AMES, Iowa — Hillary Rodham Clinton spent the weekend in Iowa confronting an enthusiasm gap facing her presidential candidacy by reminding the Democratic base that she has been a reliable warrior for the causes it cares about most.
Clinton talked about raising the minimum wage and continuing the push for overtime pay, paid family and sick leave, “and, yes, equal pay for equal work.” She praised Iowa for its success with wind energy, which she said was an example of good environmental and economic policy. She said she favored a wind-production tax credit and promised to soon announce a plan to provide relief for student loan debt.
Clinton called for harnessing the power of the sun to generate enough renewable energy to run every home in the country within the next decade, as part of a climate-change initiative announced Sunday.
In a campaign video, Clinton says, “It’s hard to believe that people running for president refuse to believe the settled science of climate change.” As she says this, quotes attributed to Republican presidential candidates fill the screen. One such quote, attributed to former Florida governor Jeb Bush, reads: “I’m a skeptic. I’m not a scientist.”
Earlier Sunday, she took the opportunity to openly mock those of her opponents who question whether climate change is real.
“This is not complicated, folks,” she said. “The people on the other side will answer any question about climate change by saying, ‘Well, I’m not a scientist.’ Well, I’m not a scientist either. I’m just a grandmother with two eyes and a brain.”
At a house party with several dozen supporters Sunday afternoon, Clinton said this of her climate-change plan: “I’m going to set some high national goals and I know we can meet them.”
The climate-change initiative announced on Clinton’s Web site calls for having more than 500 million solar panels installed by the end of her first term and generating enough renewable energy to power every home in the country within 10 years of Clinton taking office.
To Iowans swooning over the insurgent candidacy of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is running for the Democratic nomination, Clinton said that presidential politics is war and that she knows how to fight and win those battles.
“I am not new to this and I have the scars to prove it,” she said to a back-yard gathering of Iowa Democrats on Saturday in Des Moines. “I think I’m in the best position to wage a campaign against the forces arrayed on the other side and to win,” she said.
Cynthia McGowan and her husband, Tim, are from Minneapolis but were visiting their son in Iowa on Sunday and came to hear Clinton’s speech. They seemed exactly the kind of Democrats she wanted to reach.
“I was a big [Barack] Obama supporter. I always liked Hillary, but I didn’t trust her,” Cynthia McGowan said. But on Sunday, she liked what she heard. “I think she’s sincere,” she said. Asked what had changed, she said, “Well, Obama’s gone, and I think she’s the best candidate.”
Tim McGowan said he was impressed. “I always thought that Hillary had a sense of falseness about her, but I think she seemed real sincere today.”
Clinton tied herself more closely to President Obama, defending his work in office, from his handling of the economy to having tracked down al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Clinton, whose quest to become the first female president was derailed in Iowa seven years ago when she finished third in the caucus balloting, is working hard to avoid being upset by another upstart. Last time it was Obama. This time it’s Sanders, who has sparked excitement among Iowa’s liberal caucusgoers, drawing large crowds with his anti-establishment message, which has been cheered by liberals disillusioned with Obama and others seen as establishment progressives.
Clinton challenged that narrative, arguing that Obama, like Bill Clinton in 1992, inherited a bad economy and that like her husband, credited with achieving huge jobs gains and a budget surplus, is leaving the United States in better shape economically.
“President Obama does not get the credit he deserves for putting us back on the road to recovery,” Clinton said to applause Saturday afternoon at a house party in the Des Moines neighborhood of Beaverdale, an Obama stronghold in 2008.
The message resonated with Conrad Kramer and Lisa Gonzales-Kramer, who said they were more convinced that Clinton would be a better general election candidate than Sanders.
Conrad Kramer, executive director of Whiterock Conservancy, a nonprofit land trust, said of Sanders: “I just don’t think he can win,” even though he liked what the senator from Vermont has been saying.
“One point that she made was that she’s fought all the battles before as a senator, secretary of state and wife of a president,” Conrad Kramer said. Among the candidates running so far, he said, he hasn’t seen “anybody else on the Democratic side who has shown that kind of mettle.”
In 2008, the Kramers caucused for Obama. “He was just so impressive, and he was right that we should not have gone to war,” Conrad Kramer said.
Lisa Kramer, an environmental scientist, confessed that for years she has thought about Clinton in a generic, “ ‘You go, girl!’ sense.” After listening to her talk about the issues Saturday, Kramer said, she has more appreciation for Clinton’s “broad base of knowledge and experience.”
Jolene Pfaff was similarly swayed. She said that she is “very interested in Bernie Sanders . . . but I know, too, that Bernie Sanders would have a difficult time getting elected.”
Pfaff said she was skeptical of Clinton even as she came to the event on Saturday.
“I know she is more of a uniter and she has worked both sides of the aisle, and sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes, say, like the war in Iraq, that wasn’t one of my favorite things that she did.”
But Pfaff, who runs a nonprofit organization for children of incarcerated parents, said that she realizes how hard Clinton has worked on behalf of women and children. “She can stand up to anybody, and she doesn’t hang her head to anyone; if she believes in something, she’ll fight for it, and I think that’s what we need,” Pfaff said.
Clinton and her supporters in Iowa also made appeals to those who attended her events to commit to caucus for her.
But Jean Swanson, who attended the backyard event, was not quite convinced. “I really liked what she had to say, but I’m not totally sold,” said Swanson, a retiree, who said she has never caucused before but thinks it’s the right time. “I do think it’s time for a woman president.”
Jessica Morton, 28, a lawyer in Carroll, said Clinton “had really specific policy ideas.” Morton said she voted for Clinton in 2008 and will do so again next year.
Morton said she is interested in Clinton’s energy plan “and refinancing student loans. I need that really bad.” Morton began working as a lawyer a year ago.
When asked whether she was as excited as she was in 2008, she said, “No, I don’t think so. We want to see results and we want to see a practical solution to the problems facing our everyday lives. And hoping we see it but not being really optimistic like we were in 2008. I think people are more realistic now. I think in the last campaign, everybody got a little overly optimistic and overly excited.”
Morton added: “What she said today were all very practical things. That’s what you wanted to hear. I love Bernie Sanders, too, but I would worry that it would be throwing away my vote. A lot of the Democratic candidates have the same ideas. I’m not going to vote for a Republican, and if there’s a woman, I’m going to do that.”