MONTICELLO, Iowa (AP) - Hillary Rodham Clinton declared herself a "champion" for struggling families Tuesday, offering a full-throated embrace of economic and good-government policies promoted by liberal Democrats at the first formal event of her young presidential campaign.
"I think it's fair to say that as you look across the country, the deck is still stacked in favor of those already at the top," Clinton said during a discussion with students and teachers at a community college in rural Iowa. "There's something wrong with that."
After a morning stop at a coffee shop in the Mississippi River town of LeClaire, Clinton arrived in this town of a few thousand people to lay out four pillars for her candidacy: a need to build "the economy of tomorrow, not yesterday," strengthen families, fix a dysfunctional government and protect the country from threats at home and abroad.
And though she's running in what's expected to become the most expensive election in U.S. history, Clinton embraced the idea of a constitutional amendment to get "unaccountable money" out of the county's campaign finance system.
Clinton didn't get into any specifics Tuesday about how she would achieve her goals, promising she would unveil policy specifics in the coming weeks.
Instead, it was a day for political messaging, as Clinton sought to quell skepticism from liberals in her party who question her commitment to tackling income inequality by providing a progressive rationale for her candidacy.
Not all were sold, including some past allies. As Clinton spoke in Iowa, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who ran her campaign for Senate in New York, refused to endorse her, saying he wanted to hear more about her policy positions.
"The last time she was a candidate for president eight long years ago, the Great Recession had just begun," he told reporters in the Bronx. "This is a different country we are living in right now. We need as vision that relates to this time, not eight years ago."
Sitting in a classroom for aspiring auto mechanics, Clinton highlighted a longtime commitment to progressive causes, citing her history as a young lawyer working for the Children's Defense Fund, her work on education as first lady of Arkansas and her efforts to help families of 9/11 victims as a senator from New York.
"We've got to figure out in our country how to get back on the right track," Clinton said. "I'm running for president because I think that Americans and their families need a champion."
Republicans are ready to challenge Clinton's ability to sell that message to voters.
"The notion that that support for her would be a support for change is, frankly, laughable," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Washington. He added, "The country, as is frequently the case, after eight years of one administration is ready to go in a different direction."
While Clinton expressed support Tuesday for overhauling the nation's campaign finance system, her campaign has no plans to unilaterally disarm by asking the outside Democratic organizations expected to raise hundreds of millions to support for her candidacy to back down.
For now, she is taking a low-key approach to raising money, forgoing the celebrity-studded fundraisers that marked her husband's presidency, as well as the high-dollar private events put on this year by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a potential GOP rival.
Her modest approach, with a goal of raising $100 million for the primary campaign, is certain to change next year as she faces the potential prospect of paying for a general election campaign.
With voters, she's wrapping herself in the mantle of her predecessor. During the conversation in Monticello, Clinton embraced much of President Barack Obama's education agenda, noting her support for his plan to provide free tuition for community college students and decrying a "pitched battle" over education reforms such as the Common Core standards.
Republicans have been critical of federal support for the school standards, arguing that it amounts to imposing a national curriculum on schools.
"There is a role for the federal government but the real work has to be done at the local level," Clinton said, pointing to the need to embrace the data on "what works" in K-12 education.