Is Sanders ready to really rip into Clinton?
The candidates could attempt to convince Democratic voters that they stand the best chance against the GOP in the fall
Watch CNN’s New Hampshire Democratic town hall live at 9 p.m. ET on Wednesday.
Hillary Clinton won the first round against Bernie Sanders – even though the results in the Iowa caucuses don’t get much closer to an even draw.
Now just a two-person race after Martin O’Malley abandoned his bid, Clinton and Sanders’ week-long sprint to the New Hampshire primary goes before a national audience as they appear at a CNN town hall event moderated by Anderson Cooper.
Here are five things to watch in Wednesday night’s event:
1. How low can Clinton’s expectations go?
This was no triumph: It doesn’t get closer than the margin by which Clinton won Iowa, with 49.9% to Sanders’$2 49.6%.
Now, Clinton finds herself on even shakier ground in a state where Sanders has a huge lead in the polls. Her aides have attempted to cast her as an underdog, noting New Hampshire’s proximity to Sanders’ home state of Vermont and its mostly white electorate.
“We are running to be competitive right now,” Mike Vlacich, Clinton’s New Hampshire state director, said on Tuesday. “At the end of the day, we still have a lot of work that we can do here in the next week.”
Clinton herself pointed to Sanders’ home state, telling CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday: “I know that they tend to favor their neighbors. That’s the pattern, the history of the primary. And Senator Sanders is a neighbor.”
She’ll face skeptical questions from a crowd that will include Sanders supporters, many increasingly angry over Clinton dismissing Sanders’ progressive ideas as fantasy.
It’s clear that – without a stunning turn of events – Clinton will have a hard time winning here. So she’ll have her eyes on the broader and more diverse Democratic electorate, with Latinos playing a key role in Nevada’s February 20 caucuses and African-Americans dominating South Carolina’s February 27 primary.
It’ll be important for Clinton to convey that her campaign is strong enough to depart New Hampshire with momentum – with her success amid Iowa’s large turnout of about 180,000 voters playing a key role in that argument – even in the face of what could be a significant loss.
2. How angry will Bernie be?
In a similar CNN town hall in Iowa, Sanders absolutely unloaded on Clinton, hammering her as a newcomer to the progressive movement on income inequality, trade, energy and other issues.
Since then, the man who talks about never running a negative ad in his life has approved one that ripped into Goldman Sachs for paying politicians speaking fees – a crystal-clear shot at Clinton who has received that money.
He has complained about the Democratic establishment, complaining about the Democratic National Committee’s decision to hold debates often on weekends and against playoff football games and other high-profile events.
Is Sanders ready to really rip into Clinton?
His winks and nods toward the liberal base are impossible to miss.
On Tuesday in Keene, New Hampshire, Sanders launched into an attack on the Walmart-owning Walton family, saying that “the major welfare abuser in America is the wealthiest family in America.”
No wonder: Walmart is headquartered in Arkansas. Clinton once served on its board. And Alice Walton gave Clinton’s Democratic National Committee Victory Fund $353,000 in December – a contribution just made public in filings Sunday.
CNN has reached out to Walmart for a response.
3. Clinton on the attack
Clinton returned to the one line that might best fit her campaign late Monday night in Iowa, telling supporters she’s “a progressive who gets things done.”
Will she continue her line of attack on Sanders that his ideas sound great but bear little resemblance to the political realities of Washington today?
Or will she instead confront the challenge she admitted when she told Blitzer on Tuesday that she has “some work to do” to attract the young voters who are overwhelmingly supporting Sanders?
Knowing that winning the New Hampshire primary is an uphill battle, Clinton could be more focused on the fundamentals that help her long-term: Keeping advantages with minorities by continuing to attack Sanders over gun control, while trying for new strategies to attract young voters.
4. What about the Republicans?
When Democrats attended a similar forum in Iowa, they’d notably reduced their usual tally of attacks on the Republican field.
There was good reason why: Polls were showing Sanders within striking distance in Iowa, and there was suddenly a race that could go either direction. Sanders was ready to criticize Clinton over her Wall Street ties, trade, the Keystone pipeline and much more, and Clinton had totally dropped her months-long refusal to even say Sanders’ name.
Will the two turn their focus back to Republicans now that the first results are in?
The candidates could attempt to convince Democratic voters that they stand the best chance against the GOP in the fall, particularly by going after Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, whose strong third-place finish in Iowa will only fuel Democrats’ concerns that he’s the toughest Republican to beat.
For Clinton, attacking Republicans is a particularly attractive option: challenging Sanders’ ability to achieve his campaign’s policy ideas might make sense to her loyal supporters, but it doesn’t exactly inspire the base.
5. Griping over who won Iowa
Sure, Clinton might have four more state delegate equivalents out of nearly 1,400.
But Sanders wouldn’t quite concede defeat Tuesday in New Hampshire, telling reporters in Keene, “Well, we want to look at it.”
His campaign, too, seemed to suggest that with a margin so small, and the caucus process so messy, there’s no way to know with certainty that Clinton won.
His Iowa-based spokeswoman told the Des Moines Register that errors were likely made.
“We feel like that there’s a very, very good chance that there is,” Rania Batrice said. “It’s not that we think anybody did anything intentionally, but human error happens.”
Clinton, too, will try to frame the Iowa results.
On one hand, she entered the race a prohibitive front-runner, spent months more organizing there, outraised Sanders, learned from her 2008 mistakes, and still barely won.
On the other hand, Iowa was one of the most favorable states for Sanders on the map. A win there could have supercharged his campaign – and that didn’t happen.