HENNIKER, N.H. – Trailing rival Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton sought to summon another New Hampshire comeback on Saturday but faced blunt questions about her trustworthiness and explanation of the deadly 2012 attacks in Benghazi.
Clinton campaigned throughout New Hampshire’s voter-rich southern belt in hope of overcoming Sanders’ steady lead heading into Tuesday’s first-in-the-nation primary. The former secretary of state claimed a razor-thin victory in Iowa earlier in the week but is guarding against a blowout that might reset the race for the Democratic nomination.
“You vet us. You take second, third and fourth looks,” Clinton told supporters during a rally in Concord. “And I hope you will look hard at this.”
New Hampshire was the setting of Clinton’s upset victory against then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama in the 2008 primary and it remains sacred ground for supporters of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, whose second-place finish in the 1992 primary led to his self-applied nickname of the “Comeback Kid.” But Sanders, who as Vermont senator is no stranger to the state, has built a strong advantage here and hopes to push back against Clinton’s argument that she would be most electable come November.
Sanders was heading to New York City for an expected cameo appearance on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” Comedian Larry David, who has portrayed Sanders as an impassioned underdog shouting for revolution, was scheduled to be the show’s host in an event bound to give the senator a positive spotlight in the days before the primary.
Sanders, campaigning in Rindge, expressed confidence in Tuesday’s contest while noting that Clinton prevailed in the 2008 New Hampshire primary. “If we can bring out a decent vote on Tuesday, I am confident we’re going to win,” he said.
Clinton, meanwhile, faced a tough crowd of voters during an afternoon town hall meeting at New England College in Henniker.
Her first question came from a young man who asked about how she responds to people who distrust her in light of controversies over the Benghazi attacks and her use of a private email server at the State Department.
Clinton said she has had a long history of taking on the toughest issues while many of her opponents try to “sow doubts” about her. “I know that I am viewed as a direct threat to the forces that call a lot of shots in this country,” she said.
A woman who said she worked for Clinton’s 2008 campaign in New Hampshire told the ex-secretary of state her explanation of the Benghazi attacks “continues to give me some doubts.” She also wanted to know why Clinton felt compelled to delete so many personal emails from her private account as secretary of state — “everybody knows you can’t write 30,000 emails to your yoga instructor.”
Clinton said the attacks in Libya that killed four Americans happened under a “fog of war” and people on the ground had worked hard to understand what was happening as the attacks unfolded. Clinton said she regretted that it had been used as a “great political issue.”
When another questioner asked why Sanders had so much momentum, Clinton said she was pleased he had attracted so many young people to his campaign but made the case that her policy proposals on health care and college affordability was superior.
Clinton said she respected the “very strong passion that Senator Sanders brings to his critique of the economy and his critique of Wall Street. I happen to share it.” But she said “that’s not the only problem we have in America,” and the nation needed to address “all the barriers that are holding people back.”
Clinton’s top supporters in New Hampshire said the state had a history of unpredictability and expressed hope that a major organizing push in the final weekend would make a difference. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh was dispatching dozens of organizers to the state while a number of veterans of past Clinton campaigns, including many from Arkansas, were knocking on doors and staffing phone banks this weekend.
“We’re not giving up at all. We’re fighting to the end which is what Hillary does all the time. How it comes out is in the hands of the voters,” said Billy Shaheen, a veteran of multiple New Hampshire campaigns and the husband of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.
Associated Press writer Catherine Lucey in Rindge, New Hampshire, contributed to this report.
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