Later on Sunday evening, the Senator and a few of her press aides drove in a caravan south to Red Oak. They took a slow and circuitous route, as many of the roads were closed by flooding from the nearby Nishnabotna River. She passed windmills, silos and black cows.
Eventually, Mrs. Clinton reached a local museum in Red Oak, where so many people had packed inside the atrium and Wild Prairie Rose Gift Shop that a spillover room was needed. At 5:45, the soundtrack suddenly amped up, from the background music of “Linus and Lucy” from Peanuts to Mrs. Clinton’s current campaign anthem—“Right Here, Right Now” by Jesus Jones—and she stepped out from behind a black curtain.
“My goodness, I thought I was coming to have pie and coffee with a few people,” said Mrs. Clinton, coughing and suddenly sounding hoarse.
“You want me to move that out of the way?” she asked a bunch of little old ladies seated under her campaign sign. “You O.K. back there?”
She gave her introductory remarks again, and then, again, began boring into the substance of the issues. When she got too deep into health-care policy, she seemed to remind herself to use actual anecdotal examples. She talked about a patient with diabetes and gangrene.
In speaking about immigrant workers working on New York’s farms, she struck an almost Thornton Wilder folksiness.
“They are small farms, by and large,
” she said. “Mostly dairy farms. Fruit and vegetable farms. Horticulture, mostly.”
Asked for the first time that day about the war in Iraq, she once again found her Senate voice.
“I somewhat do differ with some of my other colleagues,” she said. “I think you have to take a hard look at the situation we are in. We are making some progress, it turns out, in what is called Al Anbar province against Al Qaeda.”
She followed up by saying that she would nevertheless get the vast majority of troops out of Iraq.
Not everyone in the mostly friendly crowd was satisfied.
“She is painting way too rosy a picture of us getting out of Iraq; she is telling us what we want to hear,” said Joe Wearin, a trim 52-year-old attorney, farmer and political independent whose son is enrolled in West Point. “I don’t want these kids of ours to have fought a war and back off and find their kids or younger brothers and sisters going back to fight the same war.”
Afterward, Mrs. Clinton signed more autographs amid a reporter-proof shell of supporters and aides.
Lacking an alternative, a reporter asked Mr. Vilsack—who once again collected contact information from new supporters—to respond on Mrs. Clinton’s behalf to a comment from Republican Senator John McCain that her Iraq proposal was “the worst possible idea that anybody could have.”
“The worst idea I have ever heard was trying to solve Iraq with 22,000 more people,” Mr. Vilsack responded. “That just isn’t going to work. The worst idea that I have ever heard is relying on the Iraqi government to turn itself around without benchmarks, without some pressure from the United States government, which is what Democrats are trying to do—and Senator McCain is standing in the way of it.”
A few minutes later, Mrs. Clinton’s motorcade drove down a gravel path in search of drained roads and the Shenandoah airport, where a plane waited to take her to Chicago for some higher-profile campaigning. Back in the museum, people gave her high marks.
“She seems to have moved to the center, which is good for us out here, and she has noticed that the majority of Americans are against the war,” said Jim Clark, a 57-year-old contractor from Shenandoah.
“I like the way she speaks and outlines her plan,” said Jacqueline Richards, 70, from Red Oak. “She is a decent woman.”