“It’s been seven years, and a lot has changed,” Hillary Clinton said Sunday in her first visit to Iowa since the state dealt her previous presidential campaign a a death blow.
Roughly 200 credentialed media were gathered in a far corner of the Indianola Balloon Field where Sen. Tom Harkin was convening his 37th Steak Fry, an annual fundraiser that doubles as a point of entry for ambitious Democrats curious about the Iowa caucuses.
After a 90-minute wait, the press were herded through a series of gates and escorted up to a hot smoking grill, waiting to capture the same image: a staged shot of Bill and Hillary Clinton, fresh out of their motorcade, flipping steaks with Harkin.
After a few minutes, the Clintons walked into a nearby barn where nearly 7,000 Democrats were eating red meat and waiting patiently in the sunshine to hear from two of the most famous people in the world.
A few dozen press were still milling about when the duo re-emerged. “There she is!” a television reporter screamed, clamoring for her cameraman.
“Good to see you!” she told the assembled press, surely a half-truth. “My goodness! You guys having a good time? Good. We’re having a good time today.”
“Does this whet your appetite for another campaign?” asked one reporter.
“We’re here to help Democrats,” Clinton responded, offering praise for Iowa’s Democratic candidates, Senate hopeful Bruce Braley, gubernatorial challenger Jack Hatch and congressional candidate Staci Appel.
Then it was time to meet the voters.
Hillary Clinton’s speech to the crowd, more workmanlike than impassioned, was littered with Iowa pleasantries and nods to the last campaign, including her opening line: “Hello Iowa! I’m back!” She praised on Harkin and, after a warm-up that included nods to her time as Secretary of State and her “constant grandchild watch,” urged the audience to get behind Iowa’s slate of Democratic candidates.
Her biggest applause lines were about women’s issues — equal pay and abortion rights — a departure from the 2008 race where she avoided focusing on her gender and the history-making nature of candidacy.
She leads the early polls here by a wide margin, but there is still fault to be found with Clinton among Iowa Democrats.
“She was wonderful,” Sue LaPlante, a certified nursing assistant from Des Moines, said after the speech. “If she runs, she will be the next president.”