DES MOINES — Monday’s Democratic caucus in Iowa came down to one of the closest in the state’s history— with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) trailing caucus winner Hillary Clinton by only .3 percent of the vote.
In the lead-up to the caucuses, both candidates were familiar faces in the state. For Clinton, as she rallied in the final hours before the caucus Monday, the focus was on her experience — an aspect she’s heavily emphasized during the campaign.
At the Lincoln Memorial High School gymnasium, crowds filled the space to see the candidate, her husband former president Bill Clinton and their daughter Chelsea Clinton rally for votes in Des Moines.
The Clintons were introduced by former U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and wife Ruth Harkin, and welcomed by chants of “Madam President! Madam President!” and “Iowa believes that she will win!” from the crowd.
“(Clinton’s supporters) know a president has to do more than have good positions, good experience,” Bill Clinton told the crowd. “You have to be able to make change happen. You have to be able to stick and stand your ground without ever closing the door to make common. In all the people I’ve ever worked with in my public life, Hillary’s the best at that.”
Citing the candidate’s response to the water crisis in Flint, Bill Clinton said it displayed her commitment to getting things done.
At the end of the Jan. 17 Democratic debate, Clinton said the Flint Water Crisis was a priority for her and she had sent one of her top aides to Flint to meet with the mayor and see what could be done. During the same debate, Sanders also responded to the crisis, repeating a call he had previously made for Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) to resign.
“Everybody who answered was concerned about it, everybody’s upset about it,” Bill Clinton said. “But she’s the one who said: ‘When I heard about it, I called the mayor up and I sent somebody.”
Clinton touched on a vast range of policy issues during her remarks, ranging from college affordability to foreign policy.
Asking the crowd how many of them had student loan debt, she said she believed in addition to reducing college costs, students must be able to pay back the outstanding debt.
“So many students are paying (back loans) at rates that are way too high,” Clinton said. “I want you to be able to refinance, save thousands of dollars going into an income repayment program so you don’t have an interest rate hanging over you. You pay it back as a percentage of your income.”
The issue of college affordability is one that Sanders and Clinton diverge on — Sanders has proposed policy reform to create free college, whereas Clinton has proposed a debt-free college plan.
“I think (debt-free college) a better way to actually get the cost down and make sure that everybody who needs help, gets it to go to college and graduate,” Clinton said.
She also cited Sander’s views on improving healthcare, which she criticized. Sanders has proposed replacing the Affordable Care Act with a single-payer healthcare system.
“There are differences between me and the Republicans certainly, and me and Senator Sanders,” Clinton said. “Republicans want to appeal it, they’d never tell you what they’d put in place of it because it’s real clear they’ll just steer it back to the insurance companies… We are at 90 percent coverage, and I know we can get from 90 to 100. Senator Sanders wants to start over… it’s a lot harder to get from 0 to 100 percent than 90 to 100 percent. So stick to the Affordable Care Act.”
Other jabs were not as apparent. Clinton spent a considerable amount of time discussing her foreign policy experience and her plans to defeat the Islamic State; during the campaign, Sanders has largely chosen to focus on domestic policy, drawing some criticism.
Clinton said while campaigning in Sioux City, she was told about an elementary school mock caucus — which she won — where fifth graders said they were most worried about ISIS.
“I understand why they’re worried and I want them to know, as president I will to do everything I can to protect them and keep them and every other area safe,” Clinton said. “I want you to think about the hours I spent in the situation room with the president about whether or not to go after Bin Laden. It was a tough, hard choice. I was on the side that said, yes, we can do it.”
Speaking before the former secretary’s remarks, Chelsea Clinton called the 2016 election the most important one of her lifetime. Hillary Clinton’s track record and character, she said, are the best path forward for the country.
“When I think about women’s rights, when I think about human rights, when I think about equal rights for the LGBT community,” Chelsea Clinton said, “when I think about how I would want my children to grow up be whatever they want to be, and embrace and support them in that, I could not imagine a better grandmother for them. I also could not imagine a better president for them.”