Iowa Democrats to Hillary Clinton: Slam the door in Iowa, win the nomination

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Story highlights

  • Iowa Democrats have stressed to Clinton aides how important the state will be
  • Top Iowa Clinton supporter: "I think that Secretary Clinton can close the door in Iowa"
  • Some worry that if she doesn't go big in Iowa -- or loses -- she risks losing the nomination
  • Some of the bluntness has to do with Clinton's checkered history with the state
Hillary Clinton opened the door to a presidential bid a little wider over the weekend at the Harkin Steak Fry in Iowa.
And now veterans from her 2008 campaign and Iowans urging her to run in 2016 are calling for her to use the state's first-in-the-nation caucus to slam the door shut on the Democratic nomination.
Their message is simple: If you win in Iowa, you will be the nominee. If you let someone hang around -- or win -- you could cost yourself the nomination.
"I think that Secretary Clinton can close the door in Iowa. It is going to take a lot of work, but it is out there to be done," said Jerry Crawford, Midwest co-chairman for Clinton's 2008 campaign. "I think if she wins ... it would be very difficult, very unlikely that anybody could mount a challenge after Iowa."
Crawford, who also ran Bill Clinton's 1992 and 1996 presidential campaigns in Iowa, said he has expressed this sentiment to Hillary Clinton's closest advisers and aides.
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There is a level of bluntness in those who advocate for Clinton to run hard in Iowa, and it stems largely from her history in the state.
Some of it is self-serving. The more active Clinton is in Iowa, the more other candidates will be forced to campaign in the state. That means money for Iowa's economy -- some economists estimate that more than $51 million was spent in Iowa in 2008 around the caucuses. And it raises Iowa politicos' profiles.
The other reason has more to do with Clinton's record in Iowa. Most Clinton supporters in the state feel that the nomination was hers to lose in 2008 and don't want the same thing to happen in 2016.
During Clinton's failed 2008 bid, the former first lady finished a dismal third in Iowa. She blundered several times in the state, none more stinging than when a memo written by then-Deputy Campaign Manager Mike Henry about skipping Iowa was leaked to The New York Times.
"I propose skipping the Iowa caucuses and dedicating more of Senator Clinton's time and financial resources" to other primary states, Henry wrote. The plan was considered and then rejected.
CNN reached out to Henry for a comment, but the now-chief of staff to Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, was not available.
The fallout was swift and added fuel to the fire that Clinton was running a detached campaign in Iowa. She began to cool down in the state just as then-Sens. Barack Obama and John Edwards (who would go on to finish second) got hot. Clinton has called the defeat "excruciating."
She went into Iowa in 2008 with a shrinking lead over Obama and Edwards. She is better positioned now, with 53% of all registered Democrats contacted in Iowa saying they would support her if the 2016 caucuses were held today, according to a recent CNN/ORC poll. That number is triple the nearest potential Democratic candidate.
Others have landed in Iowa
While she played coy in the beginning, for the last few months Clinton has regularly admitted the worst-kept secret in the United States: She is thinking about running for president.
She has company. Vice President Joe Biden is in Iowa on Wednesday to speak to a group of nuns on the steps of the Iowa Capitol. Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont held three events in Iowa over the weekend. And Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley has visited the state three times this year and has 11 staff members on the ground.
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They and others have said they are thinking about running in 2016.
A call for competitive primaries
Not all longtime Clinton organizers are convinced that slamming the door in Iowa is the best strategy to be ready for the general election.
Bonnie Campbell, a longtime Iowa politician and Clinton's campaign co-chairwoman in 2008, thinks that competitive primaries will "make her stronger, both politically ... and as a candidate."
"If Hillary can come here and compete with other candidates and put it away, I am all for that," said Campbell, who also chaired the Iowa Democratic Party from 1987 to 1991. "But I think it is important to recognize that it is healthy, it is a healthy thing, to have different points of view offered and discuss and it also usually happens."
Some Clinton supporters in Iowa have also been cautiously watching some of those other candidates, impressed with their operations and commitment to the Hawkeye State. Though they all said Clinton would win if she ran, there is a clear concern that someone could organize effectively and get hot at the right time -- like Obama did in 2008.
But even Scott Brennan, the chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, who remains neutral in nomination fights, sees an Iowa win as a way Clinton could lock down the nomination early.
"It seems to me that it is reasonable to think that way," he said at an interview in Des Moines. "Why give somebody that opportunity to get that national presence if in fact she is serious about running?"
Brennan, who was party chairman during the caucuses in 2008, said that while Clinton finished third, it wasn't because she didn't have a lot of support from state Democrats. Instead, he said, it was because she ran into Obama's force-of-nature campaign.