Behind The Scenes At A Hillary Rally

03/28/2008 02:48 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Guthrie Center, Iowa---The day began early this morning as Hillary Clinton crisscrossed the frozen fields of Iowa, searching for votes in a tight race for her party's presidential nomination. Her last campaign event ended in the small and sad country town of Guthrie Center, about sixty miles from the capitol city of Des Moines.

If you want to see how NAFTA, the lower valued US dollar, or the decay of rural America, Guthrie Center is the perfect place for a presidential candidate to spend an hour. Of course, in eight more days, no one will care about Guthrie Center.

But tonight the young campaign workers for Hillary Clinton have descended upon a crowd of older, white, rural voters - only one college student raised her hand in answer to the question: how many here are attending college?

Warming up the audience while Hillary Clinton was running thirty minutes late for her current campaign slogan - Big Challenges, Real Solutions: Time to Pick A President - one very perky advance guy asked a series of questions about the candidate's personal life:

What college did Hillary graduate from?
What was the state where she First Lady?
Where did she attend law school?

This is the same warm-up act that Obama's campaign staff uses. Did they all attend the same Democratic Summer Camp for college grads?

During the media sign-up, I spoke with Steve Brannan, Co-Chair for Hillary Clinton for President in Guthrie County. There are twenty-five thousand Democrats in Guthrie County and five caucus locations. The county is about evenly split between Independents, Republicans, and Democrats.

"I was a supporter of Richard Gephardt in 2004 but after the first vote, I moved to undecided and went onto the county convention as an undecided delegate from my caucus," said Brannan.

I asked Brannan who he would support if Hillary Clinton wasn't viable after the first vote and he said, "Bill Richardson."

And what if Richardson isn't viable?

"I like Dennis Kucinich. He likes a lot of the same things I do, but he doesn't have a campaign here," said Brannan.

Brannan feels the HRC organization is as good as any he's seen and feels confident of a win in Iowa, but then thinks better of it and adds, "Actually, I think it's all up for grabs."

Ann Stough, a 39-year-old IT professional with two children (ages 17 and 23) and a husband who is an uncommitted precinct captain, shared her thoughts with offthebus.

Stough is also a co-chair for HRC in Guthrie County said that she caucused for Howard Dean in 2004, but when he wasn't viable; she joined the Kerry caucus team and helped him win the state caucus in 2004.

Asked who her second choice would be if Hillary Clinton wasn't viable, Stough said, "Joe Biden."

If Biden isn't viable, Stough said she would join the uncommitted contingent because she didn't want to vote for any other candidate.

Stough reads up on all the issues. She's one of those informed Iowans every candidate talks about - as much pandering as the truth - and she laid out exactly why she wouldn't vote for anyone except Clinton or Biden:

"I don't believe Edwards has a chance to win. He doesn't have any money. He's a nice guy but his signature issue is the poor and there are more issues in America than just the poor. I like Obama but I want someone with more experience. Of course, in the end, I'll vote for the Democratic nominee, who ever wins this race."

HRC finally spoke 40 minutes after she was due to land here in Guthrie Center - only 5 minutes before John Edwards' 45 minute delay for campaign events - and after a short introductory speech by former Iowa First Lady Christy Vilsack and a NY orchard grower whose name I can't even remember (wow, is this the big guns, where's Bill?).

Clinton began by reminding the audience that she knew the assassinated former Pakistani prime minister and opposition leader, Benazir Bhutto, "a leader who was committed to bringing democracy back to her country."

Senator Clinton continued, "She knew she was facing risks and threats by going back to stand for election and she came back because she felt so strongly about democracy. It's a terrible loss for their country and we can only hope that the Pakistani people work hard to respond to her
assassination by standing up for their country and the possibility that they can have a functioning democracy."

"As president, I will do everything I can to move Pakistan to democracy and taking on the lethal threat that terrorism poses to them."

And then Hillary Clinton began coming very close to the fear mongering and sounding more like a second grade teacher, admonishing - although gently - that Americans ought to vote and comparing herself to Benazir Bhutto.

"I am so moved today to go to an event like this just as Benazir was doing, making her case with the people as to why she would be their prime minister."

"We have the longerst democracy in the world and sometimes, we take it for granted..."

"We don't stop often enough and think about what it really means that we have this extraordinary country of ours that has survived so many times...At the root, it was the people and the leaders they chose."

Then it was brought back to her latest weekly message: "It's Time to Pick a President."

"We are beginning this process of picking a president. A week from tonight, Iowans will go to the precinct caucuses to have their voices heard...I hope all of you will go because our country really needs you to go not just because you are standing up for the candidate but because you are standing up for the country."

The United States is ready to pick a new president, who will day one handle the myriad of problems that are waiting for the next president, waiting on the desk of the Oval Office. There's a war to end, another war to sort out, our values, our future, at home; an economy that is faltering and 47 million Americans without health care insurance. And we don't even know
what we can't predict. So we need a president to deal with whatever comes."

And then she repeats the tried and true line that hits her top two competitors but without explicitly calling them out:

"Everyone has a different idea about how you bring about change. Some say you bring about change by demanding it. Some people say you bring about change by hoping for it. But I say you bring about change by working very very hard at it."


Senator Clinton reamed off her long list of policy wonky issues that pepper all of her stump speeches and there's no doubt, this sure-footed presidential candidate doesn't have the fire of John Edwards or the charisma of Barack Obama, but no one out wonks her or has sung her campaign song so well - at least until the last few weeks - when her poll numbers in Iowa and in New Hampshire began to fall and then the Clinton campaign unleashed their "dark arts" against Barack Obama and John Edwards, to a lesser extend.

Now, for the close: You can be the voices of those who can't caucus:

"I'm asking you to caucus for me" said Hillary Clinton.

"Don't just stand up for me, stand up for your country. Stand up for yourself. Stand up for others who can't be at the caucus. They need you like the young man in the navy that needs you. Think of all the people who work at night; nurses, retail, people who are working in restaurants."

For this final close on Iowa 2008, HRC modulates her voice into a soft-mother-like tone laying the guilt-trip on her Guthrie Center audience with the above words and promising to wake-up every day and think of them. By the way, I heard her say exactly the same words when she was stumping for Bill Clinton's re-election campaign in 1995.

However, under the motherly tone with her daughter only a few feet away from her, I can't help but hear Tracey Flick, the most ambitious girl in school, played by Reese Witherspoon in the movie, "Election." Will she be frosting cupcakes next?

Hey, she's just like all the other presidential candidates. She's bushwhacking the icy hills and snow-covered dells in hopes of picking up a few more uncommitted voters and keeping her supporters corralled in her camp.

Only eight more days left before the Iowa caucuses and places like Guthrie Center will not see another national press person again - well, at least not for another four years.