Hillary's Final Strategy: Be Afraid

Eldridge, Iowa - Barack Obama and John Edwards might want to change the world. But Hillary Clinton wants to protect you against it.

That's the unmistakable message that Senator Clinton is pounding out in this final phase of the campaign to capture the Iowa caucuses. In a world brimming with danger and uncertainty, she argues as she blitzes the Hawkeye State, there's no time to waste daydreaming about pie-in-the-sky promises of reform.

Instead, the American people must choose a leader ready to immediately start fixing the problems that already exist and one who is immediately ready to face the inevitable and "unpredictable" crises looming right over the horizon. And that would be Clinton.

"We know some of the challenges that await the next president," Clinton told a packed crowd at a junior high school Saturday morning. "But no matter how much we know, we can't possibly anticipate all the problems."

The razzamatazz cheerleading, sloganeering style that punctuated her earlier campaign events has now been replaced by a sedate, somber, even grave tone coming from the podium. Clinton never raised her voice, never elevated the mood, and at times sounded like a concerned, responsible parent telling the kids that something terrible was taking place outside the door but not to worry because Mom and Dad - or in this case Hill and Bill- would take care of it.

Becoming president, she said in a hushed tone, is "an awesome responsibility. And it was thrown into relief with the events last Thursday with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto."

"When that person gets into the Oval Office," she said, referring to the next president, "there will be a stack of problems already waiting: a war, another war to resolve, an economy that is faltering, housing values that have dropped 6% in some parts of the country...all of those millions, 47 million of them uninsured."

As is now customary among her leading rivals, Clinton didn't utter the words Obama or Edwards - the two candidates now in a dogfight for the mantle of change- but she drew a bright shining line between her position and theirs. They are the dreamers. She is the doer. All three are locked in a dead heat to win next Thursday's first-in-the-nation caucus.

"Everybody running is talking about change," Clinton said, sporting a royal blue blazer over black slacks. "Some people think you bring change by demanding it," she said, referring to Edwards. "Some people think you bring it by hoping for it," she continued in a clear reference to Obama. "And some people think you bring it by working very, very hard everyday. And that's what I've been doing for 35 years."

Even the name of this last-minute, multi-stop, week-long closing swing through Iowa carries the ultra-utilitarian title of "Big Problems, Real Solutions - Time to Pick a President."

Clinton's pragmatic pitch was well-received by the disproportionately elderly audience. And while Obama rallies are fueled with hard rock and Edwards events incline toward country fare, Clinton's rally was preceded by a performance by an accordion-led trio playing the U.S. Marine Corps hymn.

"I went to see Obama give a speech last night and he was inspiring," said Louise Mooney, a Maryland physician volunteering for the Clinton Iowa campaign and who attended Saturday's rally. "Obama is more conceptual. But Hillary's more of a leader, she's more nitty-gritty, more X-Y-Z."

While Clinton has been chided by her rivals for representing the past, she unabashedly touted the "1990s as a time of jobs and prosperity," and joked that "the 90s aren't exactly ancient history." She lauded the accomplishments of the Clinton administration including the 1996 abolition of the federal welfare safety net saying, "You know, the best way to help somebody is prepare them to get a job."

Much as her husband often did as a sitting president, she eschewed any sweeping promises of radical change and, instead, ticked off a long list of bite-sized program applets she would tackle as president: increased Pell grants, expanded tax credits for college tuition, and universal day care for 4 year olds. "And I'm going to eliminate those financial aid forms that parents have to fill out that take hours and hours," she promised.

"The economy was in great shape when her husband was in office," said a woman supporter in a green union T-shirt. "I think she learned a lot from him."