ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Her rivals spent the day in early-voting states. Scott Walker was in South Carolina, fundraising for local Republicans. Rick Perry was in Iowa, preparing for speeches in three cities. And Jeb Bush was in Georgia, making his fourth trip this month to the key states that decide the presidential primary.
Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, spent Thursday afternoon in the dark, gaping hall of the Atlantic City Convention Center at the Tri-State Camp Conference.
Below electronic screens bearing the word "CAMP" in cartoonish lettering, three thousand camp professionals waited, at times breaking out in dance and chant — "We've got spirit, yes we do! We've got spirit, how bout you?" — before Clinton took the stage to speak about the need for "adult summer camp," the "huge fun deficit in America," and the "enrichment" a sleep-away experience offers young kids.
It was the last paid speech Clinton is expected to deliver before joining Walker, Perry, Bush, and the rest of her opponents on the campaign trail this spring.
But the event at the Atlantic City Convention Center, where the faded wave-pattern carpeting and broken escalators invoke the decline of this gambling town, was a fitting coda to the apolitical two years that defined Clinton's post-State Department life. She worked on her family's foundation and delivered dozens of speeches, estimated at $250,000 a pop, to groups as arbitrary as the National Association of Convenience Stores and the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries.
Rarely did Clinton allude during those speeches to her expected campaign president. Rarely did she talk politics, or explain why she might want to run — should she, eventually, decide to do so. (Clinton's spokesman said as recently as this week that she still "hasn't made a decision about running," though she has picked out a campaign headquarters in Brooklyn and hired staff.)
The event on Thursday was no different.
"In many ways, camping really is about life skills," Clinton said, delivering a 25-minute speech before sitting for a question-and-answer session with Jay Jacobs, a former New York Democratic Party chairman who owns summer camps.
Clinton talked about her new granddaughter, Charlotte; she recalled the time her daughter went away to summer camp for one week as a child ("It was the worst week," she said, pausing. "Well I've had a few bad weeks… But it was up there."); and she pitched the idea of a camp for lawmakers in Washington: "The red cabin and the blue cabin have to come together and actually listen to each other."
"It really is that village." Clinton said, making one of at least four references on Thursday to her 1996 book, It Takes a Village. "I want every child to have the same opportunity. And your camps are part of the fabric of our national life."
In her on-stage interview with Jacobs, who supported her past campaigns, Clinton spoke more about camping and answered a quick-fire round of questions about such subjects as her favorite historic figure (Eleanor Roosevelt), her preferred reading material ("mysteries and histories"), and the greatest lesson she took from her late father ("discipline…doing the best you can and not making excuses").
Clinton did talk briefly about gridlock in Washington, and her role in securing federal funding for New York after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. But there was no mention of the news of the day, and no reference to her campaign, which could begin in a matter of days.
After about an hour on stage, Clinton finished her speech and the camp professionals stood to applaud. As most of the three thousand attendees filed out of the hall, a long line formed near the back of the room with camp professionals wearing VIP lanyards.
There, behind a black curtain, guarded by a band of security personnel, Clinton posed for photos — her last, most likely, as a paid non-candidate candidate.
Camp professionals attended the conference on Thursday. A previous version of this article referred to campers and camp counselors.
Ruby Cramer is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Ruby Cramer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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