The following piece was produced by the HuffPost's OffTheBus.
The aroma of pulled pork BBQ filled the River Music Experience for Iowa Congressman Bruce Braley's kickoff "Bruce, Blues and BBQ" fundraiser, featuring Senator Hillary Clinton as the headlining speaker.
Several volunteers for the Braley and Clinton campaigns were busily setting up warmers of meat, uncovering the 5 or 6 varieties of macaroni and potato salad and cutting up the two sheetcakes. As I waited, I flipped through the Iowa Hillary brochure I picked up downstairs at the entrance. Its picture showed Clinton smiling broadly with her hand on her heart next to the word "Ready."
Sitting on the Mississippi riverfront in downtown Davenport, the venue is a showcase for roots music. As supporters slowly filed into the room, the music, which I wouldn't exactly label blues, sounded more like cool jazz but was well performed by the trio onstage. I asked a campaign staffer about the expected attendance and she said "about 250," which eventually looked to be a close estimate, though many of the seats in the rows of chairs and tables were left empty. The crowd consisted of many Clinton supporters, with a greater portion of women than men.
After what seemed to be about a 40 minute wait, Congressman Braley finally took to the stage and introduced the senator by talking about building a democratic majority in Congress, he said Clinton "was integral in getting SCHIP started when her husband was president of the United States."
"There are some people who you can say truly don't need (an introduction)," said Braley as he talked further about Clinton's background and experience.
"If you don't believe me, go look up Senator Clinton's entry in Wikipedia," Braley said.
He then joked about the crowd singing Happy Birthday to her, as at least one person in attendence muttered loudly in embarassment "Oh, come on Bruce." He then convinced the audience to wish her a collective "Happy Birthday", as she waited just to the right of the stage.
Once onstage, Clinton began with her background before she became a senator as a "child advocate."
"I wanted to go to work on behalf of the kids," she said.
An air of inevitability as the Democratic nominee was clearly apparent as she spoke to the crowd.
"It's a year from today when we're finally going to get back... to a Democrat in the White House," she said to applause from the audience.
Clinton then went on to outline her goals for the presidency, touching briefly on ending the war in Iraq and restoring the U.S.' reputation in the world. She spoke about her healthcare plan, "The American Health Choices Plan", universal pre-kindergarten and making college more affordable through college loans direct from the federal goverment, citing her own experience when she was a student.
Moving on to foreign relations, she immediately took the opportunity to make a reference to George W. Bush's failed policies.
"The era of cowboy diplomacy is over!" she shouted to widespread applause.
Continuing on, Clinton said bi-partisan support was an important factor in getting things accomplished as president. She talked of her "strategic energy fund" and explained that she would pay for it "by taking tax subsidies away from the oil companies."
She said the U.S. needs to "end the cronyism and corruption in the White House" and "Move toward public financing (of elections)", though didn't offer any specifics on the latter.
"The rich are getting richer, much richer and the rest are just invisible," she said, referencing the U.S. economy. She asked for the audience's support in caucusing for her on January 3 and wrapping up her speech, she again reiterated the argument that she's the most experienced candidate to be president.
"Change is just a word if you don't have the strength and experience, " she declared. Coming down from the stage, she then signed autographs and posed for pictures with supporters for several minutes before being led away abruptly by her Secret Service agents, to the audible disappointment of a few of those left standing.
After the event, I spoke with Arthur Heyderman, from nearby Bettendorf, IA who said he supports Obama, but has met Senator Clinton "about 10 times" in person. Retired from the U.S. Army, he was there with his wife Renee, who is retired from the police department. He carried several slipcased 8x10 color photos of the Clintons that he had taken himself throughout the years.
Heyderman sported a "Hillary Rodman Clinton" button depicting the then First Lady with bright red hair in the style of basketball player Dennis Rodman, along with the words: "As bad as she wants to be." Heyderman said the button was made in 1996 at the time of the Chicago Bulls championship when Bill Clinton was enjoying widespread political success.
He explained his reason for favoring Obama over Clinton as "primarily because of his stand on Iraq." But, he said he's confident that either of them will do a good job as president.
When I asked him if his dream ticket was an Obama/Clinton one, he responded, "My dream ticket is anything that gets the nomination!"
I was curious to know his take on the whole electibility argument of Clinton's critics and other democratic candidates, since he appeared to be confident of her ability to capture the nomination.
"That's baloney, " Heyderman emphatically countered. "Those are the same people who won't vote for any Democrat...There are folks who have made a living as Hillary Haters."
He continued on to say her critics pinpoint her "because she's smart, she's right and she's electable." He brought up one recent critic in particular: Republican presidential candidate, Rudy Giuliani.
"Rudy Giuliani, the mayor of New York? Wow, that's a qualification," said Heyderman.
"They're still finding bones 10 years later," his wife added over his shoulder referring to the NYC 911 site.
"He says she can't run a country?" Heyderman asked, "He can't run a family!"