Back in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton takes a different tack

Last modified: 4/22/2015 12:18:33 AM
Hillary Clinton is back in New Hampshire as a presidential candidate for the first time since 2008. As with her inaugural campaign stop here during her first bid for the White House, her visit this week is bolstered by a series of conversations with New Hampshire residents.

Things look a bit different this time around, though.

Last time, she announced her intent to run in late January and made her first visit in early February. This time, Clinton – like a number of other candidates – has held off until later in the year. Her campaign announcement for this presidential cycle came just more than a week ago.

Last time, the headline events for her first campaign visit in New Hampshire were a town hall in Berlin and another event in which she fielded questions at the center of a packed Concord High School gymnasium. This time, Clinton is trading out those large, public conversations for a series of smaller “roundtables.”

Last time, according to past Monitor reports, Clinton’s stance on the Iraq War was a major focus of voters’ questions. The economy, education, health care, environmental issues and, at times, Clinton’s gender, also came up.

This time, the campaign set up two events centered around broad policy areas: a trip yesterday afternoon to Whitney Brothers, a children’s furniture manufacturer in Keene, for a discussion on small-business issues; and a trip this morning to NHTI in Concord for a discussion on education and work force development issues.

As Clinton talked with seven Whitney Brothers employees about the challenges facing small businesses and their employees, the conversation shifted to another issue that has, in recent years, risen to the forefront of the challenges facing New Hampshire as a whole: substance abuse.

Pamela Livengood, who works as an assembler at the furniture company, told Clinton she serves as the guardian for her 5-year-old grandson because his mother has been affected by “the growing drug problem in our area.” There are limited resources available for people who need help, Livengood noted.

Clinton, in response, said she intends to make substance abuse and mental health issues a major part of her campaign.

“I am really concerned because, Pamela, what you just told me I’m hearing from a lot of people,” Clinton said. “There is a hidden epidemic. The drug abuse problem – whether it’s pills, or meth, or heroin – is not as visible as, you know, 30 years ago when there were all kinds of gangs and violence. This is a quiet epidemic, and it is striking in small towns and rural areas as much as any big cities.”

Clinton didn’t outline specific details on how she might go about addressing such issues as part of her presidential platform, but she did point to the Affordable Care Act’s mandate for parity on insurance coverage for mental health treatment as a step in the right direction.

Among the employees at Whitney Brothers present for Clinton’s visit, support was mixed, both from those who participated in the discussion and those who looked on.

Susan Wheeler, a 32-year-old furniture assembler who watched the roundtable, said she liked what she heard – especially the willingness to address substance abuse. Still, she would have liked to see more young voices included in the conversation with Clinton. (The employees who participated in the roundtable said they simply responded to their boss’s call for volunteers.)

“This is the generation that’s growing up, that’s going to be supporting this country,” said Wheeler, who lives in Keene and has worked at the company for about a year. “And the older people, no offense to them, they’re getting older. We’re the ones who are still working.”

Christine Swanson and Bill Asmus, who were part of the discussion with Clinton, were also happy about her willingness to focus on substance abuse. While they were satisfied with the overall conversation with the candidate, neither said they were ready to commit to supporting Clinton quite yet – both said they’re independent, but Asmus said he tends to lean toward Democrats and Swanson toward Republicans. At the moment, Swanson said she’s especially interested in Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

Though their political views differed, the employees’ advice for Clinton on the rest of her trip through the Granite State was the same.

“Just be real,” Swanson advised. “No fake. Just tell it how it is.”

“Just say like it is and mean what you say,” Asmus added. “You’re not going to please everybody – but people know that if you say something, that’s what you’re going to do.”

Clinton, of course, is no stranger to New Hampshire. At the start of the roundtable in Keene, she recalled celebrating a birthday in the same city more than two decades ago while she was here campaigning with her husband.

Her history in the state brings with it a deep network of Democratic allies. In the audience for the roundtable were several of those friends. Among them were state Sen. Molly Kelly, who connected with Clinton during her 2008 presidential campaign, and former Keene mayor Pat Russell, who met Clinton in 1991.

“She went to Manchester and they weren’t sure what to do. I was the Democratic national committeewoman then,” Russell recalled on her way out of the roundtable. “And so they said send her over to Pat! She’ll find something. Which we did.”

After she left the Keene event, Clinton headed to several house parties with supporters, including one gathering at the home of former state senator Sylvia Larsen in Concord. Her campaign said a series of private meetings with elected officials, activists and other potential backers are planned throughout her trip.



(Casey McDermott can be reached at 369-3306 or cmcdermott@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @caseymcdermott.)




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