Hillary Clinton traveled to Dover Thursday to talk up her approach to improving the economy. It was her first open-to-the-public town hall meeting, and it came as the Democratic front runner faces unexpected pressure from the more liberal Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
The setting, the city of Dover, was a place with resonance for the Clinton family and its loyalists. The Dover Elks club is where Bill Clinton told voters in 1992 he would be there for them "until the last dog dies." The community is also rich in Democratic votes: centrist, blue-collar types as well as plenty of liberals. Clinton stressed her local connection from the moment she picked up the microphone at Dover City Hall.
“I do have a really soft spot in my heart for Dover," she said.
Clinton said President Obama deserved more credit for managing the economy, but also said the next president needs to do more to boost the prospects of the middle class, though what she called “fair growth.”
“Of course there is a lot of things, we need to do: raise the minimum wage, enforce overtime, and finally pay women equal pay for equal work,” Clinton said.
Clinton also wants to give companies a tax deduction if they share profits with their employees. She said the policy would benefit workers and company owners alike. And she was quick to cite a local example.
"You are familiar with, Market Basket, am I right?" she asked the crowd. "You know Market Basket provides profit sharing for employees who work more than a thousand hours a year…. I’m pretty proud of that and I think it makes good business sense."
Clinton’s profit-sharing plan would allow workers to receive a share of their employer's profits of up to 10 percent of their wage. Businesses, meanwhile, could deduct 15 percent of their profit sharing. The Clinton campaign says the policy would reduce government revenues as much as $20 billion over 10 years.
Dover businesswoman Tammy Hashey, an independent, said Clinton’s proposal makes good sense to her. She said she’s had to take out mortgages to make payroll, and said the more policies can align the interests of business owners and worker, the better.
“If we can give them incentive, buy in to our business that makes it our businesses, they become much better employees, and they care," Hashey said.
But not everybody in Dover was so appreciative of Clinton’s positions. The former secretary of state faced down hecklers, mostly University of New Hampshire students, when she declined to commit to banning fossil fuel extraction on public lands..
When chants of "Act on climate" rose, Clinton responded:
“That’s OK, That’s OK. That’s OK. I am all in favor of acting on climate. You know what, I have said in this campaign, I am going to tell you what I believe and some people are going to like it an some people are not going to like it, and I believe strongly.”
Clinton won cheers for that answer. But her ability to galvanize liberals in her party remains a question. Kay Oppenheimer, a retired lawyer from Durham, was a big Obama backer eight years ago. She's leaning toward Sanders this year. Oppenheimer said she sees Clinton as more electable, but raised doubts about Clinton's commitment to her positions.
“It’s hard to know what Hillary believes, that’s a problem I have with her," Oppenheimer said. "I think she’s trying to match her campaign to what she thinks the majority of the Democratic Party is going to go for, and I understand that, but it’s hard to work up a lot of enthusiasm.”
Clinton herself, meanwhile, said she’s excited about the state of her campaign, and discounted a new poll from the Associated Press that found just 39 percent of voters view her favorably and only 3 in 10 consider her well described by the word "honest."
"I don’t like seeing that obviously, but I think people know that I will fight for them," Clinton said.
Today Clinton takes her fight to Iowa, where tonight all five Democratic candidates will share a stage for the first time.