NEW ORLEANS — Former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton remained vague Monday about whether she will run for president in 2016 and said the attacks on the U.S. outposts in Benghazi, Libya, were the biggest regret of her four years as the United States’ top diplomat.
Before a large crowd of politically active car dealers, Clinton, the overwhelming favorite among possible Democratic presidential contenders, discussed her signal accomplishments — notably a recommendation that U.S. commandos go into Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden — and her regrets.
“My biggest regret is what happened in Benghazi,” she said during a question-and-answer session after her keynote speech at the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) convention in a packed 4,000-seat room.
Four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, were killed when militants attacked the lightly protected U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi and a better-fortified CIA base nearby on the night of Sept. 11, 2012.
The attacks became a political flash point in the run-up to the 2012 election, with Republicans arguing that President Obama tried to play down their significance as he campaigned for a second term. Republicans are sure to make them an issue if Clinton runs in 2016.
The selection of Clinton as the speaker at the three-day NADA conference, attended by more than 22,000 dealers, met vocal opposition. NADA, which declined to say how much Clinton was paid for her appearance, said she was selected because she offered an important perspective.
Car dealers are a politically active group and tend to be conservative. They gave more than $16 million to political campaigns in 2012, 85 percent to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
“Mrs. Clinton is a polarizing figure, but that’s okay,” said David Shepard, a NADA director and a car dealer in Fort Scott, Kan. He added that the selection was not a NADA endorsement of Clinton as a potential presidential candidate.
In her speech, Clinton included anecdotes about the Clinton family’s strong ties to the car-dealer industry — although she has not driven since 1996.
She was introduced by Arkansas dealer and NADA director Jack Caldwell, who went to elementary school with her husband, former president Bill Clinton.
Bill Clinton’s father and uncle were Buick dealers, she said. She also joked about her first two cars, including a yellow Fiat she had while teaching at the University of Arkansas that was eventually stolen.