Its countryside is barely undulating, its roads straight and its pig production is legion. And today, Hillary Clinton will be driving through it en route - in a humble van - to her first campaign appearance since declaring on Sunday that she is joining the 2016 race for president.

The American Midwest, and more precisely the open skies of Iowa, are where it matters for any would-be White House contender, and never more so than for Ms Clinton. "Road trip!" she declared on Twitter, soon after releasing a slick launch video that cast her as a defender of the struggling middle class and featuring a cast of "regular" American folk (not actors) talking excitedly about their futures. "Loaded the van & set off for IA. Met a great family when we stopped this afternoon. Many more to come." Ms Clinton, who hasn't driven for a decade, is presumably not behind the wheel.

That pitstop was in Pennsylvania, the first leg of her 1,100-mile drive in the smallest caravan of vehicles her ever-present security would allow. The van, nicknamed Scooby after the 1970s cartoon show Scooby-Doo, is flanked by two Secret Service cars. She was spotted on the forecourt by Chris Learn, a student. "I just walked up to her and asked her for a picture, because I knew exactly who it was," he said.

It's a journey that is meant to portray Mrs Clinton as everything but the celebrity candidate she really is. It echoes the "listening tour" she embarked on before her successful 2000 run for US Senator from New York and the bus tour she took with then presidential hopeful Bill Clinton immediately after the 1992 Democratic Convention in New York.


She will not deliver a major speech until the end of May, aides say, but limit herself until then to small-scale encounters with voters, beginning in Iowa with two town hall-style sessions with students and small business owners. From Iowa, which will hold the first caucus nominating votes early next year, she will head to New Hampshire, the first primary voting state.

She arrives in Iowa, where she suffered a first debilitating loss to Barack Obama in 2008 for the Democratic nomination. So far there is no one challenging her. Should she win the party's nomination she will face one from among a growing phalanx of Republican hopefuls - to be added to last night when Marco Rubio, a US Senator from Florida, was planning formally to declare.

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Another Republican already running is libertarian standard-bearer, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who welcomed Mrs Clinton to Iowa with a local cable TV spot assailing her record. "Hillary Clinton represents the worst of the Washington machine," the narrator intones. "The arrogance of power, corruption and cover-up, conflicts of interest and failed leadership with tragic consequences."

The Paul advertisement is a foretaste of what Mrs Clinton can expect as her foes focus on her potential weaknesses, including controversies over her handling, as Secretary of State, of the 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, her use of a private email server while at the State Department and donations by foreign governments to the Bill Clinton foundation.

- Independent