PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Senator Kamala Harris visited New Hampshire on Monday for the first time in her life, and quickly experienced the realities of being a presidential candidate: She faced questions from national reporters about her political ideology and her description of the alleged assault on the actor Jussie Smollett as “an attempted modern day lynching,” followed by a town-hall-style forum with a big crowd of more than 1,000 voters.
Unlike most presidential hopefuls, who come to New Hampshire years before the primary, Senator Harris — who is from California and relatively new to the national political stage — waited until roughly a year before the primary to show up. Barack Obama, who had never been to New Hampshire before running for president, visited the state in December 2006, about 13 months before its 2008 primary.
Ms. Harris knew that her lack of time in the state might raise eyebrows, and she addressed it head-on at the town hall meeting in Portsmouth.
“Let me address the elephant in the room,” she began, then laughed, saying that there were no elephants — the mascot of the Republican Party — in this particular room.
“I intend to compete in New Hampshire,” she declared. “I intend to spend time here. I intend to shake every hand I possibly can,” she said to wild applause from the hundreds of people packed into the large sanctuary of Portsmouth’s historic South Church.
And, she said, “I intend to do very well in New Hampshire.”
That drew big applause, too, but it was a careful hedge. Ms. Harris is fully aware that her challengers for the Democratic nomination are likely to include one if not two fellow senators from neighboring states: Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts has already announced her candidacy, and Bernie Sanders from Vermont is expected to announce soon. New Hampshire has a long history of favoring New England candidates.
Despite Mr. Sanders’s popularity here — he won 60 percent of the vote in the 2016 primary — Ms. Harris distanced herself from him at an earlier event in Concord. Asked if she would have to tack to the left like Mr. Sanders to do well in New Hampshire, she drew a line in the sand.
“The people of New Hampshire will tell me what’s required to compete in New Hampshire, but I will tell you I am not a democratic socialist,” she said. Mr. Sanders describes himself as a democratic socialist, a label that some prominent Democrats have also embraced, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.