In Race for Iowa, Clinton Has to Make Up Ground

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), shown with the Rev. Al Sharpton, has to build up a political infrastructure in Iowa.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), shown with the Rev. Al Sharpton, has to build up a political infrastructure in Iowa. (By Alex Wong -- Getty Images)
By Anne E. Kornblut and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, January 27, 2007

DES MOINES, Jan. 26 -- When New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton arrives here for her first presidential campaign events this weekend, she will encounter unfamiliar terrain -- a landscape where she is not the perceived front-runner for the Democratic nomination.

Although Clinton appears formidable at the national level, she has not built up a lead in Iowa, home of the first caucuses of the 2008 campaign next January. Most recent polls of Iowa Democrats have shown former senator John Edwards of North Carolina in the lead, with Clinton in a pack that includes Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack.

"This is anyone's race to win, including obviously Governor Vilsack, who is very familiar with the landscape here," said newly elected Iowa Gov. Chet Culver (D), who met with Clinton shortly after she arrived Friday afternoon but who is remaining neutral. "That's the wonderful thing about the caucus process. The winner will have to earn it."

That puts Clinton in the unusual position of having to prove herself against other Democrats, and having to build up a political infrastructure in Iowa at a time when many rivals already have a head start. Her appearances here -- her first in more than three years -- are certain to start a media frenzy, potentially intruding on the direct access to candidates that caucus-goers have come to expect.

There are many reasons why Clinton may meet resistance in Iowa. An obvious one is her vote for the 2002 congressional resolution authorizing President Bush to go to war in Iraq. Although she has increasingly become a harsh critic of the administration, her long support for the conflict -- and her refusal to renounce her vote -- has left a sour taste among some liberal Democrats.

She also has opposed subsidies for ethanol, a politically incorrect position for any presidential candidate seeking support in an agricultural state such as Iowa.

But, more fundamentally, her challenge may be finding ways to show Iowa Democrats that she is a more personable and accessible figure.

"Her history is eight years at the White House and six years as a U.S. senator -- all of it with Secret Service -- and there's many obstacles that go along with it, many of which Vice President Gore faced in 2000," said Steve Hildebrand, a senior Obama adviser who ran the Clinton-Gore reelection effort in the 1996 race and managed Gore's victory over Bill Bradley in Iowa in 2000.

"She's going to have to figure out how to get outside of that circle, in order to have the same kinds of dialogues with Iowa voters that all the other candidates are going to have," Hildebrand said. "It's expected in these early states, and she's going to have to figure out how to get that done."

J. Ann Selzer, who conducts the Iowa Poll for the Des Moines Register, said the key for Clinton is "to figure out how to make it personal."

Clinton advisers accept the polls as generally accurate and reject suggestions that she will have trouble converting skeptics into supporters. She has, they argue, only begun the process of introducing herself to Iowans, in a dinner in Washington last month and with a handful of phone calls to key activists.

"She needs to get out there and start campaigning," one Clinton adviser said. "I think there is a fundamental stubbornness about [Iowans] that they're not going to be favorable until they see them. They want to see Senator Clinton personally."

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