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Hillary Clinton appeals to skeptics in Iowa, some who find her "dishonest"

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at the Iowa Democratic Presidential Town Hall Forum in Des Moines, Iowa January 25, 2016.

REUTERS

With just about a week left to win over more Iowa caucus-goers, Hillary Clinton on Monday night confronted some of the more brutal concerns about her candidacy: that she's dishonest, not authentic enough, and that she's divisive.

At an Iowa town hall hosted by CNN, a college student told the former secretary of state that he's leaning toward caucusing for Sanders next week, as are many young Iowans. In fact, he said, some of his college friends consider Clinton "dishonest."

Clinton responded by first noting, "I'm totally happy to see young people involved in any way."

She then brushed off attacks on her character as the battle wounds of a time-tested leader.

"I've been around a long time, people have thrown all kinds of things at me," she said. "I just keep going forward."

Clinton acknowledged that "if you're new to politics," the attacks on her character may seem concerning. Yet she pointed out that she's been working on issues like achieving universal health care coverage longer than some young caucus-goers have been alive.

"I've been at the front lines of change and progess since I was your age," she told the college student. "I've taken on the status quo time and time again. I've had many, many millions of dollars spent against me."

Even when she wasn't able to reach her ultimate goals, Clinton said she has stayed on course: When she failed to get a comprehensive health care bill passed in the early 1990's during President Bill Clinton's administration, she instead focused on passing the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

"You have to have someone who is a proven fighter, somebody who has taken them on and win," she said.

According to the latest CBS News Battleground Tracker, the race in Iowa has come down to the wire: Sen. Bernie Sanders leads Clinton 47 percent to 46 percent. The Tracker does show, however, that more Democratic voters in Iowa think Sanders better understands what voters are feeling, and more think he'd be more willing to put the interests of the American people over financial backers.

Later in Monday night's televised town hall, another young Iowa Democrat questioned Clinton about the fact that Vice President Joe Biden said she's "relatively new" to the conversation on income inequality. The young voter suggested Sanders comes across as more authentic on the issue.

"I think it's fair to say I have a 40-year record of going after inequality," Clinton responded, pointing to her decades of work fighting racist, sexist and homophobic policies. She referenced one of her early jobs in the 1970's with the Children's Defense Fund, at which she took on the problem of juveniles incarcerated in adult jails. Clinton also cited her historic 1995 address to the United Nations' Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, where she declared, "Human rights are women's rights."

"I have a really long history of taking on all kinds of inequality," she said.

Clinton also took questions about how she would work with Republicans -- even as conservatives continue to question her role in September 11, 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya.

"This is only still an issue because the Republicans want to keep it an issue. They know it, I know it," Clinton said of the Benghazi controversy.

She lamented the fact that the issue has become politicized, when in previous eras -- such as the Reagan and Bill Clinton administrations -- Republicans and Democrats were more unified in the wake of terrorist attacks on Americans abroad.

Meanwhile, Clinton assured the Iowa voters at the town hall that she wants to be the president for "everyone," not just Democrats.

Ending on a more lighthearted note, Clinton was asked which U.S. president she admires the most.

"Sorry, President Obama, sorry Bill -- Abraham Lincoln," she said. "When I think about his challenges, they pale in comparison to anything we've faced or could imagine."