DES MOINES, Iowa – Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton opened her quest for the White House on Saturday stressing her potentially historic role as a woman – a tough woman at that, who will “deck” opponents, win the presidency and enact the universal health care that eluded her as first lady.
“When you’re attacked, you have to deck your opponents,” the New York Democrat said to applause from a group of about 50 Democrats on Saturday.
“I want to run a positive, issue-oriented, visionary campaign. But you can count on me to stand my ground and fight back,” she said.
Clinton received enthusiastic applause from Democratic audiences throughout the day in her first visit since declaring her candidacy. That’s important as she sets out to overcome the early lead built up in the state by former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.
“I intend to do it the old-fashioned way,” she told Democrats at a town hall meeting later Saturday.
While she hasn’t been to the state since 2003 – Edwards has been there 17 times since the 2004 election – Clinton vowed to return to living rooms, church basements and union halls for intimate conversations. That kind of personal encounter is expected in a state whose caucuses likely will kick off the 2008 presidential contest next winter.
Close conversations were impossible this weekend with more than 150 journalists tagging along, including television crews from England, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Switzerland. But she predicted their interest would drop off and she’d get more chances to talk with voters.
The cheers seemed particularly warm from women, many of whom said they sensed the very real prospect of a woman president for the first time in their lives.
“I feel it in the heart,” said Marcy Hintz, of Des Moines.
Clinton sought to differentiate herself from her rivals by nature of her long experience in public policy. Edwards served just one term in the Senate; another candidate vying for the top tier in Iowa, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, is still in his first term after seven years in the Illinois legislature.
“I have a lifetime of experiences as well as qualifications from all the work that I’ve done that make me particularly well-prepared to take office in January 2009,” she said.
Clinton did not face any tough questions over her support for the Iraq war, though anti-war activists in the party complain that she hasn’t called her vote to authorize the war a mistake as Edwards has done. Obama opposed the war from the onset.
She vowed universal health care, following Obama’s call last week to extend health care coverage to everyone within six years.