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Clintons Return To Iowa To Rally Democratic Hopefuls

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Iowa's annual Harkin Steak Fry is the place to see and be seen for Democrats with presidential aspirations. The fundraiser is sponsored by Iowa senator Tom Harkin. This year's special guests - Bill and Hillary Clinton...

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

HILLARY CLINTON: Hello, Iowa.

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: I'm back.

(APPLAUSE)

RATH: NPR's Don Gonyea joins us now from the balloon field. Don, what was the day like? How did the crowd react to Mrs. Clinton?

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Oh, I can tell you this was a very enthusiastic crowd. And she was, you know, milking it there. Can we (laughing) - can we just say that - say that flat out? And then she went on to say, you know, I've had a lot on my mind lately. More cheers go up. But then she talked about how her daughter, Chelsea, is expecting their first grandchild any day. She said, they're on constant baby watch. And then she said, oh, and there's that other thing - more cheers. She, of course, was talking about whether or not she'll run for office. She said, I'm not going to say anything about that today. Groans went up from the crowd. So that's what it felt like here.

RATH: Well, in spite of her teasing, it sounds really like a campaign event. Are you seeing signs of a Hillary 2016 run?

GONYEA: Oh, I've been to a lot of campaign events, and this feels like a campaign event. If I didn't know that it were September of 2014, I might think we're into - you know, deep into 2015 or even 2016 already. Again, she is not a candidate. It is a huge crowd - about 6,000 or so people here - and mostly here to honor Senator Tom Harkin, who is leaving the Senate after 30 years. This is the last of his annual steak fries. So that's a big deal in Iowa. But Hillary supporters are out in force.

There's this group called Ready for Hillary that people may have heard about. They are like the Dupree campaign. And everywhere here are people wearing the signature turquoise Ready for Hillary T-shirts. And I'll tell you, they've had such a presence in Iowa for so long already that a lot of the signs just in turquoise with white block letters just say ready - period. And everybody knows what it means. So, yes, it feels a lot like a 2016, you know, run is coming. And it feels like one already on this day.

RATH: It sounds like a lot of energy, a lot of momentum. But things were pretty different the last time Hillary Clinton was in Iowa. She famously and kind of surprisingly finished third in the Iowa caucuses in 2008, and then, of course, lost to then-senator Barack Obama.

GONYEA: Right. And this is her first time back since caucus night in that - on that cold, cold January day of 2008. And she made reference to having been at this steak fry in 2007, you know, a few months before the caucuses. And she joked - you may recall there was a young U.S. senator there. I wonder whatever happened to him. But she feels like a very different person.

Obviously, she's been secretary of state. And she, you know - she has lived. She has learned from the lessons of that experience - is what, at least, the Ready for Hillary people would tell you. So it's a very different vibe from, you know - from seven years ago when she was last at this steak fry.

RATH: That's NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea. Don, thanks so much.

GONYEA: It's my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.