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Clinton campaign stop in Iowa offered ‘canned’ questions

GRINNELL, Iowa – The Iowa caucuses are known for their “living-room chats” where ordinary Iowans can meet candidates face-to-face and talk about what interests voters. When candidates have larger events or make major policy speeches, the crowds are bigger, but there is often still an opportunity for questions. But under the pressures of major media coverage, with polls narrowing in Iowa, campaigns can potentially control questions and coverage by planning questions ahead of time.

While no campaigns admit to this practice, at a recent Hillary Clinton campaign event in Newton, Iowa, some of the questions posed to the New York Senator were planned in advance, planting some audience members in the crowd.

On Tuesday Nov. 6, the Clinton campaign stopped at a biodiesel plant in Newton as part of a weeklong series of events to introduce her new energy plan. The event was clearly intended to be as much about the press as the Iowa voters in attendance, as a large press corps helped fill the small venue. Reporters from many major national news outlets came to the small Iowa town, from such media giants as The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press and CNN.

After her speech, Clinton accepted questions. But according to Grinnell College student Muriel Gallo-Chasanoff, some of the questions from the audience were planned in advance.

“They were canned,” she said.

Before the event began, a Clinton staff member approached Gallo-Chasanoff to ask a specific question after Clinton’s speech.

“One of the senior staffers told me what [to ask],” she said.

Clinton called on Gallo-Chasanoff after her speech to ask a question: What Clinton would do to stop the effects of global warming. Clinton began her response by noting that young people often pose this question to her before delving into the benefits of her plan.

But the source of the question was no coincidence – at this event “they wanted a question from a college student,” Gallo-Chasanoff said.

She also noted that staffers prompted Clinton to call on her and another who had been approached before the event, although Clinton used her discretion to select questions and called on people who had not been prepped beforehand. Some of the questions asked were confusing and clearly off-message.

The practice of planting audience members to ask specific questions does not appear to be a common practice, or at least not a politically acceptable one.

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