Sunday, January 28, 2007

Hillary's Kickoff

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 722

As promised, yesterday I attended Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign kickoff event, held at East High School here in Des Moines.

WHAT A ZOO! One would have thought by the collective buzz that the event was taking place in January of 2008, rather than a year before the caucuses. Here’s a snapshot by the numbers:
Number of cars in the campaign motorcade = 10
Number of satellite uplink news trucks in the parking lot = 6
Number of media present = 150...or 200...or 300
Number of foreign media outlets in the room = at least 4, including units from Japan, England and Switzerland (the latter, like myself, entirely neutral so far!)
Number of people in the room with Hillary (and me) = at least 1,000
Number of people who couldn’t get in the room with Hillary and were banished to the gym to watch on television = at least 1,000 more
Temperature when I was walking back to my car after the event: -5 F (with blowing snow)

Seats being scarce, and largely reserved for supporters, I stood through the event, choosing a place just on the other side of the press cordon from the section assigned to the national print media. This was actually one of the most informative and amusing aspects of the whole day for me, as I got to overhear their comments about Senator Clinton and her chances for the White House. The reporters traded their thoughts about whether Hillary seemed comfortable in her own skin (universally, they thought not), and the amazing discipline of her campaigns for the Senate, and so far, the Presidency (but, quoth one scribe, “discipline itself can be a problem for her, if it makes her look like the Ice Queen.” Okey-dokey.). Another reporter held forth at some length about Hillary’s choice of wardrobe, accessories and hairstyle on various days. Obviously, some members of the press pool need tighter deadlines (Reporter: “Oh! Does that mean deadlines will be worn tighter this year?” Me: “Never mind.”).

It was also interesting to evesdrop on people in the crowd. One woman near me said she had driven from Indiana to be there.

Overall, I thought Senator Clinton did well. She was introduced by local Congressman Leonard Boswell, who was himself introduced by the school principal. Hillary spoke without notes for about 20 minutes, then opened the floor to questions from the audience. The audience was not handpicked, nor, as far as I could tell, were any of the questions pre-screened. But they might as well have been. The crowd was as polite as could be, and all the questions were softballs, even the one (that’s ONE. Un. Uno. Ein.) question about Iraq, which, slow pitch that it was, Hillary nevertheless fouled off into the stands by talking about the care Iraq veterans receive through the V.A. system.

Women in the audience were especially enthusiastic, and went wild over Hillary’s comments about the possibility of a woman president. One audience member couldn’t contain herself, shouting out, “You go, girl!,” to which Hillary replied, “You go with me!” Nice moment.

I was interested to see the evolution of Hillary’s speaking style throughout the event. She got off to slow start, I thought, even though that was during her remarks about a woman being President. Where she picked up steam, and points, was when she began to talk about issues confronting the nation and her ideas for how they should be addressed.
She’s a heavyweight, no question. But I think sometimes she tries to run from that in order to burnish her “plain folks” credentials. That aspect of her campaign will be very interesting to watch as it plays out.

But, sadly, while I got close enough for a handshake (without actually shaking hands), I did not get to actually meet the candidate - there were just too many people in the room. Hillary did remark at the outset that this gathering was quite different from the usual early campaign fare in Iowa, and, to her credit, promised more traditional retail politicking to come in keeping with the tradition of spoiling Iowa caucus participants rotten. I should note that later in the day she held an event in Cedar Rapids with only about 150 people, so there is hope once the initial media frenzy subsides a bit.

So I didn’t get to ask the question I had planned to ask. I’ll have to save that for the next local Hillary event, which will hopefully come soon. In the meantime, I thought you might be interested in looking over some of the mainstream press coverage of the event:

Des Moines Register
New York Times
Washington Post (and another piece here)
Los Angeles Times
Seattle Times


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