Does it matter if Hillary's thinking 2016?

Kevin Lamarque/AP

I was at funeral in Arkansas this week when a long-time friend and associate of Hillary Rodham Clinton leaned into me and whispered, "She's going to run."

Run for what? "President. 2016," the pal replied. "I'm sure of it."

After the services, I pressed the good-intentioned source about how he could be so sure. He wasn't. Turns out, the "tip" was based on mere hope ("I really want her to run. We all do") and history ("Remember? I'm the guy who helped you report first that she was running for the Senate").

Like the rest of us, the friend doesn't know Clinton's plans for 2016. She's hedging. We're guessing.

I thought of this exchange today while catching up on my reading. "I've said I really don't believe that that's something I will do again," Clinton said when asked about a presidendial bid in an interview that aired Wednesday.

Washington Post reporter Rachel Weiner added important context:

It's not the first time Clinton has beaten back rumors about her future plan. "I think I will serve as secretary of state as my last public position, and then probably go back to advocacy, and probably on behalf of women and children," she said  from Bahrain two years ago. A year later, she told Wolf Blitzer that she did not want to be president. In a recent Marie Claire interview, she said she looked forward to cheering for the first woman in the White House from the sidelines.

Clinton is the anti-Sherman, parsing out phrases such as "I really don't believe ..." and "I think ..." and "probably." Based on my experience covering the Clintons since the 1980s, and talking recently to scores of her associates in Washington, New York and Arkansas about her 2016 prospects, I can share this hedged bottom line: I think she doesn't know.

Clinton is legitimately tired after four years on the road and 20 years under the harsh Washington spotlight. Take her at her word when she says she plans to rest and return to advocacy. She means it.

At the same time, it is said that seeking the presidency is a sickness cured only by embalming fluid. And, for Clinton, there is no bigger advocacy platform than the Oval Office. It's easy to see why a friend would mistake hope for hype and tell a reporter, "She's going to run."

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