Clinton draws mixed reaction

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- It wasn't the derisive reception she got a year ago, but Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton still endured a gust of boos yesterday when explaining her position on the Iraq war before an audience of liberal activists eager for a quick end to the conflict.

Speaking at a forum of Democratic presidential candidates, the New York senator was largely applauded through the first half of her speech as she denounced the Bush administration for its opposition to stem cell research, inaction during Hurricane Katrina and the practice of wiretapping phone calls without warrants.

"Our Constitution is being shredded," she said in a morning appearance at the Take Back America conference, sponsored by the nonprofit Campaign for America's Future.

Trouble came when she turned to Iraq. A year ago, speaking before the same group, Clinton was heckled when she said she did not want to set timetables for withdrawing U.S. can forces from Iraq.

This time, her stance seemed more in step with her listeners, though not sufficiently anti-war for some. She said she believes "the best way to support our troops is to finally start bringing them home, and out of the sectarian civil war that we have no business being part of."

Boos flowed when she faulted Iraqi leaders for failing to "make the tough decisions." Audience members said afterward that the blame for chaos in Iraq rests with the Bush administration, for invading Iraq.

Some held up signs saying, "Lead us out of Iraq now."

Clinton peered out at the 3,000 people who crammed the Washington hotel ballroom to see her speak. "I love coming here every year," she said. "I see the signs. 'Lead us out of Iraq now.' That's what we're trying to do!"

At that, the audience clapped.

Mindful, perhaps, of last year's response, Clinton did not offer details on what she sees as the military's long-term role in the region. On Tuesday, she had told a crowd of union members that she favors leaving a small force in Iraq to prevent al-Qaida from developing a staging ground.

No mention of that here.

Other Democratic presidential candidates - Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio and Mike Gravel, a former senator from Alaska - spoke at the forum over the past two days. Two other candidates, Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, did not attend, citing scheduling conflicts.

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