Clinton Talks West Issues

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In advance of Wednesday's first-in-the-nation forum for Democratic presidential candidates, state party leaders sought to emphasize Nevada's heartland over its gambling image. But Hillary Rodham Clinton isn't buying it.

Asked in a brief interview with The Associated Press about the party's efforts, Sen. Clinton laughed.

"I don't know anything about that. I think it's funny," she said of the 44-page document recently circulated that repackaged Las Vegas and Nevada as utterly ordinary and dismissed the state's storied gambling history in a single sentence.

Clinton said her favorite casino game probably is blackjack.

"I'm not much of a gambler, but I have gambled," she said.

In the interview, Clinton addressed a number of questions, including several of concern to Western voters and one dealing with her husband - former President Clinton.

If she's elected president in 2008, will he get an office in the West Wing?

"I never think ahead," she said. "I'm like the person sitting in the dugout. I don't want to talk about it during the game."

Clinton said protecting the environment is a key concern, although she's "not against any industry" such as mining companies that have huge operations in Nevada.

"We've got to get back to protecting our environment and wilderness areas, and what I've been very impressed with in the last several years is how protecting wilderness and being on the front lines of the environmental movement is really part of the Western agenda," she said.

"There's a role for mining," Clinton said. "I just think everybody has to be held to certain standards because the world and our beautiful country, particularly here in the West, is a common good that we all have a stake in trying to preserve."

Clinton, who repeatedly has faced calls to say her 2002 vote authorizing President Bush to use military force in Iraq was a mistake, repeated her previous comments.

"I'm not asking for a free pass. I don't think anyone should. My vote was a sincere vote based on my assessment of the facts and the assurances that we had at the time, and I am willing to take responsibility for my vote, and everyone should take responsibility
for what they've done and said."

"I think any fair reading of everything I've done and said over the last 4½ years demonstrates clearly that I've been a consistent critic and trying to be helpful with respect to helping our troops and changing the direction where we are headed under this president in Iraq."

Clinton said she hoped Britain's plans to reduce its troops in Iraq would influence Bush's decisions on U.S. military involvement there.

"I hope that since the president seems unwilling to listen to the results of the November election or to the new Democratic majority in Congress that he would at least listen to someone who he has claimed has been his strongest ally in this effort," she said.

Clinton commented after meeting with state lawmakers in advance of the forum, which drew all Democratic hopefuls except Sen. Barack
Obama, D-Ill. Her quick stroll through the Nevada legislative building caused a stir big enough to pull Democrats out of morning hearings and Republicans into the hallways - mostly just to watch.

A crowd of 30 or so, including lobbyists, a local coffee shop owner and Miss Nevada Caydi Cole, huddled in Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus' office to meet the senator from New York. Assembly Minority Leader Garn Mabey, a Republican, briefly lingered with the group, but decided he didn't want to wait in a crowded room for a Democrat.

Clinton assured the star-struck group she would continue to fight against a proposed nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, calling the project advanced by the Bush administration "scientifically unsound."

She called her husband's two narrow victories in Nevada "near-death experiences" and said that if she's the Democratic nominee in the 2008 elections, "I'd like to open it up a little bit."

Clinton promised that her Nevada supporters would be picking a winner.

"From my perspective I want to run a primary campaign that sets me up to win the general election. ... and not get pulled off in one direction or another," she said. "And I want to run a general election campaign that allows me to hit the ground running in January 2009."
Associated Press Writer Kathleen Hennessey contributed to this

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)