IOWA CITY, Iowa — Over and over again, since the start of this campaign, Hillary Clinton has told voters that, above all else, she is a proven “fighter.” At an organizing event here on Tuesday, a young woman stood to ask how, then, Clinton planned to fight for change that not even President Obama had been able to achieve.
In a striking, at times blunt reply, Clinton criticized her party’s approach to midterm elections as inferior to Republicans’ — and promised to leave behind as her legacy in the White House a well-built coalition of engaged, committed Democrats.
Clinton, now three months into her campaign, cast herself as a president who would communicate “the importance” of midterms, strengthen state parties, and spend the next 10 years developing a “deep bench of young people” in the Democratic Party who won’t “just complain” about problems — but get into politics and fix them.
“That’s what I want to be a part of seeding,” she told voters in Johnson County, a liberal pocket of the state that supported Obama and John Edwards over Clinton the last time she caucused here. Obama, a former community organizer, won Iowa eight years ago with the support of his own coalition of volunteers and activists.
“I will be leaving a very strong, committed group, here in Iowa, across the country, who will get up every day and not just complain — not just yell at the TV… not just fire off angry tweets or something else that expresses your opinion — but will become involved in the political process,” said Clinton. “If we don’t show up and we don’t vote, we can’t complain. And if we don’t like what the other side does, there’s not much we can do when the election is over, other than say ‘next time…’”
Building that “village,” as Clinton put it, required success in the midterms.
“Here’s one of the differences between our party and the other party,” Clinton said, speaking before a crowd of about 350 in the Iowa City Public Library. “They know the importance of midterm elections, because they show up. And we don’t.”
“I don’t understand all the reasons for that,” Clinton added. But the last two Democratic presidents, she said, both suffered a massive defeat in Congress two years into the first term: Bill Clinton lost the House after raising taxes on the wealthy and going up against the National Rifle Association, and Obama after passing the Affordable Care Act and implementing his plan for economy recovery.
“I’m going to be the kind of president who also will keep talking to the American people about the importance of showing up in the midterm elections,” Clinton said.
“Otherwise we will go backward.”
The Clintons, both frequent surrogates on the campaign trail in 2014, were said to be taken aback when Republicans gained as many seats as they did. Shortly after the election, Bill Clinton said Democrats lost in part because they lacked a "national advertising campaign” — and, specifically, a “coherent economic message.” (Obama, then in one of the most unpopular periods of his tenure, did not play a particularly active role on the campaign trail on behalf of his party.)
On Tuesday, Clinton described 2014 as “heartbreaking,” singling out Bruce Braley, the Iowa Democrat who failed to succeed Tom Harkin in the U.S. Senate.
“I want to run for president, and I want to bring as many Democrats with me to Washington as I possibly can. I want to help rebuild the Democratic Party in Iowa,” she said. “You can’t have a loss like having Tom Harkin retire, and not be really motivated to not get the other Democrats in there who will stand with me.”
The network of activists, office-holders, and dedicated voters would, Clinton suggested, spring in part out of her current campaign. (Her strategists have invested in a robust organizing strategy across the four early states, including Iowa.)
“The first thing I would say is we need to elect more Democrats. Okay?” Clinton said to applause from the crowd. “It is not just enough to elect more members of the Senate and more members of the House in Washington. We need more members in the state senate. We need more members in the state house. We need more Democrats in county offices across Iowa and across every other states.”
This campaign, she reminded the crowd in closing, would be her “last rodeo.”
“I believe that we can leave not just the country in good shape for the future — but we can get a deep bench of young people to decide they want to go into politics to continue the fights that we’re going to be waging” as a party, Clinton said.
“When I ride off into the sunset in whatever year that will be…”
Clinton stopped. “Golly,” she said. “2025… Wow!”