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Hillary Clinton Keeps Iowa Crowd Guessing About Her Presidential Plans

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former President Bill Clinton and U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin work the grill during Harkin's annual fundraising steak fry in Indianola, Iowa, on Sunday.
Charlie Neibergall
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former President Bill Clinton and U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin work the grill during Harkin's annual fundraising steak fry in Indianola, Iowa, on Sunday.

Hillary Clinton, who has a huge lead in many early presidential polls, returned to Iowa on Sunday. The woman who says she has not yet decided on a 2016 presidential run appeared along with former President Bill Clinton in a state she has not visited since she lost the 2008 Iowa caucuses to Barack Obama.

Her speech at the annual steak fry hosted by U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, a must-attend event for state Democratic activists, revealed little about her intentions — but also did nothing to dampen the widespread belief that she will indeed run.

Harkin has hosted his steak fry for 37 years. Sunday's was his last, because he'll leave office in January after five terms. The buzz in the crowd, however, was all about Hillary Clinton. The group Ready for Hillary — call it a pre-campaign organization — was everywhere with yard signs, bumper stickers and more.

Cindy Pollard, 57, wasn't looking for a new Hillary T-shirt — she was wearing the one she's had since Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign.

"I was a precinct captain for Hillary. I've been decided. These people are wearing these Ready for Hillary — I have been ready," Pollard said.

It was a gorgeous September Iowa day as the event took place on a huge open field in Indianola. The stage featured a giant American flag and bales of straw; in the background were rolling hills and corn fields.

After speeches by Iowa Democrats running in 2014 for U.S. Senate and House seats and for governor, Sen. Harkin spoke, and then he introduced Clinton.

He mentioned her new memoir: "There are 25 chapters in the book. I'm here to tell you that there are many more chapters to be written in the amazing life of Hillary Clinton."

As the crowd chanted her name, Clinton stepped up to the microphone: "Hello, Iowa. I'm baaaack."

"Now, when Tom Harkin called and asked me to come, I have to admit I wasn't sure what to say. I've got a few things on my mind these days," Clinton teased.

She noted that she and Bill are on grandchild watch, as daughter Chelsea is expecting this month. Then Clinton got to the big thing on this crowd's mind.

"And then, of course, there's that other thing," she said playfully as the crowd cheered.

"It is true I am thinking about it," but she added, "for today that is not why I'm here." The crowd groaned.

"I'm here for the steak," Clinton said.

Nobody expected her to announce anything here. Still, nobody in the crowd seemed to doubt she's running. And some were as coy as Clinton herself about their intentions as voters.

Linda Dedecker, who was wearing a Clinton button, is an accountant from Ames. "I'm considering her," she said, but "I don't know who else is going to run."

Dedecker insisted that it's important for Clinton to really campaign in Iowa — meeting people face to face. There was a sense eight years ago that she and her advisers didn't fully appreciate the state's caucus system. Back then she was the front-runner in the race but stumbled to a third-place finish in the caucuses.

Karen Hill of Marshalltown — a potential supporter — offered this advice for 2016: "Don't take anything for granted — come and hang out with us for a while."

Also at the steak fry, there was a table set up on behalf of the push to get Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren into the race as what her backers call a progressive alternative to Clinton. One Warren supporter said it's important not to anoint Clinton so early — before anyone has officially declared that they are running.

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You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
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