Clinton Boosts Campaign Time in Iowa

Sen. Hillary Clinton has been the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, but only recently has she taken the lead in Iowa. That state holds the first vote in January. But a new poll by the Des Moines Register put her in the top spot for Democratic contenders for the first time.

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In the Democratic presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton has held the lead in national polls. But her numbers haven't been so good in Iowa. And that's the state that holds the first vote in January. This week, a new poll by the Des Moines Register puts her in the top spot for the Democratic contenders. She's been on a bus tour campaigning around the state this week.

NPR's David Greene went along.

DAVID GREENE: In a presidential campaign, every bus tour has to have a name. And this one was called the Middle Class Express.

Hillary Clinton began in Cedar Rapids, where she talked of workers clocking long hours, struggling to stay afloat. Clinton said past presidents have found ways to inspire in hard times.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): President Eisenhower supported more science and math education. President Kennedy set our sights on the moon, and President Johnson worked to end poverty and the insecurity that comes as we grow older.

GREENE: Then she pointed to the 42nd president.

Sen. CLINTON: In the 1990s, my husband continued this tradition: combining fiscal responsibility with smart investments in our people. And we did have pay-as-you-go rules that helped to reign in spending. And look at the results - more than 22 million new jobs and the longest economic expansion in American history.

GREENE: To Janice Watkins(ph), who retired from a non-profit, Clinton's speech was not the most electrifying thing she's seen.

Ms. JANICE WATKINS (Resident, Iowa): I pretty much came here knowing what she was going to say today. I was hoping to hear something new. But I like her, and I think I will be supporting her in the caucus in January.

GREENE: Watkins says a female president would open the door to more women in government. But she also said she gets nostalgic whenever Hillary mentions Bill.

Ms. WATKINS: A lot of people miss Bill, and I see a lot of them, I miss Bill bumper stickers.

GREENE: She said she thinks about the former president a lot when she's on vacation overseas.

Ms. WATKINS: We've traveled mostly in Europe. And I think they miss Bill too, and would like to see a continuation of what he stood for carried out with Hillary.

GREENE: As Hillary Clinton drove from Cedar Rapids to Marshalltown, Iowa to the town of Boone, she brought up her husband at every stop.

She also talked a lot about President Bush. At one point she blamed his government for the suffering in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Sen. CLINTON: Our fellow citizens being trapped with no way out, bodies floating down the street of a American city. Well, that's because the Bush administration has been indifferent and insensitive and incompetent.

GREENE: Clinton's daily goal is to track down doubters, and convert them - doubters like Drew Sorenson(ph). He works in a factory that makes washing machine transmissions, and he came to watch Clinton in Boone.

Mr. DREW SORENSON (Factory Worker): I have a hard time thinking I'd vote for Hillary. But it sounded good today.

GREENE: Sorenson said he'd been leaning towards Barack Obama.

Mr. SORENSON: He's inspirational. And we're sadly lacking that, I think.

GREENE: And what about Hillary? How do you compare Obama to Hillary when you leave an event like this?

Mr. SORENSON: You can't deny that Hillary has connections, experience of different sorts. She's been a senator, she's been in the White House, she's - certainly those have got to be advantages.

GREENE: Sorenson said he supported Democrat Howard Dean in 2004 and wants to back a winner this time.

Mr. SORENSON: It seems to me as though Hillary has such momentum. She is so disciplined. It seems to me - and I hate - there's still time, I hate to say it, but it seems to me as though she's probably going to be the candidate.

GREENE: At her first four stops, Clinton didn't take questions. But inside a fitness center in Webster City, she encountered 75-year-old Elizabeth Olsen(ph), who wanted to know why this campaign started so early.

ELIZABETH OLSEN (Resident, Iowa): We're spending millions and millions and millions, not just to have - don't take it personally. Well, if you want to take it personally, that's fine. You know, we've been at this. And in Iowa especially, we have had this for a year.

And lastly, would you tie your shoe so you don't trip over?

Sen. CLINTON: I bought these moccasins, which I highly recommend to you, at the Fort Dodge Museum and gift shop. They are so comfortable. But occasionally I have to stop and tie them. Just a minute, just a minute.

GREENE: Clinton sat down and began tying the laces on her Iowa shoes, then told Elizabeth Olsen that she's been on the campaign trail for nine months.

Sen. CLINTON: I could have had a baby in the time that I've been campaigning. And we have got to get control of our campaigns.

GREENE: And with her laces securely tied, Clinton got on with her campaign, which will be in New Hampshire today.

David Greene, NPR News, Des Moines.

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