Bill ClintonAMANA, Iowa, 4:26 p.m. — Bill Clinton is 26 minutes late. He was supposed to arrive in Amana at 4 o’clock to address a crowd of bundled-up Iowans at this small outpost 10 miles off I-80. So now we’re sitting in this corrugated metal structure that gets a degree colder every time someone opens the door. A cluster of twenty-something Hillary staffers stand in the corner in ankle-length coats, clutching clipboards and looking around nervously. One of them clearly looks like D.C., but a couple others are wearing enough Carhartt to pass for native Iowans.

Finally a voice breaks through an ambient Fleetwood Mac tune and announces the arrival of Chrissie Vilsack — the wife of former Governor Tom Vilsack — and President Clinton. The crowd rises to its feet.

“I was watching the football games on the way over,” the former president begins. “And I was watching this kicker in the fourth quarter of the game and thinking, ‘That’s how the Iowa caucus-goers are going to feel on Thursday.’ On caucus night, the whole future of the world is on your shoulders — don’t feel any pressure at all.”

Clinton’s pitch on behalf of Hillary sounds practiced and comfortable. “Now listen up,” he tells the assembled voters, “because this is important.” And then he proceeds to explain the four qualities — vision, ability to follow through, past experience and strength and compassion — Clinton believes are needed in the next president, and how Hillary fits the bill.

Predictably enough, many of the same themes heard in the stump speeches of John Edwards and Barack Obama also make an appearance in Clinton’s oration. The need for stronger health care, but also stronger “wellness promotion.” How our dependence on foreign oil can’t be sustained and how the process of alternative-energy development will stimulate the economy. How to maintain a strong military but still be judicious in its use.

When Clinton takes the podium, it seems as though a sense of calm descends on the room. It’s almost as if, for 60 minutes, the crowd is willing to forget about the problems of the Bush administration and reminisce with President Clinton about the good ol’ days of the 1990s. Clinton, too, seems to understand that sense of hindsight.

It doesn’t take much interpretation to read a little “I told you so” into lines like, “When President Bush ran under that soothing rubric of compassionate conservatism, he basically said, ‘Vote for me and I will reverse everything Clinton did,’” the former president says. “He was quite candid about it. Once in office, he set about doing just that, and I believe this country is not better off.”

I’m curious to find out whether the sense I get is shared by other members of the audience, but Matt and I have to run — it’s 103 miles to Des Moines and the Huck & Chuck event starts in an hour and a half.

-Zack Abrahamson