COLUMBIA, S.C. — Sen. Hillary Clinton said Saturday that, if elected president, she will call on "a new generation of Americans to serve."
Clinton made her comments in wrapping up the three-day College Democrats of America convention at the University of South Carolina.
The leader in polls among Democratic presidential candidates for 2008, Clinton told several hundred cheering young Democrats that the next presidential election is about new leadership but also "a new citizenship" that defines who we are as a nation.
She said six years under Republican President George W. Bush have led to U.S. "alienation around the world" and "incompetence and indifference here at home."
Clinton, who has been elected to the U.S. Senate twice from New York, said she wants to create a public service academy designed to inspire young Americans to serve others.
"We are a good and great nation," Clinton said. "We can restore America's image around the world. Let's do it together."
Clinton had control of the crowd from the outset. Relaxed and speaking calmly, Clinton blasted the Bush administration for "denial and defiance" of global warming and for threatening to veto an expanded children's health insurance program under consideration in Congress.
She called the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina "a national disgrace" and "an indictment."
Clinton said America must start getting U.S. troops out of Iraq "as soon as possible."
"This has to be started immediately, but it is going to take time, and it must be done right," she said.
Clinton was the third leading Democrat in the 2008 presidential race to speak to the College Democrats, following Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who spoke earlier in the week.
About 500 college delegates from around the country came to USC for the three-day convention, designed to develop political leadership and organizational skills among young Democrats.
Clinton is "my No. 1 candidate. I think she's a great choice for the party," said Heather Simpson, a 21-year-old senior political science/criminal justice major at St. Louis University. "I like what she is doing for women, the middle class, her health care program, on affordable education. She is excellent."
Clinton's speech was interrupted by a protester who entered the Russell House ballroom at USC and walked up the center aisle to within 30 feet of the former first lady holding a placard above her head. It read, "She doesn't care. All she wants is power."
The young Democrats shouted the woman down. She was removed from the hall by the College Democrats' staff.
"One of the things I love about politics is, you never know what another day will bring," Clinton told the students.
Later, en route to a Democratic fundraiser in Beaufort, Clinton said she did not think the incident had required any Secret Service agents to respond. She said it appeared to be someone who had gotten past the College Democrats' staff.
Referring to barbs exchanged by her campaign and the Obama camp after Monday's debate in Charleston, Clinton said it is time to "end all this yelling at one another."
State and national polls show Clinton holding a steady lead over her two closest rivals, Obama and Edwards.
South Carolina is scheduled to hold one of four early Democratic presidential contests next year. South Carolinians will vote Jan. 29, after the Iowa and Nevada caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. However, Florida also plans a Jan. 29 primary. That would jeopardize South Carolina's claim to the first Southern primary.
Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., addressed the college students Saturday before Clinton.
"I represent a state that has not been too successful in Democratic politics the last few years," said Clyburn, the No. 3 Democrat in the House. "(But) we do not give up easily."
Clyburn told the young Democrats they should feel proud their party has returned to majority status in the U.S. House and Senate.
The students gave Clyburn, the first African-American elected to Congress from South Carolina since 1897, a standing ovation.
(c) 2007, The State (Columbia, S.C.).
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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.