Hillary Clinton seeks to warm up her image

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, looking to turn the page on a rough stretch in her campaign, launched an effort to warm up her image on Monday and break free from her rivals in Iowa.

Clinton, wife of former President Bill Clinton and a New York senator, has for years been fighting an image of being cold and politically calculating, an impression her loyalists call unfair.

With little more than two weeks until January 3, when Iowa starts the state-by-state battles to pick the Democratic and Republican candidates who will face off in the November 2008 election, Clinton tried to show a softer side on a fresh tour of Iowa and in videos on the Web site TheHillaryIKnow.com.

While leading national opinion polls for the Democratic presidential nomination, Clinton is running even with Barack Obama and John Edwards in Iowa and an air of inevitability that had enveloped her campaign for months has now disappeared.

Last week was a tough one for Clinton, as she was forced to apologize to Obama after her New Hampshire campaign co-chair, Bill Shaheen, raised the issue of Obama's past drug use and said it could be used against him by Republicans if he were to win the Democratic nomination.

"I know enough about politics, over all these years, to know that, you know, you're going to have ups and downs," Clinton told MSNBC on Monday. "It's kind of like life. And there are no guarantees in life or politics. And every day you've got to get up and do your best."

The Edwards campaign expressed skepticism that the new Clinton effort would do her much good.

"In fairness, I think the only image make-over that would work would be Senator Clinton saying no to lobbyist money and finally embracing an agenda of real change," Edwards spokesman Chris Kofinis said.

Clinton is on a tour that will take her and top surrogates to all of Iowa's 99 counties and try to get maximum advantage from the endorsement of her candidacy by the Des Moines Register newspaper on Sunday.

Democratic strategist Erik Smith said Clinton appeared to be trying to remind voters why they liked her in the first place.

"I think that she has spent so much time as the front-runner and the prohibitive favorite that she has essentially been positioned as the incumbent in this race. And in the closing weeks of the Democratic caucus in Iowa, that's not the best place to be," Smith said.

The Clinton campaign has also relied on her husband to add some warmth and folksy charm, and to raise questions about Obama's level of experience.

Another Democratic strategist, Doug Schoen, who worked in the Clinton White House, called the former first lady's latest move an attempt to reverse media descriptions of her as harsh.

"The other thing the media has missed is that while there has been some slippage the last couple of weeks, it has been a moderate amount and it's quite appropriate that the campaign would do a little tweaking, but it's not the panic time," Schoen said.

Still, the Clinton effort might have a ways to go.

After Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney got teary-eyed while talking about when his Mormon church opened its doors to black Americans, an MSNBC interviewer asked Clinton if she ever teared up.

Clinton laughed off the question.

"Well, you know, when I had to get up at 4 o'clock in the morning in Des Moines I teared up," she said. ( Reuters )

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