Democratic candidate seeks to shift questions of judgment away from her own campaign and focus instead on Donald Trump.
Iowa, United States – As the US presidential campaign heads into its final stretch, neither the Democrat nor Republican parties show any signs of letting up.
Across the Midwestern state of Iowa, TV and mail ads are everywhere. Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and their vice presidential candidates are making their case in person at rallies – sometimes in the same city, within hours of one another.
In unprecedented numbers, celebrities – mostly Clinton surrogates – are canvassing the battleground state, and volunteers are remaining persistent on the phones, urging people to get out and vote.
At events in cities such as Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, committed supporters show up and cheer – imagining what a scary place the United States will be if the opposing candidate wins.
But for many others, the decision of whom to for vote has proved a difficult one.
After more than a year and a half of political campaigning, 7 percent of Iowans still do not know for whom they want to cast a vote, according to the latest Quinnipiac University poll.
This is despite the role of Iowans in hosting the nation’s first caucus, which has given residents more chances to interact with the candidates than anyone else in the US.
“Here in Iowa, we get to see every candidate three or four different times. If you want, you can go ask the next leader of the free world a question or two,” said Pat Rynard, a former Democratic campaign staffer and founder of the political news site Iowa Starting Line. “Iowans are very, very well informed.”
In that sense, many “undecided” voters are more apt to refer to themselves differently. Entrepreneur Neil Jirele, a resident of Iowa City, said he has struggled with his decision, not because he does not know enough, but because he sees both of the main candidates as “extreme”.
A better term to describe himself, he said, would be “unenthused”.
Although Iowa has voted Democrat in five out of the past six presidential elections, an average of polls now shows Trump ahead at 46.3 percent to Clinton’s 44.3.
That means undecided voters have the potential to swing the state red or blue – if they turn up to vote.
“These people are probably considering whether or not they’re even going to vote,” Rynard said. “They’re frustrated with the candidates.”
While Clinton has been able to sway some suburban, conservative-leaning women to her side, she has not yet convinced many former Democratic Bernie Sanders supporters and young people.
Rynard noted how Sanders’ messages of anti-establishment and critique of Clinton resonated well in Iowa during the caucus earlier this year.
“They’re not happy with Hillary. They don’t think she’s progressive. So they’re just sitting out,” Rynard said.
For Bryan Branscomb, an IT specialist, this is certainly the case. He said he is still “disheartened” over the way the Democratic caucuses and primaries played out. If he could vote for Sanders, he would.
“Honestly, I’m a little lost,” Branscomb said. “I feel both would be a detriment to the country.”
Rather than turning to Jill Stein, who ideologically more closely aligns with Sanders’ platform, the Iowa City resident said he is leaning towards Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, partly because he is polling much higher than Stein.
“I want my vote to mean something,” Branscomb said. “I’ve been studying up on Gary Johnson’s stance, and I’m closer to him than anybody.”
While Trump has been able to make unprecedented inroads with working-class men, his rhetoric about women, immigrants and people of colour and disabilities has pushed many other traditional Republicans away.
Steven Hartzler, a college student who usually votes Republican, said he was dissatisfied with his party’s candidate, but could not support Clinton.
“Both the Democratic and Republican parties in the primaries had better options,” Hartzler said, adding that he would have voted for any other Democratic candidate against Trump and vice versa.
Still, Hartzler plans to vote – as do Branscomb and Jirele.
The presidential candidates are not the only ones on the ballot, and Hartzler wants to ensure the right local and state representatives are elected. If he does end up voting for Trump, he says it will be a “sacrifice” in service of ensuring Republican ideals are better supported across the board.
Both Republican and Democrat staffers at the local level recognise the necessity of securing undecided and independent voters. At this late stage, however, the focus has shifted to ensuring supporters show up to the polls.
They hope rallies featuring key speakers might tempt any hold-outs.
As for undecided voters themselves, many seem doubtful much can happen before November 8 to decidedly swing their vote. After decades of being in the public eye, the impressions of both Clinton and Trump – good and bad – are pretty cemented.
But Rick Kadlec, an inventory planner who remained committed for almost a year to not voting for either Clinton or Trump, swung in one direction only recently. Upset by what he saw as the “depth of corruption” surrounding the Clintons, he decided to take a stand and attened a Trump rally in Cedar Rapids.
“I’m not a Trump guy. I’m an anti-Mrs Clinton guy,” Kadlec said.
“I’m not saying the bar has been lowered. I’m saying it’s been knocked to the ground and stepped on.”
Equally unenthusiastic about the choice he has to make on Election Day, Jirele, the entrepreneur, says: “I hope Jesus’s name comes up” on the ballot.