By Ken Thomas
CHICAGO: 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 nation’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 voting 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, 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.