GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Hillary Clinton returned to the campaign trail Thursday, four days after her near fainting spell, with little room for another misstep.
The moment she took the stage, Clinton addressed the topic that has overwhelmed headlines since Sunday: Her health. She acknowledged to the Greensboro crowd that being forced to stay at home following her pneumonia diagnosis at such a crucial moment in the election wasn't easy to stomach.
"As you may know, I recently had a cough that turned out to be pneumonia. I tried to power through it but even I had to admit that maybe a few days of rest would do me good," Clinton said, after walking out into a school gymnasium to James Brown's "I Got You (I Feel Good)." "I'm not great at taking it easy even under ordinary circumstances, but with just two months to go until Election Day, sitting at home was pretty much the last place I wanted to be."
After grudgingly following her doctor's orders to slow down and rest to recuperate from pneumonia -- and watching Donald Trump seize the spotlight and pull even or ahead in some key swing states such as Ohio -- the Democratic presidential nominee has signaled she is eager to make a feisty comeback at a crucial moment in the election.
One of the last times the public saw Clinton, she was being helped into a van by her security detail, her knees buckling and body slouching over as she lost her balance.
Clinton said she spent the time at home reflecting, as she mused that "the campaign trail doesn't really encourage reflection."
"It turns out, having a few days to myself was actually a gift," she said.
With less than two months until Election Day, polls have begun to tighten. In Clinton's absence, Trump and his surrogates were free to relentlessly attack the former secretary of state with relatively little pushback. Trump particularly zeroed in on Clinton's in artful comments from last Friday night, in which she described half of Trump's supporters as being in a "basket of deplorables."
In a more reflective speech than normal, Clinton admitted some of her shortcomings, including having "a tendency to over prepare" like "a lot of women."
"I sweat the details whether we are talking about the exact number of lead in the water in Flint or how many North Carolina kids are in early enrichment programs or the precise interest rate on your student loans, right down to the decimal."
And even though the Clinton campaign disclosed more information about her health on Wednesday, its initial decision to not immediately reveal the candidate's pneumonia diagnosis until late Sunday -- well after she left the September 11 memorial and briefly disappeared from reporters assigned to follow her -- has raised a slew of fresh criticism about the lack of transparency.
Clinton returned to the campaign trail with a rally in Greensboro and will follow up with a speech at a Congressional Hispanic Caucus gathering in Washington in the evening.
In Greensboro, Clinton spoke about the issue of "how we lift up our children and families," in remarks that marked Clinton's second in a series of "Stronger Together" speeches -- part of a broader effort to inject more of the candidate's personal story into the narrative.
"One upside to Hillary Clinton's break from the trail was having time to sharpen the final argument she will present to voters in these closing weeks," communications director Jennifer Palmieri said in a statement ahead of the speech.
But if Clinton is trying to change the subject away from her health, Trump may make that difficult. After largely staying away from commenting on Clinton's recent health episode, he took a swipe at his opponent's stamina at a rally in Canton, Ohio, Wednesday night.
"I don't know folks -- do you think Hillary Clinton would be able to stand up here for an hour? I don't know," Trump mused.
Clinton was originally scheduled to travel to the West Coast on Monday, where she planned to deliver a message aimed at millennial voters in California and Nevada. And her remarks in Los Angeles on Tuesday were meant to about a more inclusive economy.
All of those plans fell through when Clinton stumbled at the 9/11 memorial ceremony on Sunday, and it's not clear when the campaign will reschedule those events.
When Kaine knew about pneumonia diagnosis
Clinton declined to address when her running mate Tim Kaine knew about her pneumonia diagnosis, as she faced questions about the nature of her partnership with her running mate on her first day back on the campaign trail.
In a news conference following her remarks, Clinton was directly asked when she informed Kaine that she had pneumonia. Her doctor made the diagnosis Friday, but the public did not find out about it until Sunday.
"My senior staff knew and information was provided to a number of people. And look -- this was an ailment that many people just power through and that's what I thought I would do as well," Clinton said, not addressing the specific Kaine question. "I didn't want to stop, I didn't want to quit campaigning, I certainly didn't want to miss the 9/11 memorial."
Another reporter followed up, asking how often Clinton speaks with Kaine and how she views her relationship and working partnership with her running mate.
Clinton said she communicated with Kaine as late as Wednesday night and referred to him as a "great partner" and great future vice president.
"We've communicated but I'm not going to go into our personal conversations and I feel very comfortable and confident about our relationship," Clinton added.
Kaine has also been asked about his knowledge of Clinton's diagnosis, and suggested in Dayton on Monday that he was in the dark until Sunday.
"I don't want to talk about her and my conversations, the content of them, except just to say that I reached out to her as soon as the incident happened on Sunday, as soon as I was aware of it," Kaine said.
When pressed to clarify if he didn't know about Clinton's diagnosis on Friday, Kaine responded: "I can just say, I'm not going to get into the content, but we talked yesterday after the incident happened."
North Carolina's importance
Clinton is sending a message by choosing North Carolina --- a state her campaign believes is a must-win for Trump -- as her first stop back on the trail. Trump has a 5 point lead in Ohio and a 3 point cushion in Florida, according to a new CNN-ORC poll released Wednesday, meaning the Tar Heel State is increasingly important for Clinton as well.
Then-Sen. Barack Obama won North Carolina in 2008, while Republican nominee Mitt Romney won in 2012. Clinton's top aides believe North Carolina may be more solidly blue than typical bellwethers like Ohio because of the abundance of African-American and college-educated white voters.
North Carolina has a larger than average number of college-educated whites, buoyed by growth of college and post-college white voters in the Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill area.
Democratic pollster Geoff Garin said North Carolina is Clinton's "best chance" to win a state that Mitt Romney carried four years ago.
"Polls consistently have showed her holding a narrow plurality in the state, built on strong support among African-Americans and an ability to win over some better educated suburban whites in the Charlotte area and the Research Triangle who liked Romney but find Trump out of sync with their values," said Garin, who advises the pro-Clinton super PAC Priorities USA.
Thursday's visit is her fifth since she clinched the nomination on June, while Clinton's campaign and her aligned super PACs have spent close to $15 million advertising on TV in the state. And by the time she visits on Thursday, Clinton's Tar Heel State operation will have 33 organizing offices in the state.
Clinton has so far struggled break away from Trump in states like Nevada, New Hampshire and Ohio, which have smaller than average numbers of college educated white voters. While Trump has led with white voters, those with college degrees have rejected Trump in larger numbers than past elections.
While Obama lost college-educated white voters by 14 points, national polls in August found Clinton up by 10 points with the group.
But as polls tighten, so has Clinton's advantage with that group. CNN/ORC polls released Wednesday found that Trump actually leads by 9 points among the group in Ohio and 8 points in Florida.
Clinton knows she needs to be on the trail in order to seize back momentum she had earlier this summer. And she says it's been difficult to follow her doctor's orders.
"I was supposed to rest five days -- that's what they told me on Friday -- and I didn't follow that very wise advice," Clinton told CNN's Anderson Cooper Monday night. "So I just want to get this over and done with and get back on the trail as soon as possible."