Hillary Clinton tells Iowa crowd at Harkin Steak Fry: "I'm back!"
She says she's thinking about 2016 run, but is there to support Democratic candidates
Some in the crowd groan and yell, "Just do it!"
Hillary Clinton told reporters Sunday that the purpose of her return to Iowa for the first time in over six years was “to support candidates.” But 2016’s presidential politics were everywhere on a sun-soaked field in Indianola, Iowa.
Clinton captured the sentiment best herself with a joke from the stage of the 37th and final Harkin Steak Fry: “Hello Iowa. I’m back!”
Clinton left Iowa in 2008 after finishing a disappointing third place in the Iowa caucus. Six years have changed things, though, and Clinton has been followed by the possibility of running for president since she stepped down as secretary of state in 2013. Polls show her as the prohibitive favorite for the nomination, and her visit to Iowa this weekend has raised the specter even higher that she will likely run for president.
From the stage on Sunday, Clinton admitted the 2016 question is on her mind.
“It is true, I am thinking about it,” Clinton said to a roaring applause. “But for today, that is not why I am here. I am here first and foremost for Tom [Harkin], for Ruth [his wife] and for the great candidates that you have a chance to elect.” The crowd reacted with unhappy groans, some yelled “Just do it!”
Organizers and Clinton supporters went to lengths to stress that the former first family was simply coming to Iowa to honor Sen. Tom Harkin – who is retiring at the end of the year – and help raise money for Democrats in the state. Signs reading “Thank You Tom” encircled the idyllic field where the steak fry was held and candidates running for office spoke before Clinton.
Clinton talks up fellow Democrats
Clinton herself was also clear to endorse and talk-up Democrats running in Iowa, including Senate hopeful Bruce Braley. The former first family headlined a fundraiser before the steak fry with the candidates, where they spoke to donors about the importance of electing Democrats.
“I hope this whole event helps Bruce, because he should be the next senator,” Clinton told reporters at the steak fry. “He’s got the record, he’s got the commitment. He’s got the right values. He should be the next senator.”
But 2016 – and the possibility of Clinton running – touched every part of the steak fry. It was a large reason 6,200 people attended and 200 journalists covered the event, according to organizers. It was also the reason a number of former Clinton aides traveled to Iowa, filtering through the crowd, chatting with Iowa activists.
Part fundraiser, part pep rally, part barbecue, the event has become a must-stop for Democrats thinking about running for president and is widely seen as the biggest annual event in Iowa politics. Despite the name, steaks are grilled, not fried, and it is customary for headliners to flip steaks for themselves.
Clinton stuck with tradition on Sunday, flipping a steak with her husband, former president Bill Clinton, who chose to flip veggie burgers.
Other than that, much of the event broke with the traditions Clinton has been following since leaving the State Department.
‘In just 50 days, Iowans have a choice to make’
Hillary Clinton’s speech was markedly different than the ones she generally gives on the paid speaking circuit. Gone were many of the stories of her personal history, instead Clinton focused on the differences between Democrats and Republicans and spoke at length about women’s rights.
“Now, think about it, in just 50 days, Iowans have a choice to make,” she said. “A choice between the guardians of gridlock and the champions of shared opportunity and shared prosperity. A chance to elect leaders who will carry on Tom Harkin’s legacy of fighting for hard working families.”
In her last year on the paid speaking circuit, Clinton and her aides have kept the media largely at arms length, rarely answering questions from the gaggle of journalists following her.
On Sunday, she shirked that tradition. After flipping steaks, she ventured over the a swarm of media cameras and reporters.
“It is fabulous to be back. I love Iowa,” Hillary Clinton said to questions about 2016. “I first came to Iowa when I was around, I was either 9 or 10, and we were with my dad and we went to Des Moines and we stayed at a place called the Tall Corn Motel.”
Asked about whether she was running in 2016, Clinton said, “we are just here to support candidates,” adding later that she hopes to increase turnout with her visit.
“If people turn out, we will actually win these midterm elections,” Clinton said. “This is about the people running right now.”
Compared with Bill Clinton, however, Hillary Clinton talked with reporters for a short amount of time. The former President entertained questions about midterm races and the future of the Senate before he was pulled away by aides and Secret Service agents.
Bill Clinton also addressed his wife’s possible presidential bid.
Asked whether Clinton was liberal enough to win Iowa, a question raised by the fact that other presidential hopefuls such as Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Vice President Joe Biden are all coming to Iowa with positions left of Hillary Clinton, the former president answered affirmatively.
“I won it twice,” BIll Clinton said, referring to his results in 1992 and 1996. “Yea, I think so. I think what people want is somebody who is both a genuine progressive and will bring people together and produce shared prosperity.”
Asked whether Hillary Clinton was that person, the normally wordy former president was silent.