DES MOINES, Iowa (CNN) — Hillary Clinton knows she wasn’t the best candidate in 2008 and told CNN on Saturday that after months of campaigning in Iowa, she feels like she has grown since her third-place finish here eight years ago.
“I think I am a different, and perhaps a better, candidate, so I hope that also shows,” Clinton said in an interview after she toured Iowa’s African American Festival at Hy-Vee Hall.
The former secretary of state, who is locked in a tight race with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, said that her failed 2008 campaign taught her a great deal about campaigning and what it takes to win an election.
“I think I learned a lot (from that race),” she said. “But also I have some additional experience that is incredibly relevant to being president and commander in chief. Those four years as secretary of state gave me a front-row seat on the opportunities and the perils that we face in the world. So I feel very much confident and ready to do the job.”
Clinton started her 2016 race with a sizable lead over Sanders in both national and early state polls. Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist who is an independent in the Senate, show him neck-and-neck with Clinton in Iowa.
Although Clinton said she feels “really good about our campaign here in Iowa” and is “proud of the grass-roots organizing” her campaign has done, she acknowledged that the mood of the country is “unsettled” and that she has had to grapple with that as a candidate.
“I think people know we have to further the progress that has been made under President Obama,” Clinton said. “I don’t think the great majority of Democrats or open-minded independents want us to rip up what we have achieved. … I don’t think Americans want to turn the clock back on the rights that have been gained.”
She added, “I think that the mood of the country is, of course, wanting to move forward. … I think I offer a very clear understanding of what we have to do and how to get it done.”
Clinton has made that argument on the stump across Iowa, casting herself as the candidate most prepared to build on President Barack Obama’s legacy. Obama’s first secretary of state, however, deflected a question about whether she feels she has the President’s support.
“We became close partners and real friends, and I have a high level of commitment to see his accomplishments get recognized,” Clinton said. “And I will stand up to Republican attacks against him personally and his record. I know how hard it is to do what he accomplished, and I want to build on that.”
Clinton would not say whether she thinks Sanders understands what Obama has done.
“I can’t speak for him,” she said.
Clinton’s campaign has not been smooth sailing since it launching last year, but aides have grown more confident in recent weeks that their candidate will win the Iowa caucuses on February 1.
One nagging issue, however, is her use of a private email server as secretary of state. On Friday, the State Department announced that it would not release 22 emails she turned over because they contain “top secret” information, the highest level of government classification.
On Saturday, Clinton indirectly accused Republicans of being behind the disclosure three days before the Iowa caucuses, or at least fanning the political flames over the issue.
“None of this changes anything. So if there is some kind of motivation, it’s not going to affect the fundamental facts because they remain the same,” she said.
“There have been, as others have pointed out, some constant leaking, but my view on this is, you know, I didn’t send or receive and emails marked classified. I take classified information really seriously,” she continued. “If the Republicans want to use this for political purposes, that’s their decision, but I’m going to keep talking about what the voters in Iowa keep talking to me about.”