Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign took on the appearance of a family business as she headed into the final week of the race for Iowa's leadoff precinct caucuses, driving home to activists the stakes in those caucuses and her view that she is ready for the job.
"Next week the eyes of the country and the world will be on Iowa, the world will be holding its breath," said Clinton. "We know that this decision you face is so important, you are picking a president and there isn't any more significant decision for you to make as a citizen."
The Jan. 3 caucuses in the rural, midwestern state of Iowa is the crucial first contest in political parties' state-by-state process of selecting presidential nominees. Candidates who do well in the caucuses, and in the New Hampshire primary five days later, can gain momentum and media attention, establishing themselves as front-runners. Those who do poorly often decide to drop out of the race.
The caucuses _ simultaneous meetings held at 1,784 locations statewide _ begin the process of selecting delegates to the parties' national presidential nominating conventions in August and September. But the nominees could be apparent well before then based on the number of delegates amassed in the primaries and caucuses.
Clinton opened her campaign day with a rally before about 300 people jammed into a high school in western Iowa.
Most polls have shown Clinton in a very tight and fluid race with rivals John Edwards and Barack Obama, with the stakes very high in next week's caucuses. Clinton has led in national polls but many strategists argue that a win in Iowa could give her the momentum to seal the nomination.
She was working to close the sale in the final week, and leaving nothing to chance. Daughter Chelsea Clinton was at her side as she stumped through a series of stops in western Iowa, and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, was keeping his own campaign schedule in the state.
Clinton also brought along Mark Nicholson, an apple farmer from upstate New York to cement her ties to rural Iowa.
"We weren't used to getting a lot of attention from politicians in New York," Nicholson said. "Seven years later, it's amazing how far we've come."
Clinton hammered home her electability, and described for activists the type of general election campaign she'd run.
"I will wage a campaign that stands for our values and our country's future," she argued, warning that she is capable of standing up to what will certainly be withering assault from Republicans.
"The Republicans have been after me for 16 years and I'm still here," said Clinton.
With the assassination of a Benazir Bhutto as a backdrop, Clinton was reminding activists of her experience and familiarity with the White House and the challenges facing the next president.
"We know how important it is, the decision that will start here in Iowa in one week, picking a president that is ready on day one to deal with the myriad of problems" facing that next president, said Clinton. "Our next president will be sworn in on Jan. 20, 2009. Waiting on that president's desk in the oval office will be problems that are incredibly difficult, that present challenges to our leadership in the world, to our moral authority, to our economy, to the kind of society we are and want to be. These are some of the problems we know about."
She said it is inevitable that unexpected problems will confront the country and argued that on the ground experience in the White House is the only way to be prepared for that.
"That's the nature of the job and the world in which we live," she said. "It certainly raises the stakes high for what we expect from our next president. I know from a lifetime of working to make change."