Road-tripping presidential candidate rallies her campaign troops

Credit: Stuart Ramson/AP

Before she set off on her New York-to-Iowa road trip, Hillary Clinton faced the existential dilemma: White House, or “tennis with Phyllis.”

Turns out Phyllis – as in Phyllis Jacobson, owner of Clinton’s hometown lingerie boutique – is too competitive.

Jacobson chuckled at her Petticoat Lane shop this weekend, recalling for PEOPLE a conversation with the freshly re-minted presidential candidate several months ago.

“I said to her, ‘If you don’t run, you’ve always promised that you’d play tennis with me,’ ” Jacobson says.

“And she goes like this: ‘Hmm. Should I run for president or play tennis with Phyllis? I think it would be easier to run for president. I think you are very competitive.’ And we laughed.”

Jacobson and other neighbors who regularly see Clinton and her husband, Bill, in the shops along the quaint downtown drag near their Chappaqua, New York, home, gave her their endorsement as she formally launched her campaign and set off late Sunday to meet voters in Iowa.

From the road on Sunday night, Clinton phoned into her campaign’s first all-staff meeting and conference call at their new headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, a campaign source tells PEOPLE.

When longtime Clinton ally John Podesta, who led the meeting and is expected to be named campaign chairman, turned it over to a “surprise guest,” HRC, as she is shorthanded by staff, had them all at hello.

“HRC said hello to an eruption on the speakerphone in the headquarters and spent a few minutes thanking everyone, telling them how grateful she was for all their hard work, and said she was looking forward to the journey ahead,” the source says.

Back in the van, which Clinton’s nicknamed “Scooby,” she was finding opportunities to dazzle in person.

At a Pilot gas station, she ran into Chris Learn, a 19-year-old Penn State Altoona student, and struck up a conversation. “I just saw her and I was like, there’s no way that’s her!” Learn told CNN.

“She didn’t really say why she was there, but I was guessing it was for presidential stuff.”

Meanwhile, Katy Perry re-Tweeted Clinton’s campaign announcement, and Magic Johnson could hardly contain his enthusiasm in multiple Tweets.

Back home, Clinton’s neighbors were similarly supportive.

“She really knows her stuff,” says Jacobson. To which Sandra Saiger, owner of nearby Blithewold Home, chimes in, “I can’t wait for Hillary to be president. She’s smart, she’s savvy and really capable. I can’t imagine her not being president.”

At Lange’s Little Store, the deli where Clinton filmed part of the video launching her campaign, manager George Haletzky says both Clintons gush about their granddaughter, Charlotte.

“Hillary just loves the kid and sees her pretty regularly,” says Haletzky. “You can talk to Hillary politically, if you want. You can talk to her about being a grandmother or about life in general. They’re just nice people, regular people, good people.”

And down the street at Santa’s Hair Salon, where proprietor Santa Nikkels has filled an entire wall with photos of her two favorite customers – Hillary and Bill – Nikkels says she’s happy to see Clinton off and running.

“She has a big heart, a wonderful person,” says Nikkels. “And I’m very happy I touched her hair.”

With reporting by DIANE HERBST