Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks on the campus of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015, during a 'Commit to Vote' grassroots organizing meeting. (AP Photo/David Richard)

This story has been updated.

CLEVELAND -- Hillary Rodham Clinton likened Republican presidential candidates to fundamentalist terrorists with brutal or repressive views about women on Thursday, a significant escalation of her rhetoric about GOP positions on abortion that her campaign sees as a major vulnerability in the general election.

"Extreme views about women? We expect that from some of the terrorist groups. We expect that from people who don’t want to live in the modern world," Clinton said. "But it’s a little hard to take coming from Republicans who want to be the president of the United States."

Clinton did not say which terrorist or militant groups she meant as a comparison. Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria have held women as sex slaves and chattel, while the Taliban in Afghanistan refused to allow girls to attend school.

"They espouse out of date and out of touch policies," Clinton said of the current Republican field. "They are dead wrong for 21st Century America. We’re going forward. We’re not going back."

Allison Moore, national press secretary for the Republican National Committee, slammed Clinton for her comparison.

"For Hillary Clinton to equate her political opponents to terrorists is a new low for her flailing campaign," Moore said. "She should apologize immediately for her inflammatory rhetoric."

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who is seeking the GOP nomination, slammed the statement in a tweet:

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) -- another presidential hopeful -- also criticized Clinton for launching "misleading" and "negative" attacks as her poll numbers have softened in the state.

Clinton has repeatedly criticized GOP presidential candidates and Republicans in Congress for seeking to end government funding for women's health services at Planned Parenthood, which also performs abortions. The Democrat has signaled that policies important to many women, including equal pay and abortion rights, will be central to her campaign.

The remarks on Thursday came as Clinton began expanding her campaign into key swing states where Democrats face high hurdles for 2016.

She held a "commit to vote" rally at Case-Western Reserve University, her Clinton’s first such event outside Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, the states where the nation’s first presidential selection contests will take place early next year.

The Democratic front-runner has focused most heavily on Iowa since announcing her candidacy in April, largely in recognition of the damage done by her disappointing third-place finish there in 2008. She has spent nearly as much time in New Hampshire, going to one state or the other nearly every week since entering the race in April.

Clinton won delegate-rich Ohio that year but went on to lose the nomination to then-Sen. Barack Obama.

"I will never forget what Ohio did for me in 2008," Clinton said to cheers. "You lifted me up when I was down and out."

Clinton was the choice of 47 percent of Ohio Democratic voters in a Quinnipiac University poll of swing states released last week. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) had 17 percent and Vice President Biden, who has not entered the race, had 14 percent.

The Quinnipiac survey in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania, taken Aug. 7-18, shows Clinton looking somewhat weak. She is ahead of the pack for the Democratic nomination, but she pulls in less than a majority of Democratic voters.

"Other candidates may be out fighting for a particular ideology, but I’m fighting for you," Clinton told the crowd of about 1,800 who stood on a campus lawn.

Although she spent much of her speech criticizing Republicans, that remark also appeared to apply to Sanders. It is as close as Clinton has come to addressing the fervent progressive backing for Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist, and his anti-Wall Street message.

The event was one of Clinton’s larger events. She drew more than 5,000 for her first big rally, in New York, in June, but has otherwise mostly held smaller gatherings with a town hall feel.

Attendees Thursday were given a card asking them to pledge to vote for Clinton. Copies of those cards will be mailed back to voters just before the March 15th Ohio primary. Clinton is hoping to secure the Democratic nomination that month, regardless of the challenge from Sanders and the potential for Biden to make a late entry into the race. Biden is expected to decide on a candidacy next month.

Former Ohio Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, who is running for Senate, addressed the crowd before Clinton arrived, and said Ohio will be pivotal in 2016. Republicans know that, and are eyeing super PAC spending in the state, he said.

Perhaps more troubling for Clinton than her showing against other n Democrats, the Quinnipiac survey showed she trails or runs closely with various GOP candidates in the general election ballot test in the swing states tested.

In Ohio, she runs narrowly in match-ups with Bush (41-39), Rubio (40-42) and Trump (43-38). Biden doesn’t fare much better against Bush (42-39) or Rubio (42-41) but is stronger against Trump (48-38).
In Ohio, majorities see Clinton unfavorably, say she is not honest and do not see her as empathetic. Her 36 percent favorability rating in the state roughly matches that of Republican former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s 39 percent rating.

Peyton Craighill contributed to this report.