Hillary Clinton dialed back some of her biting attacks on rival Bernie Sanders on Saturday, refocusing on Republicans and her own experience in President Barack Obama’s administration as she launched her closing argument to voters in Iowa.
For Sanders, an upset victory in Iowa would put him in position to win both of the first two voting contests. He’s consistently led in preference polls in New Hampshire, which borders his home state. He’s counting on strong support in Iowa in college towns and liberal strongholds, though he’s making a late push in smaller cities and rural areas as well.
Seven hundred college-age volunteers from across the Midwest and as far away as California are streaming into Iowa to help get the vote out for the Vermont senator.
Sanders’ rise before the Iowa Democratic caucuses jolted Clinton, leading her to launch a flurry of criticism against the Vermont senator, whom she views as unelectable and a proponent of unrealistic policies. But the heated rhetoric has worried some Clinton supporters, who fear it could turn off undecided voters.
The former secretary of state took a softer tone Saturday, referring to Sanders as her “esteemed opponent.” She put aside most of her direct criticism of Sanders, except on gun control as well as on health care, as she warned against the senator’s call for a government-paid system.
Clinton did draw implicit contrasts with Sanders throughout her remarks, particularly on national security experience.
But unlike her appearance in Iowa last week, when she said Sanders “hasn’t really thought it through” on foreign policy, she told detailed stories about her own experiences making big decisions in the Situation Room while serving as Obama’s secretary of state.
“This is one of the biggest parts of the decision as you head toward Feb. 1 that I want you to keep in mind,” Clinton said, telling voters that they’re “not just picking a president, but a commander in chief.”
Clinton and Sanders were shadowing each other across eastern Iowa on Saturday, holding events in the same areas within hours of each other. Both candidates planned to spend most of the next week in Iowa as they seek to start off the primary voting with a win.
Some of Clinton’s high-profile Democratic supporters were also fanning across the state, including Sens. Tim Kaine of Virginia, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. And in another attempt to signal Clinton’s overwhelming support from the Democratic establishment, she was appearing alongside leaders of major labor, women’s rights and gay rights organizations.
Only one Democrat has ever won the nomination without winning at least one of the first two states: Bill Clinton during his 1992 White House run.
Clinton said she would be eager to get her husband’s advice, particularly on economic policy, if she becomes president. She also ran through some of the suggestions she’s received for what the former president’s title might be if they returned to the White House in 2017.
“First gentleman. First dude,” she said as the crowd roared with laughter. “First mate – what do you think?”
Sanders, an independent who aligns with Democrats on Capitol Hill, has far less backing among the party establishment than Clinton. He’s counting on strong support in Iowa in college towns and liberal strongholds, though he’s making a late push in smaller cities and rural areas as well.
Seven hundred college-age volunteers from across the Midwest and as far away as California are streaming into Iowa to help get the vote out for the Vermont senator. Organizers on Iowa campuses are reserving rooms to turn into phone bank centers, distributing campaign-provided toe warmers to the foot soldiers and playing Sanders’ spoken-word version of “This Land Is Your Land” to motivate them.
Ahead of Feb. 1, the day Iowa voters finally have their say, the Sanders campaign is activating “Go Home for Bernie,” a plan to dispatch a fleet of rental cars, vans and buses, if necessary, to carry students who are from Iowa back to their hometowns, where they will have maximum impact on the caucuses.
With his talk of free tuition, unabashed unhipness and calls for political revolution, Sanders has undoubtedly struck a chord with young people. But they are one of the least dependable constituencies in politics, and he and his campaign acknowledge that beating Hillary Clinton in Iowa will require harnessing their enthusiasm, overcoming their history of dismal attendance and replicating the 2008 turnout inspired by the historic candidacy of Barack Obama.
