The new year began at a 10:30 a.m. Hillary Clinton event at a large conference room at a hotel in Ames, the university town just north of Des Moines. The room, arranged with a stage in the center of the room, was filled with about 375 supporters, about 60 percent women. Most of the music played in the minutes leading up to Clinton entering the room had some gendered elements (e.g. Tom Petty’s “American Girl”), indicative of the campaign’s reliance on high turnout among female voters at Thursday’s caucuses.
Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, Chelsea Clinton, and Dorothy Rodham joined Senator Clinton at the event. After Vilsack’s introduction, a somewhat hoarse Clinton began her “closing argument” with which she is now very comfortable. I’ve seen Clinton in person three times during this campaign and this was easily her strongest performance stylistically. In the past, I’ve often compared Clinton’s oratory to the skating of an East German figure skater: great on technique but week on artistry. Today, she had a bit more artistry, particularly as she put forward her health care arguments with Iowa examples and her ability to take Republican “fire.” The themes of the speech: her ability to bring about change because of the public service experience that will allow her to “be ready on day one” and her commitment to ideals across those 35 years of service. She then answered a couple of questions after her 50 minute talk. The first was on immigration; the second on agriculture (emphasizing small farmer support and the need for health insurance for agricultural workers).
Like Michelle Obama yesterday, Clinton emphasized the importance of the election to Americans and non-Americans alike: “A lot of the world is holding its breath” at the outcome of the election, in Clinton’s words. In other ways, it is fascinating how Barack Obama and Clinton are merging their messages and adding in a dose of John Edwards. Everyone recognizes that Edwards’s populism, Obama’s “uniter, not a divider” theme, and Clinton’s emphasis on“experience” are all working with Democratic voters here Iowa Democratic voters want a candidate that is a merger of the three leading candidates. Rhetorically, in these closing days, candidates are trying to give it to them. Here in Iowa, we are also likely seeing the script being written for the fall campaign for whoever of these three candidates becomes the nominee. I’m now off to see Edwards, also here in Ames at noontime today, who is putting forward a sharper edged message in his closing argument.