Enthusiasm gap.

Photographer: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Iowans Applaud Clinton. Politely.

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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The challenge facing Hillary Clinton’s well-oiled presidential campaign was on display on Wednesday at the Fun and Family Bowling Alley in Adel, Iowa: enthusiasm or, more precisely, the lack of it. 

The leading Democratic candidate gave a polished 45-minute speech, focusing on her economic policies and ripping into Republicans before a capacity audience of over 200. It was well received, particularly when she blasted companies like Johnson Controls, an auto supply company based in Wisconsin, for planning to relocate overseas for tax purposes.

U.S. Presidential Selection

But interviews with a dozen Iowa voters in attendance underscored her campaign’s chief concern: a lack of passion among her supporters. Polls show she is locked in a tight race with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in Iowa, which has its first-in-the-nation contest on Monday. He has generated lots of enthusiasm.

Dana Brown, a graphic arts designer who came out to see Clinton yesterday, said she supported the former secretary of state for “practical” reasons. But Brown said she’s “not sure” she’ll attend a caucus to cast a vote on Monday night.

Bonita Boughman, a retiree in Adel, said she’ll probably turn out for Hillary next week, but added, “There’s a lot of Bernie Sanders support out here.”

One of those Sanders supporters was Nadia Igram, a lawyer from nearby Waukee, there with her husband and two children. She said she likes Clinton but leans to Sanders because she favors some of his “socialist ideas” and thinks he may be better on social justice issues. But as the event began, she said, “If Clinton says something that strikes a spark, I might change my mind.”

There were exceptions, Tim Snyder, a retired John Deere employee from Dallas Center, said he’s “an enthusiastic Hillary person." Praising the possibility of electing the nation’s first woman president he added: "She has all the tools to get the job done.  Females multitask better.” 

Others in the crowd said they were there out of curiosity. One young woman said she’ll definitely caucus on Monday night -- for a Republican, Marco Rubio.

Clinton laid out her economic plan, which she said emphasized the middle class. She promised to create more jobs, higher incomes and more spending on infrastructure, while not raising taxes on anyone making less than $250,000 a year. She lauded President Barack Obama, who defeated her in Iowa eight years ago on the way to winning the Democratic nomination.

She also, perhaps with Sanders in mind, struck a decidedly populist tone both on American companies located overseas and the tax policies that encourage them to move. She promised to be tougher on Wall Street, which she claimed was taking aim at her campaign. She said the nation prospers more under Democratic Presidents, comparing economic performance under Obama and her husband Bill Clinton favorably to the administrations of George W. and George H.W. Bush.

She made only a fleeting mention of Sanders, charging that his plan to replace the U.S. healthcare system with European-style government insurance would “lead to deadlock” and potentially undo the benefits of Obama's Affordable Care Act of 2009.

No matter what happens in Iowa or on Feb. 9 in the primary in New Hampshire, where Sanders currently enjoys an advantage, Clinton remains the favorite to win the nomination. But if she loses the first two contests, it would virtually assure a longer, costlier and conceivably more acrimonious battle. 

As she was leaving the event, Igram said she thought Clinton was “really good.” She also said she’s sticking with Sanders. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Albert R. Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Jonathan Landman at jlandman4@bloomberg.net