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Promoting Memoir, Clinton Draws Supporters in Austin

In Austin on Friday, Hillary Clinton played coy about presidential ambitions, called her first meeting with Barack Obama after the 2008 primary "an awkward teenage first date" and said the Benghazi attack was her greatest regret.

Hillary Clinton speaks at the Long Center in Austin on Friday night.

Asked to name her most vivid Texas memory from the summer of 1972, Hillary Clinton's mind didn't turn to politics.

“Probably the nights we spent at the Armadillo, I suppose,” she said on Friday night, referring to the now-defunct Austin concert venue where she heard the likes of Jerry Jeff Walker. “I know I should say something more serious and thoughtful, but boy did we have fun.”

Clinton was speaking at the Long Center in Austin to promote her new book, Hard Choices, a policy-focused memoir of her tenure as secretary of state during the first term of the Obama administration. Earlier in the day, Clinton signed copies of her book at BookPeople in Austin.

The appearances were part of a national book tour widely seen as laying the groundwork for a potential 2016 presidential campaign. 

In her speech Friday night, Clinton was coy about her 2016 aspirations, suggesting she wouldn’t decide whether to run until next year.

“This is speaking hypothetically, whoever this person might be,” she said to laughter, in response to a question about the agenda of the next president. She then launched into a list of political applause lines.

“I have a very simple vision, and that is to restore the American dream for the American people and to do it in a way that renews our trust in each other,” she said.

The speech featured a mix of insider anecdotes — Clinton described her first meeting with Obama after the 2008 primaries as resembling “an awkward teenage first date” — and accomplishments and lessons from her term as secretary of state.

Clinton also responded to criticism of her role in the aftermath of the 2012 Benghazi attack, in which terrorists killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans at the United States Embassy in Libya.

“I immediately told Congress that we would cooperate, and we did,” said Clinton, who described the event as her greatest regret from her term as secretary of state. “Because I believe in oversight and I believe especially in trying to figure out what happened.”

The speech capped what was an all-day event for some Clinton supporters, who began lining up at 10 a.m. for the 3 p.m. book signing. Ready for Hillary, a Super PAC devoted to building support for a Clinton presidential run, parked its red, white and blue campaign-style bus across the street from the line so that volunteers could distribute buttons and solicit email addresses. In all, a thousand people paid $35 for a copy of Hard Choices and an inscription from the former first lady, senator and secretary of state.

Clinton’s political roots in Texas go back to 1972, when she and then-boyfriend Bill Clinton, still law students, volunteered for George McGovern’s failed presidential campaign. On Friday night, she recalled registering voters in the Rio Grande Valley.

Garry Mauro, the former Texas land commissioner, was also a student volunteer for McGovern and met Hillary Clinton during the summer of 1972. In an interview Thursday, he said, “We traveled around South Texas together, so she has very intimate knowledge of Austin and San Antonio.”

Mauro, who served as the Texas director of Clinton’s failed 2008 presidential campaign, added that Clinton traveled frequently to Texas when she was first lady of Arkansas and got to know small-town Texas more while campaigning in the state during her husband’s presidential bids.

Clinton's own presidential ambitions in 2008 brought her to the University of Texas at Austin, the site of one of her Democratic primary debates with Obama.

F.J. Schaak, a retired English teacher who waited in line for Clinton at BookPeople, said he had come because he hoped Clinton would run for president.

“I will tell her so,” he said, adding, "I’ll tell her she has a speechwriter on education ready if she wants one.” 

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