Sen. Hillary Clinton went on the counterattack today, one day after a stinging defeat in the Iowa caucuses to Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.
She said New Hampshire voters need to take a hard look at Obama, suggesting that they shouldn't just buy into his message of "hope" without analyzing his policies.
Clinton said she wasn't suggesting anything in particular about Obama, but simply "drawing contrasts."
"I'm running on my record. … I'm running on my plans," Clinton told reporters. "I think everybody needs to be vetted and tested. That's the way elections are supposed to operate. The last thing the Democrats need is to just move quickly through this process."
While the senator was vague, her campaign pointed out to ABC News examples of Obama's liberal positions, including his 2004 statement to abolish mandatory minimum sentences for federal crimes. They also pointed out a statement Obama made in 2003 that he was "a proponent of a single payer health care program," which he no longer seems to support today.
Clinton said voters need to ask Obama more questions about his health-care plan to find out "where he stands."
She also played off Obama's call offering America "hope."
"We need a president who will actually deliver change," she said. "It is critical that we build confidence in our country. We can't have false hopes. We've got to have a person who can walk into the Oval Office on day one and start doing the hard work that it takes to deliver change. And I believe I'm that person."
"I'm not doing this as an exercise," Clinton said.
Asked what she meant when she said earlier to a crowd in Nashua, N.H., that all of the vetting and investigations of her record had found her "most innocent," Clinton simply said: "I think I come into this race tested and proven and ready to take on the Republicans no matter what they send my way."
As for losing Iowa, she discounted the impact. "Iowa doesn't have the best track record in determining who the party nominates," Clinton said. She offered several explanations for the loss.
"I was never a front-runner of any significance in Iowa. I knew it had a lot of difficulties that were there in terms of my candidacy," she argued, perhaps referring to being the only female candidate in the race. "I knew it was always gonna be hard for me."
She admitted that her campaign lost support among younger Iowans.
"I think there was a huge turnout," Clinton said. "I did very very well with people over 45, and I didn't do as well with people under 30 and I take responsibility for that."
Clinton also faulted the caucus system for some of her troubles. She said that New Hampshire's primary vote would be more favorable for her since working voters have all day to show up and vote and don't have to arrive at a specific time required in Iowa under its unique caucus system.
In New Hampshire, Clinton explained, "you're not disenfranchised if you work at night. You're not disenfranchised if you're not in the state."
"This is a new day. This is a new state," Clinton said.
Former President Bill Clinton rallied to his wife's side today, saying Hillary's disappointing third-place finish in Iowa was not a fatal blow. He predicted that she can be the "comeback kid" just like he was. "Absolutely," he told ABC News at a campaign event for his wife.
"Remember I lost here," he added, referring to his New Hampshire loss to Paul Tsongas in 1992 . Hillary Clinton finished in third place in Iowa getting 30 percent of the vote. She was edged out of a second-place finish by former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.
The former president stressed that early losses can be overcome. He then quickly listed off his other losses from memory: "South Dakota, Maine, Maryland, Colorado, before I ever won a state," he said.
He said his wife is in better position in New Hampshire then he was. "She's got a better profile here. They know more about her now than they did about me then. And I think she'll be fine. We just get out and go"
As much as she talked up how much fun it was to get to know Iowa, Hillary Clinton never really felt at home among the cornfields.
New Hampshire is more Clinton's style. She and Bill have old friends here. They know their way around its winding roads and quaint colonial towns.
The New York senator lands in New Hampshire with a weight on her shoulders. Will she be able to persuade voters here to do what Iowans did not? Will another loss in New Hampshire be fatal for her campaign? Or can they — as campaign officials continue to insist — win the nomination without the help of Iowa or New Hampshire if it comes down to that?
Trying to put a positive face on what was clearly not a good night, Clinton addressed supporters in a ballroom of the Fort Des Moines hotel Thursday night. As she entered, flanked by her husband and daughter, the crowd broke into a chant of "Hillary Hillary!"
"We're gonna take this enthusiasm and go right to New Hampshire!" Clinton yelled.
But just moments before Clinton's arrival, those supporters had been outside at the open bar, watching somberly as Barack Obama was projected the winner on big screen televisions. They nursed drinks and frowned.
Clinton tried to frame her loss in Iowa as a turning point for Democrats.
"This is a great night for Democrats," she said. "We have seen unprecedented turnout here in Iowa and that is good news because today we are sending a clear message that we are going to have change. And that change will be a Democratic president in the White House in 2009."
She congratulated rivals Obama and John Edwards and thanked the others in the field.
"Together we have presented the case for change and made it absolutely clear that America needs a new beginning," Clinton said, using one of the key lines from her closing argument in Iowa.
But Iowa voters chose Obama as the candidate who best represents change. And Clinton may need to find another argument.
Thursday night she argued that she is the candidate who is electable and who has the experience to be president.
"What is most important now is that as we go on with this contest that we keep focused on two issues, that we answer correctly the question that each of us has posed: how will we win in November 2008 and who will be the best president on day one? I am ready for that contest!"
As upbeat as Clinton tried to be, there was clearly disappointment among her staff and supporters.
One of the biggest disappointments was the number of women voters who did not stick with the only female candidate in the race, and voted for Obama instead.
Obama beat Clinton among women voters in Iowa — garnering 35 percent of the female vote to her 30 percent.
Clinton's Iowa campaign had been banking on support from women, particularly older women. The senator made a strong pitch to women — talking about women's rights and repeatedly telling the story of little girls who would be inspired by her example and hope to be president one day.
Her campaign ran ads featuring Clinton's daughter and mother. They trotted out old friends who talked about Clinton's warmth and caring.
Ellen Malcolm, the founder of Emily's List and a Clinton supporter who stood on stage with her in Des Moines, said Clinton may have been hurt because older women could not make it to the caucus sites. Younger, working-class women may have been working and unable to attend.
The Clinton campaign is hoping it will have better luck in New Hampshire and the 24 states that vote Super Tuesday, Feb. 5.
Clinton proclaimed herself "confident and optimistic."
"You know we have always planned to run a national campaign all the way through the early contests," Clinton said at one point on stage in Des Moines.
Still, it would have been nice to land in New Hampshire this morning with a victory under her belt … instead of a loss.