Hillary Clinton back in Iowa with presidential speculation on the menu

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, seen in this file photo, will appear today at Sen. Tom Harkin's traditional steak fry in Iowa.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, seen in this file photo, will appear today at Sen. Tom Harkin’s traditional steak fry in Iowa.
(Carolyn Kaster / AP)

For the first time in years, Hillary Rodham Clinton returns to Iowa today, headlining a huge Democratic cookout that has fired already fierce speculation on when—not whether—she will formally announce a bid for president.

The 37th annual steak fry hosted by Iowa’s retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin is, at least nominally, a chance for party loyalists to pay tribute and rally support for Harkin’s hoped-for replacement, Rep. Bruce Braley, who is locked in one of the country’s tightest Senate races with Republican Joni Ernst.

But the main reason that thousands of Iowa Democrats are trekking to a hot-air-balloon field outside Des Moines, and more than 200 reporters from around the world sought credentials to attend, is Clinton’s appearance on the bill with her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

Although Clinton has said she has not made up her mind whether to run for president and will not publicly declare her intentions until sometime in early 2015, her remarks Sunday will be parsed with granular precision for any signal on which way she is leaning. All signs point to a second try for the White House in 2016.


Iowa is where she stumbled badly the last time she ran in 2008, finishing a devastating third behind then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards. Her candidacy never fully recovered, and memories linger here of the high-handed way Clinton was seen as campaigning in Iowa. (Then, as now, she was considered a prohibitive frontrunner for the nomination.)

Sunday—which marks Hillary Clinton’s first appearance in Iowa since her defeat—will offer a chance to start making amends.

She appeared at her last steak fry in 2007, part of a crowded field that included Obama and then-Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware. Former President Clinton has appeared at the steak fry four times and is scheduled to speak after his wife, wrapping up the program.

For $30--$15 for students—guests will have a choice of chicken or steak, along with baked beans, potato salad and a dinner roll. Despite the event’s title, the steaks are grilled—actually precooked and warmed up on the spot.

Proceeds will benefit Democratic candidates and a political institute in Harkin’s name at Des Moines’ Drake University.

Clinton’s time alone in the spotlight will be bright, though fairly short-lived. Biden has announced plans to visit Iowa on Wednesday.

And appearing Sunday morning on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders, an independent who is part of the Democratic caucus on Capitol Hill, said he is considering a run for president. He was also visiting Iowa this weekend.

Twitter: @markzbarabak