Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

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Tim Murphy is a senior reporter at Mother Jones. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy@motherjones.com.

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Bernie Sanders was defensive when he was asked at Thursday's Democratic presidential debate why he doesn't talk more about how he'd approach being commander-in-chief. So does he plan on changing course anytime soon? Not a chance.

On Sunday afternoon in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, speaking at the same community college that hosted Hillary Clinton on Saturday, Sanders did not mention foreign policy until the 50th minute of a 54-minute speech. Even then, he kept it short, telling supporters (and a few undecided voters) he was tired of being "lectured" by his opponent on the issue. "And by the way," he said, as he wrapped up his remarks, "as somebody who voted against the war in Iraq—who led the opposition to the war in Iraq, lately I have been lectured on foreign policy. The most important foreign policy in the modern history of this country was the war in Iraq. I was right on that issue. Hillary Clinton was wrong on that issue."

And then he moved on. In one of his final get-out-the-vote events before Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, Sanders showed a willingness to continue taking the fight to Clinton on his own terms. The speech he gave on Sunday, his voice still hoarse from his appearance on Saturday Night Live with Larry David, was much the same speech he delivered in Boston in October, and in Burlington in May. He excoriated the oligarchs who he believes corrupt the political system and outlined a theory of change, from the suffrage movement to civil rights to gay rights, that he believes shows that grassroots movements like his own can overturn the system. The routine is so familiar that when he asked his audience who the biggest recipient of federal welfare is, about half of those in attendance were able to answer—"Walmart."

What's changed is the crowd. When I saw him in Boston in October, the crowd booed 17 different times during his speech, prompted by references to Jeb Bush or the Koch brothers. On Sunday, that number was halved in a speech of equal length. (Targets of booing included the black and Latino unemployment rate, speaker fees from Goldman Sachs, and companies that exploit loopholes in the tax code to avoid "paying a nickel in federal income taxes.") Clinton refers to the animating ethos of Sanders' supporters as "anger," and there's certainly that, but increasingly, there's the optimism of an organization that truly thinks it can win.

That's typified by one of the few tweaks he's made to his speech over the last few months: He now talks about the poll numbers. "We started this campaign at 3 percent in the polls," he told the crowd early on. "We were 30, 40 points down in New Hampshire. Well, a lot has changed." Except for all the stuff that hasn't.

Sen Al Franken (D-Minn.) opened for Hillary Clinton Saturday night in Portsmouth with one very important message: she's good enough, she's smart enough, and doggone it, she's a Paul Wellstone progressive.

Clinton's final pitch to New Hampshire voters is as much about the people she surrounds herself with as it is the former secretary of state herself. On Friday, four woman senators were there to co-opt Bernie Sanders by arguing that the "revolution" America needs is electing the first woman. Stefany Shaheen, daughter of the New Hampshire senator, warmed up the crowd in Portsmouth by name-dropping celebrity backers Lena Dunham, Gloria Steinem, Abby Wambach—proof she's not only experienced, but maybe cool. Franken was there to follow-up on a subject of intense debate over the last week—what it means to be a progressive.

"Let my clarify something: why they let a guy up here," Franken began, flanked by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Gov. Maggie Hassan, and the former secretary of state. He didn't waste any time invoking the legacy of the late Minnesota senator, a progressive icon who died in a plane crash in 2002 shortly before the midterm elections:

I'm Al Franken, I'm a Senator from Minnesota, and I hold the seat that Paul Wellstone once held. And I can point to someone on this stage whom I wouldn't be senator from Minnesota [without], and that is Hillary Clinton. My first election was kind of close. I won by 312 votes. Hillary Clinton came twice for me, once in October and then I got a call from her the Sunday before the election, she said "I'm coming out." And we did a big rally in Duluth and got more than 312 votes at that rally, I gotta tell you. I'm a Paul Wellstone progressive. And let me tell you what that means: Paul said, "We all do better when we all do better." Now if I knew what a haiku was, I'd say that was a haiku. But evidently I'm told it isn't. But Paul knew that we all do better when we all do better.

