Hillary Clinton all smiles in New York at book launch

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton poses with her new book, "Hard Choices" during a book signing at a Barnes & Noble in New York City on June 10, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton poses with her new book, "Hard Choices" during a book signing at a Barnes & Noble in New York City on June 10, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - New York is known as The City That Never Sleeps, but fans of Hillary Clinton may have taken that quite literally.

Hundreds of people got up before dawn on Tuesday for the chance to see the former US secretary of state as she signed her new book in New York - an event that had the feel of a presidential campaign launch.

"I want to be able to tell my children and grandchildren that I have met the first woman president of the US," said Nicole Kelly, who attended the event with two friends.

"She is a role model for all of us," said retiree Claudia Sine.

Some at the Barnes and Noble flagship store on Union Square said they had been there all night. Others said they got in line before 5am for Clinton's late morning appearance to promote Hard Choices. The book looks at her four years as Obama's first secretary of state, revisiting some key events including the deadly attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, and shaky US-Russian ties.

New York, a heavily Democratic city, is the first stop on her carefully choreographed book tour - one that will see her travel across the nation, and potentially meet with a wide cross-section of voters.

Clinton, the former first lady and a former senator from New York, indicated she would likely wait until early 2015 to announce her decision.

'READY FOR HILLARY'

The line of fans snaked around the block. Some carried books, others had folding chairs to help them while away the time as they waited for just a few seconds with Clinton.

One fan in front of the store carried a sign reading "Ready for Hillary" - the name of the super political action committee urging the 66-year-old Clinton to make another run for the White House in 2016 and laying the groundwork for an eventual campaign.

A "Ready for Hillary" bus was also parked outside.

Opportunistic vendors selling Hillary tee-shirts were doing a brisk business.

At the store, security was tight.

But the fans - many of them college students and women, but also older people and children - didn't let it bother them.

On an upper floor of the store, after hours of waiting, fans finally came face-to-face with Clinton, who has already kept Washington talking for months amid widespread speculation she is planning to run.

The former first lady - who narrowly lost the 2008 Democratic nomination to President Barack Obama - was greeted with wild applause. Some screamed, "Go Hillary, Go Hillary!" Clad in a fuchsia jacket, and all smiles, Clinton briefly explained the concept behind her book, noting: "It is really about the choices that everybody has to make in life." Clinton posed for pictures with children and chatted with attendees, some in wheelchairs.

"Thank you, it's great to see you," she said. In answer to one question, Clinton reiterated that she had not yet decided whether to throw her hat in the ring in 2016.

So even if it was not the formal start of a presidential campaign, it certainly seemed like one - with a carefully orchestrated series of high-profile interviews, savvily-placed leaks of key bits of the book, and social media efforts in overdrive.

One million copies of the book were pre-sold.

'VERY WARM, VERY FRIENDLY'

Nearly two and a half years before American voters will choose their next president, Clinton was tackling a wide array of thorny issues in her media interviews: Benghazi, Monica Lewinsky, her relationship with Obama, her health, her age and her high-paying speaking engagements.

On Tuesday, before the book signing, Clinton was forced to explain her comment that she and her husband Bill were "not only dead broke, but in debt" when they left the White House.

"Let me clarify that I fully appreciate how hard life is for so many Americans today," Clinton said on ABC's Good Morning America. "We have a life experience that is clearly different in very dramatic ways from many Americans, but we also had gone through some of the same challenges," she said.

"We worked hard for everything we got in our lives - and we have continued to work hard." The couple now own two houses worth millions of dollars, and each earn six-figure fees for speaking engagements.

But neither her age - she will be 69 in late 2016 - nor the Clintons' place in American political life for the past 25 years have dissuaded her supporters.

"Age is just a number," said Madsura, a 48-year-old attorney.

Kelly chimed in: "There is nobody (else) on either side. For me, it's the obvious choice." Lynn Haude, 71, was visibly moved as she left in her wheelchair, a signed copy of Hard Choices in her lap.

"She was very warm, very friendly - she seemed so interested," Haude said.