In many ways, it feels like 2008 all over again. Despite a seemingly-insurmountable early lead, Hillary Clinton finds herself in a neck-and-neck race. An exciting, upstart Senator campaigning upon optimism and change challenges her from her left. And the choice has boiled down once again for Democrats as hope versus pragmatism.
But Clinton is not simply repeating the core elements of her 2008 message, she’s embracing it. For better or for worse, she is the personification of the kind of hard-fought, deal-making legislating method that her supporters hail as the only way to make meaningful progress, and that her opponents decry as needlessly incremental and a cynical acceptance of the status quo. But that’s who she is, and that’s what she’s closing her Iowa campaign with.
What’s different this time that it will succeed now when it did not in 2008? The party has certainly drifted further to the left where Bernie Sanders resides. But perhaps she feels her time as Secretary of State has won over many that weren’t with her then. Or that Democrats won’t risk nominating a self-described socialist to lead their ballot. Or that her Iowa operation is much better organized this time to withstand a surge of first-time caucus-goers for her opponent. Whatever the case, Clinton is campaigning in her own skin to close out the all-important first caucus state.
At stake in the battle is nothing less than the future of the Democratic Party. Some pundits point to a so-called “firewall” for Clinton in later states, but that wall crumbled before. Who wins Iowa could likely take the momentum on to the nomination. A Clinton victory would blunt Sanders’ rise, defeating him in an overwhelmingly white, Midwestern liberal electorate that should be his base. A Sanders win would supercharge his national enthusiasm and give his supporters a real hope of taking over the party.
Joined by daughter Chelsea, Clinton finished out her last day of full campaigning before the Iowa Caucus with a tour of her strongholds in Western Iowa, hosting rallies in Council Bluffs and Sioux City. About 600 turned out in Council Bluffs, at a poorly-chosen site not large enough for most to see Clinton (which oddly drew less than the 800 of her final 2008 rally in the city).
There she received the endorsement of Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, an important get from the state’s top Democrat who stayed publicly neutral in 2008. Then she traveled to Sioux City, to find an enthusiastic crowd of 450 that cheered often.
— Iowa Starting Line (@IAStartingLine) January 31, 2016
Her speeches at both places were relatively run-of-the-mill affairs, still including pitches about how the economy did better under her husband’s administration and the story of how President Obama asked her to serve as Secretary of State. But she also added in stark contrasts with Sanders on policy, unwilling to cede any ground on who could get progressive priorities accomplished.
“I go further than either the Senator or the Governor,” Clinton told the crowd in Council Bluffs about Wall Street reform. “Because I know the root of what happened in 08 was not just the big banks. It was investment banks like Lehman Brothers. It was a big insurance company called AIG … They’re part of the shadow banking. You can’t just be fighting the last war. I know it gets people really agitated, but I want us to think about the tools to deal with that, now we need tools to deal with the new threats.”
She also stuck to her closing theme that she’s the one who can accomplish Democrats’ goals.
“I want you to know what I would do as your President,” Clinton said. “I want you to hold me accountable for delivering for you. I don’t want to over-promise and under-deliver, I’d rather under-promise and over-deliver.”
Clinton’s night finished as a family affair on the South Side of Des Moines at the high school there. Bill and Chelsea Clinton warmed up the crowd before Hillary arrived on stage to give her final Iowa rally before a huge crowd of over 2,600 packed into the gymnasium.
She delivered one of the most fired-up speeches this writer has seen her give this cycle or last, clearly feeling good going into caucus night with a three point lead in the latest Des Moines Register poll. Her audience was similarly excited, giving pause to the notion that only Sanders’ supporters were enthusiastic about caucusing for their candidate.
There too, Clinton closed with her pragmatic approach.
“I don’t think that you can wait for ideas that sound good on paper but can’t get through the gridlock,” she said.
Whatever may come of the final results tonight, Democrats have been presented a clear choice from the two leading candidates. And like last time, despite the appeal of her opposition, this race is largely about Hillary Clinton and the part of the party she represents. Whether this time turns out differently for Clinton will depend heavily on her ground game in the state, but also on what path Democrats want to see their party take into the future.
by Pat Rynard