own peril. The god of momentum speaks very loudly in those first, crucial contests, and the candidate with it on its side has a big advantage.