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Bill Clinton taps discontent and nostalgia in Iowa

Times Staff Writer

Deb Schonfeld and Janelle Anderson, friends for 17 years, had decided to take a road trip. So, said the co-owners of Hairbenders beauty shop in Mappleton, 25 miles from here, they put down their scissors and shampoo and put a notice up on the door:

“Gone to see President Bill Clinton,” the handwritten sign said. “Go Hillary!”

On Thursday, hundreds of supporters, detractors and the just plain curious came to see Clinton speak in western Iowa in support of his wife’s presidential candidacy.

Afterward Schonfeld and Anderson -- nicknamed Lucy and Ethel because of their own hairdos -- went to a Dairy Queen, where they shared an ice cream float and analyzed Clinton’s arguments about why Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) deserved their votes.

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“It’s like we’ve been saying for a long time: The country is in such a mess, it’ll take a woman to clean it up,” said Schonfeld, 53.

Hillary Clinton, she said, is “a take-charge lady.”

Schonfeld said she liked the idea of getting “two for the price of one.”

“She was his right hand when he was in the presidency, and I’m sure we’ll get his expertise as well as hers if she’s elected,” Schonfeld said. “It’s a no-brainer.”

Many in the crowd Thursday at West Monona High School agreed.

“I like the package,” said Brad Kusel, 68, who drove 100 miles with his wife, Nancy, to hear Bill Clinton speak.

Mike Kelley, a 49-year-old farmer, said he was undecided about whom to support for president. He had attended a speech by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) recently and liked what he heard. But he also thought Bill Clinton’s experience would be an asset to his wife.

“It’s a plus,” he said. “Two minds are better than one. It’s like any husband and wife. You tap each other for information and help.”

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Clinton said the two celebrated their 32nd anniversary last month. “Even if we were not married, I would still be up here campaigning for her,” the former president said. “She’s tough. She’s smart. She’s disciplined. And she can definitely win.”

When asked whether he thought a woman could be elected president, Clinton responded that Argentine voters had recently elected their first lady, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, president.

“It’s hard to believe that America is more sexist than Argentina,” he said before seeming to soften his comment. “I love Argentina, but . . . I’m just surprised that America is lagging so far behind.”

Clinton plugged his wife’s energy policy and her stand on Iraq, and he said he -- not she -- had been mostly responsible for the failed attempt early in his presidency to overhaul the nation’s healthcare system.

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“She has taken the rap for some of the problems we had with healthcare . . . that were far more my fault than hers,” Clinton said.

Having heard his pitch, Mary Mueller signed a pledge card: Hillary Clinton would get her support at the Iowa caucus in January. The combination of the two Clintons is attractive, she said.

“She’s got a stellar track record,” Mueller said. “And he has a wealth of experience.”

Seeing Bill Clinton made the 55-year-old nostalgic.

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“My life is not as good now as when he was president,” she said. Mueller’s husband has Parkinson’s disease. A trained nurse, she cares for him at home. Making ends meet has gotten harder over the last seven years, she said.

“We stretch the dollar further,” she said. There are fewer restaurant dinners and nights out at the movies. Mueller buys new clothes less often and, with gasoline at $3 a gallon, she thinks about each drive she makes.

Schonfeld and Anderson said they were happy they had made the trip to hear the former president.

They had even gotten to shake his hand.

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“He was awesome,” Schonfeld said.

“It’s been a red-letter day.”

--

louise.roug@latimes.com

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