NASHUA, N.H. — As Hillary Rodham Clinton prepared to bring her week-old presidential campaign to this state on Monday, an array of Republicans vying to be their party’s pick spent the weekend offering a preview of how they would take her on.
Democrats are rallying around Clinton’s candidacy as an opportunity to make history by putting a woman in the White House. Republicans will be doing their best to convince Americans that her presidency would be more of the same — that is, an extension of the policies of President Obama.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was one of several Republicans who called Clinton “the third term of Barack Obama.”
“If you’re looking for something new, don’t look to her,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) quipped. “Look to the 35 people running for president on the Republican side.”
That was an exaggeration, but not much of one. Over the two days of the state GOP’s Republican Leadership Summit, no fewer than 17 potential or declared candidates introduced themselves, made their cases and took questions from more than 600 party leaders and activists.
They also mocked Clinton — who at this point appears to have only token opposition in her bid for her party’s nomination — as entitled and presumptuous, and poked fun about the rough spots she has hit as she rolled out her campaign with a swing through Iowa. There were, for instance, many references to Chipotle, where Clinton stopped for lunch in Ohio and failed to leave a tip (though that is not unusual in a fast-food chain).
“I could have sworn I saw Hillary’s Scooby-Doo van outside,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said, referring to the nickname for the black vehicle Clinton traveled in. He quickly added that it couldn’t have been, because foreign leaders were not paying for the gathering — a jab at the controversies that have surrounded the financing of the Clinton family’s foundation.
And they blasted Clinton’s biggest accomplishment: her tenure as Obama’s secretary of state.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Clinton’s handling of the 2012 attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, were a “dereliction” of her duty that should “preclude her” from serving as president. He said Clinton and Obama had overstepped with airstrikes in that country in 2011: “Why the hell did we ever go into Libya in the first place?”
Paul ribbed that she will need two campaign planes — “one for her and her entourage and one for her baggage.”
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee boasted that he has been running — and winning — against the “Clinton political machine” in his home state for decades.
Behind the bravado, however, there was unease and concern. Republicans know they must strike a careful balance: being tough enough against Clinton to rile up their base without piling on in a manner that would offend swing voters and those who would see sexism in their attacks.
Then, there is the reality they see in the early polling, which shows that Clinton easily leads every potential candidate in the Republican field.
While Republicans paint Clinton as out of touch with everyday Americans, they are keeping an eye on Clinton’s efforts to solidify her own party’s liberal base, and to her increasing emphasis on those who are being left behind in the economic recovery.
In a news conference, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has moved closer to a 2016 run, said, “Republicans need to get their act together” and reach “people who live in the shadows” after being asked about his approach to taking on Clinton.
“I don’t think she is going to be easy to be beat,” Kasich said. “The electoral map is difficult for Republicans.”
Some of the harshest words about Clinton have come from the only woman believed to be in the Republican mix for 2016, former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina.
“We need to be clear-eyed about Hillary Clinton’s assets — and she has many. She will have a great ground game; she’ll have a lot of money,” Fiorina said in an interview. “We need to be unafraid to take on her lack of accomplishment. We need to go after the many examples of her lack of candor and transparency. But we also need to be sure that we are empathetic and not judgmental and talk about solutions that matter to voters.”
Fiorina dismissed the possibility that Republicans might be accused of gender bias. “I haven’t noticed Democrats being careful about women at all. Remember Senator Joni Ernst giving the response to President Obama’s State of the Union address? A bunch of Democratic operatives came out and called her window dressing,” she said of the Republican senator from Iowa.
She also got an enthusiastic response from the New Hampshire Republicans when she alluded to former president Bill Clinton’s sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky: “I was asked this morning on Fox News whether a woman’s hormones prevented her from serving in the Oval Office — not that we have seen examples ever of a man’s judgment being clouded by hormones, including in the Oval Office.”
Thus far, the Republican contenders have largely refrained from attacking one another. Much of their fire has been — and remains — on Obama, who will not be on the 2016 ballot. Nothing so unites Republicans as their opposition to a president who they contend has vastly expanded government, principally by enacting a sweeping health-care law, and overstepped his executive authority.
Yet their national party has already put itself on a footing for a general-election battle with Clinton — ignoring her lesser-known Democratic rivals and reviving Clinton scandals and pseudoscandals old and new.
Reince Priebus, the combative chairman of the Republican National Committee, is leading the blitz. In recent days, the RNC has launched its “Stop Hillary” initiative with a Web ad that raises questions about foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation and her use of a private e-mail account at the State Department.
Clinton critics in the conservative movement have also been active. Books, films and social-media campaigns are all in the works, set to be unleashed in the coming months.
But the animus toward the Clintons that animated Republicans in the 1990s has faded somewhat over time. Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist has told friends that he’s “bored” by Hillary Clinton. And former Massachusetts senator Scott P. Brown (R) said in an interview Friday with Boston Herald Radio that he likes “Hillary Clinton personally,” in spite of her politics.
Clinton’s stature is leading some Republicans to consider contenders who don’t hold the typical profile of a GOP nominee. New Hampshire state Rep. Tammy Simmons (R), a Paul ally, said she’s with the Kentucky senator because she thinks he’s the rare Republican who could build a coalition that could compete with Clinton.
“People always say millennials don’t vote, which isn’t true. They just don’t vote for Republicans,” Simmons said. “With Clinton, we have to be smart and put up someone who could actually expand the map.”