Clinton plays coy on discussing a 2016 bid, but people in Iowa assume she's running
Clinton made her second visit to Iowa this fall on Wednesday
Clinton's Iowa ground game has been helped by a Super PAC called Ready for Hillary
Clinton will also visit New Hampshire, another early presidential primary state
Hillary Clinton was making her way around the Hamburg Inn on Wednesday – a quaint, politically historic family restaurant in Iowa City – when she got the question.
From the back of the restaurant, a young man loudly asked when Clinton was going to announce she was running for president.
While the room chuckled, Clinton looked at the chocolate bourbon pecan pie shake in her hand and blurted, “Love the shake!”
After that, Clinton paid for two shakes and some coffee ($18.26, she put the change in a donation tin on the counter) and exited the establishment with a hearty goodbye.
Clinton’s non-answer to the question was not surprising. When asked about 2016 in the past, Clinton – who is likely to make a presidential run but has played coy for the last year – has done everything from shrug and walk off stage to laugh and say, “next question.”
In this case, though, it was the question, not the answer, that was most telling. Instead of if she’ll run, the question was framed as a certainty, like it was a forgone conclusion the former secretary of state was going to make a run at the White House.
That could be felt throughout the Hawkeye State. As Clinton visited this week to campaign for Rep. Bruce Braley, the Democratic Senate hopeful, both people who support Clinton and those who don’t said the former secretary of state’s candidacy is a foregone conclusion and that very few Iowans look at what she is doing as anything but campaigning.
“I’m absolutely sure, absolutely sure,” said Steven Lucas, a former pipe fitter and labor member, as he stood in line to see Clinton speak in Cedar Rapids.
Lucas’ opinion comes from what he said were years of watching politicians come through Iowa and play coy about running for president.
“It’s the politics of denial,” said Lucas, a Sen. Elizabeth Warren supporter. “It is a mind game. It really is.”
Iowans are generally more politically tuned in than most voters. Because of the state’s place as the first-in-the-nation presidential caucus, bumping into a top flight presidential contender at a local labor hall or barbecue around caucus time is just another day for most Iowans.
That familiarity with campaigning has caused Iowa voters to look at what Clinton is doing - traveling the country to support Democrats, spending the last week of her midterm campaign in both Iowa and New Hampshire – and think the former first lady already made up her mind.
“I know she is running,” said Deb Lohrer, who stood at the front of the line at one of Clinton’s events. “I think it was obvious years ago.”
Clinton did little to tamp down those beliefs while in Iowa on Wednesday, most likely because she doesn’t want to. While speaking in Cedar Rapids, Clinton heralded Iowa’s astute voters and the state’s focus on politics.
“You have a lot to be proud of,” Clinton said. “You test your candidates, you actually force them to be the best they can be and they have to be willing to answer the tough questions.”
She also tailored her speech to focus on the state. She mentioned devastating floods that rocked Cedar Rapids earlier in the year and thanked the state for opening “their hearts and homes” to her during her failed presidential bid in 2008.
In addition to Clinton’s not too subtle actions, she has had help on the ground in Iowa that has reinforced the idea she already is running.
Ready for Hillary, the super PAC urging Clinton to run for president and organizing around her possible candidacy, has made the state a focus and put their money behind nearly the entire slate of 2014 Democrats running in Iowa.
To date, the group has donated $123,000 to Iowa candidates, including the Jack Hatch, the gubernatorial hopeful who been consistently polling behind incumbent Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, and all the congressional candidates
Ready for Hillary also loomed large at the final Harkin Steak Fry in September, where the group activated more than 100 volunteers for the event. What’s more, the PAC donated $5,000 to the event’s account, $10,000 to the Iowa Democratic Party and also purchased the party’s voter file data for $20,000.
Ready for Hillary’s impact is also being felt by everyday Iowans and the state’s top political operatives.
At Clinton’s events on Wednesday, women and men sport baby blue shirts emblazoned with “Ready,” swag that group handed out earlier in the year.
And to Tyler Olson, the former chair of the Iowa Democratic Party and a Clinton supporter, Ready for Hillary has done a great deal to raise Clinton’s already high profile in Iowa.
“I’ll be surprised if Secretary Clinton doesn’t run, and I think she’d be a great president. Most Iowa caucus-goers I talk to believe she will run and will support her if she does,” said Olson, who informally advises the Clinton PAC.
Standing outside Clinton’s first event on Wednesday, people chatted about Braley and whether they thought the Senate hopeful could come from behind to best his Republican opponent.
But quickly, the conversation turned to Clinton.
Gayle Reese of Newhall, Iowa turned to her friend and reflected on why Clinton was even in Iowa.
“Even my husband asked me, ‘Why do you want to go see her,’” she said to a small group of people.
Her blunt answer: “I told him, ‘She is going to run for president.’”