Hillary Clinton: "I'm Battle-Hardened"

Hillary Rodham Clinton
CBS/The Early Show
White House hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton says her years under the media spotlight have made her "battle-hardened" and have prepared for tough questions on the campaign trail.

"What I think I bring to the table, in addition to my ideas and my experience, is that I'm battle-hardened. I've been there. I know how to overcome these kinds of political tactics," she told CBS News Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith on Tuesday.

Asked how she would handle questions about things like Whitewater, Travel-gate and the impeachment of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, the junior senator from New York said, "I think the country's turned a page on all of that. I certainly have. I live in the present, looking toward the future."

A new CBS News poll released Monday showed Clinton with a 17-point edge over the man considered her closest Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama. The poll also showed most Americans see her as a strong leader with the right experience to be a good president, but four in ten doubt she can be elected.

Clinton acknowledged that there have long been questions about her "electability."

"I was told the same thing when I started running in New York. I was told people didn't like me, they wouldn't vote for me," she said. "What I wanted there and what I want here is just a chance for people to get to know me as I am. Not as they may have heard about me from, you know, cable TV or radio or somewhere."

Clinton vowed to use "old-fashioned" tactics to get her message out - "going to living rooms, church basements and union halls" – as well as newer ones, like the Web.

"I started these Web chats last night on HillaryClinton.com," she said. "We got thousands of questions. We try to make sure that I'm communicating directly, frankly, in an unfiltered way so people can figure out whether they agree with me or don't agree with me."

Looking ahead to Tuesday night's State of the Union address, Clinton expressed some optimism about what President Bush would discuss.

"From what I hear, at least he's going to be opening the door on health care and energy, which I'm thrilled about. I don't know that I will agree with his particulars, but the fact that the president's going to stand up and put forth a plan to try to help get everybody insured is a big step forward for this White House. And I want to be part of that solution, the same on energy," she said.

On Monday, Clinton announced she will not accept public campaign financing for either the Democratic primaries or, if she wins the nomination, the general election campaign.

Clinton's decision had been widely expected given her and her husband's proven ability to raise vast sums of money quickly. Her advisers have not disputed estimates that she will raise $100 million or more before the year is out.

The New York senator already has more than $14 million in the bank, money left from her successful re-election campaign last year. The funds can be spent on her presidential bid.

While both President Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry rejected public funding for their primary campaigns in 2004, they did accept $74.5 million each for the general election campaign. The funding for the general election was expected to reach $85 million for the major party candidates in 2008.

Analysts had been predicting that the major candidates for 2008 would reject the public financing option for both primaries and the general election because of the growing cost of competing. Not accepting public financing allows candidates to keep raising and spending as much as they want.

Clinton becomes the first of the top-tier candidates to announce the rejection of public financing.

"Both presidential nominees opted out of the public financing system in 2004 because the cost of running a modern campaign has gotten so expensive," said Phil Singer, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign. "These dramatic increases make it clear that the current public financing system is in need of an update and Senator Clinton would support modernizing it."

Strategists from both parties had estimated last year that the 2008 race could cost each nominee $500 million — far more than the Presidential Election Campaign Fund could afford. It is financed through the $3 checkoff on federal income tax returns.

The fund, which is expected to have about $200 million by the end of 2007, still would help pay for party presidential nominating conventions and assist primary candidates who do not raise large amounts of money.