Hillary Rodham Clinton criticized President Bush on Saturday as running a "government of the few, for the few and by the few."
"For six long years the hardworking families of our middle class have been invisible to this president," she said, promising to be a president who again sets goals for the country.
Democrats attending the Ohio state party's annual dinner gave a rousing cheer when the senator from New York asked, "Are you ready to end the war in Iraq and restore America's reputation around the world?"
Only two Democrats since 1900 have won the presidency without carrying Ohio and no Republican has done so.
The state clinched re-election for Bush in 2004, but Democrats have new optimism that they can win the state that Clinton's husband, Bill, carried twice.
Democrats captured the Ohio governor's seat for the first time in 16 years last November and, in a backlash attributed in part to a state government investment scandal, seized three other statewide offices long held by Republicans.
The $150-per-plate dinner drew about 3,000 people and generated $550,000 after expenses for the party, the most money the dinner has ever raised, said Chris Redfern, the Ohio Democratic Party chairman.
Clinton, leading the Democratic field for president in national and Ohio polls, promised universal health care and said she would make college more affordable. She also said she would be more aggressive in developing alternative sources of energy and that her administration would hire more qualified people for government jobs.
Clinton came to Ohio from South Carolina where she gave the commencement address at historically black Claflin University earlier on Saturday.
She spoke of making college more affordable and gave a nod to Barack Obama, her Senate colleague and Democratic primary opponent, while drawing on the university's 1960s-era demonstrations.
"Think about the students from this university who braved tear gas and water hoses and beatings and bullets to protest the injustice of segregation and usher in a new era of equality and never lived to see the day of an African-American man running for president," Clinton told the crowd of around 4,000 at the college.
She said the class of 320 graduating students represented a minority who are able to afford and complete the college degrees they began pursuing.
"But what I'm finding is that so many students and their hardworking parents and families are balking at the cost of higher education," Clinton said. "When they see the price tag their hearts sink."
With fewer than half of the nation's students completing the degrees their start, government must play a larger role, Clinton said.
"We need to begin by making college more affordable and accessible," she said. "I think we need to take on the student loan industry and send a clear message they will be held accountable for the way they treat and mistreat students and families."
She is pushing a "student borrower bill of rights" that sets payments as a percentage of income and keeps fees and interest rates reasonable. "I don't believe that you should be subjected to bait-and-switch programs where they tell you what it's going to be and then they change it on you," she said.
Associated Press Writer Jim Davenport in Orangeburg, S.C., contributed to this report.