NEW YORK — Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., made history Jan. 20 when she declared her intent to run for president in 2008. Her announcement, made via Webcast, dominated the political buzz over the weekend and earned her prime television interviews to begin the week. She sat down with "NBC Nightly News" Anchor and Managing Editor Brian Williams Monday afternoon in New York. What follows is the complete transcript of their conversation.
Brian Williams: This is not exactly how or when you planned to announce this. How else are you going to have to adjust to counter the presence of this Obama campaign, which is a surprise?
Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.: Well, you know, Brian, this is exactly how I intended to do this. Once I made up my mind that I was going to contest for the presidential nomination of my party, I wanted to do it on the Web, I wanted to do it before the president's State of the Union, because I wanted to draw the contrast between what we've seen, over the last six years, and the kind of leadership and experience that I would bring to the office.
Williams: So you had always planned to announce before the president's State of the Union address?
Clinton: That was our plan, yes.
Williams: What does the "Obama factor" do to the Clinton campaign?
Clinton: Well, it makes everything even more exciting. I've been through presidential campaigns, and this is going to be one of the best we've had in a long time because there is no sitting vice president. There's no clear heir-apparent. We have a terrific, talented field on the Democratic side, and obviously (Sen.) Barack (Obama, D-Ill.) is just a phenomenally accomplished senator and person who's going to be very effective, as are a number of my other competitors. I know everybody, and they bring a lot of different skills and talents to this field and I'm looking forward to the election.
Williams: Is it any kind of a burden for you, Senator, that so many opinions are pre-formed? Americans know Hillary Clinton.
Clinton: Well, as someone close to me once said, I'm probably the most famous person you don't really know, and I'm going to spend my time doing what I've done in New York, which is going and meeting with groups of people and talking about what I value, my background, my incredibly committed views about what we should be doing in our country and let people make their own judgments, because I heard the very same kinds of comments when I started running here in New York, that people, you know, thought they'd already made up their minds about me. And I just wanted a fair shot. I wanted people to judge me for who I really am and what I really believe. And I think I can do well if I get that opportunity.
Williams: What don't Americans know about you?
Clinton: Well, I think it's what they think they know, the kind of person they think I am, what I care about, what I value. And it's about 180 degrees from who I am, you know. People think I must've been born with some silver spoon in my mouth, and as I said, I was very fortunate to be born into a wonderful, supportive family, a middle-class family, in the middle of America, in the middle of the last century. And I've been blessed to be given all these opportunities. And, you know, my education, and, you know, my maturing came about at the same time as the civil rights revolution, the women's' movement. I was one of the early beneficiaries of the changes that took place in our country, and that I was part of advocating for. And I've also never been someone who shied away from standing up for what I believe, but I'm very open to the conversation that I want to have with our country going into this campaign, and the conversation that I believe we need to set the direction for the future.
Williams: Because you've been a public figure, is it a burden for you to go back and amend or explain issues like health care, the vote for the war, things like that?
Clinton: I don't think any of this is a burden. I view it as an opportunity and a privilege. I'm going to go into people's living rooms, into union halls, into church basements and let people ask me anything. And believe me, people have asked me nearly anything, I believe. That's what I did when I started running in New York, and that's what I'm looking forward to, because I want people to meet me, hear me, see me unfiltered from other people's opinions. And let me explain why I've done what I've done, the lessons that I've learned, what I think I bring to this presidential race.
Williams: Are you troubled at all? I noticed in the weekend's New York Times, they're already out interviewing voters on the street who are starting to say, “You know, we like her plenty as a senator. She's been a great senator.” You'd like to be more than that. Does that, “She's been a great senator” movement concern you?
Clinton: Well, it's flattering, obviously, because I've worked very hard and I'm continuing to work hard. Yesterday, I did an event at a health center here talking about trying to insure all our children. And this morning I was at Ground Zero continuing my fight for health care for the victims of the attack on our country. So I'm going to continue to do the work that I know is important to New Yorkers. But I also believe that New York and the rest of our country deserve to have a president who's going to be on our side, who's going to stand up and fight for the issues and the values that are important not just to the people I already represent, but to the people I grew up with, the people that, you know, I worked with in Arkansas, the people whom I know across our country.
Williams: Well, you're one of the few alive who has seen exactly the journey that is ahead of you. I don't know if that helps or hurts.
Clinton: It helps a lot. I don't think I'll have too many surprises coming forward.