In interview, Clinton says New Hampshire has varied concerns

DOVER -- The war in Iraq might be dominating the headlines, but Sen. Hillary Clinton said she’s found the people of New Hampshire have many concerns about the future of this country.

In Berlin, it was the economy. In Concord, it was education. In Keene, it was manufacturing and trade. In Manchester, and at Saturday’s town hall meeting in Dover, the big issue was health care.

In the few weeks since announcing her plans to run for president, Clinton’s New Hampshire campaign strategy has been to talk with voters in smaller, town hall-type forums. During these "conversations," Clinton not only gets the chance to hear what’s on the voters minds but lets the voters hear where she stands on Iraq, Iran, the economy and health care during a campaign where coverage has been dominated by the process of politicking.

In an interview with the Herald Sunday on Saturday, Clinton said she realizes people might see her as a polarizing candidate, but hopes her conversations tour -- as well as her bipartisan efforts in Congress -- will put those worries to rest.

"I just ask people to get to know me and judge me on who I really am, not who they hear or think that I am," she said. "People see through a lot of the smokescreen on the political back and forth ... especially in New Hampshire."

Clinton was originally scheduled to attend a morning house party in Portsmouth and the Dover town hall meeting in the afternoon, but the Dover event was moved up because the Senate was scheduled to vote on President George Bush’s troop surge in Iraq on Saturday afternoon.

Last weekend, much was made in the national media about her reluctance to admit she had made a mistake in voting to authorize the president to invade Iraq. Again, on Saturday, the issue was raised, and again, Clinton did not admit to making a mistake.

"There were lots of mistakes made," she said. "I think, as I said, I made the best judgment I could at the time."

"I believe a lot of it is the result of the frustration and the outrage at the way this president continues to conduct this war ... I’ve been speaking out against his conduct in this war from very close to the beginning ... We had an election where people like Carol (Shea-Porter) were elected and yet nothing seems to change this president’s direction. At a certain point, people are just besides themselves about what’s going on and obviously they want something to happen. We are trying to make something happen."

During her campaign event in Dover, it was clear the senator has a strong female following in the Seacoast. When she asked the crowd if the country was ready for a woman president, about two dozen women scattered throughout the hall immediately yelled, "Yes!"

"I see that all over," Clinton said. "I was first struck by it when I went to Iowa and the numbers of women and the fathers who brought their daughters, it was very emotional. I got that same sense here in New Hampshire."

Clinton said she feels the country has come a long way in regards to accepting women in roles of power and doesn’t think her gender will be an obstacle in the campaign.

"I really believe most people will judge the candidate on the candidate’s merits and because I am a woman it will attract a lot of attention and even some voters," she said.