BERLIN, N.H. – Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton faced tough questions Saturday from New Hampshire voters skeptical about her stand on the Iraq war, including one who demanded that she repudiate her 2002 Senate vote to send U.S. troops into battle.
In her first presidential campaign visit to the early voting state, Clinton sought to focus on her plans to revive struggling small-town economies, universal health care and making college more affordable. But at a crowded town hall meeting of some 350 people, Clinton was peppered with questions about Iraq.
Her toughest questioner was Roger Tilton, 46, a financial adviser from Nashua, N.H. Tilton told the New York senator that unless she recanted her vote, he was not in the mood to listen to her other policy ideas.
"I want to know if right here, right now, once and for all and without nuance, you can say that war authorization was a mistake," Tilton said. "I, and I think a lot of other primary voters — until we hear you say it, we're not going to hear all the other great things you are saying."
In response, Clinton repeated her assertion that "knowing what we know now, I would never have voted for it," and said voters would have to decide for themselves whether her position was acceptable.
"The mistakes were made by this president who misled this county and this Congress," Clinton said to loud applause.
"I love what she says about health care, I love what she says about capping troop levels, I love what she says about the war now," Tilton said, adding he would remain undecided until she offered a clearer answer.
Clinton's refusal to recant her vote has been a sore point for many Democratic activists who tend to vote heavily in the party's primaries.
Edwards, the former North Carolina senator and 2004 vice presidential nominee, has said his vote was wrong. Obama was not in the Senate in 2002 but has opposed the war from the outset.
Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination in 2008, has strongly criticized the Bush administration's conduct of the war, most recently in strong terms at a Democratic National Committee meeting. She promised to end the war if elected president. She also has proposed capping troop levels in Iraq.
For the most part, Clinton was received warmly by the audience. People applauded enthusiastically several times throughout her 90-minute appearance.
Clinton told the crowd she chose to open her visit in Berlin, a struggling paper mill town in northern New Hampshire, because the area resembled upstate New York and faced many of the same economic challenges.
"I'm starting in the north country for a simple reason — I want to be a president who represents all of America," she said. "Our small towns, our rural areas, places that need some extra help and attention to be as prosperous in the 21st century as you were in 20th century."
She said that as president, she would explore transforming abandoned mills into facilities to produce alternative forms of energy.
Clinton was headed to Concord, in southern New Hampshire, for a town hall meeting later Saturday.
On Sunday, she planned to attend house parties in Manchester and Nashua before a town hall meeting in Keene.
It was Clinton's first visit to New Hampshire since 1996, when as first lady she campaigned for the re-election of her husband.
New Hampshire was widely credited with reviving Bill Clinton's presidential prospects in 1992. He placed second in the state's primary amid a torrent of allegations about marital infidelity and questions about whether he had avoided military service in Vietnam.
He labeled himself "the comeback kid" after that primary, and went on to win the Democratic nomination and the general election.
Hillary Clinton reminisced about the warm welcome New Hampshire voters had given the Clintons in 1992, and said her husband envied her weekend visit to the state.
"The only thing I will try to do differently from my husband is not to make so many Dunkin' Donuts stops," she said to laughter. "Bill gained about 20 pounds in the New Hampshire primary and I cannot afford that."
She called her husband a "full-time political counselor" but nodded as a voter named Evelyn described waiting hours for Bill Clinton to autograph a copy of his book.
"I've waited for him a lot myself," the senator cracked.