HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – 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.
Before returning to Capitol Hill, she sounded the same theme before 2,000 cheering supporters at Springfield College in Massachusetts.
"We see as we look around our country, the state of our union is one of economic anxiety, it's concern about fairness, worries about that's happening to our country," Clinton said. "There couldn't be a starker comparison between what I believe and we have heard from President Bush and the Washington Republicans."
Responding to the criticism of Bush, Republican National Committee spokesman Alex Conant said, "It's no surprise that after Senator Clinton loses a major primary and endorsement, her instinct is to go on the attack. Today she is returning to what she does best: Attacking, blaming, criticizing, and accusing her political opponents."
Obama easily defeated Clinton in Saturday's South Carolina primary and he picked up the endorsement of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy on Monday.
Clinton earned the backing of Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who planned to introduce her at an appearance after Tuesday's primary vote. Last fall, Clinton and other Democratic candidates signed a pledge not to campaign in the state because it broke party rules by moving its contest ahead to Jan. 29 in an attempt to play a bigger role in the picking a nominee.
"Hillary will be a president who will take the voice of all Americans — and all Floridians — to the White House," according to his remarks, obtained in advanced of delivery by The Associated Press.
The Democratic National Committee has said it would refuse to seat the state's delegation at the party's presidential convention in August. It is expected that the Democratic nominee will try to reverse that decision because of Florida's crucial role in the general election. Clinton already is on record favoring that step.
Associated Press writer Brendan Farrington in Miami contributed to this report.