Clinton starts Iowa campaign with small-town meetings

Published 9:50 am Tuesday, April 14, 2015

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — The big rallies and massive fundraising blitzes can wait for now. Fresh from a two-day road trip, Hillary Rodham Clinton is making her 2016 campaign debut in Iowa at a small-town gathering reminiscent of her Senate “listening tour.”

Clinton was touring a community college and holding a roundtable discussion with students and teachers in Monticello, Iowa, today, part of a concerted effort by her campaign to tamp down big expectations and hold personal “conversations” with voters.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

“I won’t take anything for granted. I’m going to work my heart out to earn every single vote,” Clinton said in a fundraising email to supporters Monday.

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Clinton is taking that same low-key approach to fundraising, forgoing the celebrity-studded fundraisers that marked her husband’s presidency, as well as the high-dollar private events put on this year by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a potential GOP rival. Instead, Clinton’s initial appeals for money will be for small-dollar donations collected over the Internet instead of in swanky fundraising blowouts in New York, Los Angeles and Silicon Valley.

Advisers have set a modest goal of raising $100 million for the primary campaign and will not initially accept donations for the general election.

“Everyone knows that over time Hillary Clinton will raise enough to be competitive,” said Tom Nides, a top Wall Street supporter and former State Department adviser to Clinton. “Her objective is not to raise money to prove that she can. It’s to build the grassroots organization.”

Clinton retains deep ties to the party’s top fundraisers, including those cultivated by her husband, former President Bill Clinton, during the 1990s. During its first call with donors Monday, Hillary Clinton’s team noted that some of those listening in helped President Barack Obama’s campaigns, while others had raised money for Clinton’s own White House bid in 2008. Others, they said, were new to the fundraising circuit.

With those relationships well established, her aides on Monday outlined steps to cast their net as widely as possible to broaden their list of potential contributors, according to several donors who took part. They spoke on condition of anonymity to describe a private conference call.

In the fundraising email, Clinton asked supporters to “chip in what you can,” asking for donations ranging from $5 and $25 to the maximum of $2,700 per individual during the primary.

Clinton wrapped up a roughly 1,000-mile road trip from her home in New York City’s suburbs to Iowa. Riding aboard a van nicknamed “Scooby,” after the cartoon character Scooby-Doo, Clinton surprised fellow travelers Sunday at a gas station in Pennsylvania and then made a lunch stop Monday at a Chipotle south of Toledo, Ohio.

In Iowa, Clinton aims to overcome her disappointing third-place finish in the 2008 caucuses. Her team says they want to build a grassroots campaign that will help rebuild the state’s Democratic Party, which suffered losses in the 2014 elections.

Her events today and Wednesday will focus heavily on pocketbook economic issues in small-town Iowa, and Clinton was expected to connect with local officials, community leaders and Democratic activists.

The understated start offered parallels to Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign in New York, when she ventured into small upstate towns to convene meetings with voters and local leaders. It was dubbed her “listening tour.”

On the fundraising circuit, meanwhile, her approach stands in contrast to her potential Republican challengers, who have used early fundraising as a measuring stick in a wide-open primary and used their entry into the race to tout so-called “money bombs” that aim to raise a large amount of money in a short time.

Clinton’s campaign intends to slowly ramp up its fundraising efforts, focusing first on online fundraising and building a network of donors whom the campaign will be able to return to in the weeks and months ahead.

The tactics are decidedly low-key compared with some of her husband’s fundraising exploits. Seeking re-election in 1996, Bill Clinton raised a then-massive haul of $12 million in a celebrity-filled 50th birthday party held at New York’s Radio City Music Hall.

In an email Sunday, Clinton’s incoming finance director, Dennis Cheng, asked top donors to make personal contributions of up to $2,700 per person and then start raising money from their networks of business associates and friends.

One early approach is the “Hilstarter” program for “early adopters” of the campaign: Donors were asked to raise $27,000 during the first 30 days of the campaign, or the equivalent of finding 10 donors to provide the maximum amount for the primary.

The sums are small in the world of campaign finance — Obama’s re-election campaign featured dozens of donors who bundled $500,000 or more. But it aims to be inclusive at the start, with a goal of having hundreds of such bundlers.

“It’s not going to be the big event rollout right now. The idea is to get people involved,” said Miami attorney Ira Leesfield, a longtime Clinton friend and fundraiser.