Hillary Clinton is “in” Iowa

The woman who declared last week, "I’m in, and I’m in it to win," is in Iowa now.  About 3000 people turned out to see/hear her this afternoon in Des Moines.  About 2000 crowded into the East High conference center; another 1000 were in an over-flow room which I think was the old gymnasium.  As a general observation, it appeared from the questions posed by the crowd that they saw her as running to be a sort of "mother-in-chief" rather than "commander-in-chief" — there was not one single direct question about Iraq.  An indirect (that’s kind — poorly phrased is more like it) question about the troop surge in Iraq she chose to side-step, and Clinton stepped around another quesitoner’s Iraq reference. 

I set up shop at the community center attached to East High at about 10:30 a.m.  By 11:30 the place was full.  The venue was set up in a sort of theater-in-the-round.  There’s a slightly-raised platform in the middle of the floor, surrounded by a sea of chairs.  Along the far fall — the east — there are bleachers so all the camera shots of Clinton will have people in the background.  There are smaller bleachers along the north and south walls.  It is impossible to count the number of cameras on the media riser.  Clinton folks on Friday said over 150 media folks had indicated they’d be in the hall.

A large red-white-and-blue banner is hanging from the ceiling along that east wall (it will be seen in some camera shots, perhaps if they’re w i d e  shots).  It says "LET THE CONVERSATION BEGIN!" (Exclamation point theirs, not mine.)  Below that is the line, "Iowa Welcomes Hillary," and below that is the campaign web address.  (It is apparently "Hillary" just like it’s "Cher" or "Madonna.")

The crowd seemed more curious than avid.  Crowd members who attempted to get a "HILL-UH-REE" chant going couldn’t get much momentum.  The East High Jazz Band got a work-out, as Clinton was just over half an hour late.  They amused the crowd with standards like "Schools Out for Summer" and "House of the Rising Sun" during the wait.

Just after one o’clock, East High’s principal was given the floor to introduce Hillary "Crinton" (his pronunciation) and Leonard Boswell, the Democratic congressman from Des Moines.  The East High Jazz Band started playing something, and the sound techs started playing "Right Here, Right Now" — not Fat Boy Slim’s — but the one by Jesus Jones.

A color guard marched in with the flag and as the band played the National Anthem, folks started singing along at about the "rockets red glare."  Congressman Boswell then had the floor:  "Hello, Iowa…Everybody, we’re proud to be here today.  Thank you for letting us come here to start the conversation.  I’m very proud of our state…We know the country is watching us…We want our country to go forward.  I’ve known this lady..and I’ve watched her…(at this point there’s a conversation among the media people about the buzz in the sound system, so I stopped transcribing). 

Back to Boswell:  "We’re glad to have you here." Passes off to Clinton, who  told the crowd she wants to have a conversation: "Just you and me and several hundred national press people.  That will fade and we will actually be able to pursue this conversation.  I’m running for president because I want to renew the promise of America."

Some other speech highlights:  "The conversation coming from Washington, DC over the past six years has been pretty one-sided.  It’s all been in one direction.  So I am so excited about this campaign.  I am looking forward to it…I just want to pledge to you that I will be here, over and over again, trying to meet with as many people as possible.  You may not always agree with me.  We may not see the world exactly the same but I will tell you what I think.  I will take your questions.  I will try to figure out what we can do to find common ground."

Clinton did not mention President Bush by name, nor did she mention her husband, Bill Clinton’s name once.  She did refer to both, touting the budget surplus her husband left behind and deriding the budget deficit the country has racked up over the past six years.  "We may not have had good leadership the last six years, but we are still the best, most able, can-do country in the world," she said as she wound down the speech part of her Des Moines appearance. 

The other interesting part — she referred to herself at one point as a woman and a mother — but not a wife:  "the fact that I’m a woman, the fact that I’m a mom is part of who I am but I’m going to ask people to vote for the person they believe will be the best president for the Untied States of America."

The questions from the audience were primarily focused on education, being a female candidate, equal pay for women, foster kids.  (See the "mother-in-chief" versus "commander-in-chief" reference at the beginning of this post.) 

Clinton talked about what she called the "double standard" for women candidates and the fact that women sometimes feel they have to "work even harder" than their male colleagues.  "I am prepared to do that," Clinton told the crowd.  "…Oh, I expect there will be more stories about my clothes and hair than some of the people running against me and I just have accepted that."

John Barry, a Gulf War veteran, stood up to ask this:.  "I understand with this 21,000 or 22,000 do you know if there will be any more or if we will be able to kind of curb this war.  I was there, I mean I wasn’t there on 9/11 but I saw it on t.v. like most people and I guess that’s all I have for my question and by the way, we as America love you and I think you look very nice."

"Thank you," Mrs. Clinton replied, as the crowd applauded.  Then, her response came, and it did not address the troop surge.  "Thank you so much for your service.  We are going to have to fund our VA health system to take care of our veterans." She then veered off into criticizing the Bush Administration for squandering the federal budget surplus. 

Next, a woman in the crowd praised Clinton for writing the "It Takes a Village" book — "It’s delicious," the woman said of the book — and Clinton told the woman to stick around and she’d autograph it.

Right after that, a woman who said she grew up in the Chicago area took the microphone.   "I’m from Chicago…I have a friend of mine who went to school with you and slept over with you on sleepovers," the woman on the bleachers said.  The crowd tittered.

"Well, I hope she doesn’t talk too much," Clinton replied.

"I don’t think she ever put your underwear in the freezer," the Chicago native replied. "Aside from that, Senator Clinton, I’m a teacher and I’ve really become an Iowan…I do teach raging, pubescent, hormonal individuals…and the hard thing is, I am going through menopause."  Clinton laughed at this.  The woman’s long statement ended with this:  "When I see that our young men are being sent to Iraq and all our money going over there, I think about as you mentioned earlier it takes a village to raise a child but if we don’t have the money, how do we build that village to raise the child?"

"Excellent, excellent point," Clinton said.  Clinton thanked the teachers in the room, and again sidestepped Iraq, talking instead about education & "No Child Left Behind" — and using the dreaded word "incentivize."  Clinton worked in a "thank you" to Iowa legislators and Governor Culver for passing the minimum wage at one point, too. 

There was a question about foster care, then another question about equal pay for equal work.  Next, a student stood up and told Clinton she was her "idol" and then asked her a question about global warming and renewable fuels.  Clinton chatted about ethanol.  Clinton got huge applause when she called for ending federal subsidies for oil companies and increasing the fuel efficiency of cars.

Clinton stuck around afterwards to sign autographs and pose for pictures — the things a candidate does as the cameras, boom microphones and reporters hover to record the "interaction" between the candidate and the voters.  The sound tech pumped the song "Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet" through the hall (It may have been the sound guy one who had an "All Access Lynard Skynard" pass on his lanyard, right below his "Hillary Press" badge). 

Clinton started her Saturday with private meetings, then popped by the Iowa Democratic Party’s state central committee meeting.  The Clinton folk told those of us in the Iowa press corps it was Iowa print only, so I did not go since I am broadcast (and a blogger).

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.


  1. Thanks for reviewing the music since I wasn’t there to do it. Still waiting for the Husker Du candidate…