CLEAR LAKE, Iowa — A defiant Hillary Clinton unleashed her harshest attacks on Republicans yet, bringing a rowdy crowd of Democratic activists to its feet Friday night by labeling the entire GOP field “just like (Donald) Trump without the pizzaz and the hair.”
In a 20-minute speech before 2,000 people at the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding dinner here, Clinton attacked three Republican presidential contenders by name, blasting Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush over education funding.
She hit Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — again, by name — over his accusation that Clinton is playing the “gender card,” saying, “If calling for equal pay and paid leave is playing the gender card, then deal me in.”
And Clinton bashed the Citizens United-produced attack film “Hillary: The Movie.” She noted that the Supreme Court case over the conservative group led to a decision that allowed unfettered money in politics — a ruling, she said, that “was about me.”
“How do you think that makes me feel?” Clinton said. “They ended up damaging our entire democracy. We can’t let them pull that same trick again.”
“I don’t care how many super PACs and Republicans pile on. I’ve been fighting for families and underdogs my entire life, and I’m not going to stop now,” Clinton added.
Clinton makes light of email controversy
Clinton also addressed the controversy surrounding her use of a personal email address on a private server during her tenure as secretary of state, joking with the friendly crowd that she likes the popular picture messaging app Snapchat: “All those messages disappear all by themselves.”
She attacked Republicans who have used congressional inquiries to draw attention to the issue, vowing to not “get down in the mud with them.”
But there’s little doubt her email usage has hurt her campaign. Five months after reports that she’d used the private email, Clinton’s campaign this week turned over her server to the Justice Department. It was, in part, an acknowledgment that the issue has lessened Americans’ views of Clinton’s trustworthiness — and comes as chatter surrounding potential alternatives, including Vice President Joe Biden, heats up.
Using a tactic present in her speeches since her first major rally in early June, Clinton highlighted her career before politics — including her work for the Children’s Defense Fund — and her mother, Dorothy Rodham, whose story the wealthy and long-famous Clinton has used to argue that she understands those who struggle.
“Every step of the way, I tried to even the odds for people who had the odds stacked against them. I learned that from my mother,” she said.
Clinton was the first of four 2016 presidential contenders to take the stage. She was followed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee.
The crowd had crammed into the Surf Ballroom, which became a rock ‘n’ roll landmark on “The Day the Music Died” — when, after a 1959 performance there, musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson were killed in a plane crash.
The Democratic candidates — and most of their 17 Republican opponents — are barnstorming the Hawkeye State this weekend, packing town hall events and organizing meetings around visits to the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines.
Sanders, O’Malley tout progressive platforms
She was followed by Sanders, who supported many of the same policies, but highlighted three positions of his that clash with Clinton: His opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and his opposition to the Iraq War, which Clinton supported in the Senate.
He also trained his fire at Republicans, accusing them of being “hell-bent to get us into other wars.”
Sanders’ biggest applause line, though, came when pitched a “Medicare-for-all single-payer health care system,” adding, “Health care is a right, not a privilege.”
O’Malley was the third Democrat to take the stage. He touted a progressive record as Baltimore’s mayor and Maryland’s governor, pointing to gun bans, the legalization of same-sex marriage, pro-family policies similar to those Clinton has touted and a state-level “Dream Act” allowing undocumented immigrants brought into the United States as children to stay and receive some benefits.
His refrain: “Action, not words.”
O’Malley latched himself to Obama, but said that “there is a growing injustice in our country — an economic inequality that threatens to tear us apart.”
As he began speaking, however, photographers below the stage had their backs to him. Their lenses were trained on Clinton, who had taken a seat in the crowd.