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Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Democrat who represents New York, is praised by supporters for her intelligence, depth of experience, work ethic and immense command of policy detail. ((CBC))

Hillary Rodham Clinton embarked on a widely anticipated campaign to become the first female U.S. president, announcing Saturday on her website, "I'm in. And I'm in to win."

The 59-year-old Democratic New York senator said she was forming an "exploratory committee" to run for president and wanted input from the public on key issues.

"Let's talk about how to bring the right end to the war in Iraq and to restore respect for America around the world, how to make us energy independent and free of foreign oil … and let's definitely talk about how every American can have quality affordable health care."

A few days ago, Senator Barack Obama, a Democrat from Illinois, shook up the 2008 race with his bid to become the first African-American to occupy the White House. Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat fromNew Mexico who would be the first Hispanic to pursue the presidency, intends to announce his plans on Sunday.

Clinton's husband, Bill, served two terms in the White House from 1993-2001.

Saturday's announcement is the latest step in a remarkable political and personal journey for Hillary Clinton — from Arkansas lawyer to first lady to New York senator to projected front-runner for the Democratic nomination.

A polarizing figure since she burst onto the national scene during her husband's first presidential campaign, Clinton engenders strong opinions among voters, who either revere or revile her, but are rarely ambivalent.

She is often compared to her husband and found lacking in his natural charisma. Others have criticized her for being overly cautious and calculating when so many voters say they crave authenticity.

Many Democrats, eager to reclaim the White House after eight years of President George W. Bush, fret that she carries too much baggage from her husband's scandal-plagued presidency to win a general election.

Among many voters, Clinton is best known for her disastrous attempt in 1993 to overhaul the U.S. health-care system.

Supporters cite strong work ethic

Clinton's allies counter by citing her strengths — intelligence, depth of experience, work ethic and immense command of policy detail.

Advisers argue those skills, plus her popularity among women and younger voters, position her strongly as both a primary and general election candidate.

In her first run for the Senate from New York in 2000 — a state where she had never lived and where she was branded a carpetbagger by many — Clinton won a landslide victory.

Through dogged campaigning — including a "listening tour" of the state's 62 counties — Clinton was able to convince voters even in the conservative upstate region that she would represent them effectively in Washington.

Clinton's 2002 vote authorizing military force in Iraq has become a significant political challenge — angering activists who want her to repudiate her vote and aggressively seek to block Bush's proposed troop increase.

She has toughened her criticism of the conduct of the war and Bush's handling of the conflict, and she recently called for capping troop levels in Iraq at around 140,000.

She has rejected calls from liberal groupsto cut off funds for Bush's planned increase in U.S. troops.

With files from the Associated Press