MONTICELLO, Iowa—Hillary Clinton launched her presidential campaign here Tuesday with aggressive attacks on the financial system as she offered broad strokes of her case for running at her first formal event.
"I think it’s fair to say that if you look across the country, the deck is stacked in favor of those already at the top," she said at a roundtable in an auto tech lab at Kirkwood Community College. "There’s something wrong when CEOs make 300 times more than the American worker … There’s something wrong when American workers keep getting more productive … but that productivity is not matched in their paychecks."
And, the former secretary of state continued, "there’s something wrong when hedge fund managers pay less in taxes than nurses or the truckers I saw on I-80” while driving from New York to Iowa over the past two days.
The visit here was her second semi-public stop of the day, after a morning run for chai and conversation at a coffee shop in Le Claire, just north of the Quad Cities. There, she joked about "drink[ing] my way across Iowa," but even more important than those drinks are the conversations she plans to have with intentionally small groups of voters.
Around a U-shaped table, Clinton spent an hour with a handful of high school and college students, a teacher, and the college's president. She listened to their views about education and the economy, asking pointed questions along the way.
But she made more than a few nods to the dozens of members of the media who gathered to see her. "I'm running for president because I think Americans and their families need a champion and I want to be that champion," she said, echoing her comments in Sunday's announcement video.
Clinton said she’s anxious to hear from Americans about what’s important for them and what policies they see working in their own communities, but also that she decided to start with a baseline of "four big fights” she wants to wage:
—To "build the economy of tomorrow not yesterday.”
—To “strengthen families and communities.”
—To “fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccountable money out of it once and for all – even if that means a constitutional amendment.”
—And to protect the country "from the threats that we see and the ones that are on the horizon."
She didn't have many details on what she meant by wanting to get "unaccountable money" out of politics, but it was enough to draw a reaction from RNC spokesman Michael Short.
"The 'H' in Clinton's campaign logo might as well stand for hypocrisy," Short said in a statement. "It’s pretty rich for Hillary Clinton to lament big money in politics at the same time her campaign chairman and SuperPAC allies are busy courting secretive liberal billionaires in San Francisco."
While much of the roundtable consisted of voters sharing their ideas for how to make education work, she did stress that education would be a key part of her economic message. For one, she endorsed President Barack Obama's push to make community college free and suggesting that she supports tougher regulation of for-profit colleges.
One way to help give kids opportunities, she said, is with some level of standardization in education, like the Common Core, so that "there wouldn't be two tiers of education."
Instead, it's become a flashpoint, especially among Republicans—Jeb Bush supports the model while many of the other members of the GOP running for president oppose it as excessive government overreach—and Clinton is disappointed by that. "When I think about the really unfortunate argument that's been going on around Common Core, it's really painful," she said.
Ultimately, she closed with a reference to her young granddaughter, Charlotte, whose birth helped motivate her to run.
"I don't know how many babies were born on Sept. 26 last year but I want every one of them to feel like they have the same opportunities that we're going to do everything we can to make sure that Charlotte has," she said.