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THE IOWA CAUCUSES: SCENES FROM THE PRECINCTS

Clinton promises that she'll rebound

January 04, 2008|Peter Nicholas | Times Staff Writer

DES MOINES — The nation's most famous political couple took the stage of the Hotel Fort Des Moines at 9:25 p.m. Central Time with a familiar mission in mind: reassuring voters that the Clintons, once again, would bounce back from an embarrassing political defeat.

They tried to project confidence. Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton gave a hug to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as she worked her way to the podium to deliver her concession speech -- as if he were the one who might need cheering up.

Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, looking flushed, took his place behind her and to her left. When she finished talking, he leaned toward their daughter, Chelsea, and nodded approvingly. Then he waded into the crowd of supporters onstage, took one woman by the shoulders and gave what appeared to be a pep talk.

In word and gesture, the Clintons made it clear they weren't about to quit.

As the crowd in the hotel ballroom cheered, Hillary Clinton said: "We're going to take this enthusiasm and go right to New Hampshire tonight!"

New Hampshire is sacred ground for the Clintons. In the 1992 presidential campaign, that's where Bill Clinton's candidacy was nearly undone by allegations of draft dodging and womanizing. But he managed a second-place finish and famously announced he was the "comeback kid."

Hillary Clinton doesn't have his gift for the pitch-perfect one-liner. But she has more discipline and is known for her perseverance.

In her speech, she made it plain she would draw on both qualities as she tries to regain her footing after her third-place finish in Iowa.

She said she had the resources -- and the will -- to stay in the contest.

But there was little emotion in her 10-minute talk. Though her campaign has worked assiduously to make her appear warmer and more likable, she sounded a bit scolding at times.

"What is most important now," she said, "is that as we go on with this contest that we keep focused on the two big issues; that we answer -- correctly -- the questions that each of us has posed: How will we win in November 2008 by nominating a candidate who will be able to go the distance, and who will be the best president on Day One? I am ready for that contest."

Before the couple took the stage, the atmosphere at the hotel party was grim.

But at least one supporter remembered that the Clintons had faced political oblivion before -- and recovered.

"She's had bigger deals than this she's survived," said George Conway, 77, a retiree from Des Moines.

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peter.nicholas@latimes.com

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