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In her first campaign trip to Iowa, Clinton stresses gender

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DES MOINES, Iowa—Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton opened her quest for the White House Saturday stressing her potentially historic role as a woman—a tough woman at that, who will "deck" opponents, win the presidency and enact universal health care that eluded her as First Lady.

"When you're attacked, you have to deck your opponents," the New York Democrat said to applause from a group of about 50 Iowa Democrats Saturday.

"I want to run a positive, issue-oriented, visionary campaign. But you can count on me to stand my ground and fight back," she said.

Clinton received enthusiastic applause from Democratic audiences throughout the day Saturday in her first visit since declaring her candidacy. That's important as she sets out to overcome the early lead built up in the state by former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.

"I intend to do it the old-fashioned way," she told Democrats at a town hall meeting later Saturday.

While she hasn't been to the state since 2003—Edwards has been there 17 times since the 2004 election—Clinton vowed to return to living rooms, church basements and union halls for intimate conversations. That kind of personal encounter is expected in a state whose caucuses likely will kick off the 2008 presidential contest next winter.

Close conversations were impossible this weekend with more than 150 journalists tagging along, including television crews from England, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Switzerland. But she vowed their interest would drop off and she'd get more chances to talk with voters.

The cheers seemed particularly warm from women, many of whom said they sensed the very real prospect of a woman president for the first time in their lives.

"I feel it in the heart," said Marcy Hintz of Des Moines.

"It's about time, if not past time, that we had a woman president," said a woman at the town hall meeting in posing the first question to Clinton.

Clinton welcomed the chance to talk about her gender.

"I know there are people who either say or wonder, will we ever elect a woman president?" she said. "I'm going to try."

She said the country is good at breaking historic barriers, and noted to applause that there are now 16 women in the United States Senate. "The numbers are increasing," she said.

Women in the audience cheered readily when Clinton asked them to "think of what you felt like when you saw Nancy Pelosi" sworn in as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

They nodded in agreement when she said, "I'm not the only woman here who thinks you have to work a little harder. I'm willing to do that."

And they laughed, along with all the men, when she said something few male candidates ever say: "I suspect there will be more stories about my clothes and hair."

She warned there may be other, "bloody," stories as well, perhaps a reference to her husband's infidelities. But she said they would be based on a double standard and urged voters to look past them to issues that matter to them.

Clinton came to Iowa without her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and did not mention him. She did mention the "Clinton administration," which drew applause, and one handwritten sign welcomed "President Clinton - 2008."

Coincidentally, her arrival Friday came 15 years to the day after she and her husband went on the CBS program "60 Minutes" to answer allegations of his infidelity.

"I'm not sitting here like some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette," she said then.

Clinton sought to differentiate herself from her rivals by nature of her long experience in public policy. Edwards served just one term in the Senate; the other candidate vying for the top tier in Iowa, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, is still in his first term after seven years in the Illinois legislature.

"I have a lifetime of experiences as well as qualifications from all the work that I've done that make me particularly well prepared to take office in January 2009," she said.

Clinton did not face any tough questions over her support for the Iraq war, though anti-war activists in the party complain that she hasn't called her vote to authorize the war a mistake as Edwards has done. Obama opposed the war from the onset.

"I've taken responsibility for my vote," she told one group of Iowa Democrats. "But there are no do-overs in life. I wish there were. I acted on the best judgment I had at the time."

She vowed universal health care, following Obama's call last week to extend health care coverage to everyone within six years.

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(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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