MASON CITY, Iowa – Hillary Clinton took no questions from reporters Monday after meeting with 60 local Democratic activists at a private home here on her second visit to the key political state.
The former secretary of state has been criticized for answering only a dozen or so questions from the press since announcing her presidential campaign last month, and none in more than three weeks.
A small pool of reporters was allowed inside Monday’s event, at the home of two Democratic activists who supported Obama in 2008 but are now with Clinton. However, the pool was ushered out following Clinton’s 30-minute opening remarks. She remained inside for almost an hour and a half, meeting casually with activists.
During her comments, Clinton spoke on a wide range of issues. She said she would work hard to overturn Citizens United, promising that, if elected, she would only “appoint Supreme Court justices who will support the right to vote and not the right of billionaires to buy elections.”
She defended President Obama on his effort to get a nuclear deal with Iran in the face of congressional opposition. “We have one president, and we should stand behind him,” she said.
And she spoke emotionally about drug abuse and mental health, topics not usually the center of presidential campaigns. Meetings with voters had shown her it was a critical problem that was being ignored by most politicians, she explained.
She did not address, however a growing number of questions about her transparency and policy views.
Just before Clinton began her meeting, The New York Times published an investigation highlighting an adviser’s unorthodox role in Libya ahead of the Benghazi terror attacks.
Meanwhile, Congress is considering a Trade Promotion Authority bill on which Clinton has not voiced an opinion (she has address the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty, but not the separate TPA bill). Nor has she spoken publically about recent campaign finance disclosures that reveal she and Bill Clinton made $30 million in public speeches, including from companies that lobbied her State Department.
Across town, likely Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who won the state in 2012, said Clinton’s “palace guard campaign” is not how you win Iowa.
“It’s hard to run around and say you’re going to be out there for the people if you never talk to people,” he said at a Pizza Ranch restaurant to a lunchtime crowd of about 35. “You don’t get the sense that she works for you.”
He drew “a contrast” between Clinton’s invite-only event and his, “a meeting at a Pizza Ranch, available to anybody who wants to come in, and to be able to ask whatever question you want.”
With little more than a pickup truck, the senator waged a dogged long-shot campaign in Iowa in 2012 that ultimately proved successful when he narrowly beat frontrunner Mitt Romney after a recount. He held 385 small meetings in all 99 counties in the state, he said, usually drawing smaller crowds than he saw here today.
“I don’t know of anybody who actually has a history of going up against Hillary Clinton like I have,” he said, citing his fight against “Hillarycare” in the 1990s and battling Clinton herself in the Senate on an abortion bill.
Santorum was just one of many Republican presidential hopefuls who came through the state last weekend to audition to be Clinton’s top antagonist, on the assumption that she will be the Democratic nominee in 2016.
Clinton’s campaign and her allies say the former secretary of state is currently focused on interacting with Iowa voters, not out-of-state media. “While other candidates are using the media to further their own agendas and attack each other, Hillary Clinton is displaying the qualities of a true leader by meeting with the people she hopes to champion as the next President of the United States,” said Adrienne Watson of the pro-Clinton super PAC Correct the Record.
Clinton has met a limited number of voters on her four trips of the campaign so far. She’s held public roundtable discussions with about 30 voters, and met perhaps several dozen others in private events. Traditionally, the press is a conduit for voters who cannot meet personally with a candidate.
She has taken 20 questions from voters since she announced, by Correct the Record’s count.
Clinton’s team notes this posture will change soon. The campaign is in what they’re calling a low-key “ramp up” phase, marked by intimate events and no sit-down interviews with reporters.
Within the next few weeks, Clinton will become more available to the press and the general public as she shifts to a more traditional style of campaigning.