San Francisco -- Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama took a swipe Friday at chief rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton on one of her signature issues - health care - saying in San Francisco that many powerbrokers in the nation's capital have failed to rise above politics to provide better, less costly health care for Americans.
"There are those who tout their experience working in the system in Washington. ... The problem is, the system in Washington isn't working for us," Obama said. "We've been talking about the health care crisis in this country for decades, and yet through Republican and Democratic administrations, we failed to act."
Clinton, as first lady, led the unsuccessful efforts to reform the health care system during the first two years of the administration of her husband, President Bill Clinton. She has pledged as the leading Democratic candidate for president to try again to reform the system, which many experts say is too costly and doesn't provide quality care to enough Americans.
Obama, speaking Friday in front of an enthusiastic group of about 1,500 at an event billed as Women for Obama, cast himself as a champion of women's rights and for issues vital to Democratic voters such as health care, education and the environment.
"Too many people in Washington see politics as a game - and that is why I believe this election cannot just be about who plays the game better," said Obama, 46, a first-term Illinois senator. "It has to be about who's putting an end to the game plan."
Obama was greeted with enthusiastic cheers as he emerged in suit and tie at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, shaking the hands of dozens of his supporters on stage before a crowd of mostly women.
"I'm lucky enough to live ... with three women for Obama in my house," he joked, referring to his wife and two daughters. "I don't always get this reception."
Supporters paid $2,300 to attend an exclusive reception and $250 to sit in the cavernous hall for a box lunch of water, a roast beef sandwich, a brownie and an apple - but hundreds of seats in the upper balcony remained unfilled even though the senator's campaign offered a lowered $25 ticket price in the days before the event.
Although Obama stuck primarily to his stump speech, he won cheers and several standing ovations by acknowledging the importance of female voters and pounding issues that are on the top of many of their minds.
"Women have always made the difference in every election," he told the crowd, "and this year, your voice, your hope will be the deciding factors in forging a new future for America."
Although he didn't mention Clinton by name, his repeated references to himself as the candidate offering change and a view from outside the Washington Beltway were an unmistakable comparison to the New York senator, who polls show is the Democratic front-runner for the 2008 nomination in a crowded field.
"There are easier choices that you can make in this election, people who will follow the well-worn grooves, " he said, "people who will deliver ... pretty much more of the same."
Obama's speech was part of a three-day visit to California, including an appearance Thursday night at a Pacific Heights fundraiser.
He is scheduled to appear today at a noon rally at Santa Barbara City College and later will attend an exclusive fundraiser at the Montecito (Santa Barbara County) estate of talk show host and media magnate Oprah Winfrey - an event expected to raise as much as $3.5 million.
With five months until the Feb. 5 California presidential primary, Obama is trying to stake a claim for Democratic female voters - a constituency aggressively courted by Clinton, who has amassed a 30-point lead in state polls.
But Obama's state co-chairs, San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris and Los Angeles Controller Laura Chick, urged the largely female audience to join his movement.
"We have got in Barack Obama someone who thinks every day as he looks at his daughters and as he looks as his wife ... an individual who will dedicate himself every day to the issues that impact women," Harris said.
Author Ayelet Waldman of Berkeley, who graduated in the same Harvard University law class as Obama, backs his run for president over Clinton, although she said, "I've been a feminist my whole life, and I was raised on Betty Friedan."
She said she would like to see the Democratic candidates on "an Obama-Clinton ticket."
It's hard to imagine Hillary agreeing to be Barack's veep. Or vice versa.