- Bill Clinton is speaking at the New Hampshire Democratic Party's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner on Thursday,
- Clinton is there in part to support Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who is up for reelection in a tight Senate bid.
- Normally 400-450 Democrats attend the dinner, but this year at least 1,200 Democrats have tickets.
- Clinton's visit comes one day after Mitt Romney campaigned alongside Shaheen's opponent Scott Brown.
In early 2000, shortly after Al Gore beat Bill Bradley by a too-close-for-comfort four points in the state's first-in-the-nation primaries, Ray Buckley, then a New Hampshire state legislator, swung through Washington to have breakfast with a friend in the Clinton administration.
As he sat in the White House mess eating pancakes, Buckley was shocked when an aide brought him a note that said President Bill Clinton wanted to see him in the Oval Office. He didn't know Clinton was even aware he was visiting.
"He started grilling me on what towns Gore did well in and didn't do well in. He didn't have a paper in front of him, he just knew. He was asking me 'Why didn't Al do better in Amherst?' His understanding of the political landscape of New Hampshire is just amazing," Buckley, now the chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, told CNN.
Clinton is taking that enthusiasm for the Granite State, generated in no small part by the dramatic successes he and his wife have historically secured here, to the state party's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Manchester on Thursday, raising money and encouraging voters in his party to get to the polls on election day.
Incumbent Gov. Maggie Hassan has the most comfortable lead in the polls among Democrats running for federal office in New Hampshire. Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Ann Kuster are in more competitive races as they try to hang onto their House seats. But it's Sen. Jeanne Shaheen who is getting the most attention. The longtime Clinton ally is running statistically even with Republican Scott Brown, the former senator from Massachusetts, in a race that could determine the balance of power in the senate.
"Bill Clinton is probably the best person for Shaheen," says Neil Levesque, the executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics and Political Library at Saint Anselm College. "He's custom made for a state like New Hampshire that really appreciates someone who can get into the issues."
Clinton's visit comes one day after Mitt Romney campaigned alongside Brown and with Democratic activists here growing more and more anxious (the state legislature's return to Republican control looks like a foregone conclusion already) it's just in time.
"The concern is if there's anxiety bordering on depression about the bad news not just in New Hampshire but nationally that might stop an activist from working as hard as they might to get out the vote," says Dante Scala, professor of Political Science at the University of New Hampshire.
Clinton's visit appears to be buoying many Democrats already.
With news of his headlining appearance, 1,200 people have purchased tickets to the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, the biggest crowd since the state party revived it as a fall fundraising event in 1991. Normally 400-450 Democrats attend. This year, some attendees will be watching Clinton from an overflow room and the normally seated dinner has been scrapped for an earlier buffet-style meal followed by Clinton's speech to a crowd in a theater-style seating arrangement.
New Hampshire has always been friendly to the Clintons and they're not going to neglect the state as Hillary Clinton eyes another presidential run.
In 1992, just a few days after a tabloid broke a story about Bill Clinton's affair with an Arkansas state employee named Gennifer Flowers, a surprise second place finish in the New Hampshire primary kept Clinton's presidential prospects alive. He famously declared that January evening, "New Hampshire has made Bill Clinton the comeback kid," and went on to win the state in the general election as well.
In 2008, when Hillary Clinton trailed Barack Obama by double digits in the lead up to the New Hampshire primary, she teared up at a Portsmouth coffee shop as she told a voter who asked how she was faring on the trail, "I just don't want to see us fall backwards. This is very personal for me. It's not just political." The next day, she answered Obama's crushing Iowa caucus win with a three point victory in New Hampshire, telling her supporters at her victory rally, "Now let's give America the kind of comeback New Hampshire has just given me."
Hillary Clinton will campaign here the weekend before the election, hoping to make a last minute move for Sen. Shaheen and Gov. Hassan.
By then, most voters will have made up their minds. But strategists say Clinton can make an effective play for undecided female voters, especially with incumbent Democratic women up and down the ballot.
"She could win this race for Shaheen," says Levesque. And if she does, the Clintons are betting New Hampshire will remember that in 2016.