Indianola: Hillary Rodham Clinton returned to Iowa today to pay tribute to the state's retiring Democratic senator as anticipation builds over the possibility of another presidential campaign in 2016.
Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, were to headline Sen. Tom Harkin's annual steak fry fundraiser in rural Indianola.
Today's event was expected to draw more than 5,000 party activists who form the backbone of Iowa's presidential caucuses every four years.
Iowa is traditionally the first state to hold a presidential nomination contest, giving its caucuses an early role in winnowing out the field of presidential contenders.
Following a summertime book tour, Clinton was making her biggest campaign splash in 2014 so far, opening a season of fundraising and campaigning ahead of the November elections for Democrats who are trying to maintain a Senate majority during President Barack Obama's final two years.
The event was serving as a farewell for Harkin, a liberal stalwart and former presidential candidate who is retiring after four decades in Congress.
Clinton finished third behind Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards in Iowa's leadoff presidential caucuses in January 2008, and the former secretary of state has not returned since.
Iowa Democrats said Clinton remained widely popular and predicted she would receive broad support if she chooses to run again.
"Barack Obama was a phenomenon. He just was. I'll give him credit, he worked hard in Iowa, but so did she," Harkin said, when asked whether Clinton would do things differently in the state if she runs in 2016.
Today, party activists streamed onto a hot-air balloon field lined with colourful signs thanking the Harkins and promoting state candidates like Rep. Bruce Braley, who is running for Senate.
Ready for Hillary, a super political action committee supporting a potential Clinton candidacy, posted light blue "Ready" signs to promote the main speaker.
On stage sat a quintessential Iowa tableau: bales of hay, an American flag and two tractors parked in the surrounding field.
"I honestly believe she will be the next president," said Cindy Sturtz, a union member from Fort Dodge, who caucused for Obama in 2008 but says she plans to support Clinton if she runs again.
The Clintons' arrival offered the possibility of a fresh start for the former New York senator and first lady, whose campaign stumbled in the months leading to the caucuses.