By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
If there were any doubts that the presidential campaign has become a grueling -- and personal -- experience for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, she laid them to rest yesterday in a diner in Portsmouth, N.H.
The trigger: a friendly question from a voter about how she stays so put-together on the campaign trail.
"My question is very personal: How do you do it?" asked Marianne Pernold Young of Portsmouth, who once served as Jimmy Carter's campaign photographer and is now a freelancer. "How do you -- how do you keep upbeat and so wonderful?"
"You know, I think, well luckily, on special days I do have help," Clinton said, initially responding in an upbeat manner. "If you see me every day and if you look on some of the Web sites and listen to some of the commentators, they always find me on the day I didn't have help. It's not easy."
Clinton's display of emotion fell well short of then-Sen. Edmund S. Muskie's teary withdrawal from the 1972 Democratic contest or Rep. Pat Schroeder's emotional departure from the 1988 Democratic race.
But that rare moment of sympathy -- a stark contrast to the beating she has taken in recent days -- seemed to get to Clinton. "It's not easy, and I couldn't do it if I didn't passionately believe it was the right thing to do," she said. Her voice cracked, and her eyes appeared to well with tears. "You know, this is very personal for me. It's not just political. It's not just public. I see what's happening, and we have to reverse it."
She continued: "Some people think elections are a game, lots of who's up or who's down. It's about our country. It's about our kids' futures. And it's really about all of us together."
Clinton has appeared emotional at similar moments in the past. But coming just one day before the pivotal New Hampshire primary, and following harsh questions about whether voters simply do not like Clinton enough to support her, it immediately took on larger-than-life significance. Reporters scrambled to assess whether it was a true human moment or a calculated one designed to create a connection with voters.
"You know, some of us put ourselves out there and do this against some pretty difficult odds, and we do it, each one of us, because we care about our country. But some of us are right and some of us are wrong, some of us are ready and some of us are not, some of us know what we will do on Day One and some of us haven't thought that through enough," she said.
"And so when we look at the array of problems we have and the potential for it really spinning out of control, this is one of the most important elections America has ever faced," Clinton said.
The man who has done the most to contribute to Clinton's woes these days, Sen. Barack Obama, declined to comment directly about the moment, but another Democratic rival, former senator John Edwards, was less reluctant.
"I think what we need in a commander in chief is strength and resolve, and presidential campaigns are tough business, but being president of the United States is also tough business," he told reporters in Laconia, N.H.