CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Hillary Clinton on Saturday deployed husband and former President Bill Clinton to woo Democratic voters and help her solidify a narrow hold on first place in this crucial early-voting state.
Bill Clinton is charismatic and popular among Democrats, viewed as likable, charming and authentic — basically everything his wife, Hillary Clinton, is not. With the race for Iowa razor thin and Hillary Clinton suffering from a possible enthusiasm gap compared to her main rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and operating under an ethics cloud, her campaign countered with Bill Clinton, perhaps its most valuable asset, during an evening rally here to fire up voters and energize Hillary loyalists.
"Everything she ever touched, she made better," President Clinton said during introductory remarks to a packed high school gymnasium of several hundred. She's a "change maker," he added. "Anybody can talk about [change.] Not everybody can do it.
Phil Katz, 62, a retired teacher from just outside Cedar Rapids, said that Bill Clinton still resonates with Democrats, and he believes the former president provides his wife with a helpful boost. "He talks to you and me. It sounds like he's talking to us — he's common sense," Katz said. "He relates to the middle class person, the normal person, the you-and-I of life."
The Iowa caucuses begin Monday evening at 8 p.m. Eastern Time, and Clinton led surging rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, by just three percentage points, 45 percent to 42 percent, in the final Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll conducted Tuesday through Friday. The former first lady, New York senator and secretary of state under President Obama was crisscrossing Iowa in a bid to hold off Sanders, a socialist who has captured the imagination of liberal Democrats.
Sanders is proposing a progressive's dream agenda: universal government-run health care, taxpayer-funded college education for all Americans and a steep increase in the minimum wage, to name a few of his proposals.
Clinton is running as a liberal pragmatist.
She vows to build on Obama's domestic agenda and foreign policies, and is offering proposals such as a "fair share surcharge" of four percent on income of $5 million or more. But she is warning against Sanders' policies as unrealistic and costly to the middle class. During campaign appearances Saturday, Clinton said "free" college would only drive up the cost, while warning that the senator's ambitious programs would burden middle class taxpayers.
"I am the only candidate who has said very plainly: I will raise your incomes, I will not raise middle class taxes," Clinton said in Cedar Rapids. "I'm a progressive who likes to get things done."
The Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll suggested that Clinton is not generating less enthusiasm for her candidacy in Iowa than is Sanders. Indeed, she is running a highly organized campaign that has attracted ardent support. For these Iowa Clinton voters, Bill Clinton's participation in the campaign doesn't play a role in why they plan to caucus for her on Monday.
"It's about her and what she's able to do — not what he's done. He was successful but it's about her this time," said Julie Schneekloth, 48, a human resources executive in Cedar Rapids.
But many Iowa Democrats remain on the fence, and leaning toward Sanders. The one-time presumptive Democratic nominee can't escape the shadow of an email scandal relating to her use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state. Just Friday, it was reported that some of those emails contained "top secret" information. Clinton maintains that she did not traffic any classified information via her private email account, and supporters dismiss the issue as GOP gamesmanship.
During a Clinton campaign rally earlier Saturday, retiree Joanna Courteau said she was actually leaning toward long-shot Democratic candidate Martin O'Malley, the former Maryland governor. But the reasons she offered were in line with why many Democrats are supporting Sanders, and that is Coureau thinks O'Malley is a fresh face and more liberal. "He has carried out a progressive agenda in Maryland," she said. "He's very progressive and he's also younger."
Katz, who was leaning Sanders but decided to support Clinton only in the last 24 hours, said excitement for the Vermont senator is real, especially among younger voters. He conceded that Sanders' aggressively liberal agenda appealed to him. But in the end, Clinton's sales pitch swayed him. He concluded that even if Sanders could accomplish some of it, middle class Americans like himself would end up paying for it.
"I was indecisive. But last night I was sitting around thinking: How is he going to make all that work? It comes down to taxes and as a middle-income person who pays a lot of taxes, you know, we're overtaxed the way it is," Katz said. "His ideals are good, they sound good and they resonate with young people because they haven't been through the channel of life."