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Bill Clinton avoids campaign talk at cancer event

At his first event since Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy, Bill Clinton discussed many things — but not the campaign.

In Bill Clinton’s first public appearance since his wife declared her run for the presidency, he discussed ovarian cancer research. That made sense, because he was being honored by a foundation, Tina’s Wish, dedicated to it. But Tuesday night at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, Clinton also spoke with great passion about economic development in the cities of Orlando and San Diego, the historic utilities and survival instincts of termites, ants and bees relative to people, and genomic sequencing. “And I haven’t even talked about the impact nanotechnology is going to have on this,” Clinton said.

There was one thing Clinton didn't talk about, despite the breathless hopes of the press gaggle behind the cancer research donors. He did not mention Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the presidency.

The precise role the former president and would-be first gentleman will play in his wife’s second presidential campaign has been a subject of much speculation. In an interview conducted in February and published recently in Town & Country magazine, Bill Clinton said that “my role should primarily be as a backstage adviser to her until we get much, much closer to the election.” But more recently, he reportedly pushed back at a March 29 New York Times story claiming he would have a more limited role in the Hillary Clinton campaign than in 2008.

In Clinton’s typically meandering but hyper-informed fashion, he did get to his wife briefly, in discussing his discovery that many humans likely have Neanderthal ancestry. “I called Hillary and Chelsea and said, you’re not going to believe this. They said, ‘We always knew you were part Neanderthal.’” He added, “They were exceedingly surprised to discover they were too.”

RELATED: Hillary Clinton has been outspoken on voting rights

And he may have been hinting at the political battles ahead by focusing on the collaborative aspect of the research consortium supported by Tina’s Wish. He said humans were unique in having “unlimited possibilities to accomplish wonderful things together, if we cooperate.” Collaboration, he said, could allow humans to "redeem the best parts of the unfulfilled lives of ever person we ever lost." Clinton's mother died of complications from breast cancer in 1994. 

Clinton also pointed out that the genetic difference between humans are miniscule. "The biggest problem we’ve got in life is that nearly all of us, and I’m not just talking about political disagreements, we spent 99% of our time thinking about the half of one percent that is different,” he said.

Tina's Wish is named after Tina Brozman, a former federal bankruptcy court judge who died at age 54 from ovarian cancer. President Clinton is the first to receive the foundation's award, “created to recognize an individual who has made an extraordinary contribution to the betterment of women’s health."

Clinton did not take questions from the press.