Hillary Rodham Clinton, making her return to Iowa for the first time since the 2008 presidential campaign, implored Democrats on Sunday to choose shared economic opportunity over "the guardians of gridlock" in an high-profile appearance that drove speculation about another White House bid in 2016 into overdrive.
"Hello Iowa. I'm back!" Clinton declared as she took the podium at retiring Sen. Tom Harkin's annual steak fry fundraiser, a fixture on the political calendar in the home of the presidential caucuses that kickoff the state-by-state presidential nominating contests. Clinton joined her husband, former President Bill Clinton, in a tribute to Harkin that brought them before more than 6,000 party activists who form the backbone of Iowa's presidential campaigns every four years.
The former New York senator and first lady did not directly address a potential campaign but said she was "thinking about it" and joked that she was "here for the steak." She later said that "too many people only get excited about presidential campaigns. Look — I get excited about presidential campaigns, too." But she said the upcoming November elections would be pivotal for the state's voters.
"In just 50 days Iowans have a choice to make — a choice and a chance. A choice between the guardians of gridlock and the champions of shared opportunity and shared prosperity," she said, urging voters to elect Democratic candidates who would "carry on Tom Harkin's legacy of fighting for families."
Following a summertime book tour, Clinton was making her biggest campaign splash in 2014 so far, opening a season of fundraising and campaigning for Democrats who are trying to maintain a Senate majority during President Barack Obama's final two years. The event also served as a farewell for Harkin, a liberal stalwart and former presidential candidate who is retiring after four decades in Congress.
Obama defeated Clinton in the state's leadoff presidential caucuses in January 2008 — Clinton finished third behind the future president and then-North Carolina Sen. John Edwards — and the visit marked the former secretary of state's first appearance in Iowa since the campaign.
The Clintons' arrival offered the possibility of a fresh start for Clinton, whose presidential campaign stumbled in the months leading to the caucuses.
Anti-war activists opposed her vote to authorize the Iraq war in 2002 and coalesced around Obama, who had opposed the war as an Illinois state senator. Clinton was often insulated by a large entourage in a state where face-to-face politics has long been a campaign hallmark.
Clinton, who has conferred with Iowa Democrats in recent days, would enter a presidential campaign with a large advantage over potential rivals. Early polls have shown her leading other Democrats by wide margins, including Vice President Joe Biden and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley.
Biden is traveling to Des Moines next week and has not closed the possibility of another campaign while O'Malley has made several visits to the state and dispatched staffers to Iowa this fall.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who is considering a presidential campaign, said in an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press," that there was "profound anger at the greed on Wall Street" and at the nation's political establishment. Sanders said "the issue is not Hillary" but the decline in middle-class standard of living and the gap between rich and poor. "The American people want change," he said.
Clinton has said she expects to decide on another presidential campaign early next year.