WASHINGTON — Gender politics emerged as Hillary Rodham Clinton kicked off a book tour Tuesday that could preview a presidential run when she recalled her refusal to attack Sarah Palin's selection as the Republican vice presidential candidate in 2008.
Clinton's tour for "Hard Choices" began Tuesday morning in the friendliest possible setting: a book-signing event at a Barnes & Noble in Manhattan's Union Square. Around 1,000 people -- some had slept on the sidewalk -- let out whoops as she arrived about 20 minutes behind schedule and delivered brief remarks with a patriotic tone reminiscent of the campaign trail.
The former secretary of state said the book was "written for anybody who wants to think about, and learn about, what is happening in the world today -- why America matters, and why the world matters to America. And we have a lot of hard choices ahead of us in our country to make it as brave and as strong as it should be. And we have a lot of hard choices to continue to lead the world and solve problems that affect us and the rest of humanity."
The book tour was scheduled to take Clinton to Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, Toronto and Austin. Her frenetic pace and intense media attention resembled a hybrid of celebrity book tour and campaign kickoff, with plenty of hints of a presidential run.
In one of her first promotional interviews, Clinton was asked Tuesday on NBC about a 6-year-old tale she recounted in her book about 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain's pick of Palin as his running mate. Clinton said Democratic candidate Barack Obama's campaign, which had defeated her bid for the nomination that year, asked her to attack Palin.
"I said, 'Attack her for what? For being a woman?'" Clinton said. She said she told the Obama campaign, "There'll be plenty of time to do what I think you should do in politics, which is draw distinctions."
Palin tweeted out the book's account of the episode on Monday and accused the Obama campaign of firing "the 1st shot in the real 'war on women.'" Republicans have pushed back on Democratic charges that the GOP wages a "war on women" by promoting policies that are detrimental for women.
Obama's campaign advisers did not want to discuss Clinton's account on the record, but they confirmed that they asked for her help in responding to Palin and did so without Obama's involvement. At the time, Palin cast herself as the candidate for supporters of Clinton's failed bid for the Democratic nomination. "Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America," Palin said during the campaign. "But it turns out the women of America aren't finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all."
Several senior advisers to Obama's 2008 campaign, speaking on a condition of anonymity, said the campaign wanted Clinton to argue that the Republican platform was antithetical to women's issues.
The Obama campaign reacted to the Palin pick with a statement arguing that the Alaska governor was too inexperienced to be vice president. "John McCain put the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience a heartbeat away from the presidency," campaign spokesman Bill Burton said at the time.
Obama distanced himself from the criticism, telling reporters the day of the statement that it was a "hair-trigger" response that did not reflect his sentiments. He said he felt Palin was "a compelling person" and that her selection was a hit against the glass ceiling that limits women's advancement.
Clinton's return to the spotlight in the past week showed that Republicans were prepared to criticize her unrelentingly if she enters the presidential campaign. GOP operatives published an ebook, "Failed Choices, to undercut her account of her tenure at the State Department.
In response, the former first lady and New York senator seemed to taunt the Republicans, especially over their criticism of her handling of the deadly 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic site in Benghazi, Libya.
"It's more of a reason to run, because I do not believe our great country should be playing minor-league ball. We ought to be in the majors," Clinton said in an interview that aired Monday with ABC News' Diane Sawyer. "I view this as really apart from, even a diversion from, the hard work that the Congress should be doing about the problems facing our country and the world."
She also handed Republicans the first misstep of her post-State Department time, telling Sawyer that she was "dead broke" when she left the White House and was buried in legal bills. Republicans immediately seized on the remark as evidence that Clinton is an elitist who cannot connect with the electorate, pointing out she had an $8 million book advance for her 2003 memoir and demanded an estimated $200,000 per speech.
Clinton tried to clean up that remark on Tuesday morning, saying her family has "gone through some of the same challenges that many people have" and that the Clintons "understand what that struggle is."
On Twitter, conservatives mocked her using the (hashtag)HillaryIsSoPoor.
On its release date, "Hard Choices" was running neck and neck with John Green's young adult novel "The Fault in Our Stars" for the top spot on best-seller lists. At one point Tuesday, "Hard Choices" was No. 1 on Barnes & Noble.com and No. 2 on Amazon.com, with Green's million-selling tearjerker holding the reverse positions.