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Sen. Clinton returns focus to health care

Story Highlights

• Clinton proposes extending child health insurance program
• Senator makes first public appearance since announcing candidacy
• Rival Sen. Joe Biden says nomination a long way off
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- In her first public appearance since announcing her run for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said she will once again embrace health care as a principal cause.

"I will be introducing legislation to make quality, affordable health care available to every child in America," she told a roomful of reporters at a public health center in New York City as a girl clutched her hand.

The New York senator and former first lady said she and Rep. John Dingell, D-Michigan, would introduce legislation "in the coming weeks" to renew and expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program so that families earning nearly five times the federal poverty level would be eligible to participate in it.

"It expands the program to millions of children whose families today cannot afford care," she said.

In addition, all employers and all families, regardless of income, would be able to buy into the S-CHIP program, she said.

"It will be another step toward the day when, once and for all, America provides quality, affordable health care to every single American," she said.

During his first term in office, President Bill Clinton put his wife in charge of an initiative to create a national health insurance program. That effort ultimately failed, but it helped establish Hillary Clinton as a political force in her own right.

Earlier Sunday, another Democratic candidate acknowledged Clinton leads the field but said it is still a "lifetime" until the 2008 nominating convention.

"I think she's incredibly formidable and has got to be the front-runner and the odds-on pick right now. But this is a marathon. There's a long way to go," said Sen. Joe Biden, D-Delaware, appearing on "Fox News Sunday."

Clinton said that, prior to announcing her presidential bid in a video posted on her Web site, she "thought very hard about it, talked to family and friends and supporters ... about the problems that we confront in the country, the particular strengths and talents that I would bring to the race and the White House." (Watch Clinton's political evolution Video)

Asked about her competitors, Clinton said, "It will be a great contest with a lot of talented people, and I'm very confident. I'm in to win, and that's what I intend to do."

Clinton's comments come 22 months before the election, and more than a year before caucuses and primaries will begin to winnow the field -- nine Democrats have announced they are running or forming exploratory committees. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson announced formation of his committee Sunday. (Full story)

Clinton is favored by 41 percent of Democrats, far ahead of any rival, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Sunday, The Associated Press reported.

Clinton made her announcement on a video posted Saturday on her Web site. Illinois Sen. Barack Obama said last week he was setting up a committee to raise money and gauge support for a run. (Watch how Clinton and Obama stack up with New York Democrats Video)

Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker who may seek the Republican nomination, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that Obama "forced Senator Clinton's hand by weeks. I mean, he has gained ground so rapidly that I think she sort of thought she had to remind her friends she was around."


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