Iowa not ready to crown Hillary

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Will they ever love Hillary here?

Many Democrats in the first-in-the-nation caucus state who rejected Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonWATCH LIVE: Sanders speaks at Calif. rally Sunday shows preview: Bernie soldiers on Kaine: Dem discord could start to hurt Clinton soon MORE seven years ago say they’re keeping their options open and aren’t quite ready to crown the former secretary of State in 2016.

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Sure, there are plenty of Iowans eager to send the Clintons back to the White House. And for months, Ready for Hillary, the outside group backing a Clinton run, has been on the ground in the Hawkeye State, hiring staff, recruiting volunteers and building excitement for what’s seen as her inevitable candidacy.

Polls suggest she’s the clear favorite.

But as Clinton returns to Iowa Wednesday for the second time in two months — this time to stump with Democratic Senate hopeful Bruce BraleyBruce BraleyGOP group enlists public with opposition research app 10 rising stars in the energy and environment world DC delegate plans to confront GOP lawmaker calling for Washington recession MORE — Democrats throughout the state say they’re still sizing up the field of possible candidates. 

“New blood” is a popular refrain. Several said they hope to draft another woman, Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts senator and favorite of progressives, into the race. And two-term Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s recent visits to the state have caught the attention of some grassroots activists.

“I’ve yet to make up my mind and I don’t like the idea of political dynasties,” Tom O’Donnell, 55, a former science reporter and editor, said at a Braley rally near Des Moines before heading out with his wife and son to canvass neighborhoods.

“Largely, she’s ahead on name recognition and her good record as secretary of State,” he said. “But O’Malley has been here and worked hard for candidates I’ve liked, and that automatically makes me want to know more about him.”

Candice Jakes, 25, a Texas native who now lives in Iowa, attended a rally this week with Vice President Biden and Braley in the Quad Cities area. But she said she doesn’t fall in either the Biden or Hillary camps. 

“I like Hillary, but I’m keeping an open mind and see what people have to say, in case a particular candidate impressed me,” said Jakes, who described herself as a moderate Democrat. “I don’t have a favorite yet at all.”

Clinton is the latest in a parade of presidential aspirants who have descended on Iowa this week to boost House and Senate candidates in Tuesday’s midterm election, from Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to Biden. The former first lady will rally with Braley, currently a congressman, at a union hall here in Cedar Rapids before the duo head to a second event in Davenport. Then, former President Bill ClintonBill ClintonWATCH LIVE: Bill Clinton speaks at NJ rally The Hill's 12:30 Report The Trail 2016: Interleague play MORE comes to nearby Waterloo on Saturday to headline Braley’s annual Bruce, Blues & BBQ fundraiser.

The Clintons were last in Iowa in September for retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin’s final steak fry. It was the first time Hillary Clinton had set foot in the state since January 2008, when she finished a humiliating third place in the Iowa caucuses behind Barack Obama and another one of her Senate colleagues, John Edwards of North Carolina.

Months before her horrible finish, Clinton's campaign staffers had clashed over whether she should pull out of Iowa given her poor poll numbers. Clinton’s deputy campaign manager, in a memo that was leaked to The New York Times, argued that those valuable days on the campaign trail and millions of dollars would be better spent in other early primary states like New Hampshire. 

In his successful 1992 race, Bill Clinton had skipped the state, ceding it to Harkin, the popular Iowa senator who was running against him in the primary.

But Hillary stayed — and lost big. 

This time, no one is suggesting Clinton should skip Iowa and decamp to more favorable territory. She’s dominating in the polls: A recent Bloomberg News/Des Moines Register survey of Iowa caucus-goers showed Clinton with 53 percent support; Warren was a distant second with 10 percent. And many Democrats simply blanked when asked whom they might back as an alternative to Clinton.

“I think she needs to come back,” said Karen Schulte, 57, who was taking in the World Series game Tuesday night with her husband, Steve, at The Irish Democrat, a Cedar Rapids bar and grill adorned with Kennedy, Carter and FDR campaign posters, a black-and-white photo of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley at the ’68 Democratic convention, and a yellowing newspaper front page from the day after Nixon resigned.

“I think there were positive things about Hillary,” she added. “I would be fine with Hillary, but I think that competition is good. I mean Obama came from basically nowhere. So did Bill Clinton. But they proved themselves. I would entertain Hillary, but if the Democrats can show up with someone that’s equally knowledgeable on world affairs, we need to have that.”

The conversation also centered on politics at the bar at Jethro's BBQ 'n Bacon Bacon in West Des Moines, where a couple and their two friends could be overheard discussing a new show playing on an overhead flatscreen TV: “Madam Secretary.”

“It’s based on Hillary Clinton,” one said.

All four backed Obama over Clinton during the 2008 primary. And a man in the group, who would only give his name as Don, said he was still bothered by some of Bill Clinton’s racially tinged attacks on Obama before the South Carolina primary six years ago.

“I lost something for her based on some things that they did in that election against Obama,” said Don, who has lived with his wife in Des Moines for the past 30 years. “I would like to see younger Democratic blood, new blood,” though he added that he would get behind her candidacy if the GOP puts up a strong candidate.

But other Obama ’08 backers are already committing to Clinton. Paul Milton, 62, who is African-American, said he voted for Obama last time because he wanted to see the first black president. Now he wants to help put the first woman in the White House.

“Hillary is my lady. I’m kinda rootin’ for her,” Milton, who retired from a traffic-lights manufacturing company, said as he waited to see Biden and Braley at a minor league ballpark in Davenport. “Joe is cool, but I want to see a lady up here for a change. I want to see change.”