Hillary's Iowa


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Turn a few chapters back in Hillary Rodham Clinton’s political career, and you’ll find her on a stage, flanked by throngs of Iowans chanting her name and hoisting “Ready for Hillary” signs high above their heads.

By the looks of the crowd at the Hotel Fort Des Moines on Jan. 3,  2008, it would be hard to believe that the former first lady and U.S. senator from New York had just finished third in the Iowa caucuses, bested by a fresh-faced freshman senator from Illinois.

“We’re going to take this enthusiasm and go right to New Hampshire tonight,” Clinton told her crowd of supporters. “And I am as ready as I can be after having had this incredible experience here in Iowa, starting out a long time ago, and making this journey with so many people who have become my friends who I am so grateful for.”

Clinton did exactly that. She went to New Hampshire to continue her quest for the Democratic presidential nomination. While she won in New Hampshire, the Illinois senator beat Clinton in one contest after another until he won the spot on the ticket — and, eventually, the presidency.

What Clinton wouldn’t do, however, is return to Iowa.

But now, as the former secretary of State weighs a second bid for the presidency, the timing seems right, almost even necessary, for her inevitable return.

She will touch down in Iowa this weekend for the first time in 2,446 days.

The return

Clinton is set to appear with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, at retiring Sen. Tom Harkin’s 37th and final Steak Fry in Indianola, Iowa, on Sept. 14.

Hillary Clinton’s return to the state is significant, especially considering the decision she’s said to be making after the New Year. Democratic officials maintain the event is among a good set of friends — Hillary and Bill Clinton and Ruth and Tom Harkin.

The campaign that was

Still, the impending visit brings up reminders of her 2008 campaign. Clinton spent nearly 70 days in Iowa while on the campaign trail in 2007.

While many are quick to criticize her campaign, one expert and Iowa native said Clinton was simply “outhustled” by Barack Obama’s organization.

“Obama’s campaign was a phenomenon that we had not seen before. I think she had a pretty good campaign,” said David Yepsen, the director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University.

Larry Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, noted that Clinton was “a heavy favorite” to be the 2008 nominee, but her vote for the Iraq war and ignoring several other state caucuses contributed to her campaign’s demise.

“If she’d voted the other way, she’d be in her second White House term right now,” he said.

Her confidence also contributed to the loss in Iowa, said Cary Covington, a political-science associate professor at the University of Iowa.

“In Iowa, she appeared to be positioning herself to win the general election. There was a sense in which she thought she was already going to win the nomination,” he said. “She never said that or said anything to imply that, but her behavior said she was pretty sure she was going to win the nomination.”

A second go-around

If Clinton hopes to contend for the presidency once again, experts say she’ll have to prove to Iowans that no candidate can position herself or himself to the left of her, ideologically.

“She’s going to have to defend herself,” Covington said.  “I fully expect her to go all in on Iowa. You don’t see anything out there that could derail her. She has a pretty clear path to the nomination. But two years is a long time.”

Yepsen agreed, adding that Clinton knows how to run and be a part of a campaign. What could hurt her, as Covington also said, is this waiting game.

She isn’t expected to make any announcements at the Steak Fry this weekend, and Democratic officials shut down the notion that her and Bill Clinton’s appearances are for anything more than to drum up enthusiasm for Democrats in this midterm election year.

“She’s got to make some decisions pretty quickly, otherwise ‘Ready for Hillary’ starts to become kind of silly,” Yepsen said. “She’s either in or out. She can’t play this hard-to-get thing very long.”

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