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Hillary Clinton, at rally on Roosevelt Island, calls for an America where everyone 'can get ahead'

Presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton kicking off her

Presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton kicking off her official campaign from Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island in New York City Saturday, June 13, 2015. Photo Credit: J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Hillary Clinton drew on her "lifetime of experiences" as a first lady, U.S. senator, secretary of state, daughter and grandmother Saturday to make the case that she is uniquely qualified to fight for everyday Americans and their prosperity.

"It's America's basic bargain," Clinton told a crowd of thousands on Manhattan's Roosevelt Island, invoking the legacy of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt to launch a new phase of her presidential campaign. "If you do your part, you ought to be able to get ahead. And when everybody does their part, America gets ahead too."

Clinton, 67, sought to put a fresh cast on herself and her ideas to excite the liberal Democratic base of primary voters. Rivals such as Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, 44, of Florida have derided her as part of the politics of the past.

"Well, I may not be the youngest candidate in this race. But I will be the youngest woman president in the history of the United States!" Clinton said to cheers. "And the first grandmother as well."

The crowd seemed mostly young -- 20s and 30s in shorts and T-shirts -- and enjoyed a music festival atmosphere leading up to the speech.

Clinton waded through the throng with Sara Bareilles' pop song "Brave" as entrance music. She chatted with many supporters, trying to project a grassroots connection that critics found lacking in her losing 2008 campaign.

This time, she faces primary challenges from her left, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who criticizes her as too friendly to Wall Street.

But New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has withheld an endorsement and did not attend the speech in person, praised it later as "a heartfelt expression of Hillary Clinton's long progressive history." In a statement, he said he looked forward to details she promised to soon provide "on everything from progressive taxation to lifting wages to helping working parents."

Over 45 minutes, from a red-and-blue stage shaped like her "H" campaign logo, Clinton told stories of growing up a daughter of hardworking, self-sacrificing and loving parents and said that's what America is all about. But she said present-day America has been losing its way and she placed the blame on Republicans looking out for Wall Street and the rich.

"We're standing again, but we all know we're not yet running the way America should," Clinton said. She pledged "to make the middle class mean something again, with rising incomes and broader horizons. And to give the poor a chance to work their way into it."

She said she would seek incentives for employers to share profits with employees and to bolster public education, particularly in lower income areas, to provide opportunity that will pay off for all Americans.

When her speech concluded, she was embraced onstage by former President Bill Clinton and their daughter, Chelsea, and then headed for Iowa.

Assessing the speech, Richard Brodsky, a political scientist at the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University and a former Democratic assemblyman, said, "The message is popular and populist.

"She reminds everyone about gender, but doesn't overplay it," Brodsky said, and projects that she is "strong."

Clinton tried to deflect recent and enduring controversies, which include her handling at the State Department of the deadly Benghazi, Libya, attack, her use of a private email server in that job, and questions of about big donors to the Clintons' foundation who were also seeking favorable government treatment. But she did not address them directly.

"Lord knows I've made my share of mistakes. Well, there's no shortage of people pointing them out!" she said. "I've been called many things by many people -- 'quitter' is not one of them," she added to cheers.

Political scientist Richard Benedetto of American University in Washington, D.C., said, "It was pure Clinton: Stick to your message regardless of the problems you face about controversies such as emails, her foundation and Benghazi, and pretend they don't exist."

She only briefly touched on foreign policy, other than to say she had the mettle to take on Russia, North Korea and the Islamic State group. "I will do whatever it takes to keep Americans safe," she said.

She spoke from Four Freedoms Park, which memorializes FDR's 1941 promise to Americans of freedom of speech and worship, and freedom from want and fear. The setting "connects her to her Democratic roots," said Lee Miringoff of the Marist College poll.

"President Roosevelt's Four Freedoms . . . are a reminder of our unfinished work at home and abroad," Clinton said.


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