Hil­lary Clin­ton lis­tens but doesn’t say much in Iowa

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Seema Mehta seema.mehta@la­times.com Twit­ter: @LATSeema

NOR­WALK, Iowa — Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton kicked off her pres­i­den­tial run in Iowa with an im­plicit pledge: that she would be a dif­fer­ent can­di­date and run a dif­fer­ent cam­paign than in 2008, when she was viewed as im­pe­rial and dis­tant en route to a third-place fin­ish in the cau­cuses.

Clin­ton, her aides said, wanted to meet with and lis­ten to Iowans in small, in­ti­mate gath­er­ings.

But her two-day swing here, end­ing Wed­nes­day, showed the lim­its of that ap­proach. There was more of an illusion of give-and-take than the real thing.

The slickly pro­duced gath­er­ings pro­duced pretty pic­tures — some­times recorded by her cam­paign ad team — that were beamed around the world. But they were not open to the public; the par­tic­i­pants and au­di­ences were hand-picked. Clin­ton faced no chal­leng­ing ques­tions from vot­ers and she largely avoided talk­ing to re­porters.

To be sure, all cam­paigns use stage­craft to for­ward their mes­sage. Par­tic­i­pants in dis­cus­sion pan­els with can­di­dates are of­ten vet­ted.

Clin­ton, a for­mer se­na­tor and first lady, has unique considerations be­cause of who she is. Her se­cu­rity re­quire­ments — she has Se­cret Ser­vice pro­tec­tion — led stu­dents at a school where she spoke Tues­day to be brief ly held in their rooms, and work­ers in the build­ing where she held a Wed­nes­day event to be bar­ri­caded for three hours dur- ing her visit — sit­u­a­tions that swiftly be­came public.

But Clin­ton had im­plied a more free­wheel­ing ap­proach, and the ques­tion that lin­gered af­ter she left was whether her care­fully choreographed visit had im­proved views of her.

“Most can­di­dates do some­thing like that dur­ing some part of a cam­paign,” said Tim Ha­gle, a po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Iowa. But, he added, “you have a lot of peo­ple who want to see her, who want her to come out and work a rope line and talk to them.”

They want the can­di­date to “look them in the eye, shake their hand and tell them where you stand,” he said. “Some­times that means field­ing ques­tions you weren’t ex­pect­ing.”

Clin­ton’s visit stood in sharp con­trast with those of likely Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates who have been f lood­ing the state to court vot­ers.

Dur­ing for­mer Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s re­cent visit to Iowa, he spoke at events that were open to the public and re­peat­edly took re­porters’ ques­tions. He also an­swered chal­leng­ing ques­tions from Iowans, in­clud­ing some that touched on un­pop­u­lar po­si­tions such as his sup­port for phas­ing out the re­new­able fuel stan­dard. (The fed­eral man­date is popular here be­cause it sup­ports the use of ethanol, which the state pro­duces from corn.)

Af­ter her ap­pear­ance Wed­nes­day be­fore busi­ness own­ers at a fruit-pack­ing firm, Clin­ton did not re­spond to me­dia ques­tions about her po­si­tion on same­sex mar­riage, or about her use of pri­vate email while she was sec­re­tary of State.

Repub­li­cans, pre­dictably, ham­mered her ap­proach Wed­nes­day.

“Hil­lary Clin­ton still re­fuses to an­swer sim­ple ques­tions about her record,” said Iowa Repub­li­can Party Chair­man Jeff Kauf­mann. “Iowans de­serve to know why Clin­ton is keep­ing the public from see­ing more than 30,000 emails she sent while sec­re­tary of State and why she specif­i­cally dodged at­tempts at con­gres­sional over­sight.”

Clin­ton’s visit in­cluded stops at a cof­fee shop and a diner, as well as pri­vate meet­ings. At her public events, she met with sup­port­ers in small round­tables, and spent as much time ask­ing ques­tions as she did dis­cussing her pres­i­den­tial run. The con­stant mes­sage: Clin­ton is lis­ten­ing.

“Be­fore I roll out my poli­cies, I want to hear from peo­ple on the front lines,” Clin­ton told the busi­ness own­ers Wed­nes­day.

Af­ter an hour­long dis­cus­sion on top­ics such as in­come in­equal­ity, health­care, bur­den­some reg­u­la­tions and the need to spur small­busi­ness cre­ation, Clin­ton posed for pic­tures then left for a pri­vate meet­ing with Demo­cratic state law­mak­ers at the state Capitol.

‘Be­fore I roll out my poli­cies, I want to hear from peo­ple on the front lines.’ — Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton, to Iowa busi­ness own­ers

Char­lie Neibergall As­so­ci­ated Press

THE DEMO­CRAT, in Mar­shall­town, Iowa, re­stricted ac­cess and avoided re­porters’ ques­tions.

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