Of the 15,000 people in Iowa who have done at least one volunteer shift, 27 percent are 18 to 24 years old, and 32 percent are 25 to 34, according to the campaign. The campaign has at least one representative, essentially a precinct captain, on 38 Iowa college campuses, where students will spend the final days calling likely voters, holding caucus training camps and figuring out how to get the greatest number of supporters to the largest number of precincts.
“If you have a car,” said Dhruv Gupta, 21, president of Grinnellians for Sanders at Grinnell College, “you are enlisted. And then we fill it up with as many people as we can.”
Clinton, 68, also has sought to appeal to young voters, setting up her headquarters in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, starring in a Snapchat video saying “Just Chillin in Cedar Rapids” and rolling out endorsements from Katy Perry and Lena Dunham, who campaigned for Clinton in Iowa. But it is Sanders who, like Obama before him, has captured the imagination of many young voters. This is despite Sanders’ being a 74-year-old with white hair who plays up the grumpiness of the social studies substitute teacher he once was.
“I know the young people will think this is impossible: When I was elected mayor of Burlington, we did not have a computer in City Hall. Can you imagine that?” Sanders said in Underwood, Iowa, Tuesday. The stage behind him was packed with supporters in their teens and 20s seated under a banner saying, “A Future to Believe In.”
“Hard to imagine,” Sanders continued. “George Washington. Bernie Sanders.”
Bernie Sanders is the most unproblematic old white man we’ve ever heard of.
Veri di Suvero, a student at Dartmouth College, who added that she also liked the senator’s proposals, but mostly just believed that he believed in the revolution he called for
Jared Freemon, 20, a junior economics and marketing major at Drake University in Des Moines, said he liked Sanders’ ideas about making public college free and providing health care for all, as well as the senator’s candor in talking about the injustices minorities face.
“I think he cares for people in America, so whether it’s immigrants, or people coming over our borders, or the black and brown populations here, I can tell that he really does want equality,” Freemon said.
In New Hampshire, where the primary will be held Feb. 9, Veri di Suvero, a student at Dartmouth College, said she also liked the senator’s proposals, but mostly just believed that he believed in the revolution he called for.
“Bernie Sanders is the most unproblematic old white man we’ve ever heard of,” she said.
In a New York Times/CBS News poll this month, Sanders held a commanding national lead among Democratic voters under 45, with 60 percent to Clinton’s 31 percent.
If we win this thing, in large measure it’s going to be because these young voters turn out beginning in Iowa and also because we can convince the Democratic establishment that Bernie can be a stronger candidate because of his appeal to young people, the way Barack Obama was in 2008.
Tad Devine, Sanders campaign senior strategist
John Della Volpe, director of polling at Harvard’s Institute of Politics, said Sanders’ pull among the young was about “being authentic,” but also about how he had reached out to them.
“They really want to be part of the political process, and they want to be empowered. They want to be wined and dined a little bit. They want to feel special, and he is making that extra effort that others aren’t.”
Before Sanders even announced his candidacy, he had a dedicated, loyal and voracious cadre of supporters online. Since then, led by its 24-year-old digital director, Kenneth Pennington, the campaign has sought to expand that online support – Sanders now has more Facebook fans than Clinton – and turn it into volunteers, apps and dollars. Pennington and his digital staff interact daily with supporters on Reddit, Facebook, Twitter and Slack, the online chat-room software.
The campaign’s senior strategist, Tad Devine, said that over the next few days the campaign will roll out six-second Tumblr ads and send emails and texts to voters it has identified as college students. It will also begin a web advertising campaign about the “Go Home for Bernie” program that uses geographic targeting to reach mobile phones around the colleges.
“If we win this thing,” he said, “in large measure it’s going to be because these young voters turn out beginning in Iowa and also because we can convince the Democratic establishment that Bernie can be a stronger candidate because of his appeal to young people, the way Barack Obama was in 2008.”
The New York Times contributed to this report. Jason Horowitz reported from Underwood, Iowa, and Yamiche Alcindor from Des Moines, Iowa. Nick Corasaniti contributed reporting from Chicago.