Politics & Policy

New Hampshire Dems Hold Their Noses for Hillary

Clinton speaks at the Carter Hill Orchard in Concord on June 15. (Darren McCollester/Getty)

Concord, N.H. — Democrats in New Hampshire fully expect Hillary Clinton to win their state in next year’s early primary. That doesn’t mean they’re all happy about it.

“I wish there were more options, to be honest with you,” says Peter Larson, a Concord, New Hampshire, native and self-described liberal. “Hillary’s history in Washington — she’s been such a part of that environment for so long, it’d be nice to see somebody who’s not so entrenched in the system.”

It was a common refrain heard at the Carter Hill Orchard north of Concord on Monday, where a few hundred Granite Staters gathered for Clinton’s official statewide relaunch. Though the crowd was heavy on Democrats, Roosevelt Island this was not — few attendees displayed the unquestioning hero-worship that marked the supporters at her grand relaunch in New York City on Saturday. Instead of unbridled enthusiasm, many expressed their grudging intent to line up behind Clinton in 2016, while wishing that a real Democratic challenger would rise to face down the unstoppable Clinton juggernaut.

RELATED: Clinton Campaign Shuts Out Reporters in New Hampshire

Clinton largely recycled the speech from her New York debut, hitting her Republican adversaries hard and offering nebulous cures for what ails the American working class. “When does your hard work pay off?” she asked the packed barn. “When do you get ahead?”

“When you’re president!” one attendee shouted, earning cheers from the crowd. “One of the things I love about New Hampshire,” Clinton said after the tumult died down. “The voters are so smart!”

Instead of unbridled enthusiasm, many expressed their grudging intent to line up behind Clinton in 2016, while wishing that a real Democratic challenger would rise.

To be sure, there were plenty of unqualified Hillary supporters here, offering the kind of reflexive approval that seems part and parcel of an near-50 percent lead in the polls. “I like that she’s a woman,” says Adelaide Murray, a student at the University of New Hampshire. “I think it’s time to have more woman voices.”

The state’s Democratic establishment also seems keen on shoring up support for Hillary, touting her name recognition and electability. “I think it’s very important that we have another Democratic president,” says Dave Doherty, a state representative from Pembroke. “And I think she’s our best bet.”

But many others were less enthused, saying they had hoped for more choices. Some wish that Bernie Sanders, the socialist senator from neighboring Vermont, could give Clinton a run for her money.

EDITORIAL: Republicans Need an Answer to Hillary Clinton

“I’m with Sanders right now,” says Brandon Oakham, an Amherst native who’s made it his mission to see all the candidates speak at least once. “I think he’s a straight shooter, I do not think he’s beholden to special interests.”

Oakham admits Sanders doesn’t have a “snowball’s chance in hell” of winning the nomination, but he hopes the Vermont senator can at least push Clinton off her long-held centrist perch toward more progressive positions. Judging by Clinton’s leftward lurch in her recent stump speeches — particularly on economic policy — Sanders’s underdog candidacy may indeed be having that effect.

RELATED: Hillary’s Relaunch Quarantined Reporters, Ignored Foreign Policy, and Wowed the Women Who Already Love Her

Other Hillary skeptics are more hopeful that she can be beaten. “I was surprised with Obama and Hillary, how that turned out,” says Erin Larson, referencing the 2008 primary fight with an eye on a Clinton-Sanders matchup. “The underdog can come back, and the grassroots can do a lot.”

#related#For some Democrats, the desire for another option is so palpable that it moves beyond a long-shot such as Sanders, into the realm of fantasy. Though she’s repeatedly denied any interest in running, some New Hampshire liberals still harbor starry-eyed fantasies about an Elizabeth Warren candidacy.

“I wish she was running,” Peter Larson says of the liberal Massachusetts senator. “I’d probably vote for her.”

“If Elizabeth Warren got in, I think my Richter scale would go up a couple of notches,” says Oakham. “I believe she’s cut from the same cloth as Bernie Sanders.”

The pomp and circumstance of Hillary’s Saturday relaunch in New York was meant to showcase her presidential inevitability. The quiet but persistent skepticism she faces from some of her own in New Hampshire, however, is an early indicator of an enthusiasm gap that may prove damaging to Clinton’s general-election prospects.

— Brendan Bordelon is a political reporter for National Review.

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