In Iowa, Clinton Calls Bush Reckless

Logan Crawford, 8, snaps pictures of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) at a campaign stop in Davenport, Iowa. Clinton tried to mingle in small settings.
Logan Crawford, 8, snaps pictures of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) at a campaign stop in Davenport, Iowa. Clinton tried to mingle in small settings. (By Frank Polich -- Bloomberg News)
By Anne E. Kornblut and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, January 29, 2007

DAVENPORT, Iowa, Jan. 28 -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), toughening her tone during a second day of campaigning in Iowa, accused President Bush of trying to pass the problems in Iraq on to the next president and described his actions as "the height of irresponsibility."

"The president has said this is going to be left to his successor. He has said that on more than one occasion," Clinton said during a town hall meeting here Sunday morning. "I really resent it. This was his decision to go to war."

Her comment quickly reverberated at the White House, where a spokesman issued a statement denouncing Clinton for a "partisan attack that sends the wrong message to our troops, our enemies and the Iraqi people."

Clinton, still relatively new to the presidential race, got a glimpse of how direct and inquisitive Iowa voters can be as she faced questions about her failed health-care plan in the 1990s and her ability to confront foreign threats. But she appeared prepared for the interrogation and showed a flash of humor as well.

Asked by a voter what qualified her to handle leaders from countries such as Iran and North Korea, Clinton began her reply, then stopped and, for effect, repeated the question.

"What in my background equips me to deal with evil and bad men?" she said wryly, prompting peals of laughter from the audience. She had begun with a reference to Osama bin Laden, but the crowd's reaction suggested they thought her experience with "bad men" involved someone other than the terrorist leader.

In a news conference later that day, Clinton tried to avoid explaining which "bad men" she had been referring to, initially insisting that she had simply repeated the audience member's question.

Minutes later, though, she acknowledged she had been showing her playful side. "I thought I was funny," she said, chiding reporters who pressed her on the remark. "You know, you guys keep telling me to lighten up. I get a little fun-

ny, and now I'm being psychoanalyzed."

Clinton has sought to strike a balance during her first days as a presidential candidate, between proving her toughness and revealing her personality after years of being closely guarded in public. She dropped nuggets from her personal biography -- comparing her high school in Illinois to ones she visited in Iowa and casually referring to her husband as "this guy from Arkansas" -- into lengthy and detailed discourses about public policy.

More than questions on Iraq, Clinton heard repeated questions Sunday morning about health care, a subject that was once a liability for her but that she is now seeking to turn into an asset. One voter asked her bluntly what happened when she and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, tried to expand coverage in 1993-1994 and what she intended to do now to reach that goal.

"It's a fair question," Clinton replied, "because everybody who cares about this issue -- which is nearly everybody in the country -- knows that we tried very hard in '93-'94 and we could not put together the political consensus that we needed to make changes."

What followed was a 10-minute explanation of why the Clintons had failed then, how the problem has grown worse in the subsequent years and why she is not ready to outline in any detail her plan for the future. ("I'm not ready to be specific until I hear from people," she said.)

In keeping with her expressed desire to hold a "conversation with Iowans," Clinton asked at one point for a show of hands from the audience to see how many would prefer employer-based health insurance, how many would prefer a system in which individuals purchased insurance, with help from the government if necessary, and how many would prefer a system modeled on Medicare.

The audience overwhelmingly favored moving toward a Medicare-like system for all Americans. But Clinton, recalling the famous "Harry and Louise" ads run by opponents of her early-'90s health-care plan, warned that until there is greater political consensus, the same kind of attacks could sink any new efforts to provide universal coverage.

"I've been through this, so I know how hard it's going to be," she said.

On Iraq, Clinton continued to explain her 2002 vote authorizing the war in Iraq without apologizing for it, saying that even at the time, "I said this is not a vote for preemptive war." She said she opposes Bush's plan to send more troops to Iraq and favors capping the number of troops at the level it was on Jan. 1.

Traveling in an eight-car entourage that included her campaign manager, her deputy campaign manager, her Iowa director, four communications strategists and a cluster of Secret Service agents, Clinton made several attempts over the weekend at mingling with Iowa voters in small gatherings, including at a house party in Cedar Rapids on Saturday night.

After two days in Iowa, Clinton flew to Florida for a meeting with labor organizers and was scheduled for a stop in Texas on Senate business before returning to Washington on Monday night. Next weekend, she makes her first trip to New Hampshire, the first early-primary state.

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