Frenzied Hillary Hunts in GOP Country

With victory in the first contest of 2016 far from certain, the Democratic frontrunner travels to one of the most deep-red cities in Iowa to drum up whatever votes she can.

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — There was no line at the door of the Sioux City Convention Center, and from the outside it was hard to tell a rally was going on at all.

The only clue anything was happening was the local ABC news truck parked on the side of the building and a guy in a bright blue “Trump for President” T-shirt walking in the opposite direction.

Inside was a modest crowd of a few hundred, waiting in Iowa’s most conservative district for Hillary Clinton to show up to rally the (very) faithful.

It felt like a stop a candidate might make in November of an off-election year—not one made by the Democratic frontrunner the day before the caucus, when candidates tend to concentrate on rallying big crowds in areas where they can expect high turnout.

But in a race as close as the one between Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, giving these small pockets of voters extra attention and motivation could make all the difference.

“Both Hillary and Bernie have very active local campaigns here in Sioux City with very busy HQ and many dozens of volunteers each,” said Rick Mullin, former chair of the Woodbury County Democrats. “My sense is that Hillary felt the need to shore up Woodbury especially, since a lot of delegates will be awarded here.” As the crowd in Sioux City, which is in Woodbury County, waited for her to arrive, they shifted listlessly to Katy Perry tunes, occasionally waving a sign. They were happy to be there, but not necessarily fired up.

Good thing Clinton was fired up enough for everyone. She walked in full of energy, waving both arms, with daughter Chelsea in tow. She had plenty of stories name-checking Iowa towns and seemed determined to make every last handshake count.

Just hours before the 2016 caucuses kicked off, Clinton was in a statistical tie with Sanders, out-polling him 45 percent to 42 percent in the last Des Moines Register-Bloomberg poll before the caucuses on Monday night. This is way closer than most Clinton supporters or anyone else ever expected—and that means the votes on the margins matter more than ever.

Dennis Goldford, a political science professor at Drake University, told The Daily Beast that Clinton has three possibilities: She either wins with a solid 55 percent of the vote and comes out in good shape, she has a narrower victory and comes out weakened, or she loses and leaves badly damaged.

While Iowa as a whole might still be up in the air, Clinton has a good history in this county. She narrowly beat then-Sen. Barack Obama here by just 60 votes.

“If I had to go somewhere at the last moment, I would go where I thought I had to shore up my support or where there might be a chance to take a county,” Mullins, the former county Democratic chair, said. “Ignore the places where you are certain to win or certain to lose. Woodbury and other western Iowa counties are still in play.”

While the county itself is purple—closely divided between 17,556 registered, active Democrats and 18,634 active Republicans—Sioux City and the surrounding environs are so red that they might as well be in South Dakota. In fact, at least a half dozen of those gathered to cheer Clinton admitted they had driven the 15 minutes or so across the border to breathe Democratic air.

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“We get [local Republican Congressman] Steve King over and over again, no matter what we try,” Sally Hartley, a Hillary precinct captain from the tiny town of Salix, Iowa, said with a laugh.

Clinton made only passing reference to Sanders here, though not by name, and instead focused on contrasting her message with that of the Republicans.

This played well with this crowd.

“First of all I just want a Democrat to win, to be honest,” Hartley said, noting that she worked for Hillary in 2008 as well. “I’m not anti-Bernie, I’m pro-Hillary.”

Following her speech, Clinton stuck around to take selfies with fans for several minutes as her secret service detail moved around her like shadows on a sundial.

After one woman posed for a selfie, Clinton called after her, “Come caucus Monday night! You can help me!”

As she walked away, the starstruck woman murmured, “I’m so happy.”