NORWALK, Iowa — Hillary Rodham Clinton came to Iowa to give voters an intimate glance of who she'd be as president. What they got instead was a glimpse into the complicated relationship between the current inhabitant of the White House and the woman who hopes to follow in his path.
On a two-day swing through Iowa, the opening act of her 2016 campaign, Clinton embraced two of the most politically fraught planks of President Barack Obama's legacy: the health care law and the push for an immigration overhaul. But even as she cast herself as continuing the Obama administration's domestic policies, Clinton carefully drew a subtle contrast between her leadership and that of the president.
"I want to fix our political system. I want to get things done," she told small business owners, sitting between cardboard fruit cartons at a produce company warehouse in Norwalk. "We have to start breaking down the divisions that have paralyzed our politics."
The roundtable with small business owners reflected the pull-and-tug that Clinton will face as she attempts to extend Democrats' control over the White House to three straight terms, should she win the nomination.
It won't be easy: Historically, Americans have rewarded change after a party controls the presidency for two straight terms — Republicans Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush were the only presidents to maintain control for three terms during the past half-century.
Her success will depend, at least in part, on how she walks the fine line between praising Obama enough to maintain the support of his loyal coalition, particularly the black and millennial voters who overwhelmingly backed his candidacy, and putting enough distance to woo independents frustrated with Washington partisanship.
Just days into her early campaign, that strategy is already on display.
While Clinton's kickoff video was an upbeat appeal to inherit the diverse coalition that twice elected Obama, at events in Iowa she took a more downbeat tone, describing the middle-class dream as slipping away from many Americans.
"Unfortunately the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top," Clinton said on Wednesday. "We need to reshuffle the cards and begin to play a different hand."
And she's cast herself as consensus builder, eager to seek political agreement, a gentle rebuke of the harsh partisanship that's characterized the Obama era. "We've learned a lot in the last few years," she said. "We're all just going to have to get around the table and get back to work."
In a remark Tuesday that could have come from a Republican, she said: "We've got to figure out in our country how to get back on the right track." Indeed, her campaign highlighted the comment in a press release later in the day.
Yet, she also vowed to "defend all those important changes" in the health care law and lamented the lack of immigration legislation, saying the U.S. is "turning down people who really want to work" — two key priorities of the Obama administration that Clinton, as secretary of state, had little hand in advocating.
Such comments are catnip for Republicans, who see Obama as the nightmare haunting her presidential dreams.
In polling conducted by CNN last month, 57 percent of Americans said their "perfect candidate" would be someone who changed most policies of the Obama administration. Already, Republicans are stressing the deep ties between the two, describing Clinton's candidacy as a "third Obama term." Shortly before Clinton entered the race on Sunday, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush released a video message deriding the "Obama-Clinton foreign policy."
On foreign policy, Clinton has magnified the differences between her positions and those of the president she served. She expressed public disagreement with the administration's early position against arming the Syrian opposition. Earlier this month, Clinton voiced cautious support for Obama's nuclear deal with Iran, though she remarked that the "devil was in the details." Previously, she said she was skeptical that Iran would abide by any deal struck with the U.S.
So far, the relationship with Obama has loomed far larger in Clinton's early campaign than an even more intimate tie. Former President Bill Clinton did not appear in her launch video and stayed in New York while his wife embarked on her road trip to Iowa. On Tuesday, he made no mention of her candidacy at a fundraiser for a health organization in New York City.
Obama, too, has kept largely mum about the details of Clinton's campaign, describing her to reporters simply as someone who would be "an excellent president."