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Hillary Clinton returns to Iowa. Is that Joe Biden behind her?

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Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

(Read caption) Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton applauds as former US presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton participate in an onstage conversation at a Presidential Leadership Scholars event at the Newseum in Washington on Monday.

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Hillary Clinton returns to Iowa this weekend. She (and husband Bill) will speak Sunday at the Harkin Steak Fry, Sen. Tom Harkin’s annual festival of Democratic politics and grilled protein. This year’s Steak Fry is the 37th, and last – Senator Harkin is retiring. It’s also the first time Clinton has returned to the Hawkeye State since losing the Iowa caucuses in January 2008.

Remember? It was a brutal start for Clinton’s presidential campaign. She finished third, behind Barack Obama and John Edwards. Yes, that John Edwards.

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Will her Steak Fry speech serve as an unofficial campaign kickoff? That’s what much of the D.C. punditocracy believes. That doesn’t mean she’ll be more forthcoming about her plans – she’s said she won’t announce an official candidacy until early 2015. What it does mean is it’s about time she begins honing a stump speech intended to appeal to Democrats in Iowa and beyond. Anything less will be seen as a sign that maybe she’s thinking about not running, after all.

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“I don’t want to be in a position of piling it on. This is a decision she has to make,” said Harkin on Friday, according to the Associated Press. “She knows how much I care about her and Bill.”

A 2016 Hillary campaign promises to have a different finish in Iowa than her 2008 version. Early polls show the former secretary of State way ahead both nationally and in-state. A CNN/ORC poll released Friday shows Clinton as the choice of 53 percent of Iowa Democratic voters. Fifteen percent would opt for Vice President Joe Biden, with seven percent going for Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

These numbers reflect national polls that show Clinton the overwhelming choice of Democrats. In terms of winning her party’s candidacy, she’s perhaps the most heavily favored nonincumbent presidential candidate in modern times.

But that hasn’t stopped potential rivals from making their own Iowa travel plans. Vice President Joe Biden will show up next Wednesday. He’s scheduled to appear in Des Moines to kick off a “We the People, We the Voters” bus tour.

Then there’s Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. According to a report in The Daily Beast, he’s dispatched 11 staffers paid by his O’Say Can You See PAC to Iowa to work in various Democrats’ fall campaigns.

“The staffers O’Malley has placed will give him a head start if he chooses to run for president,” writes the Beast’s Ben Jacobs. “They will be able to identify potential supporters far in advance, as well as build lists of volunteers key to the grassroots organizing necessary in the Iowa caucuses.”

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If he runs, O’Malley will need all the help he can get to build name recognition. Right now the CNN/ORC poll shows him with two percent of the Iowa Democratic vote – a whopping 51 points behind Clinton.