Sen. Hillary Clinton speaks to supporters during a campaign stop at Dover High School on Saturday morning. (Photo by Andrew Moore)
DOVER -- Hours before casting a Senate vote on a nonbinding resolution that opposes the president’s decision to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq, Sen. Hillary Clinton defended her former and current position on the war with New Hampshire residents.
"If (Bush) does not end this war by the time he leaves office, when I am president, I will," Clinton told a cheering crowd.
About 500 people filled the Dover High School cafeteria Saturday morning in a town hall-style meeting. However, before taking questions from the audience, Clinton spoke to a few issues.
"People keep asking, ‘Will we ever elect a woman?’ Well, we’ll never know until we try," said Clinton. "But I’m not campaigning as a woman. I am here because I believe I am the most qualified person for this job."
When she was asked about health care, education, the war in Iraq and the most recent concerns surrounding Iran, Clinton continually returned to a theme that she would work to restore "America’s standing and respect in the world."
"It will be the job of the next president to get that back," Clinton said. "We need a president who reaches out to the rest of the world and makes it clear that the cowboys are gone."
Clinton spoke of growing up in the baby boomer generation, during the rise of the civil rights movement and the women’s movement, when American citizens were able to work to make difference. Clinton said she fears "that is not going to be there for the next generation" and called this "a defining moment" for the country.
The former first lady said she plans to seize the moment and work to provide quality, affordable health care for every American; cease dependence on foreign oil; decrease the number of troops in Iraq and improve education.
"I am in favor of accountability, but we are off track here," Clinton said of Bush’s No Child Left Behind legislation and adding that she will work with people "in the front lines" to determine a better policy.
One audience member pressed Clinton on specifics on her current view of the war and said she was "disappointed" in Clinton’s 2003 vote that authorized the president to go to war with Iraq.
Clinton repeated her standard answer: that she takes responsibility for her vote, but would not have voted that way had she known what she knows now.
Clinton said the important thing now is "just trying to end the war," which she is working toward with legislation that "will make it against the law to escalate this war."
As for Iran, Clinton said she would take a very different approach than the current administration and hold international talks to stabilize the Middle East.
"It would be a mistake of historic proportions if the president took action against Iran," she said.
She also reminded the crowd that it was in Dover that her husband made one of the most famous speeches of his 1992 campaign. It was less than a week before the primary, and then-Gov. Bill Clinton was stumbling over scandals involving marital infidelity and his efforts to avoid the Vietnam-era draft. But he reinvigorated his campaign with a speech at the Dover Elks Club, finished a close second to Paul Tsongas in the primary, dubbed himself the "Comeback Kid" and went on to win the presidency.
"Some of you might remember that during the 1992 campaign when my husband came to Dover and said, ’If you’ll stick with me, I’ll stick with you until the last dog dies.’ Well, imagine how I felt when I heard on Thursday afternoon that we were going to have this important vote in the Senate on Saturday," Clinton said.
"My staff said, ’Well, you’re going to have to cancel New Hampshire.’ I said, ’Cancel Dover?’ I said, ’Has the last dog died?’ Of course, the last dog has not died."
After listening to Clinton’s points, Sharon Nichols, vice chairwoman of the Portsmouth Democrats, said she no longer questioned whether Clinton would be too polarizing of a candidate and president.
"She spoke from the heart," said Nichols. "It didn’t sound like a stump speech. She was very candid and honest in her responses."
"She’s the smartest candidate running," said Jane Coder of Durham. "She has an integrity to make decisions that are best for all Americans, rather than just for a few, like our administration right now."Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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