LAS VEGAS — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday said that her long time as a national lightning rodmeans that she obviously has the best chance to beat whomever the Republicans nominate.
Obviously, I think that after enduring 15 years of their concerted attacks that I have come out stronger for it, and I am the more likely person able to beat the Republicans in the general elections, Mrs. Clinton said.
The New York Democrat, in a 40-minute open question-and-answer session, barely mentioned any of her seven competitors for her party’s nomination as she addressed a crowd of nearly 1,500 at the National Association of Black Journalists convention.
Mrs. Clinton was most specific in her remarks on the issue of the number of black Americans in prison and what was referred to as the over-policing of black communities.
There is a great disparity in arrests and convictions and sentencing, she said before condemning as indefensible the federal mandatory sentencing guidelines, passed in the late 1980s, that give harsher terms for offenses involving crack than for the same amount of powder cocaine. She did not, however, say whether she opposed such policies when they were being carried out under her husband’s administration.
That cocaine disparity and three-strikes laws the federal version of which were passed by a Democratic Congress under the Clinton administration have led to the incarceration of most of the 1.4 million black and Hispanic men currently in prison, many for nonviolent drug offenses. Mrs. Clinton said that trend must change.
We need more diversion from the criminal-justice system for nonviolent offenders and more drug courts. And we need formal second-chance programs around the country, she said.
In fielding a question about what she would do to counteract recent reports about declining black family incomes, Mrs. Clinton chastised the Bush administration.
Over the last six years, median family income has dropped $1,300, while corporate profits are up and productivity is up, but [employees are] not realizing the benefits, Mrs. Clinton said, adding that the American dream is receding for many because there exists no new supply of jobs that give people a reasonable standard of living.
Mrs. Clinton received a few questions referencing her chief rival for the nomination, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois. One asked whether she would consider Mr. Obama as a vice presidential candidate. She said it was too soon to answer that question, but she said she would certainly consider someone of Mr. Obama’s quality who is running a great race.
She was also asked if she felt she was black enough to represent black Americans better than a black man, a reference to similar questions posed about Mr. Obama. Mrs. Clinton didn’t answer that question directly, but praised the diversity of the Democratic candidate field and pledged not to take black voters for granted.
I want to be a president for everyone because I am tired of all these false divisions, she said.
Throughout her remarks, regardless of the question’s specific topic, Mrs. Clinton made experience a key point, something she had done since her spat with Mr. Obama two weeks ago over his call for having open-ended meetings with leaders of hostile nations. Her poll numbers have grown since then, and she continued to focus on that yesterday.
She said she will trust the voters to see that her 35 years of public service and advocacy work and 15 years as first lady or senator is the right reason to send her back to the White House. Minutes after she finished speaking, her campaign sent out a donor-solicitation mailing to supporters touting her experience.