INDIANOLA, Iowa—"Hello, Iowa. I'm back!" Hillary Clinton announced to a crowd of thousands of cheering Democratic supporters here on Sunday.
The pageantry was alive for the expected 2016 presidential candidate at the Iowa Steak Fry, a fundraiser hosted by retiring Sen. Tom Harkin. As she joined with her husband, former President Clinton (now a vegan), to flip steaks over a grill fenced off from dozens of out-of-town reporters, congressional candidate Pat Murphy riled up the crowd, most of whom had Ready for Hillary stickers and posters. "Are you fired up? Are you ready to go? Are you ready for Hillary?" he yells to the elated crowd.
But while the scene painted a picture of redemption in the pivotal presidential state, the memories of her last time in Iowa are still on the minds of people who came out for the 37th and final steak fry—the crushing third-place finish behind President Obama and John Edwards in the 2008 Iowa caucuses.
Many factors went into Clinton's loss: She didn't spend much time campaigning here, she didn't connect with the activists, and many Democrats disagreed with her vote to support the Iraq War.
Iraq is a sensitive topic in Iowa Democratic circles, especially among the passionate grassroots activists of the Hawkeye State. With the threat of ISIS growing, and the possibility of American engagement in yet another conflict in the region, could the newfound talk about another war in Iraq haunt Clinton in Iowa? Iowans still haven't forgotten her vote supporting the war.
"I think it'll keep coming up," said Sue Dinsdale, the executive director of Iowa Citizen Action Network. "I don't think anybody forgets that."
James Marren, an organizer for Beds for Peace, still recalls her original support for that war. "I think that she may be a little too hawkish," he said.
Iowa Democrats' dovish tendencies are in contrast with Clinton's foreign policy positions. Last week, Harkin told the Huffington Post that the push to war by Obama and lawmakers was "fear-mongering." He continued, "It's what happened after 9/11. 'Oh my god, they've got these planes crashing. Now they're going to take over America.' That's nonsense."
This stands in stark contrast to Clinton's positioning. She distanced herself from President Obama's foreign policy vision last month in a much-discussed interview with The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg. Her aides last week told The Hill that she would have been tougher than Obama on this issue and been less "passive." Harkin even acknowledged to ABC News that he has real questions about some of her positions.
Activists in Iowa are tired of war. The road into the Steak Fry was adorned with large signs protesting air strikes in the Middle East. But Iowans aren't rushing to judgment on Clinton.
"I think Iowans in general are very conscience voters," state Rep. Chris Hall says. "Hillary has served admirably in the role of secretary of State. She has done important work on national security matters."
Matt Sinovic, the executive director of Progress Iowa, thinks it's too early to make any decisions about Clinton as a candidate. "Iowans will take their time and learn everything there is to know about every potential candidate and every potential issue before making up their mind," he says. "I think that's what's happening right now with Hillary."
And while the cheers from the crowd may have looked like unified support for a presidential run, many in the crowd threw around names of other candidates they're looking at: Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley. Outside of Biden, all have ample space to run to Clinton's left on foreign policy.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.