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What's really behind Hillary Clinton's latest wave of speeches?

By Erin McPike, CNN
updated 12:02 PM EDT, Sun October 27, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Hillary Clinton has made a series of public appearances in the past week
  • Moves are fueling the speculation of a possible White House bid in 2016
  • She may also be trying to differentiating herself from President Obama

Washington (CNN) -- Three speeches, three days.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is starting to look a lot like someone who is picking up the pace of a presidential campaign -- complete with the perks and the challenges that come with it.

On Wednesday, she spoke to the University of Buffalo. Thursday, she returned to Washington for her place in the lineup of high-profile public figures at a conference the Center for American Progress was hosting. Friday night she did Colgate University's "distinguished speakers" series in upstate New York.

Asked in Buffalo what her ideal presidential candidate in 2016 would look like, she said: "I'm not as interested in what the candidate looks like as what the candidate stands for and what the candidate really believes needs to be the agenda for America's future, particularly as it relates to young people like students at this great university."

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And in what could be interpreted as either a slight dig at President Barack Obama -- or at least a way of differentiating herself -- she added, "and what the candidate brings to the table in terms of being able to not only present the agenda but have a very specific set of plans of implanting the agenda and bringing the country along."

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Candidate Obama, of course, was viewed by critics as a powerful speaker with less experience and less of a vision to implement, and Clinton could be playing on buyer's remorse.

But the tests she might face on the left and the right were in play this week.

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She didn't veer far to the left in her remarks before the wonky liberal crowd at the St. Regis in Washington for the Center for American Progress gathering, but her presence was notable.

CNN contributor Ron Brownstein cautioned that if she faces a challenge in a Democratic primary, it's likely to be from the liberal left.

"It is very hard to imagine somebody beating Hillary Clinton from the center of the party," he said. "If there is going to be anybody who could even give her a tough time, it would be somebody coming from more of a fringe of the party, something kind of a tangent of the party -- either a generational argument or a populist argument."

Brownstein specifically mentioned Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has become a hero to the populist wing of the party, as a potential challenge to Clinton.

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And yet, advantages come for politicians who are considered overwhelming frontrunners like Clinton. Just this week, liberal billionaire George Soros said he's jumping on the bandwagon to draft Clinton into the 2016 race by becoming a co-chair of the "Ready for Hillary" super PAC's finance team.

Even though Clinton is not exactly lining up donors and bundlers for her own campaign just yet, the commitment to her is a significant one in what could be a quest to sew up her left flank.

But she'll have other issues on the right, if she reaches the general election.

On Wednesday, a protestor in Buffalo heckled her over the biggest black mark on her record, the death of four Americans at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, during her tenure as Secretary of State. Democrats and Republicans alike say it could be her biggest weakness if she becomes her party's nominee.

"Benghazi. You let them die," the protestor said.

And that weakness leads some to wonder why Clinton is sticking her neck out so far so soon.

Brownstein said he's surprised by how visible and vocal she's been this fall.

"I think a lot of people thought that she would basically go under the radar for as long as possible to stay out of the fray, kind of shorten the race," he said. "So it is a somewhat different strategy -- maybe they are trying to sort of avoid the sense that she is kind of an imperial candidate who believes that this is hers by birthright or succession."

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