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The Herald-Dispatch - Clinton Makes a Stop in Huntington

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Location: Huntington, WV

The Herald-Dispatch - Clinton Makes a Stop in Huntington

Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton was in Huntington Wednesday, pledging to pull U.S. forces out of Iraq and get veterans the health care they need.

It was the second stop of the day in the Mountain State for Sen. Clinton, D-New York, who is trailing fellow Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, in the race for delegates to win the Democratic nomination. Earlier Wednesday, Clinton was in Charleston, where Obama will be speaking today. With the two in a tight race for their party's presidential nod, West Virginia's seemingly obscure May 13 primary has suddenly become a focal point for both candidates.

Lately in a heavy attack mode against her opponent, Clinton pulled off Obama while speaking for roughly an hour at the American Legion Post 16 in Huntington, instead focusing on Iraq and veterans' issues.

"I believe we need a commander in chief who will respect the military. ... I believe it is a force used as a last resort, not as a first resort," Clinton said.

The former first lady said she had a plan for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, where they have been deployed in massive force since 2003, within 60 days of her taking office in 2009.

"I believe it is realistic. I believe it is attainable," she said. "But as we take them off of these roads where they have been attacked for five years, we must protect them."

Clinton said the role of protecting servicemen continues when they come home as veterans.

"When a person signs up to serve our country, we sign up to serve them," she said.

The receptive invitation-only audience cheered frequently, perhaps at no time louder than when Clinton mentioned that "We will see the end of the Bush administration."

But Clinton tempered the audience reaction by saying the next president would have to be able to shift the bureaucracy left in place from eight years of governance under Bush, who Clinton said slashed veterans' benefits and entered a pre-emptive war without a plan.

"If we don't keep faith with our veterans, we're not keeping faith with our flag or our nation," she said.

Most of Clinton's points were made in response to questions from pre-selected panel members, as well as audience members. They ranged from access to Veterans Administration facilities and medical coverage, to gas prices to increasing funding for medical research.

But hardships facing the military and its veterans remained the primary focus throughout.

"Cutting through the red tape and bureaucracy takes a lot of work," she said. "What the Bush administration did in cutting off benefits for veterans, I just don't agree with," especially with the country at war, she said.

"It's kind of a shame when you have to fight your own government to help those who have served."

She also said that veterans from military engagements such as Grenada and Panama should receive VA coverage, something they're not currently getting.

"I see no reason why combat veterans from those conflicts ... should be discriminated against," she said.

She also answered questions about the draft, saying she believes the U.S. should continue to have a volunteer military, but only if it is used properly. Clinton said the military has been abused under the Bush administration.

"In the last five years, we have pushed the military to extremes," she said. "We have one brigade left in the U.S. that is combat ready.

"We have to bring the troops home and we're going to have to rebuild our military and our National Guard."

Overall, Clinton asked the audience to trust her as a candidate who would get involved in problem-solving, from rebuilding the nation's infrastructure to alleviating the turmoil overseas.

"My view is we need a problem-solving president who is going to roll up their sleeves and say 'How are we going to fix this together?'" she said.

Clinton also visited Charleston earlier in the day.

In front of a crowd of hundreds at Capital High School, Clinton drew her loudest cheers when she told the Charleston crowd it's time to start bringing American troops home from Iraq.

But during a question and answer session, most of the queries were about the economy: jobs, the cost of health care and even the price of gasoline.

"I just feel like she has the expertise to fix all these problems created by the Bush administration," said Jonathan Cline of Oceana.

Many in the crowd said they associated Clinton with her husband, former President Bill Clinton. They contrasted his administration with what they called hard times under Bush.

"I've always liked her husband," said South Charleston resident Donald McNeely. "He was for the working people, so she's got my vote."

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