MANCHESTER, N.H — As about 1,400 Democratic activists cozied up next to one another in a New Hampshire ballroom for the party’s annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner on Sunday night, it was clear that despite the relative calm of the Democratic primary contest, the electorate in New Hampshire is still very much divided — primarily between former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.).
And that is exactly the way Sanders hopes it will stay.
“Today, with your help we can pull off one of the great political upsets in the history of our country,” Sanders said.
And by that, he means the shroud of inevitability that cloaks Clinton.
Here, Sanders is running a competitive race from behind, but Clinton is moving to broaden her appeal beyond the primary by emphasizing her belief in political pragmatism.
Like Sanders, Clinton is making a lot of pledges to voters, but she noted that "we're not going to do it by making promises we can't keep."
But first, she must address Sanders and the real challenge he poses here and in other early primary states.
“Some candidates may be running to make a point,” Clinton said in a pointed reference to her opponent. “I’m running to make a difference.”
At the same time, Clinton’s usual stump speech, already heavily laden with policy specifics, is slowly encompassing broader themes.
“I’m running to be president for all Americans, for the struggling, the striving and the successful,” Clinton said. “I’m running for everyone who has been knocked down but refuses to be counted out.”
She also has beefed up her rhetoric on some issues near to the hearts of voters leaning toward Sanders, saying that for too long, “Republicans have stacked the deck for those at the top.”
And to hear Sanders’s supporters tell it, she can thank the senator for helping her add a few new lines to her stump speech, specifically when it comes to holding Wall Street accountable.
“It’s very important what he’s saying, and she’s echoing everything he said earlier,” said Dave McLaughlin, 65, of Derry, who is backing Sanders. “I’m not sure we can be confident that she would have been echoing it as accurately without Bernie doing what he’s doing.”
Clinton, he noted, is “old school” in the way she thinks about money and politics, for example. Sanders, on the other hand, has proved that he can run a successful campaign without the help of super PACs.
“We were becoming very disillusioned in this country, and we didn’t believe that that’s the way a campaign could be held,” he added.
But Sanders also is beginning to evolve under pressure from Clinton. On Sunday night, after weeks of holding forth with his usual focus on income inequality, Sanders expanded on his foreign policy views for a lengthy portion of his speech.
The recent terrorist attacks in Paris have made national security a top priority for some voters, but it has been one that Sanders was initially slow to address. That changed Sunday night when he devoted an extensive section of his prepared remarks to the fight against terrorism.
“As president, I will defend this country, but I will do it responsibly,” he added, while calling for “rich and powerful” Arab countries to contribute their fair share to the effort to fight terrorism. “We do not need a “tough foreign policy, we need a smart foreign policy.”
“We cannot and should not be trapped in perpetual warfare in the Middle East year after year after year,” he added.
The expansion on foreign policy didn’t go unnoticed, especially to voters who are sensitive to Clinton’s deep experience in that area. But for some, it wasn’t enough.
“I like him and I agree with probably 95 percent of what he has to say,” Judy Foss, 65, said of Sanders. “I don’t believe he’d be an effective president.”
The Paris attacks have made her more “desirous of having [Clinton] as our president and commander in chief,” added Foss, who said she supported Clinton in 2008 and plans to back her again.
But while some Clinton supporters are longtime loyalists, her challengers think many voters are still up for grabs.
Former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley, who also is seeking the Democratic nomination, noted to reporters after the speech that voters have not yet reached the critical "decision pocket."
O'Malley has focused on getting a first or second look from voters, in part through his willingness to tangle with Republicans rhetorically.
He blasted businessman and GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump for supporting a federal registry of people based on religion.
"If you want to make a list of Americans who affirmatively and vocally reject your politics of fear and division, start with me," O'Malley said.
As he often does, Sanders noted that Americans are clamoring for “real change."
And he is offering his version of change that he thinks would bring younger and more enthusiastic voters to the polls.
“Republicans win when voter turnout is low,” Sanders said. “I see a future not just for my candidacy but for the Democratic Party.”