And of course, there are her own long-running hostilities to point to.
“The Republicans have been after me for about 16 years now,” she said in Vinton, updating one of her favorite lines for the New Year. “And much to their dismay, I’m still here.”
The reviews, from the Iowans at her events, at least, have generally been good.
“I think she’s got more experience,” Delane Kalina, an auditor who decided to caucus for Mrs. Clinton, said in Vinton. “And I like her.”
In Iowa Falls, Dawn Parker, an undecided 54-year-old special-education teacher said she planned to see Mr. Obama the next day and had already seen Mr. Edwards several times. But she had liked what she saw and heard from Mrs. Clinton.
“When I listened to her tonight, I hear that she was there, and she can do it,” she said. “She sounds like a student teacher who can take over the classroom without any problems. She has the right experience and the right attitude.”
In Keokuk, Paul Wykowski, a 52-year-old worker in a corn milling factory, said he felt suckered by the Bush administration into supporting the war in Iraq the same way she did, so he didn’t hold her authorization for war against her. “It’s easy for Barack Obama to say he was against it, but he didn’t have to stand there and vote,” Mr. Wykowski said.
And in Traer, Jarold Lister, an 80-year-old retired teacher, said Mrs. Clinton’s performance had moved her up to his second choice. (His first choice was Joe Biden.) He said he had supported Mr. Edwards in 2004 and, as a child of the Great Depression, responded positively to his emphasis on fighting poverty. But ultimately, he said, he was leaning toward Mrs. Clinton.
“I listened to her very closely today and she’s got everything covered,” he said. “Everything that they have, she has, but look—experience matters. Regardless of what they say, being around it means something.”
On New Year’s Eve, as the campaign bus arrived in Des Moines after swerving on slippery roads through a blizzard that turned the entire flat landscape, and even the air outside the windows, white, the single e-mail from Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton about the Register poll overshadowed the entire day’s hard work for the Clinton campaign.
But the Clintons themselves had no time to exude anything but confidence and smiles. Supporters wearing sparkly green bowler hats and sparkly silver glasses with “Hillary” across the bridge awaited the couple in Capital Square, which was sticky with spilled champagne and beer. After the group Big Head Todd and the Monsters played her campaign anthem, “Blue Sky,” in an endless live loop behind them, the Clintons stuck to the script.
“The people of Iowa have been so wonderful to us,” Mr. Clinton said, shortly before the couple descended to shake hands. (Mrs. Clinton accepted hands extended over the bunting-covered guard rails; her husband reached over them as if rescuing supporters who had been thrown overboard.)
Most of the supporters hadn’t heard about the poll.
“Oh, really,” said Bob Snyder, a 66-year-old volunteer from Des Moines, in a dejected tone. He had spent much of the prior day working the phone banks for Mrs. Clinton, in which a lot of the people he contacted and expected to be for her still declared themselves undecided. “It was surprising.”
The mood, mostly, was defiantly cheery.
One Clinton opposition researcher sang songs he wrote in college. Huma Abedin, Mrs. Clinton’s elegant “body person,” smiled broadly from within a circle of male admirers. Teresa Vilmain, Mrs. Clinton’s Iowa campaign manager, celebrated the discovery of her temporarily misplaced BlackBerry with a pull from her bottle of beer.
At around 1:30 a.m., the most committed, and mostly younger, Clinton staffers headed up to Ms. Vilmain’s apartment for an after-party. They packed in so tightly among the African paintings on the walls and red slinky sculptures on the floor that Ms. Vilmain had to tug—hard—on the arms of departing guests to help get them out the door.
Male guests used her counter tops as levers to pry off bottle caps. One campaign worker looked at a tall man hanging out by the door and shouted, “U.S. Secret Service!” The man lifted his drink in acknowledgment. They flirted and whispered in each other’s ears. Outside the apartment, the hallway’s walls were lined with winter coats and empty beer bottles.
In the morning, the Clinton machine was back at work. With the columnists, television personalities and assorted heavy hitters of the national press now trailing the campaign full time, the first order of business was to counterspin the Register poll. Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack did so, in the course of introducing her at an event in Ames, by citing two newer, more favorable voter surveys.
“Two polls out this morning indicate that Senator Clinton is ahead,” he said. “Momentum is on our side. I can feel it.”
Then Mrs. Clinton took the microphone and started again.