AMES, IOWA/DES MOINES IOWA – Hillary Clinton has begun channeling the economic indignation of her rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose unapologetically liberal campaign has tightened the Democratic race ahead of Monday’s leadoff caucuses and given him a lead in the New Hampshire primary contest that follows.
Making her closing argument to Iowa caucus-goers, Clinton now cloaks her detailed policy plans in Sanders’ outraged rhetoric. Pharmaceutical pricing “burns” her up. Companies that take advantage of the tax loopholes get her “pretty riled up.” And she promises to “rail away” at any industry that flouts the law.
“I’m going after all of them” she declared in Davenport, her tone escalating to a shout. “When I talk about going after those companies, those businesses, those special interests, I have a much broader target list than my opponents.”
The former secretary of state’s fiery new tone underscores a strategic decision to co-opt some of the political style from the insurgent candidate who has galvanized Democratic supporters and put her long-held lead in jeopardy. It comes as a new poll released Saturday night by the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg News showed the two candidates locked in a neck-and-neck race in Iowa.
Though Clinton remains likely to win the nomination, a loss in Iowa would complicate her path and heighten Democratic concerns about her campaign. Already some Democrats have voiced concerns about her message and campaign management, worries that will only grow if she faces dual losses in the first two states holding nominating contests.
While Clinton’s effort is aimed at winning the primary campaign, her strategists are also trying to figure out how to tap into the deep vein of national frustration that’s driving real estate mogul Donald Trump’s rise in Republican primary polls. Should she capture the Democratic nomination, Clinton will need to find a way to mobilize Sanders supporters to fuel a White House victory.
Sanders casts the contest as a clash between establishment politics and his promise to bring forth a political revolution, asking Iowa voters to send a message to the rest of the nation. He will need a large turnout among college students, independents and first-time caucus-goers to upset Clinton.
While Clinton has campaigned as the rightful heir to President Barack Obama’s two terms, Sanders has portrayed himself as the successor to Obama’s political movement, launched more than eight years ago in Iowa.
Echoing Obama, Sanders tells audiences that fundamental changes in the nation “never come from on top” but only happens with “millions of people standing up for justice.” He points to Iowa as the place where a majority-white electorate voted for a black candidate in Obama, focusing on his ideas instead of his skin color. And he frequently fires up crowds by asking attendees to shout out their student loan interest rates and debt levels.
It’s a tactic Clinton has begun deploying at her events, pausing her remarks to ask attendees to share the details of their debt.
“You will not be paying for this forever if I become president,” she promised a woman in Newton, who told the audience that her husband now owed more than he originally borrowed.
Clinton’s fresh outrage comes after months of casting herself as a more practical — and electable — alternative to Sanders, a strategy her campaign believed would undercut the grassroots Democratic enthusiasm for his candidacy.
When she campaigned at Iowa State University in Ames two weeks ago, Clinton suggested Sanders was making big promises he could never fulfill, saying she too wished for a “magic wand” to achieve a Democratic agenda.
“That ain’t the real world we’re living in!” she said.
Back on campus Saturday for another speech focused on gun control, her remarks had a notably different tenor. “What is wrong with us? How can we continue to ignore the toll that this is taking on our children and our country?” she shouted, pushing for stricter gun control measures, a goal that has little chance of passage in a Republican-controlled Congress.
Republicans are already looking to paint her anger as disingenuous posturing. In her traditional campaign speeches, Clinton often slams the planned merger between auto supplier Johnson Controls and Tyco as an abuse of the tax code. The deal, known as a corporate inversion, is expected to save the companies at least $150 million in taxes annually.
Republican strategists pointed out that Johnson Controls had donated as much as $250,000 to the Clinton Foundation, the philanthropic organization run by her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and daughter, Chelsea. The auto parts maker has also partnered with the foundation on energy efficiency and education initiatives.
But Democratic supporters seem to be responding to Clinton’s new energy. In recent days, her typically staid events have been punctuated by more of the chants, cheers and shouts of “we love you” that are common at Sanders rallies.
“I love you guys too,” she told several hundred people in Dubuque on Friday. “Everything I’m talking about I really believe in.”
If Clinton pulls off a victory in her close race for the Democratic presidential nomination with Sanders, she will have women like Joan Pinnell to thank.
Pinnell, a 32-year-old Chicagoan and former volunteer for Obama’s 2008 campaign, has been knocking on doors in Iowa in support of Clinton, Obama’s Democratic former rival. Her dedication stems in part from the desire for a president who can “personally understand the struggle that it is to be female” — a factor that was far less important to her back in 2008 when she was in her mid-20s.
“I get annoyed when I hear women say ‘it doesn’t matter at all,'” Pinnell says of the gender issue. “It matters.”
With Iowans ready to cast the first votes of the 2016 presidential race on Monday, polls show Sanders and Clinton locked in a statistical dead heat in the state, although she leads the U.S. senator from Vermont in national polls.
The enthusiasm that Sanders has sparked with college students and those just out of college — including young women — has generated buzz around his campaign. What has gotten far less attention, however, is the split that exists between women in their late teens and early 20s and their cohorts in their 30s.
Though Democratic women aged 18 to 29 say they prefer Sanders to Clinton 57 to 24 percent, those aged 30 to 39, like Pinnell, prefer Clinton to Sanders 45 to 28 percent, according to a Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll of 3,466 respondents taken from Jan. 1 to Jan. 26. (Graphic: tmsnrt.rs/20bI5ry)
In interviews with women voters aged 30 to 39 nationally, many said that in 2008 they had been drawn to Obama’s idealistic message of “hope” and “change,” but this time around they say they value the experience of Clinton, a former first lady, senator and secretary of state.
After navigating their first apartments, careers, moves, marriages and children, these women also said they like Clinton’s emphasis on issues such as reproductive health and equal pay for women.
Still, Sanders’ fiery rhetoric and liberal agenda are drawing support from young women like Abigail Gill, 19, a student at Keene State College in New Hampshire, who say gender does not matter.
“To vote for Hillary just because she is a woman is just as bad as not,” Gill said.
Clinton played down her gender in 2008 but this time around urges voters not to miss the chance to make history by electing the first woman president.
She has worked hard to court women “Millennials” — the generation born beginning in the early 1980s. She taped an episode of “Broad City,” a sometimes raunchy comedy about two twenty-something women living in New York City, and has created a “girl power” music playlist. She makes a point of calling on young women at town hall events and takes countless “selfies” with them.
Clinton’s senior aide and protégé, Huma Abedin, 39, headlined a New York City networking event for women. Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea, 35, has hosted a fundraiser at the trendy workout spot SoulCycle.
Kellie Lewis, 36, brought her 19-month-old daughter and 5-month-old son to hear Clinton speak at a bowling alley in Adel, Iowa, last week. Lewis said she is eager to help make history by supporting Clinton.
“I feel like we’ve had men looking at government for so long, a new perspective is exactly what is needed to get a more equal society,” Lewis said.
But Erin Batchelder, a junior at Smith College in Massachusetts, is conflicted. She says she’d like to see “one of my own” in the Oval Office but is drawn to Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist whose message centers on fighting income inequality and the excesses of Wall Street.
Batchelder plans to vote for Sanders but her best friend, also a Smith student, recently switched from backing Sanders to supporting Clinton.
“That’s what I’m grappling with right now, especially with my best friend making that shift, a lot of women at Smith are making that shift,” Batchelder said.