- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 27, 2007

DES MOINES, Iowa — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton began her presidential bid in earnest yesterday with all the momentum and certainty of a candidate in the final days of a campaign.

“I want to have this as a one-on-one conversation,” the New York Democrat told a crowd of more than 1,000 Iowans packed into a high school gymnasium.

Absent from that conversation was the dominant issue of the war in Iraq, which Mrs. Clinton voted to authorize in 2002. She did address her vote during a meeting earlier in the day with state Democratic Party officials.

“There are no do-overs in life,” Mrs. Clinton said. “I wish there were. I acted on the best judgment I had at the time.”

Two hours before the former first lady arrived for her town hall-style meeting, the folding chairs at East High School’s gym were nearly filled and an overflow room had to be opened.

Tall tripods for 17 television cameras were set up. Idling outside were seven satellite trucks and four industrial generators.

But Iowa voters especially those who will participate in the nation’s first caucuses just under a year from now on Jan. 18, 2008 are famously persnickety and expect to be courted with humility, preferably in their own living rooms.

So, Mrs. Clinton began like anyone would.

“Well, I’m Hillary Clinton,” she said to ecstatic applause. “And I’m happy to be here in Iowa.”

Unlike most early campaign events in Iowa where the voters are undecided, the vast majority of those who showed up yesterday were firmly in Mrs. Clinton’s camp. Many wore “Hillary!” stickers and buttons and waved posters with messages such as, “I LOVE HRC!”

Though national polls show Mrs. Clinton far ahead of any rival, surveys of Iowa voters show her trailing former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and the favorite son, former Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa. However, such early polls are virtually meaningless, especially since Mrs. Clinton had not visited the state since 2003.

In her meeting yesterday with party officials, she made the case for why she should be given the chance to beat the next Republican nominee for president.

“When you are attacked, you have to deck your opponent,” said Mrs. Clinton, who has lived in the glare of the national press for nearly 15 years. “I have been through the political wars longer than some of you have been alive. We’ve got to be prepared to hold our ground and fight back.”

Mrs. Clinton said she would have voted differently on authorizing the Iraq war if she had more accurate information at the time. She also said that as the junior senator from New York, she “lived through 9/11” and has “a slightly different take on this from some of the other people who will be coming through here.”

However, Mrs. Clinton was not about to offer herself as a peace candidate.

“I do think we are engaged in a war against heartless, ruthless enemies,” she said. “If they could come after us again tomorrow, they would do so.”

During her forum with voters, Mrs. Clinton was not asked a single question about her vote authorizing the war.

She was asked how she planned to win election to an office that has been held by men for more than 200 years.

“Sometimes, you have to work harder,” Mrs. Clinton said.

There were more women than men in the audience, but she strove to play down the issue of a woman as president.

“There will be more stories about my clothes and hair than some of the people running against me,” Mrs. Clinton said.

But she did not avoid the topic of women in leadership altogether. She gave a nod to the new Democratic House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, and the crowd erupted.

At one point, a woman in the audience shouted, “You go, girl!”

Mrs. Clinton shot back without missing a beat: “Go with me!”

John Barry, a veteran, rose to ask a question and began by saying, somewhat nervously: “America loves you and you look very nice.”

Beaming, Mrs. Clinton thanked him, and the crowd roared with approval.

Another issue she met head-on was her failed effort during her husband’s White House tenure to implement socialized medicine.

“The problems we were trying to address are still with us,” Mrs. Clinton said. “In fact, they’ve gotten worse.”

She said she remains committed to “universal health care coverage” and predicted that it’s a matter of “when,” not “if” it will happen.

“We are finally creating a consensus in the country for this,” Mrs. Clinton said.

On global warming, she said: “Of course, global climate change is real, and it is a threat.”

On the disparity among states regarding the foster care of children, Mrs. Clinton said: “I do think we need a national approach to that.”

Terri Hoffman, 53, an eighth-grade teacher was among those surprised not to hear more about the war. She opposes it, but said she still could support Mrs. Clinton. Her only reservation is that she also likes Mr. Edwards, who has energetically courted voters here for two years.

Miss Hoffman worries that voters might shy away from voting for a woman.

“If they become a team, I guess I would be very happy,” she said. “I think she’ll be a great vice president.”

Natalie Coates, 17, of Goshen, Ind., attended the event with her mother. She has no reservations whatsoever.

“I think it’s awesome that she’s a woman,” Natalie said.

By the time Election Day rolls around, she will be eligible to vote, and she said she would cast her first-ever ballot for Mrs. Clinton.

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