After ’08 caucus, Clinton seeks redemption in Iowa – Miami Herald

Seated among cars and tools in an automotive repair classroom, Hillary Clinton returned to the campaign trail Tuesday with a small-scale pitch to focus on the needs of the middle class.

“We all know that Americans have come back from tough economic times,” she told a group pre-selected by the school. “But it’s fair to say as you look across the country, the deck is stacked in favor of those already at the top. And there’s something wrong with that.”

“We need to figure out,” she added, “how to get back on the right track.”

She mentioned four “big fights” that will frame her second campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination – improving the economy, strengthening families and communities, fixing a dysfunctional political system, which includes banning “unaccountable money,” and protecting the nation from threats.

But she spoke mostly about economic fairness – the issue she is expected to focus on the most. “I want to stand up and fight for people so they cannot just get by,” she said, “but they get ahead and stay ahead.”

Clinton peppered her remarks at Kirkwood Community College in the tiny eastern Iowa town of Monticello with personal anecdotes about being a new grandmother and how scared she was to start college. She smiled, laughed and questioned the speakers about their education, their jobs and their goals as she referred to them by their first names.

After the hour-long event, she was asked by a reporter what she had learned. “So much good information . . . about what can work, not only here in Iowa but across the country,” she said.

Outside the event, dozens and dozens of reporters who were not allowed inside waited. Just two protesters stood, including Matthew Evans, 21, a student at the University of Iowa who called himself an independent, waving the sign, “Wall Street Banks 4 Hillary.”

The former first lady, senator and secretary of state plans to spend several weeks meeting with small groups of voters as she tries to hone a simple message on her second attempt at the White House: It’s about you, not me.

Democratic activists in Iowa, even those who are not backing a specific candidate, welcomed the change from Clinton’s first run for president, when her 2008 campaign had the air of inevitability but ended up coming in third in the Iowa caucus.

Kurt Meyer, Democratic chairman of a trio of rural counties in north-central Iowa, said Clinton has a real chance to change someone’s mind when she has a one-on-one conversation with them. “There’s the possibility of a connection across the table,” he said.

Clinton leads the Democratic field by overwhelming margins. Others considering a run for the Democratic nomination are independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee.

Christopher Larimer, a political science professor at the University of Northern Iowa, said Clinton’s new strategy is designed to resonate well beyond Iowa. “It’s to send the message around the nation that she is talking to the rank and file,” he said.

That still could be a tough task for Clinton, a millionaire who’s been a fixture in U.S. politics for decades and travels with Secret Service protection and a horde of reporters. Her event Tuesday was closed to the public, which could lead to criticism that she is less approachable, not more approachable.

Iowa Republican activist Craig Robinson said Americans should be watching to see if Clinton’s events are “authentic.” For example, he said, is she speaking to hand-picked supporters or average middle-class people?

Earlier Tuesday, Clinton spent an hour with three Iowans sipping Masala Chai tea and chatting at a small coffee shop in Le Claire in eastern Iowa. They were from likely friendly constituencies – a Planned Parenthood employee, the president of the University of Iowa College Democrats and a student at St. Ambrose University.

As she left, she brushed off shouted questions from reporters.

“We’ll have lots of time to talk later,” she told reporters.

Clinton strolled LeClaire’s downtown with the town’s mayor, greeting onlookers. One woman walked up her to tell her she had supported rival Barack Obama in 2008.

“Well, I hope I can convince you to work for me,” Clinton responded.

On Wednesday, Clinton will meet with small business owners after touring a small, family-owned produce business outside Des Moines.

Other events in coming weeks will likely take place in living rooms and coffee shops when she visits New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, the other states that kick off the votes for a Democratic nominee, aides said.

“It gives her a chance to actually listen to people,” said Lexi Coberly, 33, an independent voter from Cedar Rapids who is working on her master’s degree. “It makes her more approachable.”

“We understand that we have to earn this,” said a senior campaign official who is knowledgeable about the strategy but not authorized to speak publicly as a matter of practice. “We understand that this is a long process.”