NPR logo Flashbacks To 2008? No, Clinton Says, 'I Feel Very Positive'

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Flashbacks To 2008? No, Clinton Says, 'I Feel Very Positive'

Hillary Clinton stands for a portrait in San Antonio. i

Hillary Clinton stands for a portrait in San Antonio. Ariel Zambelich/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Ariel Zambelich/NPR
Hillary Clinton stands for a portrait in San Antonio.

Hillary Clinton stands for a portrait in San Antonio.

Ariel Zambelich/NPR

It may seem like déjà vu for Hillary Clinton — an insurgent candidate has erased her once-dominant lead in Iowa just days before the Democratic caucuses.

That's what happened in 2008, when she finished a disappointing third behind Barack Obama and John Edwards. Now, it's Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has closed the gap in the Hawkeye State.

"This feels like 2008 all over again," Iowa pollster J. Ann Selzer said back in August after her survey showed Clinton up just 7 points back then. It's even closer now. And Sanders holds a lead in New Hampshire.

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Despite the similarities, the former secretary of state told NPR's Ari Shapiro in an interview Wednesday morning in San Antonio that she remained confident about her chances in the Feb. 1 caucuses.

"I feel very positive about the organization we've built, the enthusiasm and energy of the people who are literally showing up in below-freezing temperatures to canvass for me," Clinton said. "My precinct captains, my precinct teams are really all so focused on doing well in the caucus."

But, she argued, she always believed the race would tighten.

"We're going to have to work hard, though. I always thought that would be the case," Clinton said. "And that's part of the job; you've got to work hard as president — nobody is giving the job away. You've got to get out there and earn it, and that's what I try to do every single day."

Clinton said she has learned from 2008, not just tactically, but about herself. She said she sees differences between the type of candidate she was then versus now — and she hopes voters do, too.

"Having served for four years as secretary of state has given me the kind of perspective that really fuels my understanding, my proposals about how we keep us safe at home," she said, "and how we work with our friends and allies to try to keep the world more peaceful, secure and hopefully prosperous."

Questioning Sanders' readiness to lead as president

That experience, especially on foreign policy, is a contrast she's increasingly trying to draw with Sanders with less than two weeks before voting begins. On Tuesday, Clinton's campaign released a statement with former top diplomats questioning the Vermont senator's preparedness to handle ISIS, Iran and other national security concerns.

Clinton defended raising such questions. "In a campaign that is as spirited as ours," she said, "we owe it to voters to draw contrasts. Certainly, Sen. Sanders has been drawing lots of contrast for quite some time — which it won't surprise you to hear me say, I think are not particularly well-founded, but nevertheless, that's his right."

She pointed to his comments that he would like to see Iranian troops on the ground to help fight ISIS as one such area of concern.

"I think that would be a terrible mistake," Clinton said. "Syria is on the doorstep of Israel — just among one of the things why it would be. He has said he wants to see Saudi Arabia and Iran work together in a coalition to defeat ISIS. Well, you know, we're having a very big flare up of tension between two long-time adversaries, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Either he didn't understand that, or thought that he could get away with saying what he said."

And she called Sanders' statement in Sunday night's debate — that he favors normalizing relations with Iran — "a fundamental misunderstanding of what it takes to do the patient diplomacy that I have experience in to be able to continue to change behavior, or at least to mitigate against behavior by Iran."

She pointed to her experience at the State Department as one reason she's more qualified than Sanders on how to handle the region.

"I know something about this," Clinton said. "I led the efforts to put together the coalition to impose very tough sanctions on Iran, which enabled us to get to the negotiating table to get the Iran agreement to put a lid on their nuclear weapons program. So, I'm immersed in what it will take for us, going forward, to manage this challenging relationship."

What gets her angry? Things like Flint

Clinton also argued she had shown leadership in taking a stand on the situation in Flint, Mich., where the city of more than 100,000 faces an ongoing public-health crisis due to dangerously high levels of lead in the drinking water.

Clinton took to television last Thursday to criticize Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's handling of the issue in the aftermath, but defended a decision not to go to the city.

"You know, I didn't want to go off half-cocked," she said. "I wanted to know what was happening and what the facts were. And so, I sent two of my trusted aides to go, meet with the mayor, meet with others to begin talking with the senators, the congressman who represents the area."

She said that after she said Snyder needed to ask for federal help, "Within two hours, he did. I think that's a pretty good track record."

Sanders has gone even further, calling for Snyder to resign, but Clinton suggested Snyder responded immediately to pressure she applied.

"Well, you know, I lived a lot of years in Arkansas," she began, "and one of my favorite sayings I learned is, 'If you find a turtle on a fence post, it didn't get there by accident.'"

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