"It's been seven years and a lot has changed" Hillary Clinton told the crowd at Senator Harkin's final Steak Fry on Sunday.
Indeed it has, but the most crucial difference was not discussed in Clinton's set-up speech for her inevitable declaration of a Presidential run in the next few months.
Over the last few days,news outlets have poured over the significance of Clinton's return to Iowa, the place that crushed her 2008 nominee bid. Then, the caucus placed her in a disappointing third, bringing Barack Obama to the forefront with Clinton trailing behind him and John Edwards. There were a number of reasons Clinton failed to gain the nomination everyone, especially the Clinton Clan, expected her to get.
Her message was off-beat for an electorate that craved change. Her campaign was shoddily organised and failed to mobilize grassroots supporters. There was her lie about coming under sniper fire in Bosnia which severely reduced her capacity to make a comeback in Pennsylvania. There was no back-up plan in the event she didn't run Obama out of the race by Super Tuesday. They overspent and underestimated. There was the aloofness of the candidate and campaign, and the presumption that she would win.
All that will be different next time around. But it's a judicial decision made in the Supreme Court in 2010 which will provide the strongest enforcement for Clinton's 2016 run - the decision to strike down all caps on the amount of funding that can be given to a candidate's campaign.
It is now a two-tier system to success in electing a President. The first, of course, lies with who the voter chooses on the day. But a close second is Super PACs, which heavily influence election outcomes.
Political Action Committee's (PACs), before they became super, were heavily regulated by campaign law as to how much they could finance an individual candidate campaign. Each donation was capped at $2,500 and corporations and unions were strictly forbidden from funding political campaigns in order to prevent corruption. Two years after Clinton's Iowa disaster, that all changed - as did the process of mounting a political campaign.
Not only is there no longer a cap on donations, corporations and unions are allowed contribute to campaigns. A second court ruling two months later created "independent expenditure-only", a thin veil that maintains Super PACs are banned from coordinating with candidates or campaigns; a murky sentiment that is easily surmounted. In the first presidential race after the court ruling, both Obama and Romney's campaign's Super PACs were run by former aides.
In a nutshell, Super PACs may raise unlimited sums from corporations, trade unions and powerful individuals and spend unlimited amounts on boosting or destroying a candidate. Apart from the requirement to report their donors to the Federal Election Commission and the prohibition of giving money directly to candidates, Super PACs have free reign.
Why does this matter for a potential 2016 Clinton run? Because before she's even declared her candidacy, she has one of the most robust campaign structures in place thanks to individual Super PAC Getting Ready For Hillary. The combination of the Clinton cult and the financial support it summons when courting political donors is so overwhelming, one wonders if there is a Democrat who will even attempt to pit itself against the rolling boulder.
While Clinton can maintain the standard line that she is not involved in such fundraising, they do not occur organically. Behind the scenes, there is a courtship taking place between the Clinton team and the Super PACs to ensure incredible financial support for her run.
As a result, Clinton has become the de-facto nominee, the inevitable conclusion to a race that hasn't been officially launched. This is not the process that the authors of The Federalist Papers had in mind when setting out the structure of the federal government. Specifically, reading Hamilton's contribution on the election of a US President, one can clearly see how far the ethics and ethos of the process has fallen in the 21st century:
"The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union..."
The reality is that qualifications are no longer the most important aspect of a successful campaign - it's how much money you can pull in. While Hillary Clinton continues her image overhaul in preparation for her bid - the carefully crafted appearances, her recent book Hard Choices designed to show her competency and appeal to the average joe, her playful flirtation with the public to generate the buzz, the belief of need for Clinton to run in 2016 - these are just the accompanying notes in the song of success. The major melody is Super PAC funding.
And at the moment, no other candidate, no matter how qualified or exceptional, can come close to the funding capabilities, and as a result, the influence on potential voters, of the Clinton machine.
Things have indeed changed in the seven years since Clinton was last in Iowa; this time, money isn't an issue.