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Hillary Clinton starts campaign trail: 'I'm back!'
01:28 - Source: CNN
Monticello, Iowa CNN  — 

Hillary Clinton used the start of a roundtable at Kirkwood Community College in Monticello, Iowa, to outline – for the first time – the rationale behind her campaign.

“We need to build the economy of tomorrow, not yesterday,” Clinton said in a subtle knock against Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio, who said on Monday that Clinton was a candidate of the past.

“We need to strengthen family and communities, because that is where it all starts,” she said. “We need to fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccountable money out of it once and for all, even if that takes a constitutional amendment. And we need to protect our country from the threats that we see and the ones that are on the horizon.”

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In the coming weeks, Clinton’s team will unveil proposals focused on the economy, stronger families, fixing the political system and security, according to campaign aides.

“I’m here in Iowa to begin a conversation about how we do that,” Clinton said, adding she was running to “be the champion who goes to bat for Americans” against “powerful forces” who don’t agree with her.

The former first lady, however, didn’t outline specific policy positions in her appearance, something her campaign aides said wouldn’t happen until Clinton finished four to five weeks of travel.

The forum for Tuesday’s event – a small, single building auto body classroom at a community college in a 4,000 person Iowa town – was a unusual launching pad for a candidate who is the prohibitive favorite for the Democratic nomination. Clinton’s event was tiny by presidential standards: Outside of the press, staff and secret service in the room, Clinton was with 22 “everyday Americans,” a term the campaign has taken to using for the people their candidate will meet with.

The small venue strategy is intentional, though. Campaign aides want the former secretary of state to crisscross critical presidential states for small events at restaurants, coffee shops and people’s homes. The strategy is aimed at making her seem more down-to-earth than her failed 2008 effort was viewed.

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“We expect the caucus to be competitive,” Matt Paul, Clinton’s 2016 Iowa campaign manager, said on Monday about how Clinton would run in Iowa. “Hillary’s committed to working hard to earn the support of every Iowan.”

After announcing her candidacy on Sunday, Clinton and a small group of aides began a road trip from New York to Iowa, stopping at gas stations, hotels and restaurants.

Tuesday was the first day of organized events for Clinton’s campaign. On the way to her community college event, Clinton, her staff and a small number of pooled press stopped for a prearranged visit to Jones St. Java House in Le Claire, Iowa.

Clinton ordered two drinks: a masala chai and a caramallow latte, and also asked for a cup of water with lemon.

The newly minted presidential candidate, who needs to perform well in Iowa to dispense with negative memories of her 2008 campaign, joked with staff that she is going to “drink my way across Iowa.”

Her visit to Monitcello, a town of 3,800, drew fascination — and praise — from Iowans who stopped by the community college to see the circus of media.

“The fact that she is coming to Monticello first, a small town in Iowa, she could have went to Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, Waterloo,” said Kaela Weber, a Monticello High School junior who will be 18 on Election Day. “I think it just means she … likes to care about the community and small town.”

The presidential hopeful will also spend Wednesday in Iowa, where the former first lady will visit Capital City Fruit, a family-owned fruit and vegetable wholesaler.

Republicans, meanwhile, jumped on the fact that Clinton called for constitutional amendment to get “unaccountable money” out of politics.

“The ‘H’ in Clinton’s campaign logo might as well stand for hypocrisy,” said Michael Short, Republican National Committee spokesman. “It’s pretty rich for Hillary Clinton to lament big money in politics while her campaign chairman and super PAC allies are busy courting secretive liberal billionaires in San Francisco.”

The campaign also now has some top policy advisers, in Ann O’Leary, Clinton’s Senate legislative director; Maya Harris, a former Center for American Progress senior fellow; and Jake Sullivan, a top aide to Clinton at State, according to a campaign aide. The three will work closely with Dan Schwerin, a top speechwriter for Clinton, the aide said.

The hires were first reported by Politico.