Hillary Clinton Offers Little To Make New Impression in Iowa

News & Politics

When Hillary Clinton unsurprisingly announced that she would run for president earlier this week, she said she wanted to start small.

While hitting the road in Iowa, her first campaign stop, she stuck to her word. Scheduled events in Monticello and Norwalk, two farming communities, were closed to the public. Even behind closed doors, Clinton didn’t announce any major policy ideas beyond offering four “pillars” of her campaign: strengthening the economy, protecting the country from threats, strengthening family and community, and fixing a broken political campaign, promising that more details would come in the future, according to NPR

Monticello and Norwalk voters reacted to her cautious campaign launch with equal trepidation. While some are excited about her bid, many are taking a “wait and see approach,” wanting to hear more from the presidential hopeful before giving her their support.

But hearing more is hard to do. Like many Iowans, Kevin Rutledge, a 24-year-old from Ottumwa, IA, is proud of his state’s import in national politics. “We pick our country’s leader, we pick our world leader. We’re able to spur the conversation, what the country is talking about,” he says. As an organizer with the American Friends Service Committee, he stood outside of Clinton’s event at Capital City Fruit, a Norwalk produce company, along with three other Iowans, to highlight their concerns with America’s bloated military budget.

Rutledge quietly brags about how many candidates he’s confronted in the past: just last week he asked Rand Paul, during his visit to the University of Iowa, what he would do to reduce wasteful military spending and quell lobbyists’ influence on American politics. But he wouldn’t have the opportunity to pose such a question to Clinton. Although Rutledge notes that Clinton promised that her campaign would be “up close and personal,” he wasn’t able to enter the private event. 

Iowans “want to be able to talk to people, to relate to them,” he says. “When they come with a big posse and media they feel drowned out, but they want to be listened to.” He and fellow AFSC members packed up and left before the event ended, having just snuck a peak of Clinton’s Scooby van. Still, he’s not counting Clinton out. “She’s got a lot of experience,” says Rutledge. 

Joining the small smattering of onlookers and campaigners at the parking lot of Capital City Fruit was Josh Skipworth, who worked for the Obama campaign in 2008 and again in 2012. This time around, he’s prepared to support Clinton. But he’s not convinced yet. Although Skipworth thinks that “Clinton 2.0 seems to have shifted quite a bit to the left,” she still doesn’t have a position on income inequality, a top concern for him. He also wants her to “stake out a position on campaign finance and corporate tax reform. It’s crazy that someone like my mom, who makes $27,000 a year, is taxed more than corporate CEOs.” 

Although Clinton is widely understood to be the inevitable Democratic candidate, Skipworth doesn’t see it that way. He’s waiting to see who may still come out of the woodwork to run in the Democratic primary before throwing his weight before Clinton, and wants to hear more from the likes of Jim Webb, former senator from Virginia, who has formed a presidential exploratory committee. Skipworth wants a robust, competitive primary because “it’s better for the party, as we’ll have a good candidate four or eight years down the road.”

He’s desire for more candidates is matched by Kathy Fuller, who sits in quiet a bar blasting oldies on the dying Main Street of Norwalk, miles away from Clinton’s campaign stop. Fuller says that although she voted for Clinton in the 2008 primary, she’s “waiting to hear who else is gonna run.” Fuller is a Elizabeth Warren fan; Iowa has been a site of Run Warren Run events in the last several months, and some are continuing even despite Clinton’s bid and Warren announcing that she won’t be a candidate. “I wish [Clinton] would look at Warren’s views. She’s outspoken, she cuts to the chase. Anything something hits the news with her, it’s something good.”

Still, Fuller leans towards Clinton because of her experience, hoping that Warren will run in the next election. “I think [Clinton is] the most informed and hands on person of all the candidates running right now. She was Secretary of State, she served in Congress for many years, she has the most detailed knowledge.” Clinton’s experience is oft-referred by her Iowan supporters who spoke to AlterNet, who also champion her gender, her work ethic, and their hope that she’ll be stronger on immigration reform that Obama. 

Clinton pegged her Iowa tour as a way to re-brand herself, to allow voters to get to know the real Hillary, to be perceived as a down-home American girl rather than a big city establishment Democrat. But according to Colin Hart, a Democrat, these efforts have failed. He spent his day at a local park, not at Capital City Fruit, assuming he wouldn’t get the chance to meet Clinton because the event was closed. Commenting on her four pillars, he says, “I think it’s all rhetoric. It’s so far from reality."

“She’s going around and having small meetings and says she’s getting in touch with Iowans, but I think she’s just posing,” he says. (Indeed, AlterNet met several Clinton supporters in Monticello, where she stopped on April 14, who watched the events on C-SPAN or followed them in the local paper because they were closed to the public.) “She’s gotta a lot of free press for it, but she’s gonna have to meet up with people to be more effective,” says Hart.

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