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Wednesday, March 5, 2014 - 8:40pm
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose every move 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."
The comments came during the question and answer session of a UCLA lecture. When Professor Lynn Vavreck asked about reforming the way the United States picks a president - a process that Clinton is very familiar because of her 2008 failed bid for the Democratic nomination - the former first lady 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."
Clinton described the nomination process as "grueling" and something that has it "pluses and minuses."
Clinton's views on the process are especially poignant because the former senator from New York is the frontrunner for her party's 2016 nomination. But what is most telling in Clinton's comments is 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 for president 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 in the 2008 campaign.
But questions about Clinton's relatability and 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 American. According to the Pew Research/USA Today poll, only 36% of Americans said Clinton was hard to like.
The former first lady, who was at UCLA as part of a trip to the West Coast and Canada, was also asked to give advice to the 1,800 people - 400 of which were students - in the audience. The former first lady, who is regularly the target of biting criticism, told the crowd to learn from those who knock 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 your self 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 in the future.
"I believe that it will happen," Clinton sad. "When it happens, how it happens, by who, we'll wait and see."