When you think of the New Hampshire presidential primary, you think authenticity: crusty Yankees getting up close and personal with presidential candidates from both parties — and occasionally, knocking them off script. But this time around — at least on the Democratic side — that may not be the way it works.
Hillary Clinton’s appearance Tuesday was a tightly managed affair. The press was kept far away from the candidate. The audience was invitation only. And when six people finally sat down around a table with Clinton for a conversation that focused on the benefits of a commununity-college education, she was the one asking the questions.
"Describe a little bit about your business … " she asked one participant.
"Could I ask you, [New Hampshire Technical Institute] President [Susan] Dunton," she asked. "How do you see the future for your students?"
"Well Aurora, talk to us about your experience … "
If that doesn’t seem like the way New Hampshire is supposed to work — bear in mind that Clinton is no ordinary candidate. The former First Lady and Secretary of State is the overwhelming favorite to win the Democratic nomination — if nothing goes wrong. Her campaign may have decided that given Clinton’s commanding position in the race spontaneity is just too risky. But excessive control poses dangers of its own.
"They said we couldn’t even sit in the hallway there," said June Whitcomb, of Kingston, N.H. Kingston traveled to Clinton’s Concord appearance without an invitation — and at first, she wasn’t allowed inside. But then, apparently, someone realized that turning away an elderly Hillary fan in a wheelchair might not look good. So Whitcomb got a prime seat —and came away raving about the woman she’d come to see.
"All of a sudden, I was in between these two men, and she saw me, big smile on her face, she came over and said 'Oh, hello dear, how are you!'” Whitcomb said.
So does she think Clinton will be the next president?
"Oh, I hope so," she said. "I hope so. It would be wonderful to have a woman president."
Virginia Colbert didn’t fare as well. She came from Tewksbury, Mass., carrying a photo of her with Clinton that was snapped two campaigns ago — when Clinton was running against an Illinois senator named Barack Obama in another Democratic primary. Colbert wanted to get Clinton to sign the picture. Instead, when she approached Clinton’s vehicle after the event wrapped up — she was shouted back by a Clinton handler.
"Stay up on the — no, stay up on the sidewalk," the handler shouted.
Afterward, Colbert sounded a bit peeved.
"I really would’ve like to have seen her, or had her stop the car, because I had the picture hanging out," she said. "I’ve had it in a frame all this time. Hopefully she’ll be back."
And maybe next time, Clinton will stop to shake hands.