DES MOINES, Iowa — Not every Iowa Democrat is cheering for Hillary Rodham Clinton to run for president. Some have a gnawing desire for someone else.
Whether that yearning stems from real political differences with Clinton or simply interest in a new face, these Iowans aren’t shy about saying so.
“I want to see what others do, like Elizabeth Warren,” says Nancy Bobo, one of President Barack Obama’s earliest supporters in the state. Warren, a senator from Massachusetts, has said she’s not running, but her name comes up nonetheless.
“No one thought there was any room for anyone else in 2008,” Bobo says, “and there was.”
Bobo was not the only one in the crowd at Sunday’s Harkin Steak Fry who wasn’t wearing a “Ready for Hillary” sticker. Hundreds of volunteers for a political action committee set up for a potential Clinton candidacy handed out the stickers during retiring Sen. Tom Harkin’s farewell event in rural Iowa.
Both Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, spoke at Harkin’s fundraiser. Her reception from thousands of Iowa Democratic true believers, though enthusiastic, came with some restraint. There were no chants of “Run, Hillary, run,” perhaps reflecting activists’ understanding that Clinton represents the party’s best chance of winning but might lack the spark for a movement like Obama’s candidacy in 2007.
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has been the Democrats’ busiest potential Clinton alternative. This year, he has come to Iowa three times and contributed $31,500 directly to candidates. He also is the only White House prospect paying staff — 11 of them this fall — to work on Iowa campaigns.
Former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia have headlined Democratic activist events in Iowa and met with candidates and key groups, such as labor unions. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar has been to Iowa twice since 2013, and plans to headline the state Democratic Party’s annual fall fundraiser in October. Liberal independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has visited Iowa and was holding town hall-style meetings in the state the same day Clinton appeared with Harkin.
Warren hasn’t visited Iowa but is hosting a fundraiser for Senate candidate Bruce Braley in October.
Vice President Joe Biden, meanwhile, has kept in close touch with Iowans for decades — through a pair of campaigns for president, first in the late 1980s and then again 20 years later. Meeting with Democratic candidates in Des Moines was part of his agenda on a trip to the state Wednesday.
Certainly, Clinton would enter Iowa the overwhelming favorite. A CNN/Opinion Research poll taken the week before she came to the steak fry showed her the favorite among 53 percent of registered Democrats, with Biden a far distant second at 15 percent.
Clinton had a disappointing third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses in 2008. Harkin has said that she ran a good campaign that year but that Obama’s was just better.
“If Hillary runs, it will be a steep hill for anyone else,” Harkin said, noting that the others may be angling for the vice presidential nomination, or practicing for a future campaign.
Still, Democrats benefit from a competitive field. Even in 2000, when Vice President Al Gore was the heavy favorite, the challenge from liberal former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley in Iowa forced Gore to sharpen his approach. The same was true in 2004, when Howard Dean gathered early steam in Iowa and forced Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the eventual winner, to become more aggressive.
Obama’s anti-war position, soaring oratory and well-organized campaign brought huge numbers of new participants to the caucuses in 2008. Clinton’s campaign did that, too, but Obama’s win wounded her candidacy by quickly showing that the heavy favorite was vulnerable.
On Sunday, Clinton sought to endear herself to the president’s supporters in Iowa.
“We went from rivals to partners to friends, and sometimes we would even reminisce about old days,” she said.
Iowa Democrats remain open-minded and plan to consider the field as it presents itself, several interviewed said.
“At this point I’m torn between her and Joe Biden,” said Selina Delp of Perry, who supported Obama in 2008. “I’m up in the air.”
Darcie Hansen of Des Moines supported Biden in 2008, but she expects to support Clinton this time, in part because she appears to be the dominant favorite. She admires Clinton’s determination and toughness.
“She’s no bull, and she’ll tell it like it is,” Hansen said. “They aren’t going to push her around.”
THOMAS BEAUMONT AND CATHERINE LUCEY, Associated Press
Associated Press writer Ken Thomas contributed to this report from Iowa.