Clinton attracts both fans, critics in Madison

Madison — Appearing relaxed and affable, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the potential front-runner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, signed books here Saturday at R.J. Julia Booksellers, shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries with admirers.

Across the street, her detractors picketed, hoisting signs with references to “Benghazi,” site of the 2012 attack that claimed the lives of the American ambassador to Libya and three others.

“Hey Hillary, It Matters,” and “4 Died, Hillary Lied,” read two of the signs. “Hillary has more security for this booksigning than (Ambassador) Chris Stevens did in Benghazi,” read another.

Inside the store, a shoreline institution known for hosting high-profile authors, Clinton emerged from behind a curtain in the store’s gift area at 4 p.m. and almost immediately sat down at a table and began signing books. She took no questions from reporters.

Numerous Secret Service agents watched.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Yale Law School classmate of both Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, introduced the former first lady.

“The senator and I have known each other since the 1970s,” Clinton said.

Responded Blumenthal: “She looks exactly the same as she did then.”

Outside the store, where people who had previously reserved a copy of “Hard Choices” — Clinton’s chronicle of her years as secretary of state — had begun to queue up at 10 a.m., the line stretched around the block. Reportedly, as many as 1,000 copies or more had been sold, though bookstore staff said they had been told not to reveal the actual number.

Near the front of the line, Lynn Wrzosek, 67, of Douglas, Mass., sported a “Team Hillary” T-shirt.

“I’m actually an independent, but because we’re Americans and can say what we want and vote for who we want, I would be so proud if we elected a black president and then a woman president in my lifetime,” Wrzosek said. “Hillary Clinton is the best-educated woman candidate, and I adore that she’s going to be a grandmother; that’s going to change her life. … As first lady she had to have absorbed a lot. Her qualifications are absolutely amazing.”

Protesters labeled Clinton “the most corrupt female politician in America” and said “Hard Choices” belonged in the store’s fiction section.

Before Clinton’s arrival, Blumenthal joked to reporters that he had already purchased a copy of Clinton’s book and was halfway done reading it.

“It’s worth every penny I paid for it — and more,” he said.

The Connecticut Democrat, who had just returned from a trip to the Mexican border to get a firsthand look at the immigration crisis there, addressed questions about the downing Thursday of a commercial airliner over eastern Ukraine, saying there needs to be an “aggressive” investigation of the incident before the United States takes any action.

“All signs point to Russia-supported rebels’ involvement,” he said. “That must be verified before we decide to go forward with increased sanctions or some other form of response.”

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, also a Connecticut Democrat, and bookstore owner Roxanne Coady also greeted Clinton, who said she has known Coady since the 1980s and that the two share “a passion” for fostering early literacy.

When a woman who approached the signing table said she was visiting her grandchildren, Clinton said, “I can’t wait to be a member of the club.”

The former first lady high-fived a girl in a wheelchair who told her she was “a straight A student.”

While R.J. Julia regularly hosts renowned authors, few of Clinton’s stature have appeared at the store itself. Former President Jimmy Carter, for example, appeared at an event the store hosted in New Haven.

Clinton is at “the tippy-top” of the list of those who have appeared at the store, Coady said, adding, “The one I’d put in her league was Winston Churchill’s daughter.”

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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