Cedar Falls, Iowa (CNN)The parallel universes of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign collided Tuesday.
Iowa shrugs off Clinton controversies
In one world, four Iowans who'd all been invited by Clinton's team saddled up to a table to talk with her about what she might do to ease regulations on small banks and whether she'll support a Pacific Rim free trade deal.
In the other world, reporters who hadn't gotten Clinton to respond to a single query in nearly a month threw her questions about her private email server, her personal wealth gained from exorbitant speaking fees, her family foundation's acceptance of foreign contributions, the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the influence old friends who now represent business interests have on her decision-making process.
By taking five minutes' worth of questions, Clinton appears to have released some of the pressure that has built in the national press recently over her desire to focus on the policy matters that she views as central to her 2016 bid for the Democratic nomination without being sidetracked by the ever-present questions about her personal ethics and the day's news.
But if the strategy is frustrating reporters, it's not having much impact here. A disconnect between Washington and the heartland crystallized Tuesday as many Iowans — including the Democratic activists who will drive the state's caucuses in early 2016 — seemed to meet Clinton's interactions and non-interactions with the press with little more than a shrug.
"I don't think that's a widespread concern by most voters," said Tom Henderson, the Democratic chairman in Polk County, which is Iowa's most populous.
In interviews after Clinton's events, no one who attended raised any concerns about her handling of emails, her finances or her family's foundation.
"Most of us think it's a pretty moot point. Lots of us have tons of emails," said Brad Magg, the owner of Goldie's Ice Cream Shoppe and Magg Family Catering and a participant in a Cedar Falls, Iowa, roundtable on Tuesday. "I care about what she's going to do for policy and what she's going to do for our communities, for our counties, for our state, and that's all I think most of us care about."
"I'm here today because I care about small business, point blank," said Denita Gadson, owner of i-Gus Consulting and another participant Tuesday.
But Clinton's take on policy? That, she said, is another matter — and she'll need to hear more before endorsing the Democrat.
"I don't know that I'm jaded or cynical enough to say one way or the other," she said. "Things have to play out."
Like Gadson, who quizzed Clinton on Tuesday about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, some Democrats who are most likely to participate in the early-state nominating process say they are less interested in the personality-driven controversies that constantly surround Clinton and are more keen to get her take on issues like free trade, which has pitted two other prominent Democrats — President Barack Obama and Sen. Elizabeth Warren — against each other.
Dean Genth, who hosted a Clinton house party Monday in Mason City, Iowa, said he loves the way Clinton has launched her campaign.
"I think it is absolutely perfect," he said. "She needs to have the small events first. With her resume and her viability and the Secret Service protection she requires, she will definitely be doing the big rallies at some point. But I think she is right to start with small events in a grassroots way."
Genth added that the big events will come, "but now is not the time."
"We are thrilled she is giving a signal to Iowans that she understands the importance of this state and wants to interact with us," he said.
Though it might not appear evident at Clinton's carefully-choreographed campaign events, with small, invitation-only groups, there are signs that she pays at least some price for leaving questions unanswered. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found only a quarter of registered voters said they viewed her as honest and straightforward, down 13 percentage points from last summer.
Henderson recalled the 2007 Democratic primary with Clinton running against then-Sens. Barack Obama and John Edwards — where Clinton's vote in favor of the 2003 war in Iraq, and her refusal to fully retreat from that vote, damaged her.
"Sometimes she tends to dance, and I think people have been frustrated with that in the past," Henderson said.
He said that at this stage in the presidential race, candidates like Clinton are still focused on adding field organizers, making contacts with activists and making their first few trips into states. But Henderson also noted that unlike Clinton, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley -- a likely Democratic challenger — has already held open events in Iowa, mingling with anyone who walked in.
"Those are the type of events where Iowans can get engaged and start to touch the candidate," he said.
There, he said, Democrats can start to get a sense of what really matters to them: "What is your vision? Why do you want to be president of the United States? That's one thing that everybody is waiting to hear from her."