The battle is engaged. Hillary Clinton opened her first event Sunday with a several-minute, sustained set of shots at Barack Obama. She said the debate the night before had clarified the choices in the election between and that Democrats should nominate “a doer not a talker.” Clinton then started down a list of Obama reversals. “When you give a speech saying you’ll vote against the Patriot Act and you don’t, that’s not change. When you pass a law preventing lobbyists from having lunch sitting down but they can still have lunch standing up, that’s not change. … If you rail against the special interests but you voted for Dick Cheney’s energy bill, that’s not change. If you gave a speech and a very good speech against the war in Iraq and by 2004 you’re saying you’re not sure how you would have voted, and in 2005, 2006, and 2007 you voted … to fund the war, that’s not change.” By the end, Clinton had her audience chanting the “that’s not change” line with her.
Clinton was speaking at the same Nashua school Barack Obama packed the day before. It looked like her advanced team didn’t think she’d be able to fill the venue. An enormous flag blocked rows of seats so that they wouldn’t sit empty. The crowd could have filled that space, but attendance still wasn’t as large as Obama’s the day before. The overflow room was also much more sparsely populated. How much does this matter? When I e-mailed a senior Obama staffer to get reaction to Clinton’s attack on his boss, he responded, “How many people does she have?”
Clinton spoke for only 10 minutes before taking a thorough round of questions. If Obama had more people and more excitement, Clinton far outstripped him on specifics and policy knowledge. She was very thorough and detailed but after she answered about six questions people started to leave in a steady stream. That isn’t to say people stopped wanting to ask questions. It seemed like as long as there were hands raised, Clinton would answer them. She would show by sheer endurance that she was the hardest working person in the race. (By being a long talker, she would prove she was a doer!) By the time she was done, the crowd looked like a Christmas tree left up too long, thinned out and with patchy sad places.
Those who left early missed a good line and perhaps her toughest attack at Obama, whom she essentially compared to George Bush. After a woman yelled up to her, “You know what? You really are likable,” Hillary reflected on the quality of likability, about which she had been asked in the previous night’s debate. “Obviously we all want to be likable,” she said, “and I think it’s good to have a likable president and if I remember a lot of people said they voted for George Bush because they wanted to have a beer with him. Maybe they should have left it at that.”