Hillary Clinton’s remarks to voters in Portsmouth were interrupted early on when an avalanche of snow slid off the roof of South Church, where she was holding a town-hall meeting. “And the heavens,” Clinton quipped, gesturing to the church’s large windows as giant clumps of snow plummeted past.
The winter’s first significant snowfall did not deter a huge crowd from showing up to see the Democratic presidential candidate on Tuesday, Dec. 29. The building was packed to capacity, with 750 people inside and more than 200 viewing the event from an overflow space. According to the Clinton campaign, it was the candidate’s 19th town hall or public forum in New Hampshire, underscoring the importance of the state’s first-in-the-nation primary, which takes place Feb. 9.
Clinton focused most of her introductory remarks on her plan to help prevent, treat, and find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. She briefly outlined a plan to spend an additional $2 billion per year on research for Alzheimer’s and related disorders, a figure she said she reached after consulting with leading researchers.
Clinton spent the rest of the event fielding an array of questions about climate change, gun control, health care, prison populations, wage equality, education costs, the affordability of hearing aids, and more.
Some of the biggest applause Clinton received came during her response to a young boy’s question about what she would do to keep kids safe from gun violence. “I’m going to do everything I can do, and I’m never going to stop trying,” Clinton said.
Citing a statistic that 90 gun-related deaths occur every day in the United States — equating to about 33,000 deaths per year — she called for more comprehensive background checks, among other measures.
“We need to make sure that the information needed to make the judgment about whether someone is qualified to own a gun is in the records,” she said, adding that it can be done in a “Constitutionally consistent way.”
She called on gun owners to form an organization in support of stricter gun laws, saying “the gun lobby lives off of fear and misinformation.”
Regarding climate change, Clinton praised the recent climate accord in Paris and said that, as president, she would work to enforce the agreement and hold nations accountable, “including our own.” She said she would aim to reduce carbon emissions, boost the use of renewable energy sources, and help coastal communities prepare for the effects of climate change.
“We’ve got to get serious about this, because it’s happening. We are seeing the results,” she said.
Clinton also vowed to reform the nation’s prison system. “I think we have incarcerated too many people,” she said, adding that she would search for alternatives to prison for people convicted of minor offenses, including getting drug addicts out of prison and into treatment programs.
She also said she would work to improve the nation’s bail system, which keeps many pre-trial suspects behind bars, even if “we don’t know that they’re guilty of anything except poverty,” she said.
Clinton responded to several questions with promises to make health care more accessible to the elderly, disabled, and mentally ill. And she vowed to improve schools and make a college education more affordable.
With the New Hampshire primary just weeks away — and with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders leading here in many polls — Clinton is maintaining a steady presence in the Seacoast and across the state. Earlier this week, the campaign announced that her husband, former president Bill Clinton, would be at Exeter Town Hall on Monday, Jan. 4, for a “grassroots organizing event.”
Most of the attendees at the town hall in Portsmouth were enthusiastic Clinton supporters. Portsmouth mayor Robert Lister opened the event by praising Clinton’s commitment to infrastructure improvements. Former state Speaker of the House Terie Norelli said Clinton has “spent her life in public service.” “She’s been tried and tested, she’s been knocked down, but she just keeps getting right back up,” Norelli told the crowd before Clinton’s arrival.
Several guests at the event cited Clinton’s extensive résumé as the top qualification that separates her from fellow Democrats Sanders and Martin O’Malley. In addition to being the nation’s First Lady for eight years, Clinton has been a U.S. senator and secretary of state. Will Lusenhop, of South Berwick, Maine, said he admires Clinton’s experience and maturity. “I like her many years of leadership and experience in government,” he said.
Julie Weiss and Rachel Mansfield both traveled from out of state with their daughters to see Clinton. Weiss, of Shrewsbury, Mass., said she and her 17-year-old daughter (who will be 18 by the election) both plan to vote for Clinton.
Mansfield, of East Hampton, Conn., said Clinton’s foreign policy knowledge is what differentiates her from Sanders and O’Malley. But she also said she wants to prove to her daughters that a woman can be elected president.
“My girls have really actually said to me, ‘Girls can’t be president,’” Mansfield said. “They need to see that in their lifetime.”