Clinton Speeches Prompt Premature Buzz About 2016 Race

Hillary Clinton fans looking to the stage of New York’s Lincoln Center today for signs of her 2016 presidential ambitions came away empty-handed.

The former secretary of state, addressing the Women in the World Summit -- her second speaking appearance this week -- stuck strictly to the theme of the “unfinished business” of advancing opportunities for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world.

“Too many otherwise thoughtful people continue to see the fortunes of women and girls as somehow separate from society at large,” Clinton said. Peace and prosperity are advanced globally when more doors are opened to women and everyone has a stake in the cause, she said. “No country can achieve its full economic potential when women are left out or left behind.”

Those close to Clinton say the more public presence doesn’t mean she’s planning to run, even as that possibility casts a shadow over other potential Democratic candidates seeking to lay the foundation for their own campaigns.

“I get all the enthusiasm there is for her to run,” Mo Elleithee, a top spokesman for Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid, said in an e-mail. “But my advice to everyone is to calm down. If she decides to reconsider and look at the race, I think she’ll do so at the appropriate time. There’s no rush.”

Clinton has said she has no plans for a second presidential run. She also hasn’t ruled it out.

Her body language will be closely watched by the political community in the months, and years, ahead for any signal that she’s approaching a decision. Supporters have already formed a super-political action committee to back a possible bid.

‘Fastest Car’

James Carville, who managed the 1992 campaign of her husband, President Bill Clinton, yesterday sent an e-mail appeal for the group saying “it isn’t worth squat to have the fastest car at the racetrack if there ain’t any gas in the tank -- and that’s why the work that Ready for Hillary PAC is doing is absolutely critical.”

Since it was created in January, the Ready for Hillary PAC is seeing on average about 1,000 grassroots supporters a day sign up to back the effort to get Clinton to run for president, the group said in an April 1 statement. Ready for Hillary has more than 54,000 followers on Twitter and more than 100,000 e-mail addresses in its database.

‘What’s Next’

About a dozen supporters with Ready for Hillary signs gathered outside the Lincoln Center, where Clinton was introduced by Tina Brown, editor in chief of Newsweek/Daily Beast Co.

“The big question about Hillary is what’s next,” Brown said.

A survey released last month of U.S. voters by Hamden, Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University, showed Clinton dominating in match-ups against hypothetical Republican presidential opponents.

The poll showed Clinton leading New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, 45 percent to 37 percent; Republican Florida Senator Marco Rubio, 50 percent to 34 percent; and Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the party’s 2012 vice-presidential nominee, 50 percent to 38 percent. The survey of 1,944 registered voters was conducted Feb. 27-March 4 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.

Obama Primary

Clinton also was viewed as the frontrunner years ahead of the 2008 election, before she faced a relatively unknown U.S. senator from Illinois named Barack Obama. Then a U.S. senator from New York, Clinton lost the Democratic nomination that year to Obama, who picked her as his first secretary of state.

The potential of a Clinton candidacy in 2016 presents unique challenges for other potential Democratic candidates such as Vice President Joe Biden, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, said Linda Fowler, a government professor at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

“These guys can’t raise money right now, but they can start showing up in early primary states and get known,” Fowler said. “On the one hand she is in the way, and yet she provides some cover for them to do some quiet spade work.”

Fowler said Clinton likely will need to make a decision within the next year if she wants to have enough time to build a top-notch campaign and grassroots fundraising operation.

“You can’t do it just with large donors, so you do need more time to create the small-donor base,” she said.

Campaign Rigors

Clinton will have to decide whether she wants to go through the rigors of another presidential campaign, Fowler said. She will turn 69 about two weeks before the 2016 election, younger than Republicans Ronald Reagan or John McCain during their presidential primary bids.

The former first lady has done just enough in the political arena to keep potential donors and supporters intrigued by the historic potential of backing a candidate who could become the first woman president.

Clinton has addressed the Women in the World Summit every year since its inception in 2010.

While she focused much of her speech on the struggles of women in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Africa and the Middle East and issues of poverty, illiteracy and slavery, Clinton closed with an emphasis on the work that needs to take place in the U.S., such as equal pay for equal work.

“For too many American women, opportunity, and the dream of upward mobility, the American Dream, remains elusive,” she said. “I look forward to being your partner in all the days and years ahead.”

The two-day event brings together women from around the globe, from business and world leaders to grassroots activists and dissidents.

Hollywood Speakers

The event features a lineup of powerful women, including Oprah Winfrey and U.S. United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, as well as actresses Meryl Streep and Eva Longoria.

Clinton’s speech earlier this week, her first since finishing her service as secretary of state, focused on advocating women’s rights globally and was delivered at the Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards in Washington.

Besides her speeches, she also released a video last month in which for the first time she announced support for same-sex marriage. She’s also embarking on a lucrative public speaking tour and working on her next book.

On the Republican side, potential 2016 candidates are already scheduling trips to Iowa, the state that traditionally hosts the first primary season voting. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky will headline a May 10 state party fundraising dinner, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is scheduled to deliver a speech at another party function less than two weeks later.

Paul is also scheduled next month to address the Republican party in New Hampshire, the state that historically has followed the Iowa caucuses.

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