From NBC/NJ's Athena Jones
AMES, Iowa -- Clinton kicked off 2008 with a long, rallying speech, beginning with the kind of energetic, straight-out-of-the-pulpit shout and response we haven't seen from her very often on the campaign trail.
In recent days, her events have begun with a round of Hillary trivia and T-shirt tossing to rev up the crowd. Today, when the senator took the stage she wished everyone a Happy New Year and then posed a series of questions.
"After seven long years of George Bush and Dick Cheney, starting Thursday night, we are taking our country back and you all are gonna lead the way," Clinton said.
"Are you ready for change?" she asked a crowd that included several of the biggest names in media punditry. She went on to list the many things she would change, ending the war in Iraq, bringing troops home, ending dependence on foreign oil. The crowd played along, shouting "Yes" after each question.
"This is the most important caucus that I think we've had in America as long as I can remember because you truly are going to start the process of picking a president," she said.
Clinton hit all her major points in the 45-minute speech, while sprinkling in jokes about Bush and Cheney. She made sure not to mention any of her rivals, while repeating her argument that you have to work "really, really hard" for change, rather than merely demanding or hoping for it.
She told people of all parties that it mattered whether they participated in the caucus and she had a message for undecideds and first timers.
"I hope that as the next 48 hours unfolds, those of you who are still deciding, those of you who have never caucused before decide that you want to be part of taking our country back," Clinton said.
She closed by reminding voters she had stood up to the Republican attack machine.
"I am still here, still standing, still fighting," she said, her voice rising above the applause.
Then she did take questions, but only from the audience.
After the speech, Clinton stopped by the overflow room next door, where she was greeted by a woman who said she'd been a Republican for 30 years but was supporting her and by a young man who said he'd be caucusing for the first time and doing it for her. (State director Teresa Vilmain was right on her heels, making sure these two supporters knew where to go on caucus night.)
Today's tour will take the senator from Ames central Iowa to Sioux City and Council Bluffs on the western border to Iowa City in the east.