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Obama, Clinton meet for lunch, sparking 2016 buzz

July 29, 2013

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton shared a meal Monday. While only that much is known for sure, the political speculation machine nevertheless went into overdrive, highlighting how closely both are being watched for signs of their intentions in the 2016 presidential race.

For Clinton, it’s a question of whether the former first lady will take the plunge, launching another presidential campaign eight years after she lost to Obama in a hard-fought Democratic primary.

For Obama, it’s about dueling loyalties to two of his closest allies who would both covet his endorsement: Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden, who is also said to be eyeing the White House.

Such questions loomed over a midday lunch served al fresco on the patio just outside the president’s Oval Office.

Would Clinton tip her hand? Would Obama offer his support? Or would the two dive deep into current events — bloodshed in Egypt, for instance, or a budding new round of Mideast peace talks that eluded Clinton as secretary of state?

In all likelihood, none of the above.

“The purpose of the lunch was chiefly social,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest, calling it a “chance to catch up” and adding that Obama had initiated the invitation. “Secretary Clinton and the president have developed not just a strong working relationship, but also a genuine friendship.”

Biden will have his own chance to catch up with his former Senate colleague and 2008 primary opponent on Tuesday. The White House said Biden and Clinton will have breakfast together at the Naval Observatory, the vice president’s official residence.

Monday’s lunch was not the first time Obama and Clinton got together since Clinton stepped down in February after four years as Obama’s top diplomat. They saw each other briefly in Dallas at the opening of former President George W. Bush’s presidential library in April. And in March, the Clintons shared a private dinner with Obama that wasn’t announced publicly until after the fact.

In the meantime, Clinton has kept up a hectic schedule of speeches and public appearances that has provided further fodder to those urging her to run again. A political support network seeking to create a campaign-in-waiting in case she runs, Ready for Hillary, recently picked up support from some of Obama’s most prominent former campaign organizers.

So it’s no wonder that each Obama-Clinton rendezvous is closely analyzed, elating some and prompting eye rolls from others who lament that barely six months in to Obama’s second term, talk about his replacement is already reaching a fever pitch.

“In Democratic circles, it makes people fantasize and engage in all kinds of speculation, when in fact it may just be a tete-a-tete between the leader of the free world and the most important person in the Democratic Party,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a New York-based Democratic strategist who worked on President Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election.

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Follow Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP

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