COLUMBIA, S.C. – New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton lashed out at President Bush's proposed troop buildup in Iraq during a campaign swing through South Carolina on Monday, telling a crowd of thousands that it must be halted.
"We need to stop this escalation that the president is carrying out," Clinton told more than 3,000 people who gathered at Allen University, a historically black college, for her first campaign stop in the state.
She said Iraq needs to know "the blank check days are over" and nodded several times -- but did not verbally respond -- after one man in the crowd called for Bush to be impeached over the war.
"The country spoke loudly and clearly in 2006," Clinton said, referring to Democrats taking control of Congress. "That is the beginning of taking our country back."
Clinton voted in 2002 to give Bush the authority for Iraq invasion but has not apologized for the decision like White House rival former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who has disavowed his vote. Another Democratic candidate, Sen. Barack Obama, has opposed the war from the outset. The Illinois senator was not in Congress at the time of the war vote.
Clinton, Obama, Joe Biden of Delaware and Chris Dodd of Connecticut all voted over the weekend to advance a Senate measure opposing Bush's Iraq policy.
Monday's campaign stop came as a new poll showed two-thirds of voters believe the country is ready for a woman president and that Clinton is running neck-and-neck with Republicans Sen. John McCain and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani for the White House. Many voters believe a woman would handle domestic issues better than a man, doing worse only as head of the U.S. military, according to the Siena Research Institute poll commissioned by Hearst Newspapers.
Clinton told the crowd she would push for better education funding and national health insurance. She said she is proud to be a woman "but I'm not running as a woman."
"Anyone can be president," she said. "I'm running because I believe I'm the most qualified person."
The telephone survey of 1,120 registered voters nationwide was conducted from Feb. 5-9. Its sampling error margin was plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The Clinton name continues to carry a lot of weight in South Carolina. The senator scored key endorsements last week from two black state senators who helped deliver Edwards to black voters in 2004. One of them, Sen. Darrell Jackson, whose media company also picked up a consulting contract from her campaign, introduced Clinton to the Allen University crowd.