Hillary Clinton plays the electability card

Story highlights

  • Hillary Clinton has repeatedly called for President Barack Obama's successor to be a Democrat
  • Embedded in that message is the idea her primary challenger Bernie Sanders is unelectable in the general election

Des Moines, Iowa (CNN)Hillary Clinton has seemingly found the sweet spot in her stump speech in the first few days of 2016, preaching a sense of urgency at all of her events in Iowa and New Hampshire this week while hitting Republicans for their policies and casting herself as the only Democrat who can stop them from winning the White House.

By doing so, Clinton is able to focus almost entirely on a message that will work in the general election, while also pegging Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, her chief Democratic rival, as unelectable.
"I am absolutely determined that we're going to make sure we have a Democrat to succeed President Obama so we don't let the Republicans rip away the progress we have made together," Clinton said in Davenport on Monday.
    The refrain has become a staple on the stump and gives Clinton the opportunity to herald President Barack Obama's plan to push executive actions on guns Tuesday.
    "We have to be prepared to take them on and to confuse them by telling the truth to the American people about what would happen if that were to occur," Clinton said to applause in Des Moines on Monday night.
    During a day-long New Hampshire tour Sunday, Clinton told voters she was there to "to make my case to you" and tell them how Republicans will "reverse all of President Obama's executive orders" if they win the White House.
    "We cannot afford to have a Republican in the White House," Clinton said in Cedar Rapids on Monday, ominously telling voters that is "really matters who is sitting in the Oval Office."
    Republicans have long been a favorite punching bag for Clinton and she has enjoyed hitting them on climate change, equal pay and the economy.
    But all of this plays into a narrative Clinton's campaign is hoping to push: Their candidate is the most electable Democrat in the race.
    Unlike those Republicans she often mentions, Clinton rarely calls out Sanders by name on the stump. In the last few days and as voters get close to making up their minds, though, the former secretary of state has been confronted by people who tell her they are supporting the Vermont senator. In Keene, New Hampshire, on Monday, Clinton said she has the "greatest respect" for Sanders, but at other times she has implied that his plans are too expensive or unable to get implemented.
    Clinton is leading all national polls, but the races in Iowa and New Hampshire are tighter, with Sanders ahead in the Granite State.
    A New Hampshire win could give Sanders crucial momentum. And he also fares well when compared head-to-head with other Republicans and his campaign has worked to convince people that he could win the general election as the Democratic nominee in 2016.
    That hasn't stopped Clinton from focusing almost exclusively on Republicans, though.
    Earlier in the day at an event in Davenport, Clinton argued that if a Republican wins the White House in 2016, they will repeal the Affordable Care Act, Obama's landmark health care law, and do nothing to combat climate change.
    "Here is what I don't understand. I don't think all the Republicans are that ignorant. I don't," Clinton said, clearly fired up. "I think they are doing the bidding of the fossil fuel industry, the Koch Bothers and other of their big donors and puppeteers who say to them, 'you better not say climate change is real.'"
    The line is also more blunt than much of Clinton's 2015 stump speech and previews the argument Clinton will make in the month-long lead up to the Iowa caucuses -- and beyond into the general election.