He launched into a personal story of growing up middle-class in Minnesota. And then he returned again to why they let the guy up there.

"Sen. Shaheen, my colleague, and I, like the only other [Senate] Democrats who have endorsed in this race, have endorsed Hillary Clinton for a reason," he said. "Because this is serious stuff. This is serious stuff. This is Sherrod Brown. This is Cory Booker. This is Tammy Baldwin. We are progressives. And we know what it takes to get things done."

None of these endorsers will shift many votes on their own (notwithstanding Franken's claims of Clinton in Duluth), but it's a death by a thousand cuts strategy. And with Sanders boasting just two members of Congress on his side, Clinton is all too happy to tell voters that the candidates they've worked so hard to get elected in the past—the Baldwins and Frankens of the world—are with her.

At some point during Hillary Clinton's rally in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on Saturday night, I got a note on my car. Thankfully it was not a parking ticket—closer inspection revealed that it was single-page double-sided leaflet hitting both Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders for their position on immigration. It accuses Sanders of choosing "to value current and future Hispanic votes over progressive principles" by supporting a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. And it asks Clinton, "Should the President of the United States primarily represent the interests of American families or the interests of families of other countries who have entered the United States illegally?"

Fliers on windshields is standard practice in the final days before a big vote, through official or unofficial channels—or from random freelancers. This one had no name on it. Is it yours? Let us know:

 

John Kasich's town halls are different than anyone else's in New Hampshire, and the first person who will tell you that is John Kasich. "White Stripes at a Republican town meeting!" he said, after taking the floor to "Seven Nation Army" Friday evening in Bedford, New Hampshire. "That has never happened before in American history." He likes to make a lot of jokes, sometimes even funny ones, and to direct non-sequiturs at unsuspecting audience members. (Before taking questions, he paused to reflect on a snowball fight he'd taken part in earlier in the day: "I tackled one of my friends!") When it ended, there was a confetti machine and a triple-layer cake for the attendees.

But there's a serious message underlying his irreverence: he's a results guy. Take a look at Ohio, and if you like what you see, you should vote Kasich on Tuesday. The problem arises when those voters look at Ohio and instead read about the town of Sebring, where elevated levels of lead were found in the drinking water and residents weren't notified for five months. (Read the Columbus Dispatch for a fuller accounting.) With Kasich in a fight for second place in New Hampshire, and the water crisis in Flint making national headlines, he's finding the issue impossible to avoid.

Midway through the event, Kasich took a question from a man who had read about the crisis in Sebring this morning. He wanted to know one thing: "I was wondering if you've had a chance yet to personally apologize?"

"Well first of all, our top administration, the [Ohio] EPA, went immediately to the village," Kasich said. "We had warned the village to tell everybody that there was a risk. We have sent tests out; we have had controllers in there working to make sure the chemicals are right, because the water coming in, sir, is clean. And so at the same time we have done that, we took the operator and we got rid of him. And the federal EPA came in and said he did more than was even federally required of him. So we worked on it all the time, we worked on it with the formulas, the chemicals, and we worked to make sure that at the end of the day people are gonna be okay."

"Have you apologized?" the man asked again. Kasich wanted to move on, but the next question was about lead, too. A middle-aged woman in the second row, more sympathetic to Kasich than the first man, raised the spectre of the "800-pound donkey in the room" (that would be Hillary Clinton).

Clinton had made clear at Thursday's debate that she would be campaigning on getting justice for Flint, this voter noted. And she "wasn't remotely nice" about it. "I understand sodium is being added back into the water and I understand that Sebring is a lot smaller than Flint. But she will, I am sure, bring it up. It's the Clinton machine. So my question to you is she will look at you and say, 'You hired Butler, he even went on television and said that he was a little slow in responding to the situation there.' How do you stand up to Hillary and debate?" (Craig Butler is the head of the Ohio EPA.)

Kasich pivoted. "Look, our guys acted immediately and that's how we handle every crisis," he said. Then he switched gears and talked about how many Democrats he won over in his 2014 re-election. But it's a question that's not likely to go away any time soon.

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