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Hillary Clinton tweaks approach in Iowa

The Washington Post

ADEL, Iowa — Hillary Clinton’s voice thundered through a bowling alley as she railed against corporate treachery and greed — then turned soft and thoughtful as she promised to “work my heart out,” if elected.

Clinton barely mentioned rival Sen. Bernie Sanders during the appearance yesterday morning, though her angry rant against corporate “inversion” deals and prescription drug “price-gouging” borrowed a leaf from his populist playbook.

In the final, five-day sprint of an uncomfortably close Democratic contest in Iowa, Clinton has largely abandoned a strategy that appears to have done little to improve her standing with voters here: trying to directly discredit the Vermont senator and his unstintingly liberal proposals.

Clinton is still making comparisons with her late-surging opponent. But she is refraining from attacks that cast Sanders, and by extension his loyal, liberal followers, in a negative light.

She has debuted a sunnier, more optimistic version of herself here this week while lacing her campaign appearances with some of the populist anger that animates Sanders. And she is asking humbly for caucus votes in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation contest, which is Monday.

In a state where Clinton held a huge advantage until recent weeks, many Clinton allies have concluded from the lack of movement in recent polls that attacking Sanders didn’t help. And although they are now focused on merely squeaking to a victory here, they say they are more confident this week that she will do so. Clinton appears to be trying to project that confidence on the trail with a new measure of verve.

“I think that’s great!” Clinton exclaimed during a town hall broadcast Monday on CNN, after she was shown a Sanders television spot called “America” that featured uplifting scenes of supporters and seemed to try to replicate the sense of momentum that Barack Obama built heading into his Iowa win in 2008. “I think that’s fabulous. I loved it!”

Clinton’s shift comes at a perilous moment for the one-time Iowa front-runner — and reflects the continuing threat that Sanders and his impassioned supporters present for her. In trying to inject more life into her speeches - and to shore up her own liberal policy credentials - Clinton is clearly trying to resonate with the base that has fueled Sanders’ rise.

“They’re angry,” Clinton said of voters in Cedar Falls, Iowa, on Tuesday. “But you’ve got to do something about that. I’m angry too!”

On Wednesday, the former secretary of state, senator from New York and first lady shouted her disgust at what she called an underhanded tax dodge by Johnson Controls, a Michigan auto-parts manufacturer that benefited from the federal auto bailout but now seeks an offshore tax advantage.

“Here is as direct an example of what’s wrong with the thinking and acting of American corporations,” Clinton told the enthusiastic crowd in tiny Adel. “Because here is a company that all of us in this room helped to save,” she said.

“They were happy to take that help, regardless of how hard it was for you during that time,” she said, asserting that the bailout worked to save jobs.

“It is wrong!” she shouted, referring to the European merger announced this week.

Clinton continues to frame her own qualities in terms that are meant to draw a contrast with Sanders. During a long day of campaigning Tuesday, she gently asserted that her Wall Street reform plan is more comprehensive than Sanders’ and her college tuition program more fair.

Sanders, meanwhile, took a brief detour from the campaign trail yesterday to meet one-on-one at the White House with the man he is seeking to succeed. Emerging from a 45-minute meeting with President Barack Obama, Sanders said the session provided a chance to talk about both foreign and domestic policy and “occasionally a little bit of politics.”

Sanders said he didn’t seek or receive Obama’s endorsement in the race for the nomination. “I enjoyed the meeting, and I thought it was a very positive and constructive meeting,” he said, speaking to reporters for seven minutes outside the White House.

Obama has officially stayed neutral in a contest in which both candidates would love to generate the same kind of enthusiasm that he did in 2008, producing a record-setting turnout on caucus night. In that respect, the meeting produced favorable optics for Sanders at a time when many Iowa Democrats are wrestling over their final choice.

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