CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — “Hillary! Hillary!” they yelled at the distant figure, from across the parking lot and across the street, at the edge of the Secret Service’s protective zone.
She waved. Then she started walking over, trailed by a phalanx of aides, cops and agents.
“Thank you for standing out here!” Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday, shaking hands with the 10 or so Iowans who had waited in the chilly wind, hoping to see her come out the back door of a bike shop after a campaign event here. “I need your help! I want you to caucus for me!”
This kind of face-to-face interaction isn’t unusual for campaign season in Iowa, of course. But Clinton’s protective detail makes her a different kind of candidate: The cluster of people waiting for her spoke about how the Republicans coming through the state these days are easier to talk to, mingle with.
It was a morning defined by Clinton’s reengagement — with voters beyond those handpicked to meet her and with the traveling press — after nearly a month of closely controlled appearances.
In taking a few questions from reporters, Clinton rapidly addressed a series of controversies swirling around her and her campaign. She expressed regret for voting in favor of the Iraq war, dismissed criticism of her family’s foundation, and defended the millions of dollars she and her husband have made giving speeches.
Clinton also was noncommittal on President Obama’s proposed Asian free-trade agreement and, in response to a reporter’s question, said she favors having the State Department release e-mails from her time as secretary of state as soon as possible: “I want those e-mails out.”
The news conference — which featured six questions from five reporters — was impromptu and marked a turning point for Clinton, who so far in her young campaign has stuck mostly to tightly scripted events with small groups of voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, and no substantive questions from the media.
Late in her dialogue with Iowans at the bike shop, Fox News’s Ed Henry asked during a break in the conversation whether Clinton would take questions. The candidate — apparently taken aback by what she saw as an interruption — waved him off but did not say no.
“Maybe when I finish talking to people here. How’s that?” Clinton replied, to chuckles from attendees and groans from some reporters. When pressed again, she said: “I might. I’ll have to ponder it. I will put it on my list for due consideration.”
Later, on Fox News, Henry explained his query: “We had been through one of these campaign events after another, getting monotonous, one city after another. Roundtables. All candidates, Democrats and Republicans, are able to do their talking points, but we’ve gone 27, 28 days without a question. That’s why I just jumped in.”
Once she finished and posed for some pictures and selfies near polished mountain bikes and rows of athletic gear, Clinton approached the waiting crowd of reporters, who thrust forward audio recorders and hoisted boom microphones above her.
She defended the Clinton Foundation’s practice of accepting foreign donations — “I’m proud of the work it has done and the work it’s doing” — and defended her friendship with former Bill Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal, who offered what she characterized as “unsolicited” advice on Libya while she was secretary of state.
“I have many, many old friends, and I always think that it’s important when you get into politics to have friends you had before you got into politics, to understand what’s on their minds,” Clinton said.
She also repelled a question about whether regular Americans will be able to relate to her because of her wealth; she and her husband have made $25 million since early 2014 giving speeches.
“Bill and I have been blessed, and we’re very grateful for the opportunities we had,” Clinton said. “But we’ve never forgotten where we came from, and we’ve never forgotten the kind of country we want to see for our granddaughter, and that means that we’re going to fight to make sure that everybody has the same chances to live up to his or her own God-given potential.”
She also fielded a question on the Iraq war, a topic that has bedeviled Republican presidential contenders in recent days. Clinton, who as a senator from New York voted to authorize the war in 2003, reiterated that she now believes that decision was wrong.
“I’ve made it very clear that I made a mistake, plain and simple,” she said.
Clinton’s initial remarks at Bike Tech struck an optimistic tone about the future of the national economy and the Obama administration’s efforts. But she also decried the ability of powerful financiers to use tax loopholes to their advantage.
“Our economy and our country are in much better shape today,” Clinton said. “But the deck is still stacked for those at the top. People aren’t getting a fair shake.”
Stepping outside after the reporters’ questions, Clinton made small talk with a crowd that had grown since she entered the shop. One woman was from Pennsylvania; Clinton said she goes to Scranton often. Ronald “Ronzie” Zuehlke told Clinton that he’d met her husband back in the 1990s.
Then she was gone, ducking into a van that had crept up as she greeted them, so the walk back would be shorter.
Zuehlke, 65, of Cedar Falls, was literally hopping with excitement. “I got to shake her hand!” he said. “Wow!”
“I’m just having shakes, I’m so excited,” said Linda Bodell, of Cedar Falls.
“I shook her hand!” repeated Zuehlke, a former farmer who stocked the pet aisle at Target for 13 years and is now retired. “I didn’t think she’d come out. Face to face! Holy smokes!”