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Clinton says she risked her life as first lady

December 31, 2007 |  5:22 pm

As the old year faded away today and the hours until the crucial Thursday Iowa caucus dwindled, a cautious Hillary Clinton was taking no chances with unplanned questions. She's reverted to her "Don't ask" policy of recent days when she refused to take questions, especially when they concerned one of her supporters, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, dissing the Iowa caucus process.

But she was more than happy to talk about risking her life on first lady missions during her husband's presidency.

The Ohio governor has been traveling around Iowa in recent days positively brimming with such good cheer you wonder why he doesn't just move to the Hawkeye state. “It is wonderful to be in the great state of Iowa," he says to crowds including The Times' Seema Mehta.

"I think Ohio and Iowa have much in common. We have wonderful people, salt of the earth folk who know how to work hard, who are patriotic, who care for their family and their community, support their churches, contribute to charity. I am so pleased and proud to be here as the governor of the state of Ohio.” And then he introduces his favorite senator from New York, Clinton.

Unfortunately from a public relations point of view, Strickland said something else....

to reporters from his hometown Columbus Dispatch over the weekend. He said what many non-Iowans believe and say when they're not in Iowa, that Iowa is not a representative state to play such a crucial opening voting role in the presidential selection process. And he said the caucus system, which really only involves a small fraction of Iowa's three million citizens, is not a fair way to gauge public opinion on something as important as potential presidential nominees.

A Clinton spokesman says his boss is proud of the support of the governor of Ohio, a much more crucial battleground state than Iowa come the general election, but disagrees with him on Iowa's import right now.

Clinton clearly does not want to risk any missteps with reporters in the close campaign's closing hours. At two southeastern Iowa events today in Fort Madison and Keokuk, The Times' Peter Nicholas asked her about the Strickland comments as she worked the rope line, shaking hands. She remained silent and looked right through him and anyone else seeking answers.

In her public remarks to crowds, Clinton seems to be hedging a bit on troop withdrawals from Iraq. Today, in a Muscatine school gym, Nicholas taped her saying, "I just want to be real clear here, it is not easy or safe to withdraw troops. You've got to plan for this.''

She added, "We're not only talking about bringing our troops home. We have to bring our equipment home. We can't leave that there. We have to figure out what we're going to do with all our civilians. We have people in private companies there ... And we have got to figure out what to do with the Iraqis who sided with us.''

Clinton's aides say there's no change in her position. She reiterated today that she aims to withdraw one to two brigades a month. But in stressing withdrawal obstacles, Clinton may be trying to dampen expectations that if she's elected, the troops will be home right away.

Although Clinton and her husband have adamantly refused to release her first lady papers from the Clinton presidential library for public inspection, she has also taken to describing some select events from those years, which she cites as sufficient experience to become president.

Saturday night in Dubuque, according to Newsday's Glenn Thrush, Clinton responded to suggestions by the Barack Obama camp that her time as first lady was more of a tea party than presidential training. She said she actually risked her life on several White House missions during the 1990s and described one frightening flight into Bosnia that ended with her running across the tarmac to dodge sniper bullets.

"I don't remember anyone offering me tea," she said.

-- Andrew Malcolm