MONTICELLO, Iowa – A humbled Hillary Clinton returned to Iowa Tuesday, where she struck a populist tone while leading a roundtable discussion with a handful of students at Kirkwood Community College in the small town of Monticello.
"The deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top and there is something wrong with that," Clinton stated after praising the manufacturing school's innovative education approach. She said that while some Americans are enjoying the ongoing economic recovery, far too many aren't seeing their "productivity matched in their paychecks."
"I’ve been fighting for children and families my entire adult life," Clinton said while recounting the challenges her mother faced growing up and how her struggles shaped her efforts as young person to advocate on behalf of disadvantaged and disabled children. "You're supposed to give back and help others," she said.
Amid her lengthy opening remarks, Clinton may have made news by suggesting that Americans may need a constitutional amendment to get "unaccountable money" out of politics, a move she previously has said she would "consider."
The Hawkeye State is the first official stop on Clinton’s newly declared second presidential campaign, and she’s arriving not in a private jet, as she did last year, or a “Hill-a-Copter,” which she used to tour the state in 2007, but in a van driven halfway across the country from her home outside New York City.
Traveling with just two aides and a light Secret Service detail, she made unannounced stops at a gas station in Central Pennsylvania, and then again at a Chipotle in Ohio, where she went unrecognized until she was caught on a security camera ordering at the counter. She spent the night in Iowa Monday, a campaign official confirmed.
It's part of Clinton's gamble to go all in on Iowa, the state that derailed her presidential ambitions in 2008. With intimate events and “conversations with everyday Iowans," the brand new campaign will attempt to reintroduce her to voters on a more human scale. It's exactly what Iowa Democrats say they want, but it remains to be seen whether they're ready to get fired up for Clinton.
Her two events in the sate this week – the roundtable at Kirkwood, and another Wednesday at a small business outside Des Moines -- will be the first of many outings the former secretary of state is likely to make as she tries to convince the state’s prideful voters that she respects their first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses.
During her last presidential bid, a top Clinton surrogate dismissed the caucuses as “undemocratic.” Even more damaging was the public release of an internal campaign memo detailing a proposed plan to skip campaigning in the state entirely.
In a state where voters value genuine face-to-face interaction with candidates, and plenty of it, Clinton was perceived as imperious or entitled or above it all – literally, it turned out, with her six-seat helicopter.
The once-inevitable Clinton finished in a humiliating third place behind Barack Obama and John Edwards in the Iowa caucuses, and her campaign never fully recovered.
This time, despite her huge polling lead in the still-nascent 2016 campaign, Clinton’s team wants to take nothing for granted and go all-in in the state, which is also a general election battleground.
RELATED: Hillary Clinton’s road trip to Iowa
Her Iowa team, led by veteran strategist Matt Paul, held trainings in Des Moines this weekend for a large staff, before they were dispatched across the state Sunday, an Iowa Democrat told msnbc. And Clinton herself tweeted a link to a Des Moines Register story interviewing some Iowans who were featured in her campaign announcement video.
The video aimed to show that Clinton's second campaign will be not about Clinton, but Americans like the ones she'll meet in Iowa this week.
On Sunday, campaign officials at headquarters in Brooklyn held several rounds of conference calls with supporters. On one call with Clinton staff alumni, campaign manager Robby Mook took a moment to appreciate his predecessors, despite the 2016 campaign’s decidedly negative view of her 2008 strategy. "This team today is standing on the shoulders of everyone” who worked for Clinton in the past, Mook said, according to one person who was on the call.
Clinton has been in Iowa only twice since her 2008 loss, both last fall. She came to now-retired Sen. Tom Harkin's Steak Fry, where she declared, "I'm ba-ack!" and then she came to campaign for former Rep. Bruce Braley, who was running to replace Harkin.