Hillary Rodham Clinton relegated her chief Democratic rival to the rhetorical sidelines Monday and focused her criticism on President Bush, saying he had lost touch with the concerns of an anxious public.
In a speech to more than 1,000 people jammed in a gymnasium, Clinton did not refer to the fight with Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination. Her audience, which included an equal number listening in an adjoining room, roared with approval when the former first lady took note of the Republican president's dwindling time in office.
"Tonight is a red-letter night in American history," she said. "It is the last time George Bush will give the State of the Union. Next year it will be a Democratic president giving it."
Bush is isolated at the White House, Clinton said, inviting the president to join her in meeting the kind of people she has come across during her campaign. "Sit at tables at diners and hear what's on America's mind," she suggested.
"I have been in and out of the homes and work places and community centers across America. What they want to talk to me about is the insecurity they feel and the fears they are confronting," she said.
The competition between Clinton and Obama has grown increasingly testy heading into next week's enormous round of primaries. But at least on this day, Clinton took on Bush, using the State of the Union address to highlight her differences with the commander in chief.
Bush is certain, she said, to assert that the state of the nation is strong even though "we are sliding into a recession. We have as lot of concerns we need to deal with," including a mortgage crisis that is driving people from their homes.
In Clinton's estimation, Bush "has never understood is that the State of the Union is not about a speech in Washington. It is about the lives of the American people who feel they are moving toward the American dream."
The woeful housing market, she said, is evidence of the economic insecurity that millions of people are sensing - concerns she said are not registering in the White House.
"It is about people and will they be able to stay in their homes or will they lose their homes," said Clinton. "It is about where we as a nation will restore our leadership and our moral authority."
Clinton's scheduled included stops in Hartford and then Massachusetts before returning to Capitol Hill for Bush's final State of the Union address.