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Hillary Clinton on Bernie Sanders: It's going to be 'competitive'

In Iowa, Hillary Clinton said she welcomes the challenge from Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders.

Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that she was not surprised by Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders’ recent surge in polls, adding that running for president should not easy. 

“This is going to be competitive. It should be competitive,” she told reporters in Iowa ahead of the first national television interview of her second presidential campaign. “The more the better.” 

Sanders, a senator from Vermont, has been attracting large crowds as he travels to early voting states and liberal cities across the country. Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, has so far declined to engage directly with her challenger, saying she’ll leave it up to the voters. 

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Clinton spoke at the Iowa City Public Library in Iowa City, a Democratic stronghold that she hopes to win in the state’s critical caucuses in February 2016. She also took questions from the audience after facing criticism in recent days for limiting public and press access to her. 

After facing criticism for keeping reporters behind a rope line during a July 4 parade, Clinton cracked a joke about the incident. “Is that the equivalent of a rope we have up there? I think it should come down. I don't want anybody to stress," she said, instructing an aide to take down the barrier between her and the press. 

Getting a bit reflective, Clinton called the 2016 campaign “my last rodeo” and vowed to work to build the Democratic Party in Washington and across the country to outlive her time in public office. Clinton marveled when she realized that, if her presidential run were successful and she won re-election, she would not retire until 2025. “Golly,” she said as she worked the math out in her head.

Clinton seemed to acknowledge that Democrats lack a deep pool of national talent, a fact some have blamed on her freezing out competition in the Democratic primary. “I believe that we can leave the country in good shape for the future and we can get a deep bench,” she said.

And she vowed to whip Democrats into shape for midterm elections, which tend to favor the GOP thanks to higher Republican voter turnout. "They know the importance of midterm elections because they show up, and we don’t,” she said of Democrats. 

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During her remarks, Clinton took the opportunity to discuss immigration reform, an issue that she has so far discussed mainly in front of Latino audiences. “I’m going to make this a big issue in the campaign. I’m going to talk about it like I talked about it here, and I’ll talk about it everywhere, because I want people who vote for me to know they're voting for comprehensive immigration reform,” she said.

Many of Clinton's Republican opponents, she continued, are trying to “demean immigrants, insult immigrants, cast aspersion on immigrants.” And their plans for immigration reform would relegate migrants to “second-class status,” Clinton added. 

Clinton also weighed in on the debt crisis in Greece, calling the issue “a tragedy.” Clinton said she hoped for a resolution that “keeps Greece in the eurozone and keeps Europe united."

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She declined to take a stance on the marathon negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, however, saying it would be inappropriate to comment while the talks continue. She reiterated that any deal "needs to be full transparency, disclosure and verifiable inspections going forward."

Clinton also warned that the fight over Obamacare is not over, despite the recent Supreme Court ruling upholding a key pillar of the law. "If a Republican is elected president, that will be the end of the Affordable Care Act,” she said.