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By Marc Caputo, The Miami Herald

MIAMI — Hillary Clinton, the once and current Democratic front-runner for president, spoke Wednesday at the University of Miami, in an appearance where she touched on the chaos in Venezuela, climate change and the traps of partisanship.

One topic she conspicuously avoided: whether she’ll officially run for president in 2016.

When asked about her future plans — noted in her Twitter bio as “TBD,” or to be determined — Clinton slipped the question.

“Well, I’d really like to. But I have no characters left,” Clinton said with a laugh, referencing the 140-character limits of Twitter.

“I will certainly ponder that.”

But earlier, in addressing the 6,000 or so students and guests, Clinton might have given a hint about her future plans.

“No one can or should sit on the sidelines,” said Clinton, who also noted the need to “get beyond the partisanship … beyond all the political dead ends and decide that that’s just not who we are.”

As with a September speech Clinton gave in Miami, her appearance was highly stage-managed and had trappings of a campaign event. There were no questions from, or nearness to, the press.

The main difference between Clinton’s address at the BankUnited Center and those given at the venue by President Barack Obama in the 2012 election cycle: Clinton stayed for a question-and-answer session.

The questions from students were pre-screened and asked by UM President Donna Shalala, who worked in Bill Clinton’s administration as health secretary. Shalala called Clinton her “friend and colleague in too many adventures to count.”

In a nod to the sizable number of Venezuelan students and residents in Miami-Dade, Shalala made sure to ask Clinton, the former secretary of state under Obama, about the chaos in Caracas under President Nicolas Maduro’s regime.

Clinton acknowledged longstanding problems with Venezuela and Cuba and expressed a measure of regret that their respective leaders had no interest in truly normalizing relations and democratizing.

“We saw Venezuela, which is such a rich country — a beautiful country — going backward. First under President (Hugo) Chavez’s rule, now in the present day, with President Maduro,” she said.

“We tried. We tried to engage with President Chavez at that very first meeting,” Clinton said.

Clinton said Obama had hopes for a change.

“If I meet him, I will be cordial. I will shake his hand,” Obama said of Chavez, according to Clinton.

“It happened. Lots of pictures,” Clinton said. “And then unfortunately, rather than it being an opening to find ways to work together — unfortunately, it went backwards instead of forward.”

Clinton also fielded a question from Shalala about Syrian President Bashar Assad’s murderous regime and its still-unfulfilled promise to remove chemical weapons.

“We have to stay focused on getting the chemical weapons stocks out of Syria,” Clinton said.

Clinton was never asked about a major foreign-policy controversy that occurred while she served as secretary of state: the deadly Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks on U.S. diplomats and agents in Benghazi, Libya.

Clinton “will have to answer for Benghazi,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a likely candidate for president, told CNN Tuesday.

“I think she’s going to be asked to account for her time as secretary of state and I don’t think it’s the sterling success people think it is,” Rubio said. “Quite frankly, much of the foreign policy failures we see in place today began when she ran the Department of State.”

Clinton’s speech in Coral Gables is just a few miles from Rubio’s West Miami home and the Coral Gables residence of another potential Republican contender, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Like Clinton, Bush has ducked the topic of running for president, saying he’ll decide later this year or next.

On Monday, in a speech in Long Island, N.Y., Bush acknowledged that his last name might be a problem. But so would Clinton’s. Bush’s brother and father were both president. In between, Bill Clinton served.

So there might be Bush and Clinton fatigue.

“It’s an issue for sure,” Bush said.

Right now, early national and Florida polls show Clinton’s a clear favorite for Democrats and would beat Bush or Rubio — even in their home state. In a Quinnipiac University survey last month, she led Bush by 6 percentage points and Rubio by 10 points.

Clinton never mentioned any of her potential rivals by name. She did recall her amazement at how, after she traveled a broad as secretary of state, foreigners were amazed that she was offered her post by Obama after a hard-fought campaign.

Shalala said Clinton came to UM at her invitation and gave the school a “highly discounted” rate for her appearance, for which Clinton sometimes charges upward of $200,000. The speaking fee was reimbursed by an anonymous donor, Shalala said.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

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