Analysis: Clinton Goes for Young Voters

By: AP
By: AP

WASHINGTON - It wasn't long ago that Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign scoffed at the notion that young voters would deliver an election. How quickly thing can change.

Just seconds into her speech Friday morning, Clinton was declaring herself the candidate for America's youth — stealing a page from the new Democratic presidential front-runner, Barack Obama. The night before, the under-30 crowd came out in larger numbers than ever in Iowa caucuses normally dominated by the AARP-card set, delivering victory for the Illinois senator who promised to bring change to Washington.

That's why after her third-place finish in Iowa, Clinton got off her plane in New Hampshire and declared: "This is especially about all of the young people in New Hampshire who need a president who won't just call for change, or a president who won't just demand change, but a president who will produce change, just like I've been doing for 35 years."

"I'm running for president to reclaim the future — the future for all of us, of all ages, but particularly for young Americans," she said a few seconds later.

Obama has campaigned on his ability to change politics in America, and he's proven he can do it in at least one state. Fifty-seven percent of Iowa Democratic caucus-goers who were surveyed were participating for the first time, contributing to the record-breaking turnout. Obama got 41 percent of them, to 29 percent for Clinton.

Obama also showed he could appeal across racial lines in his bid to becomes the first black president, winning in one of the whitest states in the country.

Clinton has just a few days to turn the race around before New Hampshire voters go to the polls.

John Edwards, who edged Clinton for second place in Iowa, also will be trying to combat the perception that New Hampshire is a two-person race between one-time leader Clinton and Obama. Edwards' campaign has not been as strong in New Hampshire, where he finished in fourth place in 2004, and his advisers acknowledged he must come in at least second. Long-shot candidate Bill Richardson is looking to edge Edwards out of third place by arguing he would end the war in Iraq the fastest.

In Iowa, the size of the turnout of young voters was just one item in a long list of flawed calculations from the Clinton camp in Iowa. Her advisers assumed voters would be looking for experience in a time of instability. But only 20 percent of Democratic caucus-goers polled on the way in said that was the most important factor, compared to 51 percent who wanted change.

The Clinton camp counted on women voters flocking to her, but Obama edged her among women, 35 percent to 30 percent, according to the surveys taken by The Associated Press and the television networks.

And the Clinton campaign made the election about her — one approach she doesn't seem to be changing.

"This has been very much a referendum on her," Clinton's top strategist, Mark Penn, told reporters on the flight out of Iowa. "And people will take a harder look at the choice and the kind of president who will be needed in these times."

Obama had made the election about himself as well, but there was a shift when he delivered a victory speech Thursday night that envisioned a new future for America. He used the word "I" just 17 times in the speech, compared with 43 times in his closing argument speech in Iowa just one week before.

Changes for Clinton were evident immediately upon her arrival in New Hampshire. She combined the appeal for younger voters with suggestions that Obama should be more thoroughly vetted. And she showed an openness to answer any questions instead of producing a tightly controlled message. She took questions from her audience and then held a news conference during which she acknowledged she would be adjusting her approach.

"I did very well with people over 45, and I didn't do as well with people under 30. I take responsibility for that," she said. "I'm going to talk over the next five days as much as I can about creating opportunities for young people."

Obama, meanwhile, continued his pitch to independents as well as Democrats — a fifth of those surveyed on the way into the Democratic contest in Iowa identified themselves as independents, and that group could be even more important in a primary state where registered independents can vote in either partisan contest.

Obama also took a page from a rival's playbook on the first day of New Hampshire campaigning. "We need someone who exercises straight talk instead of spin," he said, lifting the "straight talk" catch phrase of Republican John McCain, a favorite of New Hampshire's independent voters eight years ago.

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EDITOR'S NOTE — Nedra Pickler covers the Democratic presidential campaign for The Associated Press.


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