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Hillary Clinton’s Las Vegas visit shows signs of White House ambitions

HIllary Rodham Clinton-UNLV

Steve Marcus

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton holds up a “running” shoe presented to her by Brian Greenspun, editor and publisher of the Las Vegas Sun, during the UNLV Foundation annual dinner on Monday, Oct. 13, 2014, at Bellagio.

Updated Monday, Oct. 13, 2014 | 11:38 p.m.

Clinton Speaks at UNLV Dinner

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers the keynote address during the the UNLV Foundation Annual Dinner at the Bellagio Monday, Oct. 13, 2014. Launch slideshow »

Hillary Clinton’s night in Las Vegas showed all the signs of someone running to be the most powerful person in the world.

The former secretary of state helped raise money for fellow Democrats. She spoke about education, war and peace. She even congratulated Republican super donor Sheldon Adelson for his UNLV philanthropy.

Clinton's keynote address made no reference to higher office. But the 900 students, donors and politicians who attended the UNLV Foundation’s annual dinner saw plenty of signals.

By the numbers

$225,000

The speaking fee Clinton earned from the UNLV Foundation

$1.8 million

Estimated speaking fees Clinton earned from universities between late 2013 and summer 2014, according to The Washington Post

$10,000

The cost of a VIP ticket at a fundraiser for Sen. Harry Reid where Clinton appeared before the UNLV Foundation dinner

$7 million

The donation that earned Sheldon Adelson an honor from UNLV tonight

900

Number of people who attended Clinton's speech

25

Number of years the UNLV Foundation has been hosting its annual fundraising dinner

Her question-and-answer session with Brian Greenspun, the Las Vegas Sun editor and publisher and a UNLV trustee, featured a mix of lighthearted stories about people she's met in politics and showcased Clinton’s work in international affairs.

Clinton and Adelson

Before delivering her keynote address, Clinton had a word with Adelson, CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corp. The UNLV Foundation honored Adelson tonight for donating $7 million. When Clinton and Adelson crossed paths backstage, they didn’t trade partisan jabs. Clinton said that Adelson told her he wished that he was asking the questions on stage. “That would have been a debate,” Adelson reportedly told Clinton. Clinton told the crowd, dining in the Tower Ballroom at the Bellagio, “We would have needed a boxing arena.”

Education

Clinton used her keynote address to aim at problems in higher education. She attacked “fly-by-night for-profit schools” and predatory lenders that “exploit students.” She hinted at Congress’ inability to pass higher education reforms to tackle the problems. She said the solutions “shouldn’t be partisan or controversial.”

“I don’t think any group, any political party, any business, any sector of the economy, any politician has all the answers. In fact, I think it’s time we got back to working together again,” she said.

Clinton’s keynote speech also touched on what Nevada is doing to improve its worst-in-the-nation public education system.

She said her family’s charity — the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation — is working with Barrick Gold Corp. to develop programs at Great Basin Community College and vocational programs to train Nevadans (Greenspun is on the Barrick Gold board of directors). Clinton, who was paid $225,000 for speaking, donated the money to her family charity.

Speaking like a candidate

If Clinton does run for office, she will inevitably face questions about her time as secretary of state.

Asked about tough decisions she made as the chief foreign policy adviser to President Barack Obama, Clinton spoke about the “excruciating analysis” before going after Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

“A lot of the assessments that pointed to his compound in Abbottabad was 40 to 60 percent reliable,” she said. Then she added: “Sorting that through was a really difficult decision.”

She didn’t specifically address an attack at a consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four American officials. Critics blamed Clinton for not doing enough to protect diplomats in Benghazi and for her handling of the investigation that followed.

Clinton said military force should be a last resort but said the U.S. cannot retreat from the world’s problems.

“I don’t think the United States can solve every problem in the world. But I don’t think you can solve problems without the United States,” she said.

She didn’t back away from questions about Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling him “a cold-blooded former KGB agent.”

She added: "In my dealings with Putin, we’ve had an ongoing exchange of argumentation and heated views from time to time. He is someone who can be understood and dealt with. But it takes a long-term strategic commitment.”

She said Putin has influenced Russia’s neighbors with natural gas holdings and by having his “friends” purchase media companies in Eastern European states.

She said the world “cannot allow the borders of Europe to be re-written the way Putin is trying to rewrite Ukraine. ... That will be bad for us."

Running shoes

Clinton has now visited Las Vegas three times this year. Her first visit made headlines after a woman threw a shoe at her during a speech before the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries convention in April at Mandalay Bay.

Greenspun apologized for the incident, and without saying anything about Clinton’s purported aspirations to run for president in 2016, handed her a pair of Nike running shoes.

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