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Updated: October 7, 2012 8:02AM
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Conventions are auditions.
Not only for the nominee on deck but for those setting their sights on the next time around.
So an array of wannabe presidents not so subtly strutted their stuff at the Republican pep rally last week in Florida and at the Democratic love fest this week in North Carolina.
But the highest-profile candidate of them all for 2016 was nowhere in sight Wednesday night.
Hillary Clinton, President Barack Obama’s secretary of state, was instead hard at work halfway around the world on a diplomatic tour of Asia at the very moment former president and husband Bill was nominating for re-election her boss, the upstart who clobbered her in 2008.
In the aftermath of an unforgettable, brutal face-off between the Clintons and Obama, it has been nothing short of amazing to witness the road traveled by this most improbable team of rivals.
Now there’s a fork just ahead.
After the November election, Hillary Clinton, 64, will leave the State Department after four years of distinguished work.
And she will decide if she wants to make another run at the White House.
Next to Bill and daughter Chelsea, the people Hillary Clinton holds most dear are the girlfriends who date back to her childhood in the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge.
Do you want her to run for president?
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Betsy Ebeling by phone Wednesday. “It’s wistful in the way that four years ago it was sad.”
The girlfriends, a core group of 15, have stuck together through thick and thin. Hillary Clinton has never been too busy to call or connect, they say. And they have never failed to show up for her.
I first met them four years ago at the Iowa caucuses and was struck by how these women had maintained such a lasting, loyal friendship. And how funny they were as they tried to explain it.
“Go back to 1958. She was11, I was 10. I was the new girl in the sixth grade,” Ebeling said with a laugh. “And she was the captain of the crossing guards, the most important position in the sixth grade. Her belt was orange. Ours were cream-colored. It set her apart.”
Young Hillary Rodham would continue to stand apart as she became first lady. United States senator. Secretary of State.
So why not first woman to win the White House?
“I would love to see in my lifetime a woman president, particularly one that I know, one who — I know it sounds schmaltzy — understands the power of friendship.” she said.
So you do want her to run in 2016?
There was a long sigh on the other end of the line.
“For myself, no,” said Ebeling. “We are just in awe of what she’s done in the last four years. But it’s an arena that can be so hurtful, so expensive, so exhausting.”
And yet, if Hillary pulled it off, so exhilarating.
And, I know girlfriends would agree, so well-earned.