Hillary Clinton is one of American politics' larger-than-life figures, having shared the White House when her husband was president and traveled the world as secretary of State.
But on the campaign trail, Clinton has tried to present herself in a more human scale as she mounts her second presidential run. Her effort appears to be bearing fruit, with Iowans saying she came across as simultaneously more confident and congenial than during her 2008 campaign.
“She’s not the fuzziest person in the world,” said Lois Boone of Sioux City. “But she’s a lot fuzzier than she was then.”
During campaign stops this week, she repeatedly reminded voters that she's a grandmother whose daughter is expecting her second child this summer. She talked about the burden of caring for sick relatives.
Even as Clinton discussed typical hot-button issues such as the economy, terrorism and gun control, she made sure to linger on voters’ more intimate concerns, such as battling Alzheimer's and helping children with autism, asking members of the crowd to raise their hand if they knew someone affected by either condition.
“Oh my goodness, wow,” Clinton said in Sioux City as dozens of hands went up. Her campaign has rolled out proposals to boost funding for Alzheimer’s research and expand early screening for autism.
Clinton’s focus on personal discussions is an implicit course correction after she was viewed as imperious eight years ago, when she came in third in the Iowa caucuses. Now, she has for months pitched herself as more accessible in this key early voting state as she tries to fend off her rivals in the Democratic primary, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.
Rather than project an air of inevitability, as she tried to do in 2008, Clinton talks of dedicating herself to helping voters with concerns that “keep families up at night.”
Boone was glad Clinton was focusing on autism and Alzheimer’s -- “we all know someone” -- because her track record on other issues speaks for itself.
“Everyone knows she’s got the knowledge for foreign affairs,” Boone said. “That’s a given.”
Clinton often reminds voters of her resume, most explicitly at her final Iowa event in Council Bluffs, near the state line with Nebraska.
“Think hard about the people who are presenting themselves to you, their experience, their qualifications, their positions,” she said. Then, in an oblique reference to Sanders, whose self-described socialist beliefs could make him less viable in a general election, Clinton asked voters to consider candidates’ “electability, and how we make sure we have a Democrat going back to the White House.”
Clinton is running a smarter, more grounded campaign than she did eight years ago, political analysts said.
“They didn’t come in doing big rallies,” said Jeff Link, a Democratic strategist in Iowa. “A lot of people paid attention to that difference.”
And away from the cameras, Clinton has tried to win over local politicos who could be key in rallying support in the caucuses Feb. 1.
Christian Ucles, a 33-year-old precinct captain from the Des Moines area, said he went to a meeting with the candidate and a few dozen other Latino activists like himself in Ottumwa in southeastern Iowa.
Ucles, who backed Obama in 2008, was impressed, especially because he had been previously quoted in the Des Moines Register criticizing Clinton for not doing more personal outreach to Latinos.
“She was giving us an opportunity to talk with her,” he said.
Even though Clinton is leading Sanders by an average of about 13 points in recent polls in Iowa, Ucles said, “the campaign has been running as if they’re 5 points behind.”
To be sure, she is not always meeting with small groups of voters or skipping foreign policy discussions. On Monday and Tuesday, Clinton sometimes stood on an elevated stage while delivering a stump speech to hundreds, occasionally taking a few questions from the crowd.
But she often described herself as an applicant in a job interview, beseeching members of the audience for their help and enthusiastically shaking hands and posing for selfies afterward.
Some brought photos for Clinton to see. One woman had a picture of herself with Bill Clinton during a 2000 event in the same Iowa town.
“That’s so cute!” Clinton said, and then complimented the woman on her changed hairstyle.
Another woman showed Clinton a photo of her family, and the candidate leaned in closer.
“We’re going to take care of you and take care of them,” Clinton said.
For more campaign coverage, follow @chrismegerian on Twitter.
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