Clinton Pressed on Electability
By Dan Balz
ST. LOUIS -- With the competition for states and delegates heading toward its conclusion on Tuesday, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton talked readiness and electability during a question-and-answer session at a Machinists union labor hall in St. Louis.
One woman put it to Clinton directly. "I just want reassurances that we're not going to shoot ourselves in our own foot this time," she said. "I think you're the best person to lead the country quite frankly. But I'm just really scared about your electability."
It is the question that follows Clinton wherever she campaigns -- and the question that Sen. Barack Obama plays on wherever he campaigns. She first told her questioner that she ought to vote her beliefs and vote for whomever she thinks would make the best president. "You have to believe I can demonstrate that to the rest of the country," she said.
She also drew an implicit contrast with Obama, although she didn't mention him by name in her answer. She has been through tough campaigns and has weathered every possible accusation that Republicans can throw at her, she said.
"This is going to be open season once again and we need to nominate somebody with the experience and the fortitude and know-how to take what they send our way and send it right back," she said.
The New York senator often talks about how she has tried to be a work horse in the Senate and not a show horse. In St. Louis, she suggested that she does not have her head in the clouds as a presidential candidate but is instead listening and learning from the problems of real Americans.
Again, without mentioning her rival, she said, "You know, politics can be conducted at 30,000 feet, lookin' down, pointing, waving -- or you can get down where people live."
As in her morning appearance before an African American audience, she talked about the history-making potential of the Democratic nomination battle, but pressed further her argument that shattering barriers isn't the question that Democrats must answer now.
"We have two candidates left after a vigorous and intense year of campaigning. Either one of us will change history," she said to applause. "That is not the question. The question is who will change America and who will deliver results for Americans. Who can on Jan. 20th, 2009, walk into the Oval Office, begin turning the economy around, be the commander-in-chief to bring our troops home safely and responsibly and get our country moving again."
Although the audience was friendly and enthusiastic, Clinton had to field a number of tough questions about the mandate that is part of her health care plan and why Democrats had not done more to end the war. Why not just filibuster and stand firm against President Bush, one person asked.
"We're trying to get something done," Clinton said. She tried to explain that the rules of the Senate require Democrats to get 10 Republican votes to do anything and that's been hard because GOP senators have generally stuck with Bush on Iraq.
"As long as the Republicans in the Senate stick with George Bush, we're not going to be able to move as quickly as we need to," she said. "That's why this election is not only about electing a president, but about electing more Democrats to be in the Senate."
From St. Louis, Clinton flew to Minnesota for a rally and to watch the Super Bowl. She is rooting for the New York team to win Sunday -- and Tuesday -- she told her St. Louis audience.
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