By LISA LERER
WASHINGTON (AP) – With Democratic presidential candidates in Iowa for the first face-off of the 2016 campaign, Hillary Rodham Clinton promised to continue the work of the man she hopes to succeed in the White House.
"The president does not get the credit he deserves for saving us from a major crash," Clinton told volunteers and campaign staffers in Cedar Rapids on Friday. "When you see what works you ought to keep doing what works."
All five Democratic primary candidates were on the program later for a fundraiser in Cedar Rapids sponsored by the state party, creating an opportunity for her challengers to confront her before more than 1,200 influential party activists in the crucial caucus state.
Three months into what seems like an all-but-inexorable march to the nomination, Clinton has already built a vast campaign infrastructure, run from a multistory headquarters in New York City, with hundreds of staffers across the country.
On Friday, Clinton's campaign said it bought $7.7 million worth of television advertising time in early voting states, its first ad buy for the 2016 contest. In Iowa, where caucus-goers cast the country's first ballots, the campaign paid $3.6 million for time in all eight media markets that serve the state. An additional $4.1 million of airtime was purchased in New Hampshire, which holds the first primary.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who's mounting an insurgent campaign challenging Clinton, said he has "no illusions" about her political clout.
"We are going to be outspent in this campaign, but I think people all over this country are responding to a very simple message and that is that it is not acceptable that the middle class is continuing to disappear," he told an audience of veterans in Cedar Rapids.
Clinton's first appearance with all her primary rivals comes during signs that she has yet to win over some of her party's most passionate backers, the activists and small-dollar donors who will form the base of support in the general election if she should win the nomination.
Those Democrats have a far more favorable view of President Barack Obama than of Clinton, who's spent decades in public life.
According to an Associated Press-GfK poll this week, roughly two-thirds of Hispanics view Obama favorably, compared with just over half of Hispanics who say the same about Clinton. Among self-identified liberals, Obama's favorability stands at 87 percent, to Clinton's 72 percent. Half of Americans under the age of 30 view Obama favorably, compared with just 38 percent for his former secretary of state.
Record-setting turnout by those groups twice propelled Obama to the White House and would be crucial to Clinton's success.
"I don't like seeing that, obviously," Clinton said of the poll, speaking to reporters on Thursday. "But I think people know that I will fight for them. I'll fight for their jobs, I'll fight for their families, I'll fight on behalf of better education and health care."
She added: "I'm very pleased with the support I have."
The new numbers offer a window into the factors at play as Clinton decides how closely to embrace Obama, his record and his policies in her campaign for president.
At a town hall-style meeting in New Hampshire on Thursday, liberal environmental protestors broke out into chants after Clinton refused to promise an immediate halt to all fossil-fuel development.
"I totally respect the passion and the urgency," she said, attempting to calm the crowd. "I understand it."
In one measure of grassroots support, Sanders has outpaced Clinton in raising money from small donors.
In recent weeks, Sanders has packed arenas with voters eager to hear the message of the self-described socialist who's become Clinton's chief rival. So far, he's refused to criticize Clinton directly, though he's questioned her positions on issues trade, Wall Street regulations and the Keystone XL pipeline.
"I like her, I respect her," Sanders said this week, after joining fellow Senate Democrats at a luncheon with Clinton on Capitol Hill. "It is not necessary for people to dislike each other or attack each other just because they're running for office."
Besides Sanders and Clinton, the forum was drawing former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee. Each candidate was given 15 minutes of remarks.
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