ANALYSIS: Clinton set to face savvy Seacoast voters

DOVER -- Which Hillary was it?

Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York will meet Seacoast region voters for a town hall meeting at Dover High School a week after her first tour of the state as a Democratic presidential candidate.

Just how well the former first lady fared during last weekend's campaign visit revealed a perception and expectation gulf between the local and national media.

For the most part, the national media focused on how the Democratic contender dealt with the questions about her Iraq war authorization vote in 2002. But local and regional political analysts noted that local media focused more on the enthusiastic crowds and wide range of questions Clinton handled in Berlin, Concord, Manchester, Nashua and Keene.

"The national media declared her to be equivocating," said Dean Spiliotes, director of research at Saint Anselm College's N.H. Institute of Politics, about Clinton's response to a Berlin man who asked her to admit the war authorization vote was a mistake. "The local media had much more favorable coverage."

Spiliotes said he believes Clinton is making a quick turnaround to the state because "she had a good initial visit and (could) drive media coverage for an additional news cycle." He said Clinton can also "change the narrative" of news coverage from Monday's visit by Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois to her own return.

Joan Ashwell, chairwoman of the Strafford County Democratic Committee, also said she believes the national media misses the depth of involvement of New Hampshire voters, even at this early stage of the primary process.

"We've had almost all of the candidates visit us," Ashwell said of the Strafford County region. "I wish the rest of the country could see the questions we ask the candidates."

And while the national media tends to frame a single-themed issue such as the Iraq war, Ashwell said Granite State voters are issue savvy. She cited Obama's visit to UNH in which voters asked him about a wide range of issues, including immigration and restoring New Orleans.

"This is a heavy anti-war state, and all the candidates are against the war," she said. "A majority of the questions are about health care, education, energy and global warming."

Ashwell called Clinton's visit to Dover "Part 2 of her introductory tour," and it has attracted excitement among Democratic voters in the Dover area.

"I've gotten quite a bit of response," she said. "Most people are e-mailing back, "How soon should I get there?'"

On Wednesday, the Clinton campaign trumpeted a new, early season USA Today/Gallup poll showing a widening lead by Clinton over Obama and her leading potential Republican candidates.

But one longtime Democratic Party activist doesn't believe Clinton's quick return visit has anything to do with long-term strategic considerations.

"I hear she's having a lot of fun," said Bill Shaheen of Madbury, who served as chairman for the successful primary bids of Jimmy Carter, Al Gore and John Kerry. "She wants to hit the ground running and she likes it."

Shaheen, who has also led the campaign efforts of his wife, former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, observed that Clinton's early primary theme of "Conversations with Granite Staters" is similar to her initial Senate run in 2000.

"People are seeing Hillary for the first time and they see that she's engaged," he said. "For her it must be refreshing to see and talk to real people."

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