The Roundhouse Arena at Lincoln High School (“Home of the Railsplitters”) on the Italian-seasoned south side of Des Moines was rocking and rolling long before Bill and Hill and Chelsea Clinton showed up. When I arrived 20 minutes before showtime and snuck in the press entrance, the line for people not so favored was a quarter-mile long; the mild weather (it’s about 39 degrees) was a godsend, though it will also be helpful to the marginal voters Bernie Sanders hopes to turn out Monday night.
The proceedings began with Tom and Ruth Harkin; I am probably among the few to have heard both Harkin and Chuck Grassley (Mike Huckabee’s sidekick du jour) speak today. The Harkins are unambiguously upbeat about caucus night and did an appropriately corny “Top Ten List” of reasons Clinton will be elected president. The former senator got a lusty laugh by pointing out that “Hillary drives Rush Limbaugh and the right wing crazy.” The biggest applause came when Harkin reminded the audience “she will preserve a woman’s right to choose.” The No. 1 reason she’ll win, of course, is “you.” This is a caucus state; organizing never ends.
If there are fire marshals here, they’re looking the other way. It’s hard to say if they’re waiting for the entire crowd to get in, or if Bill Clinton’s involvement guarantees a late start. Either way, don’t think I’m making it to Ted Cruz’s rally out at the fairgrounds at 9:15 p.m.
Whether it’s to filibuster, or to warm up the crowd even more, they’re showing a video that seems to be the basis (in a compressed version) for HRC’s final Iowa ad, which is being compared favorably to Bernie’s much-praised “America” spot, featuring her advocacy role for children and health care over the years.
And now here are Chelsea and Bill.
Chelsea squarely and succinctly hits the big recent theme of Hillary’s nomination campaign: There’s “too much at risk” this November to entrust the Democratic Party to anyone else — you know, like maybe a 74-year-old democratic socialist.
This is about the 15th or 20th time I’ve heard the Big He speak in person, and he’s still got it. He’s pretty hoarse tonight, but he did start the day speaking (with John Lewis) at an African-American church, where his preferred speaking style and length is de rigueur.
The most striking thing Bill Clinton said about his wife was his reference to her being the first candidate to mention the Flint water crisis in the Charleston debate (when given a chance to speak to a topic not asked about). You’d expect that in South Carolina, with its heavily black primary electorate, but it was mentioned here as an example of HRC’s instinct to fix things rather than blame others, like GOP candidates tend to do. It was a taste of the kind of comparative — not negative, but comparative — politicking Bill Clinton’s so good at, which will be deployed one more time if she wins the nomination.
Hillary comes on as the 42nd president ends with surprising brevity, and she hammers home both the points her family members have made: the trickle-down politics and tax cuts for the rich and corporate cronyism that will come if Republicans win, as in 2001, and the risky business of sending out anyone else to take them on. Even as the Sanders campaign implicitly criticizes the last two Democratic administrations for failing to push for enough change, HRC is arguing that the two Bush administrations were more damaging than people realize, and could have been far worse without her husband and Obama — and will be much worse if the GOP wins back the White House.
Riffing now, HRC gives the crowd some red meat with a reference to the Koch brothers, and gets a big cheer by referring to the energy-policy goals “of my second term.” Her shout-out for “equal pay” gets a bigger hand than her call for a minimum-wage increase. And then again: a reminder that Republicans don’t support any of this stuff, and a sudden segue to her pledge — unlike you-know-who with his single-payer plan — not to raise middle-class taxes.
If there’s any nervousness on Team Clinton about what’s happening tomorrow tonight, you couldn’t tell it from HRC’s speech, which sounds like it could be aimed at a broader audience. It’s a persuasion speech as much as a mobilization speech. Yeah, she does mention the support of Barney Frank (who has campaigned for her in Iowa) and Paul Krugman as evidence of her plans to rein in Wall Street, but again, it’s all pretty relaxed.
There’s a bit of a shanking of Bernie on health care, complete with a quote from Nancy Pelosi rejecting the idea of a big new debate over single-payer.
As she rolls through her domestic-policy agenda — is foreign policy still to come? — a smattering of people are leaving; it’s a school night, after all.
Perhaps sensing a drop in electricity, Clinton suddenly moves into promises to defend reproductive rights — including Planned Parenthood — Social Security and Medicare, and to fight (the verb of the night; “Fighting for Us” is emblazoned on all the signs at this event) for voting rights, to overturn Citizens United, to pass comprehensive immigration reform, and to “take on the gun lobby” (Gabby Giffords has been campaigning for her in Iowa, too). Big applause all around the Roundhouse.
And finally, the foreign-policy section — a brief summary of her anti-ISIS plans (without ground troops in the Middle East, of course), and a quick twist into a unity plea accentuating Republican Islamophobia. We’re on very familiar ground now — the decision to kill bin Laden, with perhaps the faintest whiff of the 2008 “3:00 a.m.” ad aimed at Obama.
HRC’s coda is clever when you think about it: A Sanders presidency would mean “waiting” for all the good things progressives want, because he can’t get them implemented. So the “political revolution” candidate is really a stick in the mud.
And then she’s done, with a quick war cry for the caucus itself.
I wasn’t able to attend Bernie Sanders’s event a couple of hours earlier on the other side of Des Moines, so I don’t know if he was more combative, or more inspiring, or more quote-worthy than Clinton was here. But the event spoke loudly of a confident candidate and campaign that’s ready to move on. We’ll soon know if that is hubris.