Hillary Rodham Clinton took to the presidential campaign trail more like a celebrity traveling incognito than a politician glad-handing voters as she stopped by a Chipotle restaurant for lunch without drawing a crowd or even being noticed.
The former secretary of state made the unannounced pit stop Monday at a Chipotle outside Toledo during her “Scooby” van road trip from New York to Iowa. It would have gone completely unnoticed if not for a Clinton campaign aide tipping off The New York Times, which contacted the restaurant and obtained security camera footage of Mrs. Clinton wearing sunglasses while waiting in line for a burrito bowl.
The scene was the antithesis of retail politicking — the face-to-face campaigning that Team Clinton has said will be the hallmark of her strategy in Iowa and New Hampshire.
“I think it made her look foolish,” said Sandy Rubinstein, an expert on branding and CEO of the advertising firm DXagency, which has a client list that includes HBO, the New York Knicks and Welch’s Fruit Snacks.
She said the Clinton campaign botched an opportunity to rebrand the former first lady, senator and top diplomat as a woman of the people, an image Mrs. Clinton has taken pains to project in the early days of her run.
“I think they had an opportunity to keep pushing that everyday-woman brand, but nobody recognized her, nobody really stopped her, nobody took advantage of the fact that here’s Hillary Clinton standing in front of us — let’s talk to her,” said Ms. Rubinstein.
The ad guru insisted that the campaign planned for someone to recognize Mrs. Clinton, who is the undisputed front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination.
“All the stops have a business reason behind them. She wasn’t hungry for a burrito,” said Ms. Rubinstein. “I think it’s an opportunity to see Hillary Clinton not eating the fanciest affair but the same thing that anyone else [or] any voters would be eating.”
Lynn Vavreck, an associate professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles, agreed that the Chipotle stop raised questions about the Clinton campaign’s stagecraft.
“Why you don’t send your personal assistant to do that, I don’t know,” said Ms. Vavreck, who specializes in the study of retail politics in presidential campaigns.
In the Chipotle security camera footage, Mrs. Clinton is standing beside her longtime aide, Huma Abedin.
Mrs. Clinton made her retail politicking debut Tuesday, with a prearranged visit to Jones Street Coffee Shop in Davenport, Iowa, where she sipped Chai tea and chatted with a group of preselected customers.
“Hi, everybody. Thank you for having us and all of these people. I love it,” Mrs. Clinton said as she strode into the shop.
“Hi, Jen. Hi, Paul,” she called out to the people behind the counter, including co-owner Jen Williams, according to a pool report.
The stage-managed campaign stop contrasted sharply with the unannounced visit to Chipotle.
Trailed by a TV camera crew, a print journalist scribbling notes and a photographer, Mrs. Clinton ordered a Masala Chai tea, a Caramellow latte and a glass of water before talking briefly with a couple of nearby customers.
She then joined a table of three for a conversation. The talk included a mention about “driving from New York,” but the pool reporter was ushered out before hearing the entire conversation.
A campaign aide described the three customers who talked with Mrs. Clinton as Sara Sedlacek, who works for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, St. Ambrose University student Austin Bird and Carter Bell, president of the University of Iowa College Democrats.
Mrs. Clinton later held a roundtable discussion with students and faculty at Kirkwood Community College in Monticello, Iowa, part of what the campaign has characterized as a “listening tour” for the candidate.
Mrs. Clinton echoed the same populist notes she hit in her video announcement of her candidacy and a subsequent fundraising email, saying she wants to be a champion for everyday Americans and fight a system where CEOs make 300 times more than the average worker.
However, she also responded to criticism leveled by Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, who announced his presidential run by saying America doesn’t need a “leader from yesterday.”
“We need to build the economy of tomorrow, not yesterday,” said Mrs. Clinton. “We need to strengthen families and communities, because that’s where it all starts.”
She called for fixing “our dysfunctional political system,” getting unaccountable money out of politics and protecting America “from the threats that we see and the ones that are on the horizon.”
“So I’m here in Iowa to begin a conversation about how we do that and to hear from people about what’s on your minds — what the challenges that you see are. And I’m going to work hard to meet as many people,” said Mrs. Clinton.
She promised that she would soon roll out her policy proposals, but only after she hears from voters and discerns what ideas for government are working.