SAN JOSE -- At a restaurant just off the San Jose State University campus Thursday evening, a young waitress, exasperated by the sudden crush of customers ordering salads and a white wine, paused from her exertions to explain why she was so slammed.
"They're all going to see Hillary Clinton," she said, sizing up the room.. "Everywhere you look, it's the same demographic."
A mostly middle-aged, conspicuously Caucasian crowd of women filled the university's Event Center for Clinton's appearance as part of Unique Lives & Experiences.
That was the demographic that was clearly top of mind for the former first lady, senator and secretary of state.
Looking by turns confident in her message and comfortable in her own skin, Clinton sounded like someone ready for her next campaign.
She could have been referring to her own presidential ambitions in 2016 when she declared early on, "All that most women need is a fighting chance to prove themselves."
Compared to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries crowd she had squared off with earlier that day in Las Vegas, where a woman threw a shoe at her head (it missed), this felt like a Lilith Fair love fest with shoulder pads and sensible shoes.
In the carnivallike walk-up outside the arena, protesters held aloft signs that said "Clinton: Benghazi blood on her hands." A man taunted people streaming into the building, saying, "Go on, drink the Kool-Aid. Slurp it down."
Clinton confined most of her remarks to women's struggles, a word she invoked half a dozen times.
She also talked about her mother's plight as an abandoned child and several times quoted Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the great avatars of the women's movement.
Clinton ran through a litany of the disparities in pay and power that favor men over women, noting at one point that women make up only 11 percent of the boards of tech companies.
"We're making progress," she said, "but it's not fast enough. This is the unfinished business of the 21st century."
She reckoned that for members of her sex, the glass was still just "half full," although the same could not be said for the glass ceiling to the presidency, which remains completely intact.
"Too many women face ceilings that block them," she concluded.
Clinton is the obvious -- and judging by the frequent ovations from the San Jose crowd -- wildly popular choice to end that inequality. Or at least carry the Democratic Party banner in that direction two years from now.
She never directly addressed her prospects as a potential presidential candidate in 2016, even after Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone, who moderated a 30-minute Q&A session following her speech, told her to feel free "if there's a major announcement you'd like to make."
Wearing a "Ready For Hillary" sticker on her blouse, Claudia Brown of Menlo Park was wowed by Clinton's presence.
"She's it," Brown said, "she's the one. We've come into our own and she's wearing the hat."
Only slightly more subdued was former San Jose City Manager Deb Figone, who said she was impressed with both the style and content of Clinton's hour on stage.
"I think she'd make a great candidate, especially because I believe she could win," Figone said. "And I think it's time."
The timeliness of a Clinton candidacy was much on the minds of both her supporters and political observers.
"A lot of young people feel like, 'OK, we did the first black president and that was awesome. We didn't think we'd see that. How about that glass ceiling?'" said Melissa Michelson, a professor of political science at Menlo College. "I think a lot of men and women are willing to put aside certain misgivings about Hillary Clinton in order to see it happen. Because she is The Candidate."
Clinton did hint at a possible run following a story about a women's college basketball player who encouraged her to campaign for the U.S. Senate seat in New York in the late 1990s. Paraphrasing a banner hanging in the school's gym, the player leaned into the former first lady's ear and whispered, "Dare to compete, Mrs. Clinton. Dare to compete."
And she did, winning a Senate seat twice.
Despite her loss to then-Senator Barack Obama following a bruising presidential primary fight in 2008, Clinton sounded ready to compete again.
"Don't let women's concerns and fears undermine what could be the greatest moment in history for young women," she said. "This is the moment. We all can seize it."
Contact Bruce Newman at 408-920-5004. Follow him at twitter.com/BruceNewmanTwit