Saturday, January 27, 2007

"Clinton in DM: 'No do-overs' on Iraq"

Des Moines Register:
U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton confronted doubts today about her ability to win the 2008 presidential election and defended her position on the Iraq war during her first day in Iowa as a candidate for president.
The New York Democrat, who leads her party’s presidential hopefuls in national polls, also insisted that her celebrity status will not inhibit her from waging a hands-on campaign for Iowa’s lead-off caucuses.

“Many of the doubts that are being expressed now were certainly present when I made my initial listening tour in New York. There were so many doubts,” Clinton said in a Des Moines Register interview.

Clinton insisted that the crush of national and international news media that greeted her at a blockbuster forum at East High School in Des Moines and shadowed her 10-car motorcade around the city would subside as her campaign progressed.
Should that occur, voters will get to know her better, Clinton said.

“People want to assess me for themselves. They don’t want to take what other people say about me at face value,” she added.

To that end, Clinton’s campaign granted broad public access to her events, although she met early Saturday with labor leaders in private.

National media were allowed limited access to Clinton, with all of them congregating at East High.

A half-dozen satellite news trucks purred outside East High’s new community center while dozens of news media from Iowa, New York, Washington, D.C., and around the world waited inside.

An especially noticeable contingent of Japanese press was on hand. Producers from some of the international networks said interest in Clinton’s candidacy is huge in Japan.

Clinton also acknowledged doubts about her chances in a general election, should she win the nomination, that stem from national polls that consistently show her unfavorable rating to be around 40 percent.

“I do seem to inspire strong feelings,” the 59-year-old former first lady told two dozen of Iowa’s most influential Democrats at the state party’s central committee meeting in Des Moines.

In small groups, during interviews with Iowa media and in front of about 1,500 people at East High, Clinton repeatedly said voters will find her the most qualified Democrat, if they can get past the national hype.

She never mentioned her husband Bill’s time in office as the most recent Democrat president. Instead, she touted her six years in the Senate, career as a lawyer in Arkansas and policy efforts while first lady.

“Let’s start with what’s the most important concern: Who can be the best president?” she said in the Register interview. “I think I’m that person. And if that’s the question we get to, then I believe people will feel comfortable supporting me.”

Clinton’s heralded arrival in Iowa this weekend came a week after she declared she would form a committee to explore the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

The East High forum had the flavor of a fall campaign’s closing days, with many in the jammed gymnasium waving “Hillary” signs. Another 1,000 people gathered in the old gym to watch on TV.

Clinton took questions about health care, being a woman presidential candidate and the war in Iraq.

“I’m less skeptical than I was two hours ago,” Des Moines Democrat Elizabeth Sedrel said, as supporters and photographers flocked around Clinton at the end of the forum. “But I’m still not sure. There’s a long way to go.”

Clinton pivoted away from her position about the politically touchy war in Iraq during the forum, and talked more about veterans health benefits.

But during the meeting with state party leaders, she was asked directly about the potential problem her vote for the 2002 resolution authorizing President Bush’s use of force in Iraq.

Clinton said, as she has since last month, that she would not have voted for the resolution had she known that the Bush administration’s justifications for the war would be proven to be unfounded.

She also shot back at her rivals, who have become more openly critical of Clinton for not saying the vote was a mistake.

“I’ve taken responsibility for my vote. But there are no do-overs in life. I wish there were,” she told the group.

“I’ve also been a member of the Senate and looked for ways to help try to manage this very dangerous situation,” she said earlier, during the interview.

Former Sen. John Edwards, who leads in early caucus polls, and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack have said Clinton has not done enough to stop Bush from sending more troops to Iraq.

“It’s easy to be on the sidelines and say this and that,” she said.

Clinton has called for capping troops at existing levels in Iraq, gradually redeploying them and cutting funding for Iraqi security forces.

She opposes Bush’s plan to send the additional 21,500 troops to secure Baghdad and other areas in Iraq. But she also opposes blocking funding for those troops.

Instead, she said, getting Republican support for a non-binding resolution expressing opposition to the troop surge can spark a political movement to end the war.

Ames Democrat Jim Hutter, a former member of the state central committee, said Clinton’s answer satisfied him.

“My concern is Iowa caucus-goers have not heard her make the statement she made today,” said Hutter, who supported former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean in the 2004 caucuses but is undecided about 2008.

Clinton has trailed Edwards in Iowa and has support similar to Vilsack and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, according to recent polls.

Clinton said Iowans have not seen her up close yet. She promised to wage an all-out campaign for the caucuses, less than a year away.

She planned to campaign tonight in Cedar Rapids and Sunday in Davenport. Her first event in Davenport, originally planned as a small-group gathering at a restaurant, is now scheduled as another town hall-style forum at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds.

Clinton stopped short of saying she expected to win the Iowa caucuses.
“I have no expectations,” she said. “I’m starting off (with) the idea I have to earn every vote. That’s what I did in New York. That’s what I’m going to try to do in Iowa.”
Howie P.S.: It doesn't inspire much confidence in the candidate when she tells us she accepted "the Bush administration’s justifications for the war" that later "would be proven to be unfounded." There were plenty of people who figured that out before the vote and many people made the effort to communicate that to her, but she chose instead to believe George W. Bush. I don't see how her explanation strengthens her qualifications for the job.

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