SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Hillary Clinton came as close as she has yet to announcing an expected presidential run in 2016, saying Tuesday she’s “obviously” thinking about a bid and is very close to completing her pre-decision checklist.
Coming off a lengthy hiatus from her three-decades spent in the public eye, the all-but-declared presidential candidate chose a Silicon Valley women’s conference to mark her reemergence and hone a message of economic and gender empowerment. The appearance comes ahead of a spate of public events next month that will likely serve as an on ramp to a presidential launch as early as April.
“I have a very long list. I’m going down it. And I haven’t checked off the last couple of things yet,” the former secretary of state said during a Q&A session moderated by Re/Code editor Kara Swisher when asked about her thinking on a run.
Her lengthy address to 5,000 upwardly mobile women here at the Watermark “Lead On” conference were Clinton’s first public remarks in the country since December. Clinton gave two paid speeches in Canada in January, but has otherwise laid low as she builds a campaign team and plots a run behind closed doors. Clinton has a packed calendar next month, however, and is likely to take some kind of major campaign step as soon as April.
Clinton shied away from highlighting her gender when she ran for president in 2008, but she now calls women’s issues “the great unfinished business of the 21st century” and weaves stories about her experience as a women into her policy goals.
She hinted that if she were to run for president, advancing women and rebalancing the economy for middle class Americans would be the major themes and rationales for her candidacy.
Clinton had plenty of praise for Silicon Valley, but she lamented that women in the room “bump your heads on the glass ceilings that persist in the tech industry” everyday, borrowing a phrase from her 2008 concession speech. “We’re going backwards, in a field that is supposed to be all about moving forwards,” she added.
And the former secretary of state and praised actress Patricia Arquette’s Academy Awards speech that called for pay equity between women and men. “We all cheered Patricia Arquette’s speech at the Oscars because she’s right, it’s time to have wage equality once and for all,” she said.
Turning to tech policy, Clinton came out in favor of the approach the Obama administration is taking on net neutrality, saying, “I would vote for net neutrality.”
Clinton said if there was one thing she could do improve the country, it would be “get back to working together cooperatively” and get people “out of partisan bunkers.” She said she hoped to create a “nice warm purple space” where people have bipartisan conversations.
Clinton could hardly have chosen a better space for the unofficial kickoff of her unofficial campaign run-up. Introducing Clinton, Intel President Renée James called the former first lady “a role model for all of us” and a “modern day suffragette.”
“It’s been 95 years since women earned the right to vote,” James continued. “And we’ve waited 95 years to have a woman lead our country.”
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The audience of professional women, who represent the political demographic that could be Clinton’s secret weapon in 2016, hung on every hint Clinton dropped about running for president and reacted negatively when Swisher made a joke about “President [Elizabeth] Warren.”
Women were key for President Obama’s re-election win in 2012, but could be decisive for Clinton in 2016, allies say. “If she can replicate what he did with single women,” said California-based strategist Chris Lehane, who worked on Clinton’s 2008 campaign, “and if she can make even modest inroads with married women, then the math becomes virtually impossible for Republicans.”
Those are the kinds of women Clinton spoke to Tuesday and that math is part of what explains why Democrats have rallied so completely around the former senator. “There is no one who is better-suited to talk about the issues facing hardworking women and their families today – and the need for more women’s leadership – than Hillary Clinton,” said Emily’s List’s Marcy Stech.
Clinton came on stage to Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman,” and lamented that “our economy still seems to be operating like it’s 1955.” The tech world, she said, has been particularly unwelcoming to women because it can have a “locker-room” atmosphere where women often don’t feel welcome.
Not included in Clinton’s 70-minute remarks on the plight of women was the word “abortion” or warnings that Republicans want to take away women’s contraception – themes of the 2012 presidential campaign’s “war on women” rhetoric. Instead, Clinton embraced to the new women’s issues, which focus on economic, rather than reproductive, justice.
It’s a message that played well in a room of professionals who applauded loudly when Clinton called for a moving beyond partisanship.
Turning to the economy, Clinton heaped praise on the entrepreneurial ethos of Silicon Valley, but she also warned about the “real human cost to some of these amazing innovations.”
“Just as technology can boost productivity and create jobs, it has the potential to put many people out of jobs,” she said. “And I know from my travels how many Americans can feel the ground shifting under their feet. The old jobs and careers are either gone or unrecognizable … and the result is anxiety and dislocation.”
“Wages no longer rise with productivity while CEO pay keeps going up,” she added.
It’s a line reminiscent of Warren’s rhetoric. But when msnbc host Rev. Al Sharpton asked the Massachusetts senator Tuesday if she thought Clinton could be a “progressive warrior,” Warren demurred. “We’ve got to see. I want to hear what she wants to run on and what she says she wants to do,” Warren said.
And while Clinton gave a strong endorsement of net neutrality, she may also have lost some points in the tech world by dismissing National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden as a thief. Even though Clinton said most Americans felt “betrayed” by revelations he brought to light, “I can never condone what he did.”