WASHINGTON – Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton went toe-to-toe Tuesday with some of her anti-war critics, opposing a hard deadline for withdrawing troops from Iraq and urging Democrats to unite to win back Congress.
At a speech before a liberal gathering dubbed "Take Back America," the New York senator took grief from those in the audience critical of her vote for the Iraq war and her opposition to an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops.
"I do not think it is a smart strategy, either, for the president to continue with his open-ended commitment, which I think does not put enough pressure on the new Iraqi government," said Clinton, before turning to the anti-war liberals' core beef with her.
"Nor do I think it is smart strategy to set a date certain. I do not agree that that is in the best interests," said Clinton, prompting loud booing from some at the gathering.
Clinton has been seen as the early favorite among potential Democratic candidates for president in 2008, but she is increasingly at odds with anti-war liberals over her past vote and current position on Iraq.
"Sometimes this is a difficult conversation, in part because this administration has made our world more dangerous than it should be," she said.
After addressing Iraq, Clinton quickly turned to the 2006 election, saying her party needs to speak to middle-class Americans and overcome disagreements.
"If we're going to win in November then we have to be smarter, tougher, and better prepared than our opponents, because one thing they do know how to do is win and we have to reach out to people who may not be able to agree with us," she said.
"We have to talk about the range of issues that are on their minds that they talk about around the kitchen table," Clinton said.
The speech was also peppered with plenty of attacks on the Bush administration, particularly on the Gulf Coast recovery efforts, which she called "a national disgrace."
Clinton charged that the administration has a history of talking tough, without acting tough. "They must watch old cowboy movies 24 hours a day," she joked.
Those sort of remarks were received enthusiastically, but not everyone was won over. As she left the stage, some in the crowd chanted to bring the troops home now.
The group was to hear later from two other key Democratic presidential contenders, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa.