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Hillary Clinton in Iowa stirs 2016 speculation

INDIANOLA, Iowa — Hillary Rodham Clinton, making her return to Iowa for the first time since the 2008 presidential campaign, implored Democrats on Sunday to choose shared economic opportunity over “the guardians of gridlock” in an high-profile appearance that drove speculation about another White House bid into overdrive.

“Hello Iowa. I’m back!” Clinton declared as she took the podium at retiring Sen. Tom Harkin’s annual steak fry fundraiser, a fixture on the political calendar in the home of the nation’s first presidential caucus. Clinton joined her husband, former President Bill Clinton, in a tribute to Harkin that brought them before more than 6,000 party activists who form the backbone of Iowa’s presidential campaigns every four years.

The former New York senator and first lady did not directly address a potential campaign but said she was “thinking about it” and joked that she was “here for the steak.” She later said that “too many people only get excited about presidential campaigns. Look – I get excited about presidential campaigns, too.” But she said the upcoming midterm elections would be pivotal for the state’s voters.

“In just 50 days Iowans have a choice to make – a choice and a chance. A choice between the guardians of gridlock and the champions of shared opportunity and shared prosperity,” she said, urging voters to elect leaders who would “carry on Tom Harkin’s legacy of fighting for families.”

Following a summertime book tour, Clinton was making her biggest campaign splash in 2014 so far, opening a fall of fundraising and campaigning for Democrats who are trying to maintain a Senate majority during President Barack Obama’s final two years. The event also served as a farewell for Harkin, a liberal stalwart and former presidential candidate who is retiring after four decades in Congress.

Obama defeated Clinton in the state’s leadoff presidential caucuses in January 2008 – Clinton finished third behind the future president and then-North Carolina Sen. John Edwards – and the visit marked the former secretary of state’s first appearance in Iowa since the campaign.

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