Hillary Clinton might stay on in a second Obama term. What about 2016?

In a newspaper interview, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton left the door open to continuing into a second term. That could serve to oh-so-subtly remind women of why they've supported Obama.

Susan Walsh/AP
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton answers a reporter's question on Libya during a joint news conference with Brazil's Foreign Minister Antonion de Aguiar Patriota, Wednesday, Oct. 24, at the State Department in Washington.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is suggesting for the first time that she might be willing to stick around, at least for a while, in a second Obama administration.

Are you listening, women voters?

President Obama’s most popular cabinet member (judging by consistent polling over Mr. Obama’s term) has long insisted that she would leave her office at the end of his first term, no matter what. But in a Wall Street Journal interview published Thursday, Secretary Clinton leaves the door open to continuing into a second term, saying, “A lot of people have talked to me about staying.”

By dropping the tantalizing hint about remaining in office, Clinton – who is well viewed across a broad spectrum of voters and respected among her former colleagues on Capitol Hill – offers a reassuring sense of continuity on a foreign policy that has been one of Obama’s strong points in the eyes of Americans.

With some polls showing Obama’s Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, filling in the gap that long dogged him with women voters, Clinton’s musing could also serve to oh-so-subtly remind women of why they have been Obama supporters.

Clinton’s suggestion also comes as she deals with the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, that left four Americans dead including the US ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens.

The Benghazi attack and loss of four diplomats serving under her was clearly the darkest moment of Clinton’s time as secretary of State – a tenure that has earned her high marks from many foreign-policy experts. Clinton named Ambassador Stevens to his post, after he was Obama’s envoy to the Libyan rebels in Benghazi, and she has said that no one wants to get to the bottom of what happened in Benghazi more than she does.

Clinton named an independent panel to investigate the attack, and if she did remain in her office, she would be on hand to oversee the inquiry process at the State Department – and its response to inquiries under way in Congress.

Before Benghazi occurred, Clinton was expected to spend her final weeks in office taking a few last trips on what was widely labeled a “victory lap.” Some Clinton observers say it is only something like Benghazi, and a sense of leaving unfinished business, that could get her to even consider staying on.

But there is also the matter of a tightening presidential race, and the prospect of an Obama loss that – as Clinton would want voters to see it – would at least place a question mark over the foreign policy she has worked tirelessly to fashion.

A political animal who as secretary of State has remained aloof from the presidential campaign, Clinton may be subtly hinting to American voters that they should stick with a foreign policy – and by extension a president – that has served them well for four years.

That same message was delivered, though less subliminally, by former Secretary of State Colin Powell Thursday, when he endorsed Obama for a second term on “CBS This Morning.” Mr. Powell, a moderate Republican who was George W. Bush’s first secretary of State, praised Obama’s record on handling the economy, tackling terrorism, and winding down the war in Afghanistan, even as he panned Mr. Romney’s foreign policy as “inconsistent” and “a moving target.”

Powell, who hails from the Republican Party’s traditional internationalist wing, also said he was concerned about the influence of neoconservative foreign-policy advocates in Romney’s pool of advisers. “There’s some very, very strong neoconservative views that are presented by the governor that I have some trouble with,” Powell said.

Clinton’s hint about staying on will no doubt be heard by some political analysts – and by Clintonistas – as a sign concerning a Hillary Clinton run for the White House in 2016. Clinton told The Wall Street Journal, as she has said so many times before, that she has “ruled it out.”

Maybe so. But with Clinton suggesting she might yet continue for a while as secretary of State because “a lot of people have talked to me about staying,” it is not that much of a stretch to contemplate her announcing a run for president some three years from now, saying, “A lot of people have talked to me” about it.

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