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What's Hillary Clinton's next move?

The Democratic nomination has become a real race
Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton greets the crowd at her primary night party February 9, 2016 at Southern New Hampshire University in Hooksett, New Hampshire.Image copyright Getty Images

The contest for the Democratic nomination has become a real race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

After a win for each in Iowa and New Hampshire, the next round took place on Thursday evening with a debate in Milwaukee, during which the pair clashed over President Obama's legacy.

These are key moments in the campaign. Mr Sanders will try to convince a national audience that his strong performance in Iowa and his victory on Tuesday were no flukes, while Mrs Clinton will need to demonstrate that Mr Sanders has no path to victory.

So, perhaps the next round actually started on Tuesday evening in New Hampshire.

Polls had barely closed when Mrs Clinton's campaign manager Robby Mook sent out a memo papering over the loss by explaining why the first two states mattered little because they were unrepresentative of the typical Democratic electorate (both were at least 90% white and far more liberal).

He threw forward to the upcoming contests in Nevada and South Carolina.

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Image caption Bernie Sanders supporters cheer in New Hampshire

"The nomination will very likely be won in March, not February," wrote Mr Mook. "And we believe that Hillary Clinton is well positioned to build a strong - potentially insurmountable - delegate lead next month."

Some 56% of delegates will be delivered in those contests.

Even if Mrs Clinton is still the front-runner nationally and well ahead in endorsements and delegate counts, Mr Sanders is gaining momentum and giving her a run for her money, literally.

He outraised her in January and he will likely do it again in February. Since his big win on Tuesday, he's already raised almost $7m (£4.8m).

Mr Sanders knows he has a Sisyphean climb to the nomination, but even if he can't win he will stay in the race as long as he has the money to do so. He can challenge Mrs Clinton and push her as far as left as he can.

So there's also a frantic battle to rack up the endorsements. My inbox is flooded by email from both campaigns touting the latest high profile personalities or politicians who have sided with each candidate.

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Image caption Congressman Charles Rangel speaks as part of the Congressional Black Caucus' political action committee's endorsement of Hillary Clinton

Today, it was American singer Harry Belafonte for Mr Sanders and members of the Black Congressional Caucus for Mrs Clinton.

Except for the wide margin by which Mr Sanders won on Tuesday, none of what we have seen so far is a total surprise.

Last summer, I already heard from the Clinton campaign that they were looking at the possibility of losing Iowa and New Hampshire and banking on primaries and caucuses in March.

Needless to say, Mrs Clinton would have preferred a different race, one where her position as the prohibitive nominee is not put in doubt by a 74-year-old self-described socialist senator from Vermont.

Media captionWhat does Bernie Sanders say in her stump speech? A 60 second summary of her greatest hits

The question now is whether the rest of the campaign plays out according to this scenario. Does Mrs Clinton go on to win in Nevada, South Carolina and most of the March states, leaving behind the narrative of a campaign in trouble?

Probably, but the Clinton campaign is taking nothing for granted in a year when both the Republican and the Democratic races have been upended by a strong dose of populism.

And that's been Mrs Clinton's main failing so far - running a solid but traditional campaign in a year of insurgents, a year when people want to hear uplifting speeches or simple solutions. The former secretary of state has provided neither, for two reasons.

Mrs Clinton doesn't do simple solutions. She is always the woman with the plan.

As a candidate, she has a plan to reduce college debt, to tackle climate change and create jobs through renewable energy industries, fund research to cure Alzheimer's, and tackle the opiate epidemic in New Hampshire.

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Sitting through Mrs Clinton's stump speech as she goes through all these issues can be dizzying.

Neera Tanden, an informal advisor to the campaign and head of the left-leaning Center for American Progress, told me that Mrs Clinton is simply responding to the concerns voters have expressed to her.

"The sum total of Hillary's campaign is that 'there are a lot of problems that the country faces and I have ideas to solve them and the ability to get it done'," she said.

"People have talked to her about Alzheimer's, or substance abuse in New Hampshire," she added.

Media captionWhat does Hillary Clinton say in her stump speech? A 60 second summary of her greatest hits

But absent in the binders of plans is the clear, succinct formulation of a vision that inspires, gives hope and captures the imagination of those young people who are flocking to Mr Sanders.

And that's the second issue - Mrs Clinton has never been one for big promises and soaring speeches. She's a pragmatic policy nerd who looks at a problem from all angles, a public servant rather than a politician with sales skills.

As secretary of state she was often frustrated by President Barack Obama's lofty rhetoric, which came with no detailed, workable plan - just think of his 2009 Cairo speech, which was meant to reset the relationship with the Muslim world.

But Mrs Clinton will have to inject a bit more poetry in her campaign without sounding contrived - and without looking like she's mimicking her opponent.

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Image caption Clinton has now left the heavily on-the-ground campaigning for the sprint of multiple primaries over the next few weeks

In her last campaign events in New Hampshire she started peppering her speeches with the expression "imagine a world where" as she laid out her solutions.

It can feel hackneyed for a speechwriter, but the word ''imagine'' polls well with voters.

Her concession speech on Tuesday night was one of her best so far, and more inspiring than Mr Sander's victory speech.

So will Mrs Clinton shake up her campaign staff as has been reported?

Probably not, though her team will be taking stock and try to understand why they've not been able to tap into the sense of frustration of young voters and adjust the messaging accordingly.

Too much of the focus is currently on Mrs Clinton's resume and her history working on issues such as healthcare or children's rights, and not enough on appealing to voters' emotions, including in her television ads.

This might require bringing in fresh blood rather than firing people, while buckling down on their strategy in the next two contests and the March states.

But in tonight's debate, Mrs Clinton's challenge will be threefold - inspire with a more succinctly formulated vision and undermine Mr Sanders without angering his supporters. But she will need to signal openness to Mr Sanders without giving fodder to the Republicans and weakening her position in a general match up.

"She's under an interesting constraint in this primary. She doesn't want to alienate Bernie Sanders and she doesn't want to alienate that young constituency. She needs him and she needs his supporters [to win in November]" said Washington Post columnist EJ Dionne.

In a general election, Democrats are dependent on high turnout of voters under 35.

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Image caption Either way, a nomination will still be a fight for several more weeks

The Republican Pac America Rising has already lumped both together in a video decrying how the Democratic party is being transformed into a Democratic socialist party and the dangers they believe this represents for America.

This is the kind of three-dimensional chess that Mrs Clinton usually handles well. So the road ahead is about to get a bit easier for her, while it gets harder for Mr Sanders, who will now start to come under intense scrutiny.

They'll meet in the middle of the road for a hard slog over the next couple of weeks.

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