LeCLAIRE — Just two days after announcing she’s running for president, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made her first public campaign appearance at a small coffee shop here, meeting with surprised patrons and a trio of Democratic activists who thought they were getting together with a campaign staffer but ended up with about an hour of face-to-face time.
Clinton was on her way to an event in Monticello but overnighted at the Hotel Blackhawk in Davenport, then made her way to the Jones Street Java House.
Afterward, she strolled along LeClaire’s main downtown street with Mayor Bob Scannell, followed by a group of reporters and photographers as well as camera-wielding onlookers who showed up.
Clinton spent about an hour at the coffee shop, talking with Austin Bird, who works at an area hospital and is a student at St. Ambrose University, Sara Sedlacek of West Liberty, who works for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, and Carter Bell, the president of the University of Iowa college Democrats.
Clinton ordered drinks, inquired about the menu and, when told about the lunch offerings, asked, “How’s that going for you?”
Afterward, she brushed off reporters' questions about her return to Iowa and what she might have learned from the 2008 caucuses.
“We’ll have lots of time to talk later,” she said.
The Clinton road trip to Iowa is part of an effort to campaign in smaller venues in a state where, just eight years ago, she entered the race the presumed favorite for her party’s presidential nomination.
Surprised by then-first term Sen. Barack Obama, Clinton finished third in Iowa, behind Obama and John Edwards.
This time, rather than make an announcement in front of a crowd, Clinton unveiled her candidacy Sunday with a highly produced video mostly featuring what her campaign calls "everyday Americans."
Her return to the first-in-the-nation caucus state, with previously publicized events in Monticello on Tuesday and Norwalk today, is her first since making stops for 2014 candidates last fall.
This time, she's asking for the approval of Iowans for her own candidacy and is considered the heavy favorite. But she doesn't have the field to herself.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, ex-Sen. Jim Webb and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont also have said they're considering bids. All have been to the state already.
In a walk down LeClaire’s main street after her coffee shop talk, Clinton was reminded of her history in Iowa when Karla Higgins approached her and told her she supported Obama in 2008.
Clinton smiled and told her, “Well, I hope I can convince you to work for me.”
Higgins told a reporter afterward she already is on board with Clinton.
“I want to continue with the change,” Higgins, of Eldridge, said. “I think she can do it.”
One man in the coffee shop who hadn’t shown up specifically to meet Clinton was Ron Leeper, a business owner from Clinton, who said his political leanings run in a different direction. “I kind of like Rand Paul,” he said.
Still, Leeper said he had a pleasant visit with Clinton.
“She’s nice, very nice,” he said.
Scannell said he heard Clinton was visiting about 20 minutes before her arrival, so he headed over to the coffee shop to meet her. Afterward, he told reporters he went in a supporter, still is and thinks her campaign is different from 2008.
"This time, I think she's going to take care of it," he said.
Sedlacek said Clinton and the trio inside the coffee shop talked about education, health care and child care. She noted she has a 15-month-old and that Clinton is a grandmother. Sedlacek said she, too, is a Clinton supporter.
“I’d like to say I’m keeping my mind open, but I’m not. I’m in,” she said.
Iowa Republicans, meanwhile, greeted Clinton’s first step onto the campaign trail in the state with an email calling her a "D.C. insider" who has been dogged by numerous controversies.
The GOP also questioned how Clinton can be trusted on foreign policy when "the decisions you and President Obama made have led to a more dangerous and unstable world."