Democrat Hillary Clinton campaigns in Monticello.

Democrat Hillary Clinton campaigns in Monticello.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton walked into a community college auto lab in Monticello early this afternoon for a conversation with a small group of students and instructors.

It was billed as stop one in a “listening tour” and Clinton did a lot of head nodding as the others around the small table spoke.

But Clinton did a fair amount of talking herself — and responding to what those around her had to say about education.

“I am thrilled to be starting this campaign in Iowa,” Clinton said, “going out listening to people and learning from all of you what works, what you’re concerned about, what the problems are, but also what’s exciting about the future and then putting it all together.”

Clinton did not mention the phrase “Democratic Party” during the nearly 90 minute event. She cast herself as someone willing to embrace “common sense” ideas about raising the “next generation.”

“So that we can be really focused on how we respect each other again, trust each other again, listen to each other again, work with each other again,” Clinton said, “sort of leave the ideology and the partisanship at the door and come in and say say, ‘Look, these are the goals that we should have.'”

Clinton began the event by quizzing the group about their courses and what they plan to do next. She also joked about the five dozen reporters and photographers at the edge of the room who were there to record the event and capture the first words of her 2016 campaign.

“We’ve got to figure out in our country how to get back on the right track,” Clinton said at the start of the event.

Clinton talked about being a grandmother and mentioned her work as first lady, senator and secretary of state in only general terms. Jason McLaughlin, the principal at Central City High School, brought up her husband’s presidency and the booming economy of the 1990s.

“Jobs were plentiful. The economy was great,” he said.

Clinton replied: “I remember.”

Then she laughed, along with McLaughlin and others in the room.

Clinton embraced President Obama’s call for “free” community college for qualified students and she lamented the criticism Republican candidates are lobbing at “Common Core” education standards, which Clinton said started out as a “non-partisan” effort to improve the U.S. education system.

Clinton will campaign in Norwalk tomorrow, holding a roundtable discussion with a group of invited small business owners in central Iowa.