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As Democratic Polls Tighten, Clinton Adopts A More Aggressive Approach

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As Democratic Polls Tighten, Clinton Adopts A More Aggressive Approach

Democratic presidential candidate Clinton addresses supporters at the Electric Park

By Evan Halper and Chris Megerian, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

The firewall that Hillary Clinton spent months painstakingly constructing to ensure quick, early and decisive victory in the Democratic nominating contest isn’t holding, leaving the candidate once considered the prohibitive favorite scrambling to regain her momentum.

Just weeks before ballots are cast in the key early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, Clinton faces risk of defeat in both places, where anything but convincing victories for her could herald the kind of drawn-out, bloodying primary that establishment Democrats had banked on averting.

Clinton’s change of fortune comes even as she has run a disciplined campaign that dominates in fundraising and reaching voters with expertly produced advertising. But voters are unenthusiastic. She has not touched off the kind of excitement generated by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is successfully engaging new supporters the way Barack Obama did when he bested then-front-runner Clinton in Iowa in 2008.

“It’s like a quarter flipping around in the air,” George Ensley, chairman of the Democratic Party in Boone County, Iowa, said of the race in that state, where a comfortable lead Clinton enjoyed since spring has evaporated. “Which way is it going to come down? I don’t know right now.”

Sanders, the reconstructed New Dealer, has the Clinton juggernaut in a heightened state of concern. He is leading in New Hampshire in most every independent poll, and polling in Iowa suggests the race there is a toss-up, with the momentum on his side. Nationwide, Clinton’s lead over Sanders has slipped considerably.

The slipping poll numbers have pushed Clinton to take a feistier — and riskier — approach to confronting rival Sanders, a democratic socialist once looked upon by Clinton operatives as a model adversary: too far outside the mainstream to pose a significant threat, but popular enough to give the appearance of a real race.

“As we have gained momentum, I think it’s fair to say the Clinton campaign has become very nervous,” Sanders told NBC on Tuesday night. Clinton denies the developments are causing any unexpected heartburn, saying polls go up and they go down, and repeating her assertion that the campaign always anticipated a tight race.

Yet her approach has undeniably changed.

She is now relentlessly attacking the rival she mostly ignored for months. By this week, even Chelsea Clinton had touched off a spirited back-and-forth with the Sanders campaign. Speaking to voters in New Hampshire, she accused her mother’s rival, who favors a European-style single-payer health care system, of seeking to “dismantle Obamacare … dismantle Medicare and dismantle private insurance.”

The comments riled Sanders, as well as his network of activists who accuse the Clinton machine of misleading voters.

Clinton herself is seizing on Sanders’ mixed record on gun safety, mocking his explanation that he has not always voted for tighter restrictions because he represents a rural state where hunting is part of the culture.

“Sen. Sanders has been a pretty reliable vote for the gun lobby,” Clinton told NBC on Wednesday.

The Clinton campaign also told reporters that Sanders risked not being backed by President Obama, who threatened to withhold support from any candidate who doesn’t agree with his views on gun control — an interpretation the White House did not exactly stand behind.

Clinton also accuses Sanders of reckless economics. “There’s no way, if you do the arithmetic, how to pay for what he has proposed without raising taxes on the middle class,” she said at a campaign event Monday in Waterloo, Iowa.

The Sanders campaign is responding aggressively. Amid all the demands from Clinton for an apology for past gun votes by Sanders, the Vermonter proudly waves his D-minus rating from the National Rifle Association at campaign events and has embraced a robust gun-control agenda.

He also demanded Clinton make an apology of her own. He pasted on his Twitter account a mailer from 2008 in which Clinton positioned herself as a champion of gun rights and suggested she explain herself.

The evolution of the race into a political street fight carries risks for both candidates.

The initiation of the barbs by Clinton has the taint of desperation, coming from a candidate who did everything by the book yet is watching her lead slip away nonetheless. It is unclear whether they will be effective in helping stir up the voter passion her campaign has lacked.

“This is a real challenge for Hillary Clinton,” said Democratic pollster Peter Hart. “I don’t think you can turn Bernie Sanders into a villain. He isn’t one. When you are 74, as he is, and you are a socialist from Vermont, it is hard to make you out to be Richard Daley or some other political boss,” he added, referring to the former Chicago mayor famed for his decadeslong stranglehold on the city’s political machine.

As for Sanders, he appears to be going back on his repeated vow not to engage in negative campaign tactics, and he is clearly less comfortable in such brawls than Clinton is.

But it is also difficult to gauge whether the Sanders surge will translate into votes, particularly in the caucus state of Iowa, where the mere act of voting is daunting and time-consuming — and Clinton’s get-out-the-vote operation is more seasoned and better-funded.

“Are (his) people going to show up to a caucus?” said Tom Henderson, Democratic Party chairman in Polk County, which includes Des Moines. “Or are they people who like to show up at rallies and cheer them on, and then leave?”

©2016 Tribune Co. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton addresses supporters at the Electric Park Ballroom in Waterloo, Iowa January 11, 2016. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein




  1. Otto Greif January 18, 2016

    When she gets aggressive it hurts her likability.

    1. Böcker January 21, 2016

      She also gets quite shrill.

  2. @HawaiianTater January 18, 2016

    Hillary is panicking. It’s happening to her all over again. Maybe this time she will get the hint that the USA is just not that into her.

  3. I of John January 19, 2016

    Some would chuckle and rub their hands because of this. I am relieved for Hillary. This means she is going to fight and not meander into the convention uncontested. And no it isnt a catch-22 we want our Presidents to be tough, female or not. She needs this fight with Bernie to be in the right frame of mind to take on a hardened GOP. If she survives Bernie, she’ll be ready for Cruz or Tump.

