At Iowa Event, Clinton Vows Pre-Inauguration Diplomatic Push

By Anne E. Kornblut and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, September 17, 2007

INDIANOLA, Iowa, Sept. 16 -- Appearing Sunday at a mini-Democratic convention of sorts in a field, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton declared that if she is elected she will not wait until her inauguration to begin acting as president.

Clinton said that, the day after winning election, she would select envoys to "travel around the world with a very simple message: The era of cowboy diplomacy is over."

"America is back," she said.

Six of the Democratic candidates were on hand for the legendary steak fry hosted each year by Sen. Tom Harkin, an event that has become a testing ground for emerging stars and well-known contenders alike. It was here a year ago that Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), then just contemplating a presidential bid, drew large crowds and began seriously thinking about running.

On Sunday, Obama made a robust case for his candidacy, with a focus on health care, one day before Clinton is scheduled to roll out her long-anticipated plan for universal health care in a speech in Des Moines.

"If we don't change our politics, then we are not going to be able to bring about the kind of change that's absolutely necessary," Obama told the crowd of families, party activists and curiosity-seekers.

"You think about it -- we've been debating the idea of universal health care for decades now, through Democratic and Republican administrations," Obama said, a reminder of the failed attempt by Clinton in the 1990s to steer her husband's health-care policy. "We have not made it happen."

Clinton and Obama are in a three-way tie in Iowa with former senator John Edwards (N.C.), and all three are campaigning hard in the state. They view the caucuses here as a launching pad to winning the first primary, in New Hampshire.

Harkin called Iowa "a jump ball" and said that probably more than 60 percent of Iowa Democrats remain undecided about the caucuses. Three other candidates -- Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.), Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.) and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson -- also appeared at the steak fry, which Harkin said was the largest yet.

"This is my idea of a surge," Harkin said, looking out at the crowd assembled on lawn chairs, holding up signs for the candidates. "Republicans are in disarray. Karl Rove has cut and run. The Bush team is abandoning the sinking ship, but I think the most important story is that sensible, moderate Republicans realize that the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Rove-Gonzales party is not a party they can be proud of."

Richardson, in his remarks, gave credit to former vice president Al Gore for being prescient about the environment.

"We all just hope he doesn't get into the race," Richardson said.

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