AMES, Iowa – Hillary Clinton has begun channeling the economic indignation of her rival Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose unapologetically liberal campaign has tightened the Democratic race ahead of Monday’s leadoff caucuses and given him a lead in the New Hampshire primary contest that follows.
Making her closing argument to Iowa caucus-goers, Clinton now cloaks her detailed policy plans in Sanders’ outraged rhetoric. Pharmaceutical pricing “burns” her up. Companies that take advantage of the tax loopholes get her “pretty riled up.” And she promises to “rail away” at any industry that flouts the law.
“I’m going after all of them” she declared in Davenport, her tone escalating to a shout. “When I talk about going after those companies, those businesses, those special interests, I have a much broader target list than my opponents.”
The former secretary of state’s fiery new tone underscores a strategic decision to co-opt some of the political style from the insurgent candidate who has galvanized Democratic supporters and put her long-held lead in jeopardy. It comes as a new poll released Saturday night by the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg News showed the two candidates locked in a neck-and-neck race in Iowa.
Though Clinton remains likely to win the nomination, a loss in Iowa would complicate her path and heighten Democratic concerns about her campaign. Already some Democrats have voiced concerns about her message and campaign management, worries that will only grow if she faces dual losses in the first two states holding nominating contests.
While Clinton’s effort is aimed at winning the primary campaign, her strategists are also trying to figure out how to tap into the deep vein of national frustration that’s driving real estate mogul Donald Trump’s rise in Republican primary polls. Should she capture the Democratic nomination, Clinton will need to find a way to mobilize Sanders supporters to fuel a White House victory.
Sanders casts the contest as a clash between establishment politics and his promise to bring forth a political revolution, asking Iowa voters to send a message to the rest of the nation. He will need a large turnout among college students, independents and first-time caucus-goers to upset Clinton.
While Clinton has campaigned as the rightful heir to President Barack Obama’s two terms, Sanders has portrayed himself as the successor to Obama’s political movement, launched more than eight years ago in Iowa.
Echoing Obama, Sanders tells audiences that fundamental changes in the nation “never come from on top” but only happens with “millions of people standing up for justice.” He points to Iowa as the place where a majority-white electorate voted for a black candidate in Obama, focusing on his ideas instead of his skin colour. And he frequently fires up crowds by asking attendees to shout out their student loan interest rates and debt levels.
It’s a tactic Clinton has begun deploying at her events, pausing her remarks to ask attendees to share the details of their debt.
“You will not be paying for this forever if I become president,” she promised a woman in Newton, who told the audience that her husband now owed more than he originally borrowed.
Clinton’s fresh outrage comes after months of casting herself as a more practical – and electable – alternative to Sanders, a strategy her campaign believed would undercut the grassroots Democratic enthusiasm for his candidacy.
When she campaigned at Iowa State University in Ames two weeks ago, Clinton suggested Sanders was making big promises he could never fulfil, saying she too wished for a “magic wand” to achieve a Democratic agenda.
“That ain’t the real world we’re living in!” she said.
Back on campus Saturday for another speech focused on gun control, her remarks had a notably different tenor. “What is wrong with us? How can we continue to ignore the toll that this is taking on our children and our country?” she shouted, pushing for stricter gun control measures, a goal that has little chance of passage in a Republican-controlled Congress.
Republicans are already looking to paint her anger as disingenuous posturing. In her traditional campaign speeches, Clinton often slams the planned merger between auto supplier Johnson Controls and Tyco as an abuse of the tax code. The deal, known as a corporate inversion, is expected to save the companies at least $150 million in taxes annually.
Republican strategists pointed out that Johnson Controls had donated as much as $250,000 to the Clinton Foundation, the philanthropic organization run by her husband former President Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea. The auto parts maker has also partnered with the foundation on energy efficiency and education initiatives.
But Democratic supporters seem to be responding to Clinton’s new energy. In recent days, her typically staid events have been punctuated by more of the chants, cheers and shouts of “we love you” that are common at Sanders rallies.
“I love you guys too,” she told several hundred people in Dubuque on Friday. “Everything I’m talking about I really believe in.”