“It didn’t bother me. No, not at all,” said John Stein, 51, a supporter of Clinton rival Bernie Sanders. “It was a good-faith attempt to answer a question she was asked. Some folks are trying to make something out of nothing.”
Sue Seedorff-Keninger said, “I take her at her word. It makes sense. Those were her constituents.” Seedorff-Keninger, 62, who has not decided which Democrat to caucus for, added, “I wasn’t bothered by it. I didn’t see it as a gaffe. I saw it as an explanation for why she received money from them.”
When Clinton supporter Valinda Parsons, 56, was asked about the exchange, she admitted, “That question, I don’t even remember it.” When a reporter described it, Parsons said it did not bother her. “Not a bit. She is the most qualified candidate. No other candidate compares.”
The interviewees in Ames hardly make up a representative or scientific sampling, and people’s opinions about Clinton’s Sept. 11 remarks could change in coming days. But their comments Sunday suggested that the immediate reaction of Democratic activists in Iowa, whose Feb. 1 caucuses kick off the presidential nominating contest, is markedly different than that of her critics nationally.
At the CBS debate on Saturday night in Des Moines, Clinton was challenged over the political contributions she has received over the years from financial industry executives and her coziness to Wall Street.
She responded by saying that she represented New York as a senator during the 2001 attacks.
“Where were we attacked? We were attacked in downtown Manhattan, where Wall Street is,” Clinton said. “I did spend a whole lot of time and effort helping them rebuild. That was good for New York. It was good for the economy, and it was a way to rebuke the terrorists who had attacked our country.”
The comments sparked immediate and sharp criticism from Republicans, as well as liberal Democrats, on social media and dominated the post-debate news coverage on Sunday morning.
In his speech at the Ames barbecue, former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley criticized Clinton for her answer to the question about her coziness with Wall Street. O'Malley said she "sadly invoked 9/11 to try and mask that, but she doesn't have to mask that. It is what it is." There was no audible reaction from the audience to O'Malley's line.
As folks gathered at the barbecue awaited speeches from Clinton and Sanders surrogate Cornel West, they said her Sept. 11 comments did not significantly change their opinions of her as a candidate.
Some people, including Mary Maze, said the comments gave them pause, however.
“When she said she helped us after 9/11, it left me with a question mark,” said Maze, 76, a Clinton supporter. “I would love to hear her explain more what she did for Wall Street and why. I just don’t know what she meant.”
Barbara Peterson, 68, who is undecided in the Democratic race, said Clinton’s comments sounded “a little manipulative.”
“It was true, but she made it seem she was using 9/11," Peterson said. "She turned that Wall Street question around to 9/11 and didn’t really respond to whether she was too buddy-buddy with the banks.”
But the prevailing sentiment, at least among the Ames crowd, was that the controversy over her Sept. 11 comments was much ado about nothing.
"There's a logic to what she said when you think about it," Martha Anderson, 77, said of Clinton's remarks.
Asked whether she saw the Sept. 11 line as a "gaffe," Anderson, who has not settled on which Democrat to support, shrugged and said, "The pundits say that all the time. They always pick up on something that's going to haunt somebody. But pundits are who pundits are."
“She was the senator from New York and the entire country was attacked,” added Paul Fitzgerald, the Story County sheriff, who has not endorsed yet in the Democratic race.
“My God,” he added, “what’s the big deal?”