CLEAR LAKE, Iowa -- Even as she loses some of her edge in the polls, Iowa Democrats are still ready for Hillary.
Democrats in the first-in-the-nation caucus state gave former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a raucous reception at the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding on Friday night, repeatedly interrupting her with cries of “Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!”
The crowd hollered themselves hoarse during Clinton’s speech, signaling that while rival presidential contender Bernie Sanders may be rising in the polls against her, the Vermont senator is still their second choice.
Clinton pitched herself as a Democratic champion ready to take on the GOP and, as if to prove her point, spent much of her speech slamming her Republican opponents.
“Don’t let the circus distract you, if you look at their policies, most of the other candidates are just Trump without the pizazz or the hair."'
Touting the college affordability plan she released this week, Clinton attacked Gov. Scott Walker for cutting higher education funding in Wisconsin and Republican contender Jeb Bush for hiking tuition while he was governor of Florida.
“The debate over college this week was a microcosm of the broader choice in this election: Republicans want to stack the deck even more for those at the top, their policies would rip away the progress we’ve made,” she said.
And the rest of the GOP? Well, they’re all Donald Trumps.
“Don’t let the circus distract you, if you look at their policies, most of the other candidates are just Trump without the pizazz or the hair,” Clinton said. “Yes, Mr. Trump says outrageous and hateful things about immigrants but how many of the other candidates disagree with him?”
Outside of the event, most attendees said they were going in with an open mind, but many said they were excited to see Clinton most.
“She’s the most qualified candidate we’ve had other than a sitting president, why would we not give her our full support?” West Des Moines resident Claire Celsi told msnbc while waiting in line to enter the event.
“Sorry Bern boy. Don’t get me wrong, I love Senator Sanders --” she said, before her friend Tim LaPointe interjected, “but she’s the Eleanor Roosevelt of our time.”
Sanders has been attracting large grassroots crowds in major cities and surging in the polls against Clinton -- one recent Iowa poll showed the Vermont senator moving up to 31% versus Clinton's 50% -- but at Friday’s dinner, it was clear he hasn't overtaken Clinton here just yet.
“She’s the most qualified candidate we’ve had other than a sitting president, why would we not give her our full support?”'
Speaking second, Sanders got big cheers as he tackled some of the progressive movement’s top priorities, arguing for creating a single-payer healthcare system, blocking the Keystone XL pipeline, and reversing the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United.
“What this campaign is about is not asking you just to support me for president, it is to engage in a political revolution ... to take on the big money interest in this country,” he said.
Sanders' address focused less on his campaign of the opposing party and more on his own vision for America.
“If it’s too big to fail, it’s probably too big to exist!” he cried out to loud applause.
Despite a shrinking crowd as attendees streamed out of the hall after Clinton and then Sanders, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley received a warm welcome, too. Many of his supporters -- who spent the day rooting for him outside the event -- happily cheered on his well-rehearsed stump speech.
“It’s about us,” he said dramatically. “U, period, S, period.”
Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chaffee also spoke, but as the evening drew to a close, many attendees were heading home and the response was largely polite.