In the lead-up to Hillary Clinton's return to Iowa over the weekend, the political chattering class was abuzz about just how she would handle going back to the state that crushed her presidential hopes.
Why, some wondered, had she chosen to go back in such a big way -- at Sen. Tom Harkin's (D-Iowa) famous Steak Fry ... and with the Big Dog himself, Bill Clinton, in tow? Shouldn't she do a smaller venue first, to show that she gets Iowa's up-close-and-personal expectations? And what about the speech? Would she be overshadowed by Bill -- the Serena Williams of American politics and a politician completely at ease no matter what kind of voters he's around? And what about President Obama? How would she explain her relationship with that guy? One reporter pointed to the glut of reporters -- irony noted -- and mused that, with their shouted questions and need to file and tweet something, the 200 reporters would be a "big problem" for Hillary Clinton.
Well, it turns out all this high-stakes expectation-setting might have turned into one of Clinton's biggest allies. As they (really, we) set up test after test for Clinton, what's lost is that all these tests are actually pretty easy for Clinton to ace. Can she give a good speech in Iowa? Sure. She's been doing this for a very long time. As she worked the rope line, signing books, posing for photos and patting shoulders, it was almost as if she was someone who managed to get almost 18 million people to vote for her in 2008.
Clinton in 2008, in fact, got more votes than a certain Illinois senator in the primary, and still lost. But the political chattering classes (me too!), in discounting the real successes of Clinton's 2008 run and suggesting that on policy Clinton might be too far right of Obama, have created something of a mythical hurdle for Clinton to overcome. (One storyline even recounted how she dodged an immigration question, as if there is real doubt about where Clinton stands on the major immigration issues of the day.)
In fairness to us/me, she has done a good bit of expectation-adjusting herself -- particularly when she repeatedly and inexplicably struggled to talk about her family's wealth. And, there is no question that the scrutiny that Clinton will draw from the political press will, at some point, boomerang back against her. (It always does.)
But in trying over and over to locate Clinton's big 2016 Achilles heel -- Remember Iowa? What about Sen. Elizabeth Warren? -- we may have created something else: Clinton, the underdog -- or, at the least, Clinton the hurdle-clearer.