Hillary faces fight to stay in presidential race

If Hillary Clinton defies the pundits by overcoming Barack Obama and then the Republicans to become the next president of the United States, historians will be able to specify the time and the place where she started to turn the tide. At 10.15am on Sunday, in the car park of the Puritan Backroom restaurant in Manchester, New Hampshire, in front of a couple of hundred unfashionably fervent Hillary supporters, Clinton chose to make what may turn out to be her last stand.

She did it by taking a page out of the campaign playbook of one of the most improbable role-models for any American politician — the former Conservative British prime minister John Major. It was in March 1992 that Major climbed on to a soapbox in Luton market, took a loudhailer in his hand, and began to regain control of the 1992 general election campaign from Labour’s Neil Kinnock and go on to victory. On Sunday, in the Manchester car park, Hillary Clinton tried to do exactly the same thing. Millions of dollars have been spent by the Clinton campaign on the most high-faluting image consultants, ad strategists and pollsters that money can buy. Nothing that Clinton says or does is ever knowingly underprepared or untested on the market.

But on this cold New Hampshire morning, her aides put out a sturdy grey soapbox for her to stand on, handed her a Hillary-for-President loudhailer and positively willed her to turn things round the old-fashioned way.

Unfortunately for the spinners of political legends, Clinton took a quick look at the loudhailer, or bull-horn as they say here, brandished it in the air to a volley of hollering from her supporters and chose instead to use a microphone, which promptly proceeded to crackle and falter.

Nonetheless she urged her volunteers to a final 72 hours of unremitting effort to save her campaign from a second defeat at the hands of the surging Obama campaign after last week’s humiliating trouncing in the Iowa caucuses. ”I’ve got about three days of voice left,” Clinton shouted above the revving engine of her campaign bus.

”But I’m going to use it to talk to as many people as I possibly can find to talk about what the real choices in this election are. There’s a big difference between talking and action and I’ll make that case to as many people in New Hampshire as I possibly can. We’re going to go door-to-door.”

The Clinton campaign is large and her volunteers are enthusiastic. But it will be an uphill battle. At the same time as Clinton was standing on her soapbox, the line of people queueing for an Obama rally was stretching round the block and way down the street. There were maybe two or three thousand of them, compared with two or three hundred at this Clinton event. There is no doubting who has the momentum in the run-in to Tuesday’s primary — and it isn’t her.

Yet Clinton has potent arguments in her campaign armoury all the same. ”Words are not action,” she constantly repeats as she tries to draw a distinction in the minds of voters between what she sees as her own solid record of legislative achievement and executive experience and the intoxicating rhetoric in which Obama so excels. ”I think it’s important that all of us be held to the same standard,” she said in the weekend TV debate with Democratic rivals.

By this she means that a bedazzled media and the mainly youthful crowds that queue to hear Obama are giving the Illinois senator an easy ride.

Suddenly now the underdog, Clinton is trying to turn the unprecedented scrutiny to which her public and private life have been subjected over the years into an assurance that she can stand the heat, while Obama, perhaps, cannot.

She did as well as she could possibly have done in the circumstances. But the question is whether the voters are listening. A lot of Democratic voters have fallen in love with Obama in the last few days. And lovers don’t always like to listen to someone who tells them to be sensible and to think whether the relationship will last. Unfortunately for the Clinton campaign the Republicans may well prove to be far more ruthless in raising doubts about Obama’s experience.

The New Hampshire primary is about the only occasion in the US electoral calendar when a politician as famous and storied as Clinton is compelled to get out on the street and on to a soapbox and fight for every vote.

Perhaps, as Bill Clinton did in 1992, she will do enough to stem the Obama tide. But don’t bet on it. ”I promise we’ll have a better sound system next time I see you,” Clinton promised in the Manchester car park. After Tuesday, though, there may not be a next time for Hillary Clinton. – Guardian Unlimited Â

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