By Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton promised on Saturday to fight for a fairer society for ordinary Americans, staking out a place on the left to cut off any budding challenge for the Democratic nomination.
In the first major rally of her campaign for the November 2016 presidential election, Clinton touched on many of the issues that energize liberal Democrats. She highlighted her support for gay marriage, women's rights, income equality, clean energy and regulating Wall Street.
Speaking on New York's Roosevelt Island, with Manhattan's skyscrapers as a backdrop, Clinton promised to "make the economy work for everyday Americans, not just those at the top" if elected president.
The former secretary of state praised working families for leading America's economic recovery after the financial crisis of 2008.
"You brought our country back. Now it's time - your time to secure the gains and move ahead," she told a crowd of several thousand supporters.
By far the front-runner to win the Democratic nomination for president, Clinton nevertheless faces some competition from the left, especially from liberal Bernie Sanders.
The independent senator from Vermont has drawn relatively large crowds at recent campaign events in Iowa, the state that kicks off the party's nominating contests early next year.
The outdoor rally marked a change in gear for Clinton, who launched her election campaign in low-key fashion in April and has so far held small events with selected participants.
Clinton, wife of former President Bill Clinton and a former New York senator, has huge name recognition. But recent polls have shown a majority of voters find her untrustworthy after controversy about her use of a private email account while she was secretary of state and criticism of foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation.
In her 45-minute speech on Saturday, Clinton mentioned a series of economic proposals, including setting up an infrastructure bank, boosting child care, imposing fees and royalties on fossil fuel extraction and carrying out a reform of the tax code that would not benefit "quick trades or stashing profits overseas."
But there was no major new policy announcement. Adam Green,
a liberal campaigner, said he was somewhat disappointed.
"It was a fine Democratic speech," said Green,
co-founder of the Progressive Campaign Committee, which tries to get Democratic candidates to adopt more populist policies.
"But people will want to hear the policy specifics on the issues like Wall Street reform, debt-free college and expanding Social Security. That's not what we're hearing today," he said.
SIDESTEPS TRADE CONTROVERSY
Clinton's rival Sanders has called on her to say clearly whether she supports President Barack Obama's plans for a free trade deal with Asia.
Trade is a divisive issue for Democrats, and members of the president's party rebelled at a vote in the House of Representatives on Friday, impeding passage of a measure to give Obama fast-track authority to reach the Asia pact.
Clinton avoided the controversy on Saturday but did address trade.
"For decades Americans have been buffeted by powerful currents. Advances in technology and the rise of global trade have created whole new areas of economic activity and opened new markets for our exports but they have also displaced jobs and undercut wages for millions of Americans," she said.
Clinton, who is running to be America's first woman president, cast herself as a defender of women's rights and
talked about her mother's tough upbringing.
"I may not be the youngest candidate, but I will be the youngest woman president in the history of the United States," said Clinton, 67.
Keen to portray Clinton as a longtime member of the political elite, Republicans criticized her speech as offering only "failed policies of the past."
"Hillary Clinton’s announcement speech was chock full of hypocritical attacks, partisan rhetoric and ideas from the past that have led to a sluggish economy leaving too many Americans behind," said Republican National Committee press secretary Allison Moore.
The Republican nominating battle is off to a crowded start, with 10 candidates who have formally declared they are running and several others likely to launch White House bids. They include former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who is set to jump into the race on Monday.
Despite serving as America's top diplomat for four years.
Clinton said little about foreign policy beyond a dig at Russian President Vladimir Putin and a mention of support for Israel.
Clinton then headed to Iowa, where in the evening she met with a group of about 50 supporters at a home in Sioux City.
"I outlined briefly in my speech today what I want to do ... to fix our democracy by focusing on dark unaccountable money, which I think is corrupting our entire system," she said.
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(Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert in Washington and Alana Wise in Sioux City, Iowa; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Frances Kerry and Alan Crosby)