    1. Eleanore Whitaker January 20, 2016

      As a woman, I think Hillary was just as satisfied that she lost to Barack Obama. Now, he is her greatest ally and supporter. She also has the support of Elizabeth Warren.

  4. itsfun January 19, 2016

    Seems that the more Americans learn about Hillary, the more she drops in the polls.

    1. Eleanore Whitaker January 20, 2016

      Seems like you can’t post anything that doesn’t degrade, demean and bash Hillary or the President. Got a problem with Democrats? Or are you just unable to see handwritings on the wall?

      1. itsfun January 20, 2016

        nope, even voted for a lady Democrat for US Senator. Hillary belongs in prison. now “top secret” documents have been found on her personal server. The General may even lose his rank because a writer saw 2 confidential documents on his desk. I don’t believe she has the character to be a leader in our nation. I don’t want a socialist for my President either. Where are the young Democrats or even Joe Biden? Has to be a case of the Democratic establishment telling everyone not to run because it is Hillary’s turn.

        1. Eleanore Whitaker January 21, 2016

          Oh …I see…Well..Why didn’t you tell us that we should not allow Hillary the same justice YOU right wing BS artists allowed Bush when he was responsible for the deaths of over 4,000 Americans on 9/11? But you are correct…Hillary should get the blame for that and while you are at it, dipwad…Let’s get all get in on your irresponsible childish male need to blame the President for 9/11…YOUR effed Texas president who had 8 years to see a Financial Meltdown coming…and thanks to dispwads like you missed it entirely…excuses, excuses, excuses…4 people died in Benghazi because your GOP slashed and burned the funding for the very programs that would have prevented those deaths. But let’s put the serial murderer Hillary, the crook worse than Madoff and the reckless liars like Gowdy who used bogu Benghazi data and Chaffetz who used a bogus Planned Parenthood video, in prison.

          You are one sick pup. If Hillary WAS guilty of anything, she’d be in prison by now…You have NO proof..All you have is your BS to chew on. Get to it. As for you autocratic BS artists EVER voting for a woman…235+ years of the Good Ole Boys network in government proves otherwise…Stop making a moron of yourself.

          Right now your have at least three GOP candidates all who belong in prison…Rand Paul and his Daddy for misuse of campaign funds, Trump who has that FinCen $22 million fine for laundering money to terrorists to deal with and let’s not forget the phony Canadian Texan who somehow managed to jump to the head of the line of INS and become Mr. Instant Citizen all so he could broker more oil pipeline deals..

          When it comes to scumbuckets, you have more in the GOP than you are man enough to admit…Try again hot shot..your posts are pissass examples of men who can’t stand any woman to step on your balls.

          1. itsfun January 21, 2016

            Where did I say anything about 9/11 or George Bush? You asked me a question and I answered it. If you don’t want a answer then don’t ask questions. I told you I voted for a lady Democrat for my US Senator. I have no idea where you somehow get the idea I hate women or don’t want any of them in office. I don’t like Hillary, don’t trust her, don’t believe anything she says. Having top secret documents on her personal server is actually a crime. She can’t use the excuse she didn’t know they were classified or weren’t marked. She was the SOS, it was part of her job to know what was or should be classified. If she isn’t smart enough to know what a top secret document is, she definitely doesn’t belong in the White House. Why are you such a man hater?

          2. Eleanore Whitaker January 22, 2016

            Hey…get a freaking clue already…You didn’t post anything about 9/11 or Bush…”I” did. You are an example of the autocratic minds who believe they are always right. Sorry but I am proving you wrong and boy do you hate that…Men like you can’t grow up …you went from Mommy to McWifie so you could have your handmaiden jack your male ego.

            As for Hillary…you better get used to women being ahead of you Mr. Man. Because after Hillary there are still plenty of other women to take over government you Good Ole Good Ole Boys have had domain over for 235+ years…Men like you are wusses when women outnumber you.

          3. itsfun January 22, 2016

            Yep I was right again, you are nothing less than a man hater. I told you I voted for a lady for the US Senate and of course you just ignore that because of your hatred. I have no problem with a lady governor, or President, or Senator. I will never vote for Hillary, because I believe she is a liar, a crook, has used her foundation as a way to get paid speaking fees, and a way to get donations by giving political favors.

          4. Eleanore Whitaker January 23, 2016

            Mental institutions are full of people just like you..they think they know it all and are NEVER wrong.

            How do you know the female you voted was a “lady?” Calling her a “lady” only proves you are a macho mental case.

            Hillary is smarter than you, more effective than you, more experienced than you and you HATE any woman who dares to exceed your pitiful level of education and experience.

            For more than 40 years, Hillary Clinton has dedicated herself to women’s rights..and boy oh boy don’t lunatic men like you hate that? You’re the man who walks into a room and discovers he is the only man there and runs like hell so he isn’t outnumbered. The only place a mental case like you feels secure is in the men’s room.

          5. itsfun January 23, 2016

            One mistake I will never make is calling you a “lady”

      2. Böcker January 21, 2016

        Why does Hillary feel the need to bash Sen Sanders or have others do it for her??

  5. grandbaby1 January 19, 2016

    Can someone tell me why the keep harping on the Iowa primary as so important. The last 2 cycles they didn’t even vote for in their primary who got the nomination let alone a winner.

  6. Böcker January 21, 2016

    Hillary had her chance in 08 and lost. Now she sees her chance slipping away again. Going for the Bern 2016!!


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