Washington (CNN) – Hillary Clinton, whose every move now is seen through the prism of her possible presidential aspirations, was asked on Wednesday whether it was important for the United States to elect a female president.
Clinton responded quickly and bluntly: “Well, the right female President, yes.”
Her comments came during a question-and-answer session at a UCLA lecture, during which she described the presidential nomination process as “grueling” with “pluses and minuses.”
The former secretary of state lead polls of potential Democratic presidential nominees, although she has not said whether she’ll mount a second White House campaign.
When political science Professor Lynn Vavreck asked about reforming the way the United States picks a President, the former secretary of state reflected on her experiences.
“We have this hybrid system that works for some people better than others, depending on your talents and the kind of attraction you can make and all the rest of it,” Clinton said. “It is a tough set of circumstances for whoever is willing to endure it. I think it is hard to know what works better.”
What was most-telling in Clinton’s comments was how she described the nomination process as a forum where someone with a certain set of talents and the ability to make a certain kind of attraction can thrive and win.
When Clinton ran in 2008, she was widely seen as the frontrunner for the nomination until then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama captured the attention of the Democratic base.
Obama used soaring oratory and likeability to catapult past the Clinton and win the nomination and eventually the presidency.
“For me, and this is a little bit ancient history, but I lost in Iowa, and people said, ‘Ok, it’s over.’ And then I win in New Hampshire, surprising a lot of people,” Clinton said detailing the nominating battle. “Then I lose in South Carolina. Then I win in Nevada.”
Obama’s ability to capture a crowd and relate to people is something even Clinton acknowledged while squaring off with Obama in 2008.
During a January debate in New Hampshire, Clinton admitted Obama “very likable.” Obama’s response – “You're likable enough, Hillary, no doubt about it” – has since become a defining moment of that campaign.
But questions about Clinton’s likeabilty have nagged the former first lady since her days as first lady of Arkansas.
When she ran for Senate in 2000, according to recently released documents from the Clinton Library, an aide encouraged her to “look for opportunities for humor” and stressed “it's important that people see more sides of you, and they often see you only in very stern situations.”
But a poll released this week showed Clinton is plenty likeable for Americans. According to the Pew Research/USA Today poll, only 36% of those surveyed said Clinton was hard to like.
At UCLA as part of a trip to the West Coast and Canada, Clinton was also asked to give advice to the 1,800 people – 400 of which were students – in the audience.
Clinton, regularly the target of biting criticism, told the crowd to learn from those who knocks you.
“Sometimes your critics can be your best friends, you really can learn from what people are saying,” Clinton said. “But don’t personalize it.”
She continued by adding a small nugget of more advice for women: “There still is a double standard. … And one of the most effective ways to go after a woman’s confidence and determination is around appearance. Believe me, been there, done that.”
To drive the point home, Clinton told a story about when she was working on voter registration in Texas during in 1972.
“I was going to a meeting … and I had to walk down a center aisle and make my pitch about registering voters,” Clinton said. “Literally, out of my right ear I hear, ‘I really hate that dress she is wearing.’ And out of my left year, I hear, ‘I like that dress she is wearing.’ That is the kind of almost schizophrenia you live in when you put yourself out there.”
And while despite some playful prodding by the moderator, Clinton didn’t announce she was running for President, she did acknowledge that it will happen for a woman in the future.
“I believe that it will happen,” Clinton said. “When it happens, how it happens, by who, we'll wait and see.”