MONTICELLO, Iowa -- Hillary Rodham Clinton Tuesday hit the talking points she hopes to use to reconnect with voters by stressing her background as an education reformer, swapping stories about how she was a homesick college student, and saying her grandchild is a big reason for her second bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Appearing at Kirkwood Community College here, Clinton strongly defended the Common Core academic standards, which are under assault in states such as New York. She also joked about the far better economic times for college graduates during the administration of her husband, President Bill Clinton.

Hillary Clinton related many of her policy positions to her own life "growing up in Illinois" or to her parents, who she said preached that education creates opportunity.

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"I didn't know what I would be doing," she told a small group of college and high school students and their instructors. "I never thought I'd be sitting here telling you I'm running for president, but I knew if I got a good education I had to do my part, I had to work hard . . . if I did, this country held out so much promise for me and it then would be up to me to find my way forward. That's what I want for everybody."

She joked with students through a two-hour session in which she listened and asked questions more than she made political statements. The former first lady, senator and secretary of state said her granddaughter, Charlotte, is a major motivation to trying to win over the Iowans she failed to attract in her 2008 presidential campaign.

"I have this new granddaughter and I want her to have every opportunity, but I want every child in our country to have every opportunity," Clinton, 67, said. "It's one of the main reasons that I decided to run."

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Clinton strongly supported the Common Core, a nationwide education system aimed at raising the academic standards in all schools and using standardized tests to make schools and teachers accountable. In New York, teachers unions, parents and politicians from each major party have railed against the Common Core as unfair and too reliant on standardized tests.

Clinton said it pains her to hear opposition to Common Core and noted that it is supported more in Iowa, which has long had its own core curriculum and assessment tests.

"You see the value of it, you see why that helps you organize your whole education system," Clinton said. "And a lot of states, unfortunately, haven't had that, and don't understand the value . . .

"We need to try to get back into a broad conversation, where people will actually listen to each other," she said.

Nursing students Lorie Theisen and Jennie Snedden learned of Clinton's visit to rural Iowa in their first class of the day, and blew off studying for a major test critical for graduation from Clarke University.

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"We just had to be here," said Snedden, 37, of New Vienna, Iowa. "I typically vote Democratic, and now that there's a Democratic woman running, I'm in." They dismissed Republican Sen. Marco Rubio's comments from Monday that Clinton's day had passed.

"We have the tea party and we have extreme liberals and, yes, she's a Democrat, but she's more midline than any of our options," said Theisen, 38, of Dubuque, Iowa.

Rubio, of Florida, held a highly charged rally in Miami on Monday announcing his candidacy and criticizing the old politics that he said is practiced by politicians such as Clinton.