Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to a crowd during a book signing for her new book, "Hard Choices" in New York earlier this month. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to a crowd during a signing for her new book, “Hard Choices,” in New York earlier this month. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Backstage at the Orpheum Theatre Wednesday night, I had some time to kill. I was waiting for Hillary Clinton to arrive for our onstage chat. What better reason to tweet something?

“Back stage waiting for @HillaryClinton for our conversation. What’s a good ice breaker? Maybe I’ll ask about @timlincecum and his no-hitter!” Tweet.

Within minutes, a Secret Service agent breezed by. “Just saw your tweet,” he chirped as he passed. They don’t miss a thing.

Hillary arrives, dressed in an elegant cobalt blue button-down suit.  She’s “on,” initially a little tightly wound with short bursts of answers followed by frozen smiles. But she soon relaxes and warms up. We exchange small talk about my hometown in New York state, and I tell her that members of my family were her constituents when she was in the U.S. Senate.

“I love Buffalo,” she swoons, and seems to really mean it. She mentions the long-delayed development on the waterfront and how important the city was in the early 1900s.

There is something absolutely surreal standing next to someone who has been a 24/7 fixture on television for more than 20 years. It looks like her, of course — exactly like her — only more so.

It’s time to introduce her, and I recall an incident I witnessed in June 1992 at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. It was the night of the California Democratic primary, which Bill Clinton won, beating Jerry Brown and sewing up the nomination. As the Clintons walk down a hallway to leave, they’re surrounded by a gaggle of reporters, cameras and microphones. Suddenly, a TV guy turns toward her, smashing his heavy camera into her head. She momentarily winces — it hurt! But just as quickly the smile returns and they continue walking down the hallway.

I tell the crowd that it occurs to me in that moment, 22 years ago, how dehumanizing it is to be a presidential candidate or their spouse. But it was also a testament to her self-control and willpower. Impressive. But kind of sad. The life of a presidential candidate.

After giving a speech from the teleprompter, she and I settled into chairs onstage. For 30 minutes, we talked about Iraq, Texas Gov. Rick Perry calling her a “great” secretary of state (“Did you get that in writing?”), the cost of having to develop, as Eleanor Roosevelt called it, rhinoceros skin to withstand the constant onslaught of critics. And finally this. “When you think about not running for office, what color does your mood ring turn?” That got a big Hillary cackle/laugh out of her.

When it was over, I thought about all the things we didn’t get to talk about. Immigration reform, NSA spying and what she thought of Jerry Brown, who once accused her husband of “funneling money to his wife’s law firm.”

One thing was clear: You didn’t get the sense we’ve seen the last of her.


Scott Shafer

Scott Shafer migrated to KQED in 1998 after extended stints in politics and government to host The California  Report. Now he covers those things and more as senior editor for KQED's Politics and Government Desk. When he's not asking questions you'll often find him in a pool playing water polo. Find him on Twitter @scottshafer

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