By KEN THOMAS
Whether she runs for president or not in 2016, Hillary Rodham Clinton is making sure she stays connected to important Democratic constituencies, from college students and black women to the gay and lesbian community.
Clinton has spoken to a women’s institute in Pennsylvania, a prominent black women’s sorority in the U.S. capital, the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and an organization called Chicago House that helps people with HIV and AIDS.
Her fall itinerary includes speeches before college students at three universities in New York, which she represented in the Senate, an award from the Elton John AIDS Foundation, a speech at a Minneapolis synagogue and an event involving a Mexican-American initiative at the University of Southern California.
For all the talk that the former secretary of state intended to slow down after two decades in national political life, Clinton is keeping a busy schedule that amounts to a training camp for a second presidential campaign, if there is one.
In many of her speeches, Clinton talks about America’s role in the world and weighs in on national issues on her own terms. Her words often seem to be aimed at maintaining a connection to the party’s base of women, black and Hispanic voters, young people, and gays and lesbians.
While her speeches avoid partisan politics, they put her before admiring audiences that relish the notion of a woman leading the country.
“We broke the great race barrier with President Obama but it’s time that we also really ask ourselves deep down what it’s going to take to elect a woman president,” Clinton said Thursday in response to a question during a Miami address to travel agents. “And I will certainly do what I can when that time comes to elect somebody–whoever that somebody might be.”
Clinton’s advisers note that she has avoided the circuit of Democratic dinners and events in early primary voting and caucus states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, and focused on issues about which she long has been passionate–the status of women and girls around the globe, early childhood education and the trafficking of wildlife in Africa.
She is expected to limit her in-person political activity this year to fundraisers and events for Terry McAuliffe, a friend who’s running for Virginia governor.
The former first lady regularly deflects questions about her future, telling audiences there is plenty of time for those considerations. But the significance of a female president is never far from the surface. In a speech Wednesday to Chicago House, for example, nearly 2,000 attendees stood and cheered for a full 40 seconds after Clinton, who narrowly lost the nomination to Barack Obama in the 2008, was asked whether she would try again for the White House.
Clinton’s speeches are showing many of her admirers a side they craved to see in 2008 and one they hope will be on display should she run in 2016.
In one of her first public acts after leaving government, Clinton endorsed gay marriage, putting her in line with members of her own party. In July, Clinton told about 14,000 members of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, the nation’s oldest black college sorority, that the not guilty verdict in the shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin had brought “deep, painful heartache” for many families.
Her speech to the Delta convention and a separate address to the American Bar Association in San Francisco focused on her critique of the Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate parts of the Voting Rights Act, a decision that angered many liberals. Clinton said the ruling could make it more difficult for the poor and elderly to vote, words that were embraced with shouts of “Run, Hillary, Run,” at the end of her speech.
“She’s doing all the right things to become a candidate, certainly, she’s done nothing antithetical to that,” said former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who rejected the notion that Clinton should avoid speaking about policy issues for fear of alienating potential voters. “She’s solidifying the enthusiasm of people in the Democratic base who are looking for strong leadership. So I think she’s on the right track.”
Clinton most recently backed Obama’s threats to use force in response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria and has said it was the reason Russia urged Syria to get rid of its stockpile.
In Chicago, Clinton echoed her husband’s recent speech in support of Obama’s health care law, saying the overhaul should be implemented and improved where necessary. “Nobody has a better idea,” she said.
She also expressed hope that Congress would avoid defaulting on the nation’s debt. “I just hope they realize this could be a terrible self-inflicted wound that would have implications for everything we care about,” she said.
Clinton’s travels also are helping burnish her centrist credentials. During a June address at the Economic Club of Grand Rapids, Michigan, she talked about the characteristics of leadership and sat next to Richard and Helen DeVos, both longtime Republican financial donors and activists. Her private, paid speeches have put her before industry groups that represent financial interests, housing developers and the tourist industry.
Earlier this month, Clinton received the Liberty Medal from the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. The group’s chairman, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, credited Clinton’s “lifelong career in public service.” Famous friends and supporters, including former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and tennis star Billie Jean King, praised her in video testimonials.
Her childhood development initiative with the Clinton Foundation, called Too Small to Fail, features a leadership council that includes former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Republican, and Cindy McCain, the wife of Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee.
Her travel can often resemble a victory lap, filled with awards and acclaim. In addition to speeches at three New York universities, in the heart of where she built her first campaign for Senate, Clinton will be honored by Yale Law School, where she earned her law degree, and the Children’s Defense Fund, where she started her work in the 1970s as an advocate for women and children.
Clinton is fielding offers to teach at universities, including Yale, Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and New York University, where her daughter, Chelsea, is co-founder of a multi-faith center.
She is also writing a book, due out next spring, about her time as the nation’s top diplomat, and will discuss her work on health and economic issues related to women and children during this coming week’s Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York.