White House Dry Run? Hillary Criss-Crosses America
(AFP)—For a non-candidate, Hillary Clinton is on the move, making at least 35 public appearances since January on a circuit that took her from coast to coast, testing out themes for an expected White House run.
In the past five weeks alone, the 66-year-old American political powerhouse addressed a scrap-metal recycling expo in Las Vegas, where a woman threw a shoe at her (and missed); joined a discussion with IMF chief Christine Lagarde at New York's Women in the World Summit; and snapped photos with Russian agitators Pussy Riot.
Her frequent-flyer schedule included stops in Washington, San Francisco, Oregon, San Jose, Massachusets, the United Nations, Connecticut, Kentucky and Arizona.
From east to west, the former first lady (1993-2001), US senator (2001-2009) and President Barack Obama's first secretary of state (2009-2013) has discussed the arc of her career, including fighting political fires in global hotspots.
Touching on carefully considered autobiographical details, Clinton has been portraying herself as a fierce patriot, but also a woman of the world deeply committed to gender fairness and social equality.
In other words, Hillary has been criss-crossing America crafting her unofficial political agenda, as the popular Democrat mulls a possible second run for the White House.
On a recent Saturday, her schedule included two main events: the United Methodist Women convention in Louisville, Kentucky, and a forum hosted by Republican Senator John McCain in Sedona, Arizona.
At the Louisville convention packed with 6,500 women, Clinton recalled her childhood steeped in the Methodist religion and shaped by the work ethic of her Welsh ancestors.
Without notes or a teleprompter, she wooed the audience with anecdotes that conveniently touched on various fabrics of the American tapestry.
"I loved that church," she said.
"I well remember my father praying by his bed every night. That made a very big impression on me.
"He was a rough, rough kind of man, self-made, independent, small businessman -- and there he was, humble on his knees before God every single night."
The reaction was rapturous.
"I'm ready for a woman president -- but only if they're qualified, and she is highly qualified," fawned Kathy Crone, who said she knew Bill Clinton's mother in Arkansas.
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Organizers said Clinton spoke for free at Louisville. Normally she commands fees of up to $200,000, according to the Washington Post, when she speaks at industry gatherings like car dealership conventions.
Inevitably, "the question" surfaces at every event: Will you run?
At their Arizona forum, a facetious McCain repeatedly called her "Madame President."
She grimaced and told him to hush. "This is all designed to get me into real trouble."
Clinton has carefully guarded her White House ambitions. But on Tuesday near Washington at a mental health forum, Hillary drew cheers when she responded to the now-routine query by saying: "That's a great question, because obviously I'm thinking about that right now."
"So stay tuned, when I know you'll know," she added.
Last December, Clinton said she would announce her decision this year.
Wherever she speaks, she mentions the many humanitarian projects of the Clinton Foundation.
But with several Republican-led groups already seeking to derail a Clinton candidacy, she takes meticulous care to defend her record against detractors.
Quizzed by McCain, she rattled off her successes as if in a presidential debate.
On Russia, she stressed she never spared President Vladimir Putin, who she said "personally attacked me" amid Washington's differences with Moscow.
On failed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks? "I worked very hard on that."
The terrorist attack in Benghazi? She devotes an entire chapter to it in her new book, "Hard Choices," which hits bookshelves June 10.
Is Clinton prepared -- physically and mentally -- for another presidential campaign grind?
"My impression is that she is," Joe Conason, editor-in-chief of The National Memo and an author with strong ties in Clinton's orbit, told AFP.
"She knows as much about (being president) as anybody who hasn't done it," Conason added.
"It's a hard job. But I do think watching what she does in the book tour and in the mid-term campaign is going to tell you something about where she's going."
Meanwhile, he said Clinton must be "developing a positive message about herself, what she wants to do, and what she's accomplished."