The Iowans who caucused for Hillary Clinton

Clinton: Campaign stands for what's best in America
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  • Hillary Clinton focused on roundtables with little more than a dozen people, modest town halls and intimate meetings with community and religious leaders to sway voters

Des Moines, Iowa (CNN)Hillary Clinton has been a household name for nearly three decades. But the candidate who everyone knows had to court voters here one at a time.

She needed every one of them to reach a dead heat with Bernie Sanders.
Clinton and her aides publicly exuded confidence in the final days of the of Iowa's first in the nation caucuses and the candidate left her stump speech largely unchanged for the last week. But inside the operation there was some trepidation about whether the former secretary of state could fend off Sanders, a surging candidate who had tapped into anger and agitation inside liberal Iowa.
Clinton's response to Sanders, a candidate buoyed by sizable events in Iowa and nationwide, was decidedly small and targeted. Clinton focused on roundtables with little more than a dozen people, modest town halls and intimate meetings with community and religious leaders.
The reason: Clinton, her aides and advisers felt, was better suited to win voters one at a time, thriving in ropeline conversations and one-on-one moments that voters said show a side of her that didn't come through on television or in ads.
"I think on TV she seems a little annoying," Alexandria Gomez, a 23-year old nurse from Marshalltown, said after meeting Clinton after an event. "But after seeing her, I think she showed she is really into knowing people personally. She is not just some celebrity that wanted to run of president who doesn't really like to meet anybody who just comes, does what they need to do, and leaves."
Stacie Wiley, a 50-year old tech support employee at Vernon Middle School in Marion, came to see Clinton to get a sense of who she really was.
"I just want to get a feel for her as a person," Wiley said before the event started. "I am hoping my seeing her in person I will get a sense of is she is real. And that is huge for me."
Wiley, after a speech from Sen. Cory Booker and a more subdued speech from Clinton, told CNN on Monday night -- after a great deal of deliberation -- that she caucused for Clinton.
Since the outset of the campaign, aides and advisers have had to fight against voters viewing Clinton as a candidate who feels she is entitled to the nomination, someone who is running for president because, well, why not?
Fighting those thoughts have been a priority for Clinton aides since the first day of the campaign, especially in Iowa, where plenty of Democrats remember Clinton as a less-then-stellar candidate who admitted after her their place finish eight years ago that she never really understood the state.
"I think I am a different, and perhaps a better, candidate (than in 2008)," Clinton told CNN days before the caucus. "I hope that also shows."
Iowa Democrats agreed.
"She is interacting personally with people much more," said Rep. Dave Loebsack, the only Democrat in Iowa's congressional delegation. "She is interacting directly with people all the time. She is here. She is talking to folks."
"I think they learned lessons from '08," Loebsack, who endorsed then-Sen. Barack Obama over Clinton in 2008.
But Clinton wasn't been without her problems, something her campaign had to grapple with until the day before the caucus, when aides were responding to questions about Clinton's exclusive use of a private email server while Secretary of State. The issue was a boon for Republicans, and while Sanders officially took the issue off the table in the first debate, many Sanders supporters cited trust and honesty when asked why they were against Clinton.
"The man is out there like an open book," said Sanders precinct captain in West Des Moines 193. "I want to tell you what I like about him: His honesty, his integrity."
For the last six months, Hawkeye State Democrats - many of whom came into Clinton events harboring those less than positive views -- have said they were swayed by seeing Clinton in the flesh, arguing that the candidate they decided to support after an event was not the same person they saw on television.
"She comes across much better in person," Kent Guild, a 67-year old Democrat from Waterloo, said after sharing a hand shake and a conversation with Clinton in Cedar Falls. "Hillary has made great strides from eight years age. She is much more personable than what Bernie is."
Guild came to Clinton's event saying he was going back and forth between the two Democratic frontrunners.
He left a Clinton supporter.
But what works in Iowa doesn't necessarily work everywhere.
Because Iowa is first, Clinton was able to make over 27 trips to the state with 116 events, including headlining 40 events in January alone. That gave the former first lady ample time to interface with voters on a personal level.
That won't be the case in New Hampshire and upcoming states, where Clinton will likely have a week, possibly less, to close the deal.