There’s a reason Hillary Clinton is leading her nearest Democratic rival by over 10 percentage points in the latest national polls, and she showed why again at the Iowa Democratic town hall on Monday night. Clinton was in turns humorous, determined, knowledgeable and earnest, leaving no doubt that she has a level of political and public policy expertise that few American politicians can match.
“If it was easy, there wouldn’t be any contest,” she told a young woman in the course of explaining why so many Republicans seem bent on stopping her at all costs. “I’ve been on the front lines of change and progress since I was your age.”
Clinton even embraced the fact she draws attacks from right-wingers. “They throw all this stuff at me. And I’m still standing,” she said, comparing the civility of the night’s discussion with the Republican slugfest. “The other side is not talking issues, it’s talking insults,” she said.
Such remarks set exactly the right tone for Clinton’s final push in Iowa, where the caucus take place a week from now, and New Hampshire, where the first primary follows a week later. Still, Clinton faces stiff competition from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and an energetic Martin O’Malley, a former Maryland governor. Indeed, Sanders in particular has been drawing large, enthusiastic crowds, and he received several loud rounds of applause when he vowed to tax corporations in order to fund a large infrastructure building program.
But Clinton, stressing experience, talked about her career, punctuating her pitch to potential voters with “not talk — action,” a subtle dig at Sanders, who has never explained how he would get Congress to hike taxes for the sake of enacting Sanders’ programs.
Sanders did have an answer for that criticism. “Experience is important. But judgment is also important,” he said. “I think I have the background, I think I have the judgment” to do this job.
In an extended answer to a question, Sanders pointed out that he voted against the Iraq War (which he described as the “most significant vote and issue regarding foreign policy that we have seen in this country in modern history”), the Keystone XL pipeline and the Trans-Pacific Partnership international trade deal — positions that Clinton arrived at late in life, or not at all.
And we also should not count out O’Malley and his call for Iowans to “once again lift up a new leader” — as they did in selecting Barack Obama in 2008 — and to start him down the road to the White House.
But overall, it was Clinton who presented herself, credibly, as someone ready to take on Republicans — and to serve as America’s commander-in-chief. It’s exactly the attractive kind of package her campaign has struggled to project in the final week before Iowa holds its caucuses. But she may have gotten it right just in time.