Hillary Clinton courts Sanders fans in New Hampshire

Story highlights

  • Hillary Clinton is making overtures to Bernie Sanders supporters in New Hampshire
  • The former secretary of state is losing handily to the senator from neighboring Vermont
  • Clinton is especially interested in answering questions from young people, many of whom back Sanders

Henniker, New Hampshire (CNN)Hillary Clinton is shedding some of the caution that has been a trademark over three decades in public life as she urgently tries to surpass rival Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire.

In the closing days before the Granite State primary vote on Tuesday, Clinton took on directly her perceived stiffness at an event here in Henniker on Saturday, responding to a woman who asked why she seems more "rehearsed" the Sanders.
Acknowledging that she has heard this critique before, Clinton said a friend had showed her a blog post about how Sanders supporters love his trademark fly-away hair.
    "Boy, that wouldn't really work for any woman we know," she remarked.
    "The fact is I do have a somewhat narrower path that I try to walk and I do think sometimes it comes across as a little more restrained, a little more careful, and I am sure that is true," Clinton said. "I am who I am, I can't do some sort of personality transformation."
    Aides acknowledge that the openness and new message likely won't close the gap in New Hampshire, a state they have all but admitted they'll lose. They hope, though, that Clinton can start to find the sweet spot for the stump speech that she will have to use in what is looking like a more drawn out contest against Sanders.
    Part of the tinkering Clinton is doing to her stump speech includes casting her message and history as forward-looking and pledging to do what she can to make young people's "tomorrows" better than their past.
    These changes are meant to target Sanders' ardent and loyal supporters. Clinton's message to these young people is: I was once you.
    On Friday night in Manchester, Clinton compared her time campaigning for presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy in 1968, who was running an insurgent campaign against sitting Vice President Hubert Humphrey, to what Sanders' supporters are doing now.
    "I want you to know that I am truly glad that you are involved in this process and in the Democratic Party. You are bringing energy, ideas and urgency to our shared causes," Clinton said. "And I can't help but think about how I felt when I first came to New Hampshire in 1968 to campaign for my presidential candidate, Gene McCarthy, to end the war in Vietnam."
    Clinton continued to put herself in Sanders' young supporters shoes, adding that she learned in the 1960s and 70s "what you are proving everyday, you can make change every day without being elected, you just need to go do it."
    Clinton's campaign also wants to get the former secretary of state in front of Sanders supporters.
    Ahead of her event here at New England College, Clinton's aides asked the managers of a well-known Sanders' site on Reddit to advertise their event, urging Sanders' young supporters to stop by and ask Clinton questions.
    Clinton got what she asked for: Students from the school and around the area raised pointed questions about trust issues, single-payer health care, genetically modified foods and how she plans to court their voting demographic.
    "What do you do to persuade people who have doubts about you?" asked one woman, particularly noting trust issues around the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, and her use of a private email system while secretary of state.
    Clinton said the "fog of war" was to blame for the confusion in the days after the attack. But to rebut questions about trust, Clinton turned to people who have both worked with Sanders and endorsed her.
    "The people who have worked with me, in fact, who have worked with us both, are supporting me," Clinton said.
    The reflective, first-person turn in the stump speech is unusual for Clinton, who has used most of her appearances in the past few months to focus on Republicans and her policies, not directly reach out to Sanders' supporters.
    The change acknowledges the need to reach out to Sanders' backers and comes at the same time that Clinton is calling for unity within the party and telling voters that the most important thing is that they beat Republicans in November.