Sanders, Clinton trade blows as New Hampshire battle intensifies

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFormer presidents, first ladies come together to honor Barbara Bush Romney: Parts of Comey book read 'too much like a novel’ Collins: Comey should have waited to release his memoir MORE and Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersSanders ally pushes Dems on cutting superdelegates Sanders: ‘Trump's agenda is dead’ if Democrats win back majority Hannity snaps back at 'Crybaby' Todd: 'Only conservatives have to disclose relationships?' MORE turned up the heat in New Hampshire on Wednesday, trading jabs on a number of issues including who is the more progressive Democratic presidential candidate.

Trailing in the polls by an average of 18 points, a fiery Clinton maintained that she “would never quit” New Hampshire and will be campaigning hard despite her campaign’s contention that Sanders, a senator from neighboring Vermont, has a built-in advantage. 

Team Sanders fought that narrative, saying it was an “insult” to the people of the Granite State who “are serious about their role in the nominating process.

Sanders has also hit Clinton for saying she is a progressive. 

“You can be a moderate. You can be a progressive. But you can’t be both a moderate and a progressive,” he said on Twitter. 

While both candidates have much at stake in New Hampshire, heavy pressure is on Clinton, the favorite to win the nomination but an
underdog in the state’s Feb. 9 primary. 

A Sanders rout in New Hampshire would feed negative media narratives about her campaign on the heels of a narrow Iowa win. It would then be 11 days before Clinton could answer with what she hopes will be a victory in Nevada’s caucuses. 

Clinton allies say there has been some consternation inside their universe about the campaign’s results in Iowa, where the former secretary of State won by just two-tenths of a percentage point.

Some inside the Clinton orbit wanted a more decisive win to end Sanders’s run early in the primary.

“I think that was what we were all hoping for despite the narrative that it was going to be close,” one ally said. 

Now, Clinton allies expect her to turn up the heat on Sanders to avoid a double-digit loss in New Hampshire. 

The first step for both candidates is Thursday, when they meet for their first one-on-one debate. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley dropped out of the race for the Democratic nomination the night of the caucuses. Clinton in the last few days pushed for the debate, where some predict she may take a forceful, scrappier tone against Sanders.

“She’ll be the hungry candidate caught up in a tough fight and making a populist case,” said Mo Elleithee, who served on Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and is now the executive director at the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service. “I think she does it by loosening up, getting out there more and projecting a forceful message.

“It’s being feisty, and I don’t mean negative feisty,” Elleithee said. “You may see her make a clear contrast with Sanders and there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s totally legit.”

At a campaign event on Wednesday, Clinton may have provided a preview of sorts of her tenor on Thursday night and beyond, taking aim at Sanders during an event saying she hopes his campaign focuses “on the issues, because if it is about our records, hey, I am going to win by a landslide on Tuesday.”

The two sides agreed on Wednesday to four new debates, including Thursday’s. The other three will take place in California, Pennsylvania and Flint, Mich., which is enduring a water crisis garnering national attention. 

The Sanders campaign said it sees the debates as a time to win more recognition for its candidate, who is less nationally known than the former senator, first lady and secretary of State.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to communicate, not just with voters here in [New Hampshire], but all over of the country,” said Sanders adviser Tad Devine. “We are still involved in introducing
Bernie Sanders to people all over the country, particularly in those states that occur later in the process. We are looking forward to taking advantage of that.”

The question for Sanders is how to appeal to African-American and Hispanic voters, who will be big constituencies in South Carolina, Nevada and other states.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), a Sanders supporter, said the debate helps make the Independent senator seem like a legitimate option to voters.

“He has credibility as a contender, which provides for all voters, particularly voters of color, a second look,” he said.

Both sides are playing an expectations game when it comes to New Hampshire, with Clinton aides talking down her chances of winning the state and Sanders emphasizing her victory there in the 2008 cycle.

Clinton said Wednesday that the pundit class has urged to focus her sights on states where she’s up in the polls.  

“Their argument is — and it has got some strength to it — look, you are behind here, you are in your opponent’s backyard,” she said at one event in Derry, N.H.

“I just could not ever skip New Hampshire,” she added.

Ben Kamisar contributed.