Hillary Clinton Super PAC Starting to Look More Like the Obama Machine

Despite lacking a candidate, Ready for Hillary claims to have an email list bigger than Clinton’s 2008 database and more donors than major presidential super PACs.

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 06: While delivering remarks, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton receives a standing ovation after being presented the 2013 Tom Lantos Human Rights Prize December 6, 2013 in Washington, DC. Clinton received the award for her work in the areas of women's rights and internet freedom.
National Journal
Jan. 20, 2014, midnight

The Hil­lary Hood­ie with the “Her­culean H” logo goes for $38. As­phalt gray. One hun­dred per­cent cot­ton fleece. The mo­bile-phone cov­er fea­tures that ba­dass photo of the former sec­ret­ary of State in dark sunglasses look­ing in­tently at her phone. T-shirts and wa­ter bottles come in hip shades of fluor­es­cent yel­low, pink, and green.

“It was mad­ness here over the hol­i­days,” said Seth Bring­man, a spokes­man for the Ready for Hil­lary su­per PAC, show­ing off a T-shirt-strewn stor­e­room that re­called an un­der­staffed Gap store on Black Fri­day.

With 2013 sales of more than $350,000, the on­line store is one sign of the group’s year­long mat­ur­a­tion from a shoes­tring gig run by a couple of ju­ni­or-varsity Clin­ton staffers to a $4 mil­lion op­er­a­tion with the im­prim­at­ur of the Obama cam­paign.

Ready for Hil­lary claims to have an e-mail list that’s big­ger than Clin­ton’s 2008 cam­paign data­base and more donors com­bined than ma­jor pres­id­en­tial su­per PACS like Cross­roads, Re­store our Fu­ture, Pri­or­it­ies USA, and Amer­ic­an Bridge. The idea is to turn all of that over to Clin­ton, if and when she launches a pres­id­en­tial cam­paign.

A groundswell of sup­port, es­pe­cially among wo­men hungry to make his­tory in 2016, fueled Ready for Hil­lary’s growth (70 per­cent of the donors are wo­men). So did a re­cog­ni­tion from long­time Clin­ton al­lies — who feared the group be­stowed a po­ten­tially tox­ic whiff of in­ev­it­ab­il­ity — that the PAC could pose an even big­ger li­ab­il­ity if it didn’t suc­ceed. The de­cision by a hand­ful of Obama’s top op­er­at­ives to join the band­wag­on re­flects the over­whelm­ing per­cep­tion with­in the Demo­crat­ic es­tab­lish­ment that Clin­ton will be the next nom­in­ee.

“She’s the only can­did­ate from either party that could lay the kind of ground­work that we’re seek­ing,” said Mitch Stew­art, a top Obama strategist who is help­ing Ready for Hil­lary boost its on­line pres­ence and con­nect with crit­ic­al voter con­stitu­en­cies. “Not to take ad­vant­age of that en­thu­si­asm would be gross mal­prac­tice.”

The part­ner­ship with the Demo­crat­ic con­sult­ing firm led by Stew­art, the Obama cam­paign’s battle­ground-states dir­ect­or, and Jeremy Bird, the na­tion­al field dir­ect­or, was a ma­jor turn­ing point for the group over the sum­mer. So was the ad­di­tion of the polit­ic­al dir­ect­or of the Clin­ton White House, Craig Smith, and a former Clin­ton cam­paign ad­viser, Tracy Se­fl, as ad­visers.

With en­dorse­ments from prom­in­ent Demo­crats such as Sen. Claire Mc­Caskill of Mis­souri — who backed Obama over Clin­ton in 2008 — Ready for Hil­lary now wields an aura of le­git­im­acy. The group is doub­ling its Ar­ling­ton, Va., of­fice space and em­ploys 15 people.

Without be­grudging its suc­cess, some Clin­ton al­lies privately grumble that the 1.7 mil­lion Face­book sup­port­ers and $4 mil­lion in dona­tions pro­duced by a year of hard work would be ac­com­plished prac­tic­ally overnight once she raises her hand.

“There’s been some wor­ries about how ef­fect­ive or pro­fes­sion­al this group would be, but ul­ti­mately every­body is more fo­cused on wheth­er she’s go­ing to make that de­cision to run,” said Demo­crat­ic con­sult­ant Maria Car­dona, who ad­vised Clin­ton’s 2008 cam­paign. “This is go­ing to be a bru­tal cam­paign, so I am one of those who thinks there’s no reas­on to rush that de­cision.”

Ready for Hil­lary’s grass­roots and small-donor net­work rep­res­ents only a por­tion of a cam­paign-in-wait­ing. It also en­com­passes Cor­rect the Re­cord, an arm of Amer­ic­an Bridge that de­fends Clin­ton from GOP at­tacks; Pri­or­it­ies USA Ac­tion, the pro-Obama group that is morph­ing in­to a pro-Clin­ton, big-donor fun­drais­ing ma­chine; and the EMILY’s List’s “Madam Pres­id­ent” cam­paign, which aims to build ex­cite­ment around elect­ing the first fe­male pres­id­ent.

There’s something slightly awk­ward about this draft-Clin­ton move­ment while there’s a sit­ting, two-term vice pres­id­ent avail­able with long-held designs on the Oval Of­fice. It’s al­most as if Clin­ton were next in line, in­stead of Joe Biden.

The un­usu­al state of play re­flects Clin­ton’s stra­to­spher­ic celebrity as well as the no-re­spect sidekick role in­ev­it­ably as­signed to a vice pres­id­ent known more for mak­ing gaffes than clos­ing deals, fairly or un­fairly. Clin­ton came this close to the Demo­crat­ic nom­in­a­tion. She’s been first lady, a U.S. sen­at­or from New York, and sec­ret­ary of State. She crushes every oth­er po­ten­tial Demo­crat­ic can­did­ate, in­clud­ing Biden, in the polls.

Per­haps most im­port­ant, she is poised to make his­tory. Biden star­ted run­ning for pres­id­ent more than two dec­ades ago, but, the way Clin­ton sup­port­ers see it, wo­men have been wait­ing hun­dreds of years for their turn.

“The work that we’re do­ing right now with Ready for Hil­lary is spe­cif­ic to a Clin­ton can­did­acy and based on the en­thu­si­asm about that, but if she de­cides not to run, we’re build­ing the ground­work and re­la­tion­ships that will be help­ful re­gard­less who the nom­in­ee is,” Stew­art said. “I don’t feel this is a zero-sum game.”

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