NEW YORK – In her first public appearance since officially joining the 2008 presidential contest, Sen. Hillary Clinton said Sunday she’s “worried about the future of our country” – and called herself the best one to help set it right.

“I am best-positioned to be able to do that, and that’s why I’m running,” added Clinton, who joins a Democratic field that already includes Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, who beat Clinton into the presidential arena with his announcement last week.

Clinton, who officially announced her intentions in a taped message on her Web site Saturday, visited a Manhattan clinic Sunday to promote her plans to expand the reach of a children’s health insurance program.

The decision to make health care her first issue out of the box was notable in that she was widely criticized for her botched effort to reform the nation’s health system during husband Bill Clinton’s presidency.

The senator, who took questions only briefly from reporters, said her decision to run came after a “thorough review” of the nation’s problems and “the particular strengths and talents I would bring – both to the race and the White House.”

“I concluded, based on the work of my lifetime and my experience and my understanding of what our country has to confront in order to continue to make opportunity available to all of our citizens here and to restore our leadership and respect of America around the world, that I would be able to do that – to bring our country together to meet those tough challenges,” she said.

Hinting at what’s to come as the race heats up, Sunday’s event was the epitome of a media circus, with dozens of national and international TV, radio and newspaper reporters crammed into the Ryan Chelsea-Clinton Community Health Center on 10th Avenue.

The second-term senator and former first lady took the stage with Bobby and Pia Harden of Manhattan and their two young daughters. Camera shutters snapped like firecrackers every time the toddlers clasped Clinton’s hands or toyed with her necklace.

State Sen. Thomas Duane, a Manhattan Democrat, afterward called children’s health care a “big, big winner” among issues that will appeal to the American public. A GOP strategist saw it as a double-edged sword.

“She wants to talk about health care, but she’s also going to have to talk about how she failed to get anything done last time,” said Republican strategist Nelson Warfield. “I think her comments acknowledge she recognizes her vulnerability and is trying to address it.”

Asked what part her husband and their daughter Chelsea would play, she said, “They’re my greatest support system, my greatest advisers and they’ll continue to do that.”

(c) 2007, New York Daily News.

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