Hillary Clinton -- She's In!

For Sen. Hillary Clinton's first public appearance in the role of presidential aspirant, she chose a neighborhood health care center in New York that serves two neighborhoods: Chelsea and Clinton. Perhaps a coincidence, perhaps not.

"When we named our daughter we had no idea we were naming her for two neighborhoods in New York," Clinton said.

As political events go, Sunday's had all the ingredients of the perfectly planned soft launch: a room too small, and kids too cute. With a 4-year-old girl clutching firmly to her hand, Clinton announced an ambitious plan to expand medical care.

"I will be introducing legislation to make health care available to every child in America," Clinton said.

While proposing to change policy in her current role as a legislator, the message was clearly designed to convey more than that: Hillary Clinton, presidential candidate, was in it, and in it to win.

The highly choreographed event was the first of many scheduled to follow Clinton's announcement of her candidacy Saturday morning. Despite these smooth, steady first steps, Clinton's official entry into the crowded field of 2008 presidential contenders let loose serious questions about everything from the timing of her announcement to the role her husband will play, and of course the awkward but unavoidable one: Is the country ready to elect a female president?

A Soft Launch

Monday morning, Clinton kept her focus on health care with an apperance at Ground Zero, demanding that President Bush provide funds for the first responders still suffering from symptoms generated by the collapse of the World Trade Center.

"We appeal to the federal government to provide the funding that is needed to make sure every one of these men and women get the treatment they deserve to have," Clinton said.

Clinton's choice to highlight health care beat Bush to the punch, who outlined his new health care initiative in his State of the Union address tonight. Still, the focus on health care was somewhat ironic, since it was health care that gave Clinton such a black eye in the first term of her husband's presidency.

Questions Abound

Following the event at Ground Zero, the candidate rollout continued with a sweep through the evening newscasts. When ABC's Charles Gibson asked if she would sign a pledge promising not to raise taxes, Clinton responded she would not sign pledges of any kind. After the newscast appearances, Clinton hosted the first of three planned Internet conversations with voters.

Two days after she announced her candidacy online, on a Saturday, Clinton was displaying her ability to command the attention of an extended news cycle.

Said ABC News' chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopolous, "I think the way they were able to orchestrate something that everyone has been expecting for 18 months and pull it off in a way that still seemed like news, dominating the news for a weekend and going into the State of the Union, was a sign of just how well thought out this campaign is and will be."

The timing of the announcement, following so closely on the heels of that by Clinton's top competitor for the nomination, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama did not escape notice.

"I think she was reacting to the excitement around Barack Obama," Mike Murphy, a Republican strategist, said. "She wants to hold her front-runner status, which I think is weaker now than it was six months ago, so she's gonna get right to the fight."

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