Hillary Clinton left her audience cold in Iowa City on Thursday night, after she spoke for less than five minutes to a crowd of more than a thousand people, some of whom had lined up for more than an hour to see her.
After a day marred by a new poll showing Bernie Sanders leading her by eight points in Iowa, Clinton might have been expected to go for broke during a rally at the University of Iowa, which featured a performance by popstar Demi Lovato.
But Clinton did not refer to the Vermont senator, or much else, in her speech. The lack of length and substance of her address appeared to upset some in the crowd.
“It was like a political commercial,” said Allison Steigerwald, a 24-year-old graduate student at the university. “I thought she was saying goodbye to Demi and then she’d start her speech. But it never happened.”
“It was very short,” said Jennifer Marks, 22. “There were a lot of statements. Like: ‘We are we going to make things happen.’” Marks said. “No actual how.”
“I just feel bad for the people who got here at five,” she said.
Clinton made no mention of Sanders, or the CNN/ORC poll released on Thursday which showed the Vermont senator leading her by 51% to 43% in Iowa.
She took the stage at about 8.15pm, after Lovato had performed three songs from her recent album Confident. Clinton praised Lovato, who has bipolar disorder and is the face of the Be Vocal mental health campaign, for “having the voice to reach out to so many people who need a little bit of help themselves”.
“You have set an extraordinary example to so many in the way you have talked about issues that we all find sometimes hard to talk about,” Clinton said.
The rest of her speech was so short that it is possible to summarize almost all of it in the next six paragraphs.
Clinton thanked the audience for attending. “I’d be so thrilled and honoured if you can caucus for me,” she said. She then promised to “work as hard as I know how to take it to the Republicans” and win the election.
Clinton said was proud of the progress made under Barack Obama and promised to deal “with the big issues” if elected. “Like: how do we get the economy working for everybody, not just those at the top,” she said.
“How we keep our country safe and lead the world with peace prosperity and security. And how do we deal with a lot of those prelims that people across Iowa talk to me about. How are we going to afford college, how do we get the cost of student debt down.”
She spoke about making prescription drugs more affordable and defending “human rights and women’s rights”. And about how she would “take on those big special interests” if elected.
“Join us in helping to change our country, keep it on a progressive path, make sure we don’t go backward, we go forward with confidence,” Clinton said.
And that was it. Clinton gave a similarly pithy speech at a rally with Katy Perry in Des Moines in October, although on that occasion her husband, Bill Clinton, also spoke – for 15minutes – at what amounted to a pre-party for the Democratic party’s Jefferson Jackson dinner.
Clinton left the stage and walked around the front of the crowd, shaking hands and taking selfies, but the substance of the evening was over.
The doors to the event had opened at 5pm, and when the Guardian arrived at 6pm volunteers were warning the people in a lengthy line that they faced an hour-long wait to enter the Memorial Hall, where the rally took place.
“I was like: ‘Is this done already?’” said Maggie Dressel, 21. “It did seem pretty short.”
Nicole Hall, also 21, and a senior at the university, echoed Dressel’s comments. “It was shorter than I expected,” Hall said. “I’m not sure she said enough to convince me to vote for her.”
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