Hillary Clinton, who has a huge lead in many early presidential polls, returned to Iowa on Sunday. The woman who says she has not yet decided on a 2016 presidential run appeared along with former President Bill Clinton in a state she has not visited since she lost the 2008 Iowa caucuses to Barack Obama.
Her speech at the annual steak fry hosted by U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, a must-attend event for state Democratic activists, revealed little about her intentions. But also did nothing to dampen the widespread belief that she will indeed run.
Harkin has hosted his steak fry for 37 years. Sunday’s was his last, because he’ll leave office in January after five terms. The buzz in the crowd, however, was all about Hillary Clinton. The group Ready For Hillary — call them a pre-campaign organization — was everywhere with yard signs, bumper stickers and more.
Cindy Pollard, 57, wasn’t looking for a new Hillary T-shirt — she was wearing the one she’s had since Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.
“I was a precinct captain for Hillary. I’ve been decided. These people are wearing these Ready For Hillary. I have been ready,” Pollard says.
It was a gorgeous September Iowa day as the event took place on a huge open field in Indianola. The stage featured a giant American flag and bales of straw. In the background, rolling hills and corn fields.
After speeches by Iowa Democrats running in 2014 for the U.S. Senate, Congress and governor, Sen. Harkin spoke, and then he introduced Hillary Clinton.
He mentioned her new memoir: “There are 25 chapters in the book. I’m here to tell you that there are many more chapters to be written in the amazing life of Hillary Clinton.”
As the crowd chanted her name, Clinton stepped up to the microphone: “Hello Iowa. I’m baaaack.”
“Now when Tom Harkin called and asked me to come, I have to admit I wasn’t sure what to say. I’ve got a few things on my mind these days,” Clinton teased.
She noted that she and Bill are on grandchild watch as daughter Chelsea is expecting this month. Then Clinton got to the big thing on this crowd’s mind.
“And then of course, there’s that other thing,” she said playfully as the crowd cheered.
“It is true I am thinking about it,” but she added, “For today that is not why I’m here.” The crowd groaned.
“I’m here for the steak,” Clinton said.
Nobody expected her to announce anything here. Still, nobody in the crowd seemed to doubt she’s running. And some were as coy as Clinton herself about their intentions as voters.
Linda Dedecker, who’s wearing a Clinton button, is an accountant from Ames. “I’m considering her,” she says but, “I don’t know who else is going to run.”
Dedecker insists it’s important that Clinton really campaign in Iowa — meeting people face to face. There was a sense eight years ago that she and her advisers didn’t fully appreciate the states caucus system. Back then she was the front-runner in the race but stumbled to a third place finish in the caucuses.
Karen Hill of Marshaltown — a potential supporter — offers this advice for 2016: “Don’t take anything for granted — come and hang out with us for a while.”
Also at the steak fry, there was a table set up on behalf of the push to get Sen. Elizabeth Warren into the race as what her backers call a progressive alternative to Clinton. One Warren supporter said it’s important not to anoint Clinton so early — before anyone has officially declared that they are running.