NEW YORK - Starting her first full week as a presidential contender, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed confidence she can win the 2008 Democratic nomination. Clinton, speaking publicly for the first time since declaring her candidacy on her Web site, said Sunday she decided to run after doing a "thorough review" of the challenges facing the country.
She said she is the best candidate for the job and is eager to begin campaigning.
"It'll be a great contest with a lot of talented people and I'm very confident. I'm in, I'm in it to win and that's what I intend to do," she said.
The former first lady was vying to be the first woman and first presidential spouse to win the White House. Polls show her leading a crowded field of Democratic candidates that includes Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, who hopes to become the first black president.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Sunday shows Clinton is the favorite of 41 percent of Democrats, more than double the support of any of her rivals.
Despite abundant strengths, Clinton remains a polarizing figure to many voters and faces questions about her ability to win a general election. Her position on the Iraq war - she voted to authorize the invasion in 2002 and has refused to call for a date-certain removal of troops - has alienated many Democratic activists, who vote heavily in primaries.
Clinton was to start a three-day series of Web chats with supporters Monday evening, and travels to Iowa, site of the first nominating caucuses, next weekend.
"I want to have a conversation with our citizens about what we want for our country," Clinton said.
Clinton's comments came during a visit to a Manhattan community health clinic, where she was promoting a federal children's health-care program.
Clinton said she would introduce legislation to expand the Children's Health Insurance Program to all families who need it, regardless of income. Aides said Clinton was determined to attend to her Senate duties throughout the campaign.
Reflecting her new status as a leading presidential contender, the room was packed with media - some two dozen television camera crews jockeyed for position with scores of reporters from as far away as Germany. Photographers waited outside in chilly temperatures for over an hour to snap pictures of Clinton's arrival.
Clinton said she decided to run after talking to family, friends and supporters since her re-election in November.
"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.
The former first lady answered questions after promoting the CHIP legislation. She appeared onstage gripping the hands of 1-year-old Olivia and 3-year old Camilla Harden, whose parents said they relied on CHIP for their daughters' health care. The girls looked bewildered as hundreds of flashbulbs popped and cameras whirred throughout the room.
"It's simply wrong for any child to lack health care in America. That's where we start," Clinton said.
Clinton and Obama are the most visible candidates in a field that includes the 2004 vice presidential nominee, John Edwards. Other candidates include Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson jumped in Sunday; Delaware Sen. Joe Biden has said he is running and would formalize his decision soon.