From imperial to accessible, Hillary Clinton works the rope line

Hillary and Bill Clinton attend Sen. Tom Harkin's steak fry in Indianola, Iowa, on Sunday.
(Steve Pope / Getty Images)

When Hillary Rodham Clinton finished third in Iowa during the 2008 presidential race, voters’ post-game analysis couldn’t have been clearer. She didn’t spend enough time in the Hawkeye State. She didn’t bond with Iowans. She was the imperial candidate.

Returning to Iowa for the first time Sunday after that “excruciating” loss, Clinton seemed to have taken those lessons to heart.

After her speech at retiring Sen. Tom Harkin’s annual steak fry, Clinton patiently worked the rope line for more than half an hour — warmly shaking hands, signing copies of her book and chatting with voters about her soon-to-arrive grandchild.


“God bless you,” she said repeatedly as voters strained to shake her hand.

She was as circumspect as always about her 2016 plans, but gamely fielded pleas to run.

“You’re going to be a great grandma and great president,” one fan told her.

“We’re so ready,” a young woman told her moments later.

“Thank you very much!” Clinton replied brightly, as her interactions with voters were captured by a CSPAN boom microphone towering over the crowd.

Surrounded by Secret Service agents and aides, Clinton worked the rope line Sunday side by side with husband Bill Clinton, who wore a red-and-white gingham shirt that she gave him. Not surprisingly, the former first lady moved more briskly down the line than her garrulous husband, who at one point engaged in a lengthy discussion with a voter about his efforts to foster peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The former secretary of State greeted old friends and volunteers from her husband’s campaigns and her own.


“My goodness, I haven’t seen you in a hundred years,” she said at one point, before thanking an attendee for working on the congressional campaign of Iowa Democrat Staci Appel. “We’ve got to get Staci elected!”

The Clintons’ favorite subject these days is the much-anticipated arrival of their first grandchild this fall. Iowans showered her with well-wishes and words of encouragement about becoming a grandmother.

One woman told Clinton that being a grandparent was a great gig.

“I wanna be a member of the club,” Clinton replied.

“I can’t wait; I’m so excited,” she told another grandmother who congratulated her on daughter Chelsea’s pregnancy.

Like all would-be candidates in early-voting states, Clinton could not avoid a few difficult questions. She was approached by one young woman who identified herself as a “dreamer” — an immigrant brought to the U.S. illegally as a child. The woman asked Clinton what she thought of President Obama’s decision to delay executive action on immigration reform. Clinton crisply answered, “We need to elect more Democrats,” then moved on.

Another woman stopped Clinton to tell her that recovery aid after Superstorm Sandy had been too slow. Clinton, a former New York senator, promised she would talk to members of the New York and New Jersey congressional delegations.

Clinton has certain rules on the rope line: She told one autograph seeker who asked her to sign something “to Jimmy” that she only signs her name.

She was efficient too.

“We’re going to have to hustle our bustle here, as they say,” she said at one point, as aides insisted it was time for her to go.

By the time Clinton reached the end of the steak fry rope line, attendees were getting clever with their questions about 2016.

What late-night shows should they watch to stay up on her announcements, one asked her. “David Letterman?”

“Can I call you Madam President yet?” another man asked.

“No,” Clinton replied laughing. “No, no, no.”

Twitter: @MaeveReston