Ah, to live in Iowa. Two days after announcing her 2016 presidential bid, Hillary Clinton drove straight to Iowa to meet with small groups of voters to kick off a different type of campaign. Her advisers hope the focus on smaller events where Clinton can have real conversations will dispel concerns over her 2008 campaign and allow her to receive input from individual voters. Her first publicly scheduled event was a roundtable discussion at Kirkwood Community College in Monticello, but she first dropped by a coffee shop in the picturesque river town of LeClaire, Iowa for an even smaller meeting with three activists. Starting Line caught up with two of those three attendees and asked them about being a part of Clinton’s very first 2016 campaign event.
“I’ve been a fan of her’s for a while, but to meet her in person she was so genuine, so engaging,” said Carter Bell, a junior at the University of Iowa, the school’s College Democrats president and a member of student government. “[She was] really interested in what we had to say. She just said, ‘what are students talking about on campus, what issues are important to you?'”
Also invited was Sara Sedlacek, a mother to a 15-month-old who was worked on a number of Democratic campaigns and in the Statehouse. “I’ve grown up looking up to Hillary Clinton, so it was very surreal,” Sedlacek said of the morning chat at Jones Street Coffee House in LeClaire. “She’s so personal. We talked about all the things I wanted to talk about and she brought it up.”
Neither were told the full extent of the details of the meeting that day, with Sedlacek thinking she was just meeting her friend Troy Price for coffee. Bell had a sense of what might happen when was told she was going to a discussion about student issues, which she says did get plenty discussed.
“I brought up the cost of textbooks, which she seemed really interested to hear about because that doesn’t get talked a lot about,” Bell said of her conversation with Clinton about college affordability. “We talked about how most people have to work in college even if they have scholarships.” Bell came away feeling like students will be very excited about her candidacy, noting, “I think a President Clinton would be really good for students – tackling student debt, keeping student interest loan rates low.” The Clinton campaign’s Iowa team later sent out this tweet with Bell:
— Hillary for Iowa (@HillaryforIA) April 14, 2015
The group of four discussed a number of issues over coffee and tea, including women’s rights, reproductive healthcare, healthcare access in general, student debt, education and child care. In particular, Sedlacek felt Clinton was especially passionate about child care issues and the struggles families face. Sedlacek said they spoke about “how hard it is to have two working parents and know you can’t afford daycare. She was very passionate about it, and understood those first three years of brain development is so important.”
But Sedlacek also appreciated the personal touch Clinton gave with the group. “We didn’t just talk about issues,” Sedlacek said. “She also asked about our families. She asked how I liked being a mom. I said I didn’t even know if I wanted kids, and now that I have them I absolutely love being a mom. She said, ‘Oh, isn’t that great, that’s how Chelsea was like too.’ She talked about how much she liked being a grandma.”
The manner in which Clinton would campaign for the White House has been a big topic in the political press recently, and so far the smaller events have been well-received. “It was definitely more of an unconventional type of campaign stop, which I really liked,” said Bell, who noted the interactions felt authentic. “I really, really liked having a one-on-one conversation with her. I could tell nothing was prepared – it was just asking questions, listening, responding … She’s really engaging, really funny. She was interested in what we were saying.”
Both felt the experience a little surreal as well, realizing they were each one of just three people to participate in Clinton’s very first campaign stop of 2016, a campaign that more likely than not will end with Clinton as president. “It was very surreal,” Bell said. “As we were sitting there, one of her staffers said ‘you know this is the first event of her campaign,’ and I think that all blew our minds and made us a little bit nervous too … It was amazing and it was so cool to be there.”
“It was really cool, a lot of fun,” Sedlacek said. “Definitely an experience I will never forget.” Sedlacek quickly signed a supporter card committing to caucus afterwards, one of the campaign’s first:
— Austin Lyle (@AustinLyle) April 14, 2015
Starting Line will continue to follow Clinton’s first trip today in Norwalk. We were at her event in Monticello yesterday and will have a full write-up of the trip later today or tomorrow morning.
by Pat Rynard