WASHINGTON – Facing an uphill battle in New Hampshire and tightening polls in Iowa, U.S. presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton is on the offensive — not just against Republicans, but also against Bernie Sanders, her chief rival in the Democratic nomination race.
Long seen as the front-runner on a glide path to becoming her party’s standard-bearer despite a lingering email scandal, Clinton suddenly finds herself under threat of losing the first two state contests: Iowa on Feb. 1, and New Hampshire eight days later.
“I always expected that this would be a tight race,” she told CBS as part of a full-court press on four television networks Wednesday in which she intensifies her attacks on Sanders.
“Now we’re in the sprint and it is time to draw contrasts,” Clinton added on ABC.
Sanders, an independent senator, says his rival is getting “very nervous” about his success in the polls, which reflect growing enthusiasm among young voters for the self-described democratic socialist.
The avuncular Vermonter often has an air of a disheveled professor when he preaches his message about income inequality, and the need to rein in Wall Street and expand health care to all Americans.
Buoyed by his recent rise, Sanders was positively beaming Tuesday when he entered the House chamber to hear President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address.
Asked by NBC if he imagined himself giving that speech, Sanders chuckled before confessing: “That thought did go through my head.”
Nationally, Sanders has narrowed the gap with Clinton to single digits, according to the RealClearPolitics poll average. In Iowa, it’s a dead heat, while in New Hampshire, which borders his state of Vermont, Sanders is up by 6 percentage points.
“I don’t pay attention to the polls,” Clinton insisted, even as she pushes back and rolls out some impressive firepower.
Her husband, Bill Clinton, the former president, has been out campaigning for her and did so again Wednesday at three New Hampshire events.
Their daughter, Chelsea, came out swinging against Sanders when stumping for her mother Tuesday, saying he “wants to dismantle Obamacare,” a move she said could “strip millions and millions and millions of people of their health insurance.”
Hillary doubled down on her daughter’s remarks.
“I have said what I would do to improve the Affordable Care Act,” she told ABC.
Sanders “wants a national health insurance single payer system,” she added. “OK, tell the American people how much it’s going to cost them.”
She also accused Sanders of being a “pretty reliable vote for the gun lobby.”
Team Clinton was concerned enough about her rival that they held a conference call Wednesday to draw sharp contrasts between the two.
On taxes, Clinton’s senior policy advisor Jake Sullivan implied to reporters that a Sanders presidency would result in higher taxes for the middle class.
“Secretary Clinton believes the last thing we should be doing is raising taxes on the middle class,” Sullivan said.
Clinton, seeking to repel Sanders’s charge that she is cozy with billionaires, this week unveiled a “fair share surcharge” that would increase taxes by four percent on individuals making $5 million or more annually, a move her campaign said would raise $150 billion over 10 years.
With many Americans “feeling the Bern,” as the Sanders campaign likes to say of his supporters, NBC asked Clinton point blank if she was nervous.
“I’m not nervous at all. I’m working hard, and I intend to keep working as hard as I can until the last vote or caucus-goer expresses an opinion,” she said.
In 2008, Obama won in Iowa in a stunning upset, propelling his upstart campaign to ultimate victory over Clinton.
Clinton’s campaign appears confident that Sanders will not be able to conjure up a similar brand of political magic this time around.
Iowa’s and New Hampshire’s delegates make up about 2 percent of the national total in the nomination race, and Clinton has noted that it is not a mathematical necessity to win the first two states in order to secure victory.
“I want to win but I have a very long view about this,” she said.
Clinton has raised huge funds for her presidential bid, but war chests are made to be padded, especially if a long slog lies ahead.
She acknowledged to ABC that she bought a ticket for Wednesday’s Powerball lottery drawing, estimated at a record $1.5 billion.
And if she wins?
“Well, I’ll fund my campaign,” she said.