Before Hillary Clinton spoke to a crowd of roughly 250 supporters in the Iowa City Public Library on Tuesday, a young female campaign staffer had a few requests for the attendees. First, she asked those in attendance to pull out their smartphones and "like" Clinton's local Facebook page for Iowa and Johnson County. Then, she rattled off a phone number for the supporters to text in exchange for "updates" (aka donation pleas) from the campaign, which announced that it added 20 field organizers to its already large Iowa staff Tuesday.
But the actual content of Clinton's speech was refreshingly free of campaign artifice. Yes, she began with her routine spiel about income inequality, health care, and her excitement at becoming a grandmother, but her remarks felt more off-the-cuff than usual. Perhaps in an attempt to embrace her inner nerd, Clinton recalled spending hours in her local library during summer vacations while growing up.
One anecdote from her career as secretary of State in particular stood out as something new not only to the attendees, but to the reporters who obsessively cover the Clinton campaign as well. She told a story about the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. Clinton and President Obama were trying to negotiate terms with India and China—two of the fastest-developing countries in the world—for a climate change agreement.
The problem: China and India's leaders were nowhere to be found. Clinton said she and Obama "sent out scouts," who found that the leaders were meeting in a clandestine conference room. Clinton and Obama marched to the room, she said, and pushed past Chinese security guards to confront the heads of state. As a result, the assembled countries signed an accord outlining emissions pledges and other goals for energy use, though much of the text was nonbinding.
"We would not be in as strong a position if the president had not pursued everything from auto emissions to utility controls," Clinton added on Tuesday.
Aside from climate change, Clinton gradually began filling in some of the details of her economic and social agenda. And she opened up a little more on Democratic politics and her own future.
The economy and immigration:
Clinton blamed Republican presidents for the recent economic crises in the U.S., and said that trickle-down economics needs to be "buried six feet under."
"There seems to be a pattern here, and we cannot afford to go back to the failed economic policies of the past," she said. "We have to be committed to electing a Democrat who will build on what works with actual evidence ... so that we build shared prosperity that everybody benefits from."
On income inequality and immigration reform, there is a yawning chasm between Republicans and Democrats, especially in Iowa. A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that 70 percent of likely Republican caucus voters say the government should not pursue policies to reduce income inequality, while 91 percent of their Democratic counterparts said the government should pursue such policies.
The same poll found that 46 percent of Iowa Republicans say undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. should be required to leave, while 83 percent of Democrats said the immigrants should be given a path to citizenship.
Clinton called the Republican discourse on immigration a "very stale, destructive debate."
"I don't care how many people running for president on the Republican side try to demean immigrants, insult immigrants, cast aspersions on immigrants," Clinton said. "We are not going to deport 11 or 12 million people."
After calling out her Republican opponents for opposing a path to citizenship—some of them in fits and starts—Clinton said some illegal immigrants "have earned the right to stay." She mentioned one such immigrant by name: Max Villatoro, an Iowa pastor who was deported in March.
Clinton said that, if elected president, she would start by returning to the bipartisan immigration bill that passed the Senate in 2010 but stalled out in the House.
"That would be my starting point. You voted for it once. Let's vote for it again."
Clinton stressed public education, especially the need to improve the government's Head Start early childhood program and to implement universal pre-kindergarten.
"If we do not have early childhood education, we will never get the results for the vast majority of our children as we could," she said. "If we don't tackle 0 to 5, we're going to lose out."
She asked the crowd if they were "thrilled" about the Supreme Court upholding the Affordable Care Act, but warned that the liberal success could easily unravel come 2017.
"If a Republican is elected president, that will be the end of the Affordable Care Act," she said. "We have to succeed President Obama with a Democrat, to protect, defend, and fix the Affordable Care Act."
"If we provide family planning services, more young women have a chance to finish their education before they become parents," she said.
"I will always defend a woman's right to choose," she said. "That is something that should no longer be debatable."
Clinton called the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision "one of the worst ever made," adding, "we've got to get dark, unaccountable money out of politics once and for all."
"I think it's pretty clear that a majority of Americans and a majority of gun owners agree with universal background checks" to keep guns away from domestic abusers, the mentally unstable, "and even terrorists," Clinton said.
"Let's not be afraid of the gun lobby, which does not represent the real majority of gun owners in America," she added.
On Democratic losses in the 2014 midterm elections, and what she hopes to leave behind:
Republicans, Clinton said, have shown an advantage during midterm elections that Democrats need to reckon with. "They know the importance of midterm elections because they show up, and we don't," she said.
Clinton stressed that she wants more young people getting involved in government. "This is my last rodeo. And I believe that we can leave not just the country in good shape for the future, but we can get a deep bench of young people to decide they want to go into politics to continue the fights that we're going to be waging," she said, later adding, "when I ride off into the sunset" in 2025, if she manages to win in 2016 and then an eventual second term, she hopes to leave "a very strong, committed group" behind in Iowa and the country at large.
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