DES MOINES -- At the first public event of her week-old presidential campaign, Hillary Rodham Clinton made gender a factor in the 2008 contest, noting the White House has too long been home to "white men."
Clinton is spending the weekend barnstorming in this first caucus state. She has not set foot in Iowa since 2003 and is trailing John Edwards and Barack Obama in polls here. Her campaign strategy is to replicate her 2000 first Senate race where she introduced and sold herself to her then newly adopted state of New York.
Her day started in Des Moines, meeting with Democratic activists, and wrapped up at a house party in Cedar Rapids.
In the afternoon, she drew more than 1,000 to a high school gym here for a well-staged, telegenic town hall-style meeting that gave the public the first taste of how the former first lady, now two-term senator, will pursue her historic bid.
"Now I know there are people who either say or wonder, 'Would we ever elect a woman as president?' ... I'm going to try," she said.
The crowd was friendly. No hostile questions. No one confronted her on her Iraq war vote, thought to be her Achilles' heel in Iowa.
"You go, girl," a woman called out.
"Go with me," Clinton shot back.
'Lifetime of experiences'
She talked and took questions on a set framed with red, white and blue banners with her motto, "Let the Conversation Begin," the 2008 incarnation of the "listening tour" she conducted in the run-up to her initial New York Senate race.
Clinton was very relaxed, perhaps because she finally declared for president and was freed from pretending otherwise. Though the papers she filed said "exploratory committee," she is not bothering with any political fiction.
"I'm running for president, and I'm in it to win it," she said, using what in seven days has become a stump speech line. Each person at the gym got an "I'm in to Win" button.
Clinton said she was running for president "because I want to renew the promise of America," and she said she has a "lifetime of experiences as well as the qualifications to run," which makes her "particularly well-prepared to take office in January 2009."
Female voters are a major target of the Clinton campaign, and she worked that theme hard.
"It is a fact that our political system has been dominated until recently by men and by white men," she said.
Referring to the recently cracked marble ceiling in the Capitol, Clinton said, "Think of what it felt like when you saw Nancy Pelosi become speaker of the House.
"I don't think I am the only woman here who feels sometimes you have to work harder, and I am prepared to do that."
She also said "she accepted" there were probably going to be stories about her clothes and hair.
And she mentioned other "funny stories" that could be out there "about differences between us" -- which could mean any number of things. She talked about a double standard, but she could have been referring to several items at that point.
Clinton, raised in Park Ridge, wanted a conversation, and she got one. Teacher Terri Hoffman, who lives in Des Moines and was raised in Rolling Meadows, told Clinton:
"A friend of mine went to high school with you and slept over when you had sleepovers," she said, referring to a Clinton Maine South chum named Diane Korda.
Without missing a beat Clinton said, "I hope she did not talk too much."