From NBC/NJ's Athena Jones
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- With one day to go before voters in Maryland, Virginia and the nation's capital hit the polls, Hillary Clinton began the morning with an event billed as "coffee and conversation with DC supporters" at the National Council of Negro Women.
She used the occasion to comment on the possibility of a pause in troop withdrawals from Iraq and to tout her belief city should have full voting rights.
"DC really deserves much more attention and support from the federal government," she said, before going on to talk about all the ways she tried to be involved in the lives of the people here.
"I would like to go even further and have full voting rights for the District of Columbia. I think this is, as you do, long overdue. It is wrong that we disenfranchise the people who live and work in this city, and it is one of the major planks of my campaign to do everything that I can," the senator said to applause. "I hope I will have the great honor, as president, of signing that into law."
The "conversation" part of the brief event did not take place within earshot of the press, which were hustled out to the bus -- in order to be in place to depart in the motorcade as soon as the senator was ready -- as Clinton chatted with audience members after speaking for about 15 minutes.
The Clinton campaign has largely discounted Tuesday's Chesapeake Primary, arguing rival Barack Obama has advantages in the area that will likely push him to victory, but before today's event began, reporters were given a two-and-a-half page list of members of the senator's "Washington, DC for Hillary Steering Committee."
Clinton hailed the NCNW, calling it "an extraordinary organization" and listing projects in Africa she had visited that the organization supported. She talked about working with Texas Cong. Sheila Jackson Lee -- one of her supporters -- "to finally remedy another injustice and that is to have an African-American woman represented in the capitol Statuary Hall" and thanked the group for helping her to get a congressional gold medal for the NCNW's chair and president emerita Dorothy Height.
The NCNW was founded by the educator and political leader Mary McLeod Bethune in 1935 to represent the interests of women of African descent. Black support has gone overwhelmingly to Obama in recent contests, but the Clinton campaign has consistently said it would not concede the votes of anyone and the senator herself has said she sees people as individuals not as members of a group. The audience at the event was mixed and gave the senator a warm reception.
After about 10 minutes, Clinton went on to the rest of her stump, pointing out -- as she has often since the Los Angeles debate -- the historic nature of her and Obama's candidacies and arguing she is the best choice to lead the country. She said being on stage in LA was like an "out of body" experience and that she and Obama represented the progress the country had made.
She criticized Obama on healthcare, calling it a "defining issue" of this campaign. "It is so disappointing to me that Sen. Obama will not support universal healthcare," she said. "If we don't stand for universal healthcare as Democrats, I don't know what we stand for."
Clinton also mentioned today's news that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said he could back Gen. David Petraeus' proposal for a pause in the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq this summer due to a shaky security situation there.
"I woke up to the news today that Secretary Gates has said that perhaps we won't be withdrawing as many of our troops from Iraq as originally promised. I can't say I'm surprised, because I don't think this president wants to end the war that he started," she said. "So we've got to be even more committed to withdrawing our troops and making it clear that when I am president we will bring our troops home safely and responsibly."
Clinton ended by talking about her ability to "go toe-to-toe" with presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain and asking people to help get out the vote over the next 24 hours.
"I hope you'll spend whatever time you can today and tomorrow talking to as many people, encouraging them to come out to vote. Asking them to look at what's at stake in this election," she said. "We're going to be successful. We're going to win this nomination and then we're going to go on to victory in November."
She was set to visit a GM plant in Baltimore, hold a rally in Charlottesville, Va., and have an interview with Politico in Rosslyn, Va., today.
*** UPDATE *** The RNC responds this way: "Senator Clinton has no credibility on the issue of Iraq," spokesman Alex Conant writes. "Her position changes depending on her status in the polls -- not our troops' status in Iraq."