Hill's Town Hall Turn

Occasionally lapsing into a Southern accent in moments of laughter, but easily displaying her newfound knowledge of the Empire State, New York Senate candidate Hillary Clinton held a lengthy televised "town meeting" on the CBS News Early Show Wednesday morning.

The first lady discussed issues as diverse as carpetbagging, health care, negative campaigning and the controversy surrounding her husband's presidential administration.

And in her most strongly worded promise to date, she vowed not to jump from the Senate - if she wins in November - for a 2004 White House bid.

In Her Own Words
  • On Elian Gonzalez: "We can't be making decisions on a child's future when there is a competent parent who survives … without upsetting years of precedent."
  • On her negative poll ratings: "I just have more optimistic, positive people supporting me."
  • On her husband's possible role: "He'll be a member of the Senate Spouse's Club."
  • To a young questioner, who wondered who to vote off the island if she and Lazio were on Survivor: "Do your parents work for CBS?"
  • If she loses in November: "I will keep doing what I've always done."
  • The well-traveled rookie resident began the 45-minute town hall meeting with an assessment of her chances in the state, which appear to ride on a big victory in New York City, where polls show her with a commanding lead, and a decent showing upstate.

    Her opponent, Long Island GOP Rep. Rick Lazio, is expected to win upstate and in New York City suburbs, but the first lady hopes to marginalize her losses in these areas.

    She vowed not to forsake upstaters, even though it's the residents of the Big Apple who have the power to send her to Washington.

    "I believe strongly, that when I'm in the Senate, the upstate economy is the top priority … and I'm going to try to get that message out," she said. "It's tough for a Democrat because it's a traditionally Republican area."

    CBS News Early Show Anchor Bryant Gumbel began the session with a few pointed questions about the first lady's motivation for running. And it was clear Wednesday that the first lady, who has been campaigning hard for months, has learned to handle the question:

    "Who wouldn't want to live in New York?" she asked.

    On her high negative ratings in opinion polls, which seem to indicate that her rival's supporters have as part of their motivation a dislike for the first lady, she waded briefly into recent tumult at the White House.

    "For the last eight years, there's been a lot of controversy," she said, in a probable reference to her husband's scandals.

    But in response to a question about recent findings from Independent Counsel Robert Ray successor to Kenneth Starr, who said that he won't pursue the first lady on the White House travel office firings, despite some evidence of misconduct, she said:

    "I don't think there is substantial evidence. What (Ray) said is what I said I did. I think it's over."

    The first lady insisted Wednesday that, if elected to the Senate, she would not leave to run for the White House in the year 2004. Asked if she would be able to suppress the desire to "taste" such a victory, she said "I've been tasting it for eight years."

    She also said: "A senator has so much more privacy. Do you know where your senator is today?"