Welcome to Hillary Clinton's classroom

Concord, New Hampshire (CNN)The early days of her presidential campaign are allowing Hillary Clinton to unleash a life's worth of wisdom.

It has looked a lot like an audition for a tenure-track professor's post, with Clinton ping-ponging between subjects and ideas back and forth with small groups, wading into what's on their minds -- the wonkier the subject, the more she seems to relish it.
When she stepped onto the factory floor in Keene or a classroom in Concord this week, it was far from the free-wheeling exchanges of a classic New Hampshire town hall session. Those will surely have to come, but for now, Clinton just held forth on a listening tour where she did plenty of talking, too.
Her responses aren't necessarily the weighty, specific policies that will guide her path to the White House -- and critics are quick to argue the approach is more style than substance -- but Clinton's answers remind audiences that after a long career in public service, she seems to know something about everything.
    On the drug scourge facing the Granite State, Clinton described "a perfect storm. We have an increasing problem that is only beginning to break through the surface."
    On health insurance, she harkened back to "these catch-22 problems" of caps in assistance that penalize those who work their way into the lower-middle class.
    On a dearth of female students interested in engineering, she seized on one student's point that "some girls think engineering is kind of this science and it's maybe cold and not caring, and they don't understand the bridge that you just described about how you can use engineering to actually -- to really help people."
    The approach might be best called Clinton's classroom.
    "She definitely drew out each student and faculty member," said Susan Dunton, the president of Concord's Community College, who sat beside Clinton at the head of Tuesday's roundtable on her campus.
    It was the fifth such event Clinton has held during road trips in her "Scooby" van through Iowa and New Hampshire.
    Dunton said the participants got a short description of how the logistics would work, but no guidance on where to take the conversation.
    "Nothing was scripted. You saw the students didn't have any notes," she said.
    Perhaps most professorial of it all is that Clinton is keeping office hours.
    For two decades, Clinton -- as first lady, then senator, then secretary of state -- kept a schedule jam-packed with meetings, votes and more meetings, shaking hands and then departing rooms without much opportunity to mix and mingle. Now, her campaign appears to have built in time for Clinton to linger all she wants.
    She spent an hour Monday night at a house party in Claremont, New Hampshire, hosted by Bethany Yurek -- a former librarian and Head Start teacher who now works for Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.
    Yurek began the night with a story about going to see Clinton discuss stem cell research at Dartmouth College.
    "The professors and the doctors stood up and they said, 'Wait a minute, you are the first politician in our lifetime who not only understood the need and the necessity but you understood the science,'" Yurek said.
    As much as Clinton has impressed the people she's met, it's no free-flowing conversation. The venues and audiences she's addressed have all been carefully selected. More pointed inquiries from the ever-present press are mostly ignored.
    Even though they criticized the sessions, Republicans were monitoring her every word in their war rooms back in Washington, fact-checking every moment.
    "Hillary Clinton's van tour is more for the cameras than it is for the everyday Americans she claims to care about," said Republican National Committee spokeswoman Allison Moore.
    "Not only has she ducked the tough questions, she's waffled on the issues, and her faux populism rings hollow in the face of her celebrity vacations, six-figure speaking fees and Wall Street fundraisers," she said.
    The RNC blasted out a series of questions they think Clinton ought to answer. Among them: How were you unaware that small businesses are struggling in the Obama economy? Why have you come out as a skeptic of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal despite your staunch support for it just recently? Do you believe it's appropriate for an arm of the Clinton Foundation to place no restrictions on donations from foreign governments?
    Clinton will have to address increasingly controversial issues -- particularly once her campaign shifts into a mode that involves actual policy proposals.
    But her bet early on is that the issues that possess Washington's political class don't match up with what's on voters' minds, so she won't pay much of a price for waiting at least a few weeks to engage. Meanwhile, she is able to use her long resume -- which has given her opponents unending ammunition -- to her benefit, drawing on it comfortably in more casual settings.
    It was Clinton's comments about substance abuse, in response to a question from a grandmother whose step-daughter is caught in the grips of addiction, that caught the attention of Ken Proper, a 52-year-old machine operator at Whitney Brothers Inc. in Keene where Clinton held a roundtable Monday.
    "This is a quiet epidemic," Clinton said. "And it is striking in small towns and rural areas as much as any big city."
    Proper's take: "She was at our level. Not over us, not trying to put us down."
    Clinton is at times even playing the role of good student herself. She alluded Tuesday to spending several months studying a range of issues leading up to her campaign's kick-off.
    She explained her approach at Monday night's house party in Claremont.
    "If I were just to read briefing books or I were just to engage in the political back and forth, would I have heard what a big problem mental health is in New Hampshire? Would I have heard people say they're really worried about the impact on young people because New Hampshire has the highest tuition and debt problems in the country?" Clinton said. "I'm not sure I would have."