Iowa Democrats are questioning Hillary Clinton’s approach to campaigning for the presidential nomination, calling her “not perfect” and finding it hard to name any accomplishments she had as secretary of state, according to a focus group compiled by Bloomberg Politics and Purple Strategies. Still, the Democrats in the first caucus state say they don’t see any serious rivals to Clinton and believe she is the best choice to hold the White House, and they can overlook the controversies surrounding her.
One member of the focus group, which included five men and five women of varying ages and backgrounds, said he believed Team Hillary’s contention that she would run a different kind of campaign than in 2008, when she lost to then-Sen. Barack Obama, but the changes might not be positive. “She’s keeping it so small and low-key right now,” said Bill, a 55-year-old chef, specifically referring to Clinton’s Iowa strategy so far. “I’m not sure it’s a good ploy, but we’ll see how it works. All over Iowa, appearances in the last month have been real small, four or five people in a focus group like this and no major appearances.”
Clinton has also received criticism for limiting press access to her and taking few questions from the media. Charlie, a 24-year-old graphic designer who participated in the focus group, said he was concerned that Clinton wasn’t being more open. “It’s a political gamble right now to avoid questions because she could do more damage than good right now and she’s just building a campaign,” he said. “I accept that element of politics at the moment and I accept that on the Republican field, too, that there is a lot of political gambles, there’s a lot of 'strategery' at this stage in the process because it’s going to be a long campaign season.”
While most Iowa Democrats said they can’t envision themselves voting for anyone else besides Clinton despite her liabilities, one of them said Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is a more attractive option. “I just think that she’s a career politician,” said Ryan, a 38-year-old event planner. “I mean, I really don’t see her doing anything different than what Obama did, which is promise us all these things but then be like, ‘Well, I’m really not going to push it too hard.'”
Ryan also said Clinton was less appealing because of what he perceived as her refusal to take full responsibility for the September 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others. “I mean, she completely hid behind it and just didn’t discuss it. And I would really like to see the next president actually be more forthright and actually be more outspoken and been like, ‘Listen, we made a mistake. This is where we went wrong.’ And just completely own it.' But we don’t have politicians like that anymore.”
The focus group gave Clinton high marks on experience and her policies, but they still were unable to name a single accomplishment she had as secretary of state.
“I honestly can’t say I followed along [with] everything that was going on,” said Amanda, a 22-year-old student.
The group said a Clinton alternative who can beat a Republican in the 2016 election is lacking, and candidates like Sanders or potential challengers like ex-Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb would only serve to pull Clinton to the left or toughen her up for the general election.
“She’s not perfect, but she’s been in the eye for a long time in the public’s eye and you’re going to have some stuff on her, but she has great policies and she knows how to get stuff done,” Charlie said.