Clinton to Her Critics: 'They Can Say Whatever They Want'

Hillary Clinton tells "Nightline" her campaign is "picking up steam" in Iowa.


Dec. 19, 2007— -- It was foggy in Iowa this morning. So foggy that a bus filled with members of the press and a handful of Clinton campaign workers arrived at a Hillary event in Independence, Iowa well before the candidate herself. She had intended to arrive by helicopter.

On Sunday, the same fog forced Clinton's chartered chopper to an early landing in a field outside another small Iowa town. So this morning, it was back to the old-fashioned way – car.

As the campaign enters the home stretch before the Iowa caucuses, in a blitz they call "Every County Counts Tour," Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, said that she's feeling "tremendous energy and a lot of momentum."

And it may be late in coming with only two weeks until Iowans vote, but this tour is an attempt to let people see the candidate in a more human way. It might as well be called the "Likability Tour."

A new Web site that went up this week as part of the push in Iowa is called "The Hillary I Know," and Clinton said she was initially reluctant to ask friends to participate.

"I just feel like I don't want to go around bragging about myself, sort of saying, 'oh, I helped to get health care for 6 million children, or I helped to reform the education system in Arkansas,'" she said. "I'd rather just let that speak for itself, but in a presidential campaign, you don't have the luxury of that, which I have finally had to come to grips with."

Clinton said that it has always been hard for her to talk about herself and her personal life.

"I'm a more reserved person, and I really have always thought that you should be judged by your deeds, not your words….But, obviously, in today's political environment, there is a legitimate interest in finding out, well, what motivates the person? So I've talked more about why I got interested in focusing on children's issues, because of my mother's difficult life. And I've talked a lot about why health care and all these other concerns are ones that I just live and breathe."

Clinton is often asked about the "likeability factor," and she acknowledges that there are some people who simply don't like her, but says that "I'm just going to keep getting up every day and telling my story and talking about what I want to do, because we don't need a president who doesn't live up to what we hope. We can't have false hopes again. We've got to have a president who really delivers results."

When asked if there's a double standard when it comes to likeability she said, "I think that's the world we live in. I understand that. I accept it, but I don't let it deter me. I just think here that we're going to overcome that."

The Clinton campaign said that the men campaigning don't have to answer similar questions regarding their likeability. And despite the questions regarding her personal charm, ultimately Clinton believes voters will look at her record. "We've gone through trying to decide, who would you rather have a beer with, and look at the results. I think we want to say, well, who would be the best president?

"We're going to break the highest glass ceiling, for not just me, but for all girls and women. ...You know that wonderful old line about women do everything? It's like Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in high heels. Well, we just have to go out and do it. There's no point in worrying about it."

"I think the campaign is doing very well," Clinton told "Nightline" co-anchor Cynthia McFadden. "There's a rhythm to campaigns. I know that. I've been in a lot of them over the course of my life. It's really picking up steam, and that's what I feel."

Watch Cynthia McFadden's interview with Hillary Clinton tonight on "Nightline" at 11:35 p.m. ET.

Clinton's national numbers are still overwhelming. Eighty-one percent of the voters surveyed suggest that she has the best leadership skills to run this country. Clinton acknowledged that her numbers aren't as impressive in Iowa and New Hampshire, states where she's been spending the most time, but said "that's just the pattern of elections."

And in response to a question by a reporter in Iowa this week, Clinton said, "I've got my groove back," helped in part by an endorsement from The Des Moines Register.

"[The endorsement] helped a lot, and it helped for a very clear reason, because it was carefully thought through," she told McFadden. "It was focused on what's important. ... obviously I'm honored and humbled to have gotten their endorsement, because it really makes the case for my candidacy. "

An ABC News/Washington Post poll out in Iowa today showed almost no change in overall numbers from the poll in November, with Clinton and Barack Obama essentially neck-in-neck and Edwards not far behind.

Does Clinton believe that demonstrates that the "Oprah Effect" wasn't as significant as expected? "I think that we are all lucky to have supporters, from our spouses to high-profile celebrities and it's great to have them raising visibility and excitement," she said.

"But...voters are going to decide among human beings, among each of us as candidates, based on our record, our experience, our qualifications, our vision, our plans for the future."

As the frontrunner, Clinton has been the target of attacks from the other candidates. In an interview with "Nightline" Barack Obama said that Clinton claims all of the successes of her husband's administration, but none of the failures.

"I understand the point, but it really is beside the point," Clinton said. "I have been very forthright in saying that we weren't successful on health care. The whole world saw that. But I think you know more about someone by seeing how they respond to setbacks than successes. And I got back up and I started working."

Clinton said that she doesn't worry about the criticism she takes from other candidates. "I don't really care about any of the hits that people make on me. That's fine. I can't control it. They can say whatever they want. ...If you had talked to me 20 years ago, when Bill was in politics for the first time and you all of a sudden are subjected to all of this criticism, it takes some getting used to. I'm not going to say that it's not an evolving process, but once you understand that it comes with the territory, and if you listen to it and if you believe it and if you take it seriously and personally, you will become ineffective. And that's not what I'm interested in, because I believe I'm going to be fine no matter what happens."

While Clinton would be breaking new ground as the first female president, in another respect she would be the perpetuation of a legacy.

In 2008, there will be people voting for the first time ever in a presidential election who have either had a Bush or a Clinton in the White House for their entire lifetimes. Clinton said she understands why some might think that's a bad trend for America, but added that "I also think what's great about America is anybody can run for president. I want to prove that women can run and win to be president. ... I think it may also suggest that it takes a Clinton to clean up after a Bush, and I'm ready to do that."

Clinton has been outspoken in her criticism of the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq. In response to a recent report from the Pentagon saying that the surge is working in Iraq, Clinton said that may be true.

"If you're talking in a very narrow way about whether the American military with its full force and effective professionalism can make a tactical difference on the ground in securing certain parts of Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq, absolutely. There's nobody better in the world. The whole point of the surge was to give the Iraqi government the space and the time to make the political decisions that only they can make, and they're not making them. And there is no real push by the Bush administration to try to get them to make it that is producing results."

So I don't think it matters at all. I think we need to begin to bring our troops home. In fact, I would argue that we not only need to bring them home because they should come home, but we need to bring them home because it's the only way to get the Iraqi government to focus on what it must do."

There's been a lot of talk about the role Bill Clinton is playing in the campaign. The candidate said that her husband is "having a great time."

"I'm loving having him out on the campaign trail, because he makes a wonderful case for my candidacy. And everybody's spouse would try to do that. It is fortunate for me that I have someone who speaks from such a depth of experience about what we need in the next president. He gives me a lot of advice. Sometimes I take it. I used to give him a lot of advice. Sometimes he took it. But mostly we have been supporting each other in whatever we've done ever since we met as law students, and it's a really good feeling to have him doing that for me now."

Clinton says that she's taking the long view when it comes to the campaign, and trying to maintain a sense of perspective.

"I've got a great life," she said. "I'm very happy with what I've been able to do over the course of my life. But I want to make a very big difference for people who don't have the opportunities, the blessings, the good fortune, that I've had. Politics comes and goes. At the end of the day, what have you done for somebody else is how I judge myself."