- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 7, 2016

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Days before the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, a quaint cafe on the outskirts of this town witnessed the birth of the kinder, gentler Hillary Clinton — a persona that is now little more than a distant memory, as the former secretary of state embraces a more combative approach in her tooth-and-nail fight for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.

Mrs. Clinton’s January 2008 visit to Portsmouth’s Cafe Espresso, a local breakfast and lunch favorite famous for quadrennial visits from White House hopefuls, served to recast her public image overnight.

Having battled the perception that she was an overly scripted, almost robotic candidate who failed to strike an emotional chord with voters, Mrs. Clinton eight years ago came to the edge of tears during a stop at the cafe as she spoke about what motivated her to undertake the mammoth task of running for president.

The pivotal moment — which Cafe Espresso owner David Hadwen describes as a “blessing” that catapulted his restaurant to the forefront of presidential politics, evidenced by the almost constant swarm of reporters bustling in and out during campaign season — is credited with helping Mrs. Clinton blow past Barack Obama and capture a victory in the New Hampshire primary.

Though she ultimately lost the Democratic nomination to Mr. Obama, the moment proved that Mrs. Clinton was capable of portraying real emotion and wasn’t just the flat policy wonk critics long had suggested.

“It would’ve been another stop on the trail if she didn’t get misty. Eight years later, it’s still interesting, especially when she comes off as mechanical and programmed and not emotional,” the calm, collected Mr. Hadwen said Saturday afternoon, talking presidential politics with the ease of someone who has seen candidate after candidate pour through the Cafe Espresso doors over the past decade.

“That was the moment that turned her campaign around here,” he said. “We thought she should come back and visit. I talked to her campaign people for New Hampshire and they said yes, but we haven’t seen her.”

The Clinton campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment about whether the former secretary of state would stop by the establishment before Tuesday’s crucial primary election. Mrs. Clinton is trailing Sen. Bernard Sanders by a significant margin here — 15 points, according to the most recent Real Clear Politics average of all polls.

Her failure to revisit the site of her most famous 2008 campaign moment seems to be intentional, political analysts say.

If the 2008 New Hampshire primary opened a window into a kinder, more emotional Mrs. Clinton, this cycle has transformed her back into a ruthless political buzz saw, hammering Mr. Sanders in recent days and accusing the senator from Vermont of trying to “smear” her.

“She seems to have learned her lesson about looking past the primaries from her previous race. She and her campaign appear much more prepared for a long, drawn-out contest if it should come to that,” said Lara Brown, a political science professor at George Washington University. “In other words, in 2008, her teary-eyed reaction, while it showed her more emotional side, also suggested that she well-understood how vulnerable her campaign was at the time and how hard the road to winning the nomination after losing Iowa would be. This time, she and her campaign don’t appear to have made the same mistake.”

Indeed, at the Democratic presidential debate Thursday at the University of New Hampshire, Mrs. Clinton went on the offensive against Mr. Sanders. She took direct shots at the notion that she isn’t a true progressive and said Mr. Sanders is, in essence, lying to voters by portraying her as a moderate.

“I really don’t think these kinds of attacks by insinuation are worthy of you. And enough is enough. I think it’s time to end the artful smear you and your campaign have been carrying out,” she said.

That approach was a far cry from the emotional notes Mrs. Clinton hit in 2008.

“You know, I have so many opportunities from this country,” Mrs. Clinton said during her 2008 stop in Portsmouth after being asked how she remains upbeat and positive while campaigning. “And I just don’t want to see us fall backwards.”

It’s unclear whether the new Clinton strategy will pay dividends Tuesday or whether the expected Sanders victory will lead to another prolonged Democratic nomination fight.

What is clear, however, is that whatever chord Mrs. Clinton struck with the teary-eyed 2008 moment largely has disappeared. Many voters here again consider her to be the very embodiment of a politician.

“I wouldn’t vote for her if I had to,” said Bob Beckwith, a 72-year-old Portsmouth resident and near-daily visitor to Cafe Espresso. He spoke with The Washington Times as he dined on a grilled tuna sandwich — proudly pointing out that the item isn’t listed on the menu and was made specially for him.

“I think she’s an extremely self-serving individual, part of the Clinton machine,” said Mr. Beckwith, an independent who said he will vote for Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida in the Republican primary.

Describing the Clinton campaign as a “machine” is a narrative also heard frequently at Sanders rallies. The candidate himself has built his political appeal around the notion that he is a candidate of the people, able to build a grass-roots army that miraculously is standing toe-to-toe with the Clinton juggernaut.

“She has the entire establishment or almost the entire establishment behind her. That’s a fact,” he said during last week’s debate.

At a weekend rally in nearby Exeter, Sanders supporters made no bones about the fact that they saw Mrs. Clinton as a near-robotic creature of Washington and that their support for the senator from Vermont is rooted in the fact that he comes across as much more authentic.

“To me, he’s the most like us. He’s the least politician’s politician,” said Tammy Gampel, a 47-year-old chiropractor who braved an intense snowstorm Friday to see Mr. Sanders at a packed town hall meeting in Exeter.

She said Mrs. Clinton, to her ears, sounds exactly like a politician.

“You hear it in the way she talks,” Ms. Gampel said. “It’s not even something you’d think about unless you have someone to compare her to — like Bernie.”

At the other end of the spectrum, Clinton supporters say they are drawn to the former secretary’s more deliberate approach.

Michael Cahill, a New Market resident who traveled to the Exeter rally and stood outside in the snow with a Clinton campaign sign for the duration of the rally, said Democrats need to realize Mr. Sanders‘ fury toward Wall Street and the political establishment won’t bring about the change his voters want.

“He’s got a good message, and he’s very popular with young people,” Mr. Cahill told The Times. “But the ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore’ thing — that’s not changing anything.”

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