Hillary Clinton returns to Iowa on Sunday for the first time in six years, but she'll do so without the same god-like political status she held at the peak of her popularity as secretary of state.
The former first lady and New York senator's poll numbers have come back down to earth after years in the stratosphere – the result of renewed Republican attacks since she left the State Department and, in all likelihood, collateral damage from the unraveling of President Obama's foreign policy.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released this week found that Clinton's favorability was barely above water; 43 percent of respondents viewed her positively compared to 41 percent who held a negative view of her. That represents a sharp drop from less than two years ago, when 58 percent of registered voters viewed her positively just before she left the Obama administration.
Clinton does remain queen of the Democrats: A CNN poll released Friday of registered Democrats in Iowa found that 53 percent would support her for president, more than three times the level for any other potential candidate. But that finding could say as much about the lack of competition as it does about Clinton herself.
Vice President Joe Biden is the only other Democrat with a national following that is currently giving thought to a 2016 campaign.
Clinton's fall was easily predicted, of course. Her years as secretary of state shielded her from the rough-and-tumble of campaign politics, and even some of Obama's top political advisers have pushed her to stay on the sidelines as long as she could before jumping back into the fray.
Yet Clinton has clearly chosen a middle road. While she hasn't weighed in on every controversy or gone attacking Republican presidential hopefuls, she put herself back firmly in the public eye with a seemingly never-ending book tour this summer.
Now, she'll cross what is likely the last hurdle before becoming a candidate again by speaking at Sen. Tom Harkin's annual Steak Fry, a highly political fundraiser in the first voting state in 2016. Political observers will closely watch her talk for the outlines of a campaign stump speech, and she is expected to hit the road for Democratic candidates in the weeks leading up to the midterm elections.
Republicans will be watching, too, and they are welcoming Clinton back to Iowa by reminding her, in an email blast, of what happened last time she visited the Hawkeye State:
Hillary Clinton Returns To The Site Of Her Most Stinging Political Defeat"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.