INDIANOLA, IOWA — The annual Harkin Steak Fry was more like a “Hillary Clinton for President” rally, with a crowd of thousands loudly cheering Clinton, wearing “Ready for Hillary” buttons and even posing for pictures with cardboard cutouts of Clinton.
Clinton’s appearance at this event was to honor Democratic U.S. Senator Tom Harkin, who is retiring. This was the 37th and final steak fry.
And neither the former first lady, nor her husband, who also spoke, directly indicated Hillary Clinton is going to run for president. Both spent much of their speeches praising Harkin and urging Democrats to vote for the party’s gubernatorial and U.S. Senate campaigns.
But it was clear that many in the crowd of more than 5,000, which included not just Iowans but also people from nearby Kansas and even Kentucky, expect Clinton to start a presidential campaign next year. And she didn’t mind dropping a few hints herself.
“Hello, Iowa, I’m back," she said at the start of her speech, an unsubtle reminder that she had not visited the state since her third place finish in the Iowa caucuses.
“I’ve got a few things on my mind these days,” she said, as the crowd cheered, adding that she would leave the stage immediately if her pregnant daughter, Chelsea, went into labor. (Chelsea Clinton was not at the event).
“Then of course, there’s that other thing,” Clinton said. “It’s true, I’m thinking about it. But for today, that’s not why I’m here.”
She offered another hint at the end of the 20-minute speech, emphasizing why Democrats must vote in non-presidential years.
“Too many people only get excited about presidential campaigns,” she said. “Look, I get excited about those campaigns too.”
"It's really great to be back," she concluded. "Let's not let another 7 years go by."
Others who spoke here were equally unsubtle. Introducing Hillary Clinton, Harkin, who recited much of her resume, said “there are many more chapters to be written in the amazing life of Hillary Clinton.”
Before the steak fry, the Clintons also spoke at a private luncheon for Harkin’s political action committee, giving them a chance to meet key activists and donors in the Hawkeye State.