Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York today took her strongest shots yet at President George W. Bush, saying no administration in American history has abused and consolidated power more.

The likely presidential contender in 2008 sounded more like a candidate than ever before to an audience of supporters of her 2006 Senate re-election bid.

She said America can no longer “give in” to the Republican agenda and that the administration wants to stifle debate and suppress facts on issues from the deficit to global warming.

“There has never been an administration, I don’t think in our history, more intent on consolidating and abusing power to further their own agenda,” said Clinton.

While Clinton is heavily favored to win the seat again, several Republicans are considering challenges, including Edward Cox, son-in-law of the late President Richard Nixon; Westchester County., N.Y., District Attorney Jeanine Pirro and former Yonkers, N.Y., Mayor John Spencer, who announced plans last week to seek his party’s nomination.

“I stay awake at night thinking about all the mistakes and the wrong direction and all the bad decisions being made in Washington,” Clinton said.

She characterized the Bush administration’s financial priorities as tax cuts for the wealthy and funding the war in Iraq, rather than the needs of Americans who lack health insurance, affordable housing and good schools.

“We can’t ever, ever give in to the Republican agenda,” she said. “It is not good for New York, and it is not good for America.

The next nomination of a U.S. Supreme Court justice, as early as this summer, will be “excruciating,” she noted.

“He (Bush) wants to nominate someone, I believe, who will be a confrontational nominee so he can provide support to his far-right extremist base,” she said.

The event raised $250,000, organizers said. Supporters took home “Give ’em Hill” bumper stickers.

“I know it’s frustrating for many of you; it’s frustrating for me: Why can’t the Democrats do more to stop them?” she continued to growing applause and cheers. “I can tell you this: It’s very hard to stop people who have no shame about what they’re doing. It is very hard to tell people that they are making decisions that will undermine our checks and balances and constitutional system of government who don’t care. It is very hard to stop people who have never been acquainted with the truth.”

Clinton described Republican leaders as messianic in their beliefs, willing to manipulate facts and even “destroy” the Senate to gain political advantage over the Democratic minority. She also labeled the House of Representatives as “a dictatorship of the Republican leadership,” where individual members are all but required to vote in lock-step with the majority’s agenda.

Referring to Congress’ Republican leadership, she said, “Some honestly believe they are motivated by the truth, they are motivated by a higher calling, they are motivated by, I guess, a direct line to the heavens.”

This was a different Hillary than the public persona she has portrayed in recent months while staking claims to the political center and emphasizing nuances on abortion and immigration that may appeal to those outside the Democratic Party.

She even accused the press of abetting Bush.

“The press is missing in action, with all due respect,” she said. “Where are the investigative reporters today? Why aren’t they asking the hard questions? It’s shocking when you see how easily they fold in the media today. They don’t stand their ground. If they’re criticized by the White House, they just fall apart. I mean, c’mon, toughen up, guys, it’s only our Constitution and country at stake,” she said. “Let’s get some spine.”

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.