MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — Hillary Clinton braced for a potential loss in New Hampshire, the site of her 2008 comeback, seeking to deny rival Bernie Sanders a big victory in the nation’s first presidential primary and a springboard into a competitive primary campaign.
Sanders, once labeled a “fringe candidate” by detractors, held a double-digit lead over Clinton as voters prepared for Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary. The Vermont senator hopes a show of strength in his neighboring New England state might prompt rank-and-file Democrats to give his bid a second look as the race shifts to contests in Clinton-friendly territory in Nevada and South Carolina.
“We started off here in New Hampshire 30, 40 points behind. That’s not the case today,” Sanders told cheering supporters in Derry, New Hampshire. He said a “good night” from his campaign would “show the American people that the voters in New Hampshire understand that this country needs a political revolution.”
Clinton traversed the state’s snow-covered highways with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and daughter Chelsea Clinton in a push to maintain her edge in national polls and reassure the Democratic establishment backing her campaign.
“This is a great process and as I have said over the last couple of days we’re going to keep working literally until the last vote is cast and counted,” she said Tuesday morning while visiting a Manchester polling station.
In the week since her slim victory in the leadoff Iowa caucuses, Clinton’s campaign has tried to lower expectations for New Hampshire, where Sanders has maintained a steady lead despite her family’s longstanding ties.
Clinton rescued her struggling campaign here eight years ago with a victory over then Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. Bill Clinton’s second-place showing in 1992 over Paul Tsongas from neighboring Massachusetts allowed the future president to claim the title “The Comeback Kid.”
Sanders, well-known to voters along the state’s Vermont border, has stuck to core campaign themes this week in an effort to avoid upsetting a race trending his way.
All-but-ignored by the media for more than a quarter century in Congress, Sanders found himself swarmed by dozens of reporters on Tuesday afternoon in Concord when he decided to take a stroll around the state capital.
“If we have a large voter turnout I think we’re going to do just fine,” he told the press.
After that, questions were met with stony silence.
“What does he like about New Hampshire,” shouted one reporter.
“Does he miss Vermont?” asked another.
Sanders didn’t even crack a smile before jumping into a waiting SUV and taking off.
“He needed a little air,” said adviser Tad Devine.
Clinton, meanwhile, was shouldering renewed troubles amid talk of a potential campaign reshuffling. Although campaign manager Robby Mook is expected to stay, some Clinton allies have said that new advisers may be brought in after Tuesday.
The former secretary of state dismissed that talk. “I have no idea what they’re talking about or who they are talking to,” Clinton said on MSNBC. “We’re going to take stock but it’s going to be the campaign that I’ve got.”
Her campaign also dealt with poor timing as Attorney General Loretta Lynch reaffirmed that the FBI’s probe into Clinton’s use of a private email server while at the State Department was free of outside political influence.
Lynch told The Associated Press on Monday that the FBI investigation was independent and being conducted by career lawyers looking at the facts and evidence.
Republicans have criticized Clinton’s use of personal email, arguing that she may have put national security and government secrets at risk.
Clinton’s campaign sought to manage expectations with a circular to her supporters, noting that “whatever happens tonight, we’re ready to get back out there and fight twice as hard tomorrow.”
Polls in New Hampshire opened as early as midnight in a few tiny towns. All are expected to close by 8 p.m. local time.
On Twitter, follow Ken Thomas and Lisa Lerer: https://twitter.com/KThomasDC and https://twitter.com/llerer
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