Politics & Government

Connecting with voters one bite at a time

Hillary Clinton has lunch.
Hillary Clinton has lunch. Matt Stearns / MCT

TOLEDO, Iowa — Do not get between Hillary Clinton and a chopped meat sandwich.

Clinton, the New York senator running for the Democratic presidential nomination, swooped briefly into the Big T Maid-Rite here while campaigning through Iowa this week. She plopped down on a stool with a couple of gal pals and ordered up unsweetened ice tea, fries and a Maid-Rite — a bit of Iowa-ana described by one Iowan as a "sloppy joe without the sloppy."

Clinton sipped gently at the tea, fingered a few fries — and wolfed the sandwich, even scooping up the remnant loose meat with a spoon as she listened to the waitress describe working 12-hour shifts at her first job so she could take days off to work a second.

Clinton pronounced the sandwich "fabulous!" and managed to work her Maid-Rite interlude into every campaign rally remaining on the "Middle Class Express" ("So we jes' sat down, you know, on those red stools at the counter …").

Each time, the crowd applauded. Bingo! Instant Hawkeye street-cred!

It was a "spontaneous" stop on the "Middle Class Express," the multimillionaire candidate's two-day bus tour of Iowa, site of the all-important first presidential caucuses in January.

For the busload of reporters trailing Clinton through Iowa, the stop was the closest thing to "color" the humming Hillary machine would provide during those two days, as the campaign focused mostly on speeches rather than the voter Q&A sessions that generally mark an Iowa caucus campaign — and can provide a campaign's most memorable unscripted moments.

But in Iowa, where voters expect to see more of a candidate than just a 30-second ad or being talked to in a speech, even this most corporate of campaigns can run headlong into the idiosyncrasies of the truly committed Iowa caucus voter.

There was the 84-year-old retired road construction worker who showed up at a rally in Dakota City with a printout of pictures of Paris Hilton. He had written on the printout "Hillary, if you have your hair fixed like Paris Hilton, you will get elected" and circled the up-do he thought particularly becoming. He demanded a campaign aide deliver the pictures to Clinton and mentioned he'd like a thank-you note and wouldn't mind attending the inauguration, either.

"She can't go around with that hair looking like she just got out of bed," the retiree explained. "If she had a bun behind her head and then a curl, it would look fabulous."

He then reached out an enormous hand and grabbed the back of a reporter's head to illustrate precisely where on the head the bun should go.

No word from the Clinton campaign on whether the suggestion is being considered.

Then there was the elderly lady who stood to ask Clinton a question at a forum in Webster City, but first insisted Clinton tie her shoe "so you don't fall and hurt yourself."

Clinton dutifully complied, but canny politician that she is, spotted yet another opportunity to cement her Iowa props: She told the crowd exactly where she had bought the Indian-style tan moccasins.

Fort Dodge, Iowa.

"And they are so comfortable!" she said.

Cue applause. Another local pander, going another long way. And leading one to wonder: Where exactly does Barack Obama, trailing in new Iowa polls, buy his shoes?