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Hillary: I 'was the face of America'

From NBC/NJ's Athena Jones

PERRY, IA, Nov. 25 – Clinton talked about how her experience as First Lady helps qualify her for the job as President, said the troop surge in Iraq had not led to a political solution and bashed Obama's health care plan again today at her first press conference in about two weeks.

She also said she didn't put much faith in polls, in response to a question about the recent Washington Post/ABC poll that put her behind her chief rival, Obama, in Iowa.

When asked how her experience as First Lady made her more experienced than her opponents on matters of foreign policy and economic issues, the senator seemed to dodge the question at first.

"That's for the voters to decide," she said, "but I think that I bring unique experience, 35 years of experience, including the eight years in the White House, where I was very actively involved in issues both here at home and around the world, and I trust the voters to sort out all of these credentials and qualifications, and I'm proud that former Secretary of the Treasury Bob Rubin is supporting me for president."

Clinton answered more directly a follow up about comments supporter and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack made earlier this week that she was the face of foreign policy during her husband's administration.

"I traveled to I think, I don't know, maybe 80, 82 countries," she said, "and I went a lot of places that the president or the vice president or the Secretary of State couldn't go or couldn't get there yet. I was the first person for the administration to go to Bosnia after the Dayton Peace accords. I went to Africa; I went to India, Pakistan, the Indian subcontinent to sort of lay the groundwork for building an American relationship with a visit to come from the president. I went to Latin America, I think every year that I was in the White House, meeting with government officials, first ladies, not for profit organizations on issues like health care and education.

"I think that there are lots of ways in which what I did was the face of America when I was there when I was representing not just my husband but the country."

The senator reiterated a statement made to the New York Times that the troop surge in Iraq may have led to some tactical successes, but had not pushed the Iraqi government to reach a political solution to the country's problems.

"I think the American military, if you put enough forces anywhere, is going to score successes," Clinton said. "That's not really the question. The question is whether there is a military solution, engineered by the American military, for the problems in Iraq, and I don't believe there is a military solution. The whole idea behind adding more American troops was to give the Iraqi government the space and time to start making the political decisions that they have to make for themselves.

"There's nothing we can do to create the circumstances in which the Iraqis make the tough decisions about how they're going to live together as a country and what kind of future they're going to provide for their people. That hasn't happened. Even our military commanders in the last several weeks have remarked that they're disappointed that the Iraqi government hasn't taken advantage of the tactical achievements that the American military has made. So I don't believe if we stay another day, stay five days, stay five years or 10 years that we're going to make a difference militarily. Yes, we can have some tactical successes, but ultimately this is up to the Iraqis and I believe we should start bringing our troops home now."

On the recent Iowa poll showing Obama in the lead, the senator sought to manage expectations.

"There've been a lot of different polls," Clinton said, "and I, frankly, don't pay a lot of attention to any of them, because all that's going to count is who shows up on the night of Jan. 3, and I feel very good about where my campaign is in Iowa.

"It is a much more competitive race here than it is in other parts of the country. I started very far behind when I came into this race, but I feel we've been making progress, and every day that goes by, I feel that we're gaining new supporters, and I'm just going to get up every day and do what I'm doing now, which is to make my case, have my organization reach out to voters and we'll see what happens on Jan. 3, because that's the only count that really matters."

It's worth noting that Clinton or her surrogates -- like Vilsack and Terry McAuliffe -- often mention how many polls show her leading in various states and nationwide.

Clinton also repeated her attacks on Obama's health care plan, saying that by his own admission it did not cover 15 million people. She again stressed her belief that any plan has to start out by trying to cover everyone -- comparing plans that don't cover everyone to saying Medicare should be voluntary and people shouldn't have to pay the payroll tax.

In response to a question on how she would mandate coverage, Clinton said she would have to negotiate with the Congress to figure that out, adding that there were a "number of ways" to get to a mandate.

"Certainly for Democrats trying to choose a standard bearer, it's important to know what each of us would do when it comes to one of the most important issues in this race, namely healthcare," she said, "so I'm going to draw issue distinctions. Then when we choose a nominee, which I expect to be me, we're going to close ranks and we're going to run against the Republicans and win."

The senator also said following Obama's plan had been "confusing."

"It's been kind of confusing following his description of his own plan," Clinton said. "If you go back and look, he said it was universal; he said it was sort of universal; he said it wasn't universal; he said he covered everybody; he said he didn't cover 15 million. He has a mandate for kids, now he's against mandates. I think you're going to have to ask him what his plan actually does."