DES MOINES — Hillary Clinton began this last week before the crucial Iowa caucus vote by saying that political campaigns need more “poetry.” But the pitch she made to Iowa voters all week is for pragmatism.
“Here’s what I’m running on,” Clinton told an enthusiastic crowd packed into a college gymnasium here Friday. “I’m not running on just telling you what you want to hear. I’m telling you what I think I can do, what I think I can get done,” she said.
The reference to rival Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and his late surge on a crest of liberal aspiration was unmistakable, as was Clinton’s tone of urgency as she made a case for experience and ability.
“Please, between now and Monday night, think hard. Because the stakes are high,” Clinton said at the start of a half-hour speech that mixed details of her long political biography with a workmanlike list of policies and promises.
She closed with a return to her call for Democrats to think twice before they vote.
“I want to just end by asking all of you to think hard about what you want from the next president and commander in chief,” she said. “What you respect, what your families need, who could make a real difference in your lives — not sometime far off in the future but literally on the first day.”
The Clinton argument in the closing days before Monday’s caucuses in Iowa is twofold: an overt claim that she has better ideas than Sanders that could actually come true; and a more subtle suggestion that nominating Sanders would mean defeat for Democrats in the presidential election in November.
Rattled by the Sanders surge, her campaign is firing off alarmed requests for donations as small as $1 to answer his fundraising juggernaut.
“There’s no denying this: His supporters are stepping up. They see a chance to win in Iowa, and they’re willing to go all in for their guy,” Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook wrote in a fundraising appeal late Thursday that suggested a Sanders victory would make a Donald Trump presidency more likely.
“Our party will lose more than the presidency,” Mook warned. “Years of progress will be ripped away.”
In Dubuque later Friday, Clinton made the argument for her electability more pointedly.
“The Democratic candidate needs to go toe to toe with whoever they put up there,” she said. “I have a plan. Not a promise, a plan.”
Clinton has taken as a badge of honor the spending of conservative super PACs that are targeting her, and she asks audiences to consider why Republicans would appear to prefer her rival Sanders as an opponent in the general election.
“Ask yourself why” wealthy conservatives would seek to influence the Democratic race now. “Because they don’t want to run against me, because they know I can stop them in November.”
Clinton’s argument to Iowans in these final days is a carbon copy of the one she deployed unsuccessfully as a candidate in 2008.
“It is imperative that we have a president, starting on Day One, who can begin to solve our problems, tackle these challenges and seize the opportunities that I think await,” she said during a debate eight years ago almost to the date.
David Plouffe, who managed the Barack Obama campaign that overtook Clinton in Iowa in 2008, told Clinton supporters that the momentum gained or lost in Iowa is crucial and that Sanders is outspending Clinton daily on television ads in Iowa.
“A lot of these precincts will come down to just a few people, which means valuable delegates can swing one way or the other based on the tiniest of margins,” he wrote in asking for small online donations to “help be a part of history and help Hillary win in Iowa.”
At Grand View University here, Clinton said Sanders would blow up the success of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act for a new, single-payer health-insurance program that Clinton suggested is unrealistic.
“He wants us to start over with a plan that will be very difficult” to get through Congress, Clinton said, a note of exasperation and frustration in her voice. House Democratic leader “Nancy Pelosi said the other day, ‘We are not starting over.’ ”
Clinton would go further, and take more sensible action, on Wall Street regulation, prescription-drug price control and more, she asserted. She brought onstage an Iowa woman whose daughter was successfully treated for brain cancer while covered by the portion of the ACA that allows young adults to remain on their parents’ insurance.
The crowd was large for Clinton at about 700 — and contained a mix of confirmed supporters and those who, as Clinton said, are “still shopping.” Campaign volunteers with clipboards intercepted attendees, asking for signatures and a pledge to turn out for Clinton on Monday. Her campaign also debuted electronic versions of those commitment forms this week.
“If you will go to caucus for me on Monday, I promise you: If you stand up for me Monday night, I will stand up and fight for you as hard as I can,” Clinton said.
Warming up a smaller crowd at a middle school in Newton on Thursday, Iowa’s lone Democrat holding national office also made the case for practicality and experience.
“There’s nobody in this race on either side of the aisle who is more qualified to be president of the United States than Hillary Clinton,” Rep. David Loebsack said.
“We know it’s tight. It’s going to be close,” he said, adding that he thinks Clinton will win.
Clinton struck a reflective tone as she addressed the largely older crowd at Berg Middle School. As she appealed to Iowa’s role as a proving ground, echoes of how she fell short here in 2008 were clear.
“On Monday night, you are the first people in the entire world who get to express an opinion about who should be president and commander in chief,” she said.
She thanked Iowans for telling her about “the opportunities, the worries, the dreams” they have shared with her over the nine months she has campaigned here.
“I know I will be a better president because you have been willing to spend your time talking to me, telling me what you think is important,” she said. “We have only a few days left.”