Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has made it official, announcing "I'm in" for the 2008 presidential race on her Web site.
The former first lady acknowledged her plans to take the first step of forming a presidential exploratory committee.
"I'm not just starting a campaign, though. I'm beginning a conversation with you, with America," Clinton says in her web message. She announced that she will be holding live, on-line video conferences with Americans starting Monday.
"Let's talk about how to bring the right end to the war in Iraq, and to restore respect for America around the world," she said.
Clinton also doesn't shy away from her widely criticized role in the ultimately unsuccessful push for universal health care.
"Let's definitely talk about how every American can have quality, affordable health care," she said in the message.
Early in her husband Bill's presidency, Clinton led a task force to transform the health care system. The policy was never enacted.
"So let's talk, let's chat... because the conversation in Washington has been just a little one-sided lately, don't you think?" Clinton said.
Clinton's announcement, days after Sen. Barack Obama shook up the contest race with his bid to become the first black president, establishes the most diverse political field ever.
Clinton is considered the front-runner, with Obama and 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards as other top contenders. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who would be the first Hispanic president, intends to announce his plans on Sunday. Other Democrats seeking the highest office in the land include Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio). Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) is expected to formally announce his candidacy soon.
With millions in the bank, a vast network of supporters and top status in nearly every poll of Democratic contenders, Clinton is undertaking the most viable effort by a female candidate to capture the White House. Her creation of a presidential exploratory committee allows her to raise money for the campaign; she already has lined up campaign staff.
She is the first presidential spouse to pursue the office; her husband, Bill, served two terms in the White House from 1993-2001.
A polarizing figure since she burst onto the national scene during her husband's first presidential campaign, Clinton engenders strong opinions among voters, who either revere or revile her but rarely are ambivalent.
She often is compared to her husband and found lacking in his natural charisma. Others have criticized her for being overly cautious and calculating when so many voters say they crave authenticity.
Many Democrats, eager to reclaim the White House after eight years of President Bush, fret that she carries too much baggage from her husband's scandal-plagued presidency to win a general election.
Clinton's allies counter by citing her strengths — intelligence, depth of experience, work ethic and immense command of policy detail. Advisers argue those skills, plus her popularity among women and younger voters, position her strongly as both a primary and general election candidate.
In her first run for the Senate from New York in 2000 — a state where she had never lived and where she was branded a carpetbagger by many — Clinton won a landslide victory. Through dogged campaigning — including a "listening tour" of the state's 62 counties — Clinton was able to convince voters even in the conservative upstate region that she would represent them effectively in Washington.
Clinton's 2002 vote authorizing military force in Iraq has become a significant political challenge. It angered activists who want her to repudiate her vote and aggressively seek to block Bush's proposed troop increase.
She has toughened her criticism of the conduct of the war and Bush's handling of the conflict, and she recently called for capping troop levels in Iraq at around 140,000. She has rejected calls from liberal groups and Edwards to cut off funds for Bush's planned increase in U.S. troops.
Clinton grew up in the Chicago suburbs in a conservative Republican household and was a "Goldwater girl" in 1964, supporting conservative icon Barry Goldwater in the presidential race won by Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson.
By 1968, she was a Democrat. After graduating from Wellesley College, she attended law school at Yale where she met her husband, Bill Clinton. In 1974, she worked on the House Judiciary Committee's impeachment investigation of President Nixon before moving to Arkansas where she and Clinton were married in 1975.
An influential player in her husband's political career in Arkansas, she leapt to the national scene during the 1992 presidential campaign when the two fought to survive the scandal over Gennifer Flowers' allegations of a lengthy affair with Clinton when he was the state's governor. The Clintons appeared together on CBS' "60 Minutes" to talk about their marriage — her first famous "Stand by Your Man" moment.
As first lady, Clinton headed up a disastrous first-term effort to overhaul the health care insurance system. There was more controversy as the couple battled allegations of impropriety over land deals and fundraising, missing records from her former Arkansas law firm and even her quick and hefty profits from an investment in cattle futures.
There was no letup in the second term. The president found himself denying — then admitting — having a sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. As he battled impeachment and possible removal from office, his wife's poll numbers rose.
Her own political career began to take shape in late 1998 when New York Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan announced he would not seek re-election to the Senate seat he had held since 1976. Within a few weeks, the first lady was being talked up by fellow Democrats as a possible successor for the veteran senator.
On Feb. 12, 1999, the very day the Senate was voting not to remove her husband from office, Clinton met in the White House's family quarters with New York Democrat Harold Ickes, a former Clinton administration deputy chief of staff, to talk about a Senate run.
The campaign trail was not always friendly. For almost every cheer, there was a shouted "Go home, Hillary!" and the emerging Republican theme that carpetbagger Clinton simply wanted to use New York as a launching pad for a later presidential run. She pledged to serve her full six-year Senate term if elected.
In the Senate, Clinton quickly moved to establish herself as someone who could work with Republicans or Democrats, often sponsoring high-profile legislation with Republican colleagues.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.