updated 6/13/2006 11:59:59 AM ET 2006-06-13T15:59:59

A liberal crowd both booed and cheered Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday after she encouraged Democrats to have a “difficult conversation” about their position on the Iraq war in order to win over middle-of-the-road voters.

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Clinton’s attempt to strike a moderate stance on the divisive issue of the war contrasted sharply with the angry words of another potential presidential contender, Sen. John Kerry, the party’s 2004 standard-bearer, who called the war “immoral” and a “quagmire.”

At a speech before a liberal gathering dubbed “Take Back America,” the New York senator took grief from those in the audience critical of her vote for the Iraq war and her opposition to an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops.

“I do not think it is a smart strategy, either, for the president to continue with his open-ended commitment, which I think does not put enough pressure on the new Iraqi government,” said Clinton, before turning to the anti-war liberals’ core beef with her.

“Nor do I think it is smart strategy to set a date certain. I do not agree that that is in the best interests,” said Clinton, prompting loud booing from some at the gathering.

Early favorite
Clinton has been seen as the early favorite among potential Democratic candidates for president in 2008, but she is increasingly at odds with anti-war liberals over her past vote and current position on Iraq.

“Sometimes this is a difficult conversation, in part because this administration has made our world more dangerous than it should be,” she said.

After addressing Iraq, Clinton quickly turned to the 2006 election, saying her party needs to speak to middle-class Americans and overcome disagreements.

“If we’re going to win in November then we have to be smarter, tougher, and better prepared than our opponents, because one thing they do know how to do is win and we have to reach out to people who may not be able to agree with us,” she said.

“We have to talk about the range of issues that are on their minds that they talk about around the kitchen table,” Clinton said.

'National disgrace'
The speech was also peppered with plenty of attacks on the Bush administration, particularly on the Gulf Coast recovery efforts, which she called “a national disgrace.”

Clinton charged that the administration has a history of talking tough, without acting tough.

“You know, they have the toughest rhetoric in the world, they must watch old cowboy movies 24 hours a day. But when it comes to actually being tough and strong, they leave a lot to be desired,” said Clinton.

Those sort of remarks were received enthusiastically, but not everyone was won over. As she left the stage, some in the crowd chanted to bring the troops home now.

Kerry, who was hammered for cautious statements on the war in his 2004 run for president, referred to the “Bushes, the Cheneys, the armchair warriors whose front line is an air conditioned conference rooms.”

Kerry called Iraq a quagmire and compared it to the Vietnam War, in which he served.

“It was right to dissent in 1971 from a war that was wrong and could not be won. And in 2006 it is both a right and an obligation for Americans to stand up to a president who is wrong today,” the Massachusetts senator said.

Kerry said it is time to “end a war in Iraq that weakens the nation each and every day it goes on.”

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