The Magazine

Ready or Not . . .

Here she comes.

Jun 2, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 36 • By DANIEL HALPER
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If you’re one of the more than 132,000 Twitter followers of the Ready for Hillary super-PAC, or one of the more than one million supporters on the group’s email list, you’re probably aware of two things: Hillary Clinton has a new book coming out June 10, and the super-PAC held house parties last weekend to harness support for a Hillary run for president.

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Hillary’s book, Hard Choices, is reportedly a pre-presidential-campaign memoir of her State Department years. “President Obama and I knew we had a hard choice: Keep reading from the same playbook—politically safe but practically unsustainable—or tear up the old playbook and devise a new strategy,” Hillary recently explained. It’s widely expected to be her 656-page blueprint for how the voters should view her time in the Obama cabinet.

That’s also apparently how the super-PAC sees the book—a campaign document. It sent out an excerpt to its large email list, with links making it easy to buy the book.

But Saturday, the super-PAC took a break from book promotion to have a couple of cold ones.

“Your neighbors are getting together to talk about the movement we’re building for a Hillary Clinton presidency, and you should join them,” executive director Adam Parkhomenko wrote in an email to me and a million others. “Saturday is going to be so great.”

It was an invitation I couldn’t turn down.

THE house party I attended, just outside the Beltway in Herndon, Virginia, was held at the modest home of a federal employee named Holly. I was the first to arrive, just after 6 p.m.  

Holly immediately apologizes. A number of her friends have had to bail at the last minute, she says. She’s unsure we’ll reach critical mass and is slightly embarrassed.

That’s no problem, I respond. I explain that I found the party on the Internet, after receiving several invitations from Ready for Hillary.

She graciously welcomes me, a complete stranger, into her home and her backyard, where a sizable spread is set up on one side of the small swimming pool. A half-dozen bottles of wine and a couple dozen beers and soft drinks are stationed on the other side.

Holly, who’s barely under 60 and appears to live alone, explains that the point of the party, as she learned from the two-hour training session for hosts, is to gather names, addresses, and emails of supporters. Ready for Hillary wants to sell the data to the Hillary for President campaign, Holly says. (Why they can’t just give it to the campaign, Holly wonders out loud. She isn’t sure.)

The second guest comes at 6:15. She’s the host’s former next-door neighbor, who just lost her home to foreclosure. As Holly explains, she bought at the wrong time and got caught between a rising interest rate and a stagnant salary. It’s a tough economy. 

Eventually four others show up: a long-retired couple who used to work for the federal government and a middle-aged woman, who all go to church with Holly, and Hunter, a 25-year-old who flunked out of college, spent years delivering pizzas, and has now found his calling at the Maine Maritime Academy. He ships out for his internship on a tugboat in a couple days and admits he has no idea why we’re gathering—he just wanted to see Holly, who, he says, practically raised him (she dated his father). I explain it’s a rally for the Ready for Hillary super-PAC. He shrugs and heads over to grab a cold Corona. 

If all this sounds like small ball, the Ready for Hillary team is tweeting out pictures of other, grander parties inside the Beltway. The D.C. Latinas looks like a packed house. 

And, more important, it’s part of a much larger effort to convince undecided Democrats that this time their candidate is really, truly the Inevitable One. While it was started by a few unknown wannabe politicos, these days Ready for Hillary claims to have raised over $5.75 million from more than 55,000 donors and is backed by heavyweights. Former Clinton and Obama aide Rahm Emanuel, now mayor of Chicago, is on board. He’ll do a fundraiser next month. Virginia senator Tim Kaine, an early backer of Obama, supports the cause. 

One early sign-on was Craig Smith, who “is something of an adopted son” of Bill and Hillary Clinton, according to Time magazine. “He worked for the pair in Arkansas, was the very first hire for Bill’s 1992 presidential run, followed them to the White House and then advised both the 1996 and 2008 campaigns.”

His role as senior adviser to the super-PAC signaled to Clinton watchers that the group was legitimate, sanctioned by a Hillary (and Bill) intimate. Smith has said that campaign law prevents him from talking to the Clintons and their employees or other-wise coordinating with candidates. This, despite the fact that Hillary is not technically a candidate for political office.

At a private event last December at the Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville, Arkansas, Smith told donors to the super-PAC that it would be part of a $1.7 billion pro-Hillary effort. Just that day he had met with President Obama’s 2012 campaign manager, Jim Messina, and Sean Sweeney, another former Obama aide. It was “extraordinarily helpful,” Smith told the crowd. 

Messina, along with President Clinton’s former chief of staff John Podesta, would run the TV ads through the super-PAC Priorities USA, which ran Obama ads last go around. “Podesta and Messina are .  .  . going to do $200 million worth of TV ads,” Smith said. (Within a couple months of the meeting, Podesta would actually be back in the White House working for Obama, though it was reported he’d stay only a year, before returning to the world of super-PACs, undisclosed Democratic money, and the potential Hillary campaign.)

Smith also told the donors that the president of the abortion-rights group Emily’s List, Stephanie Schriock, “just launched a $5 million research program” to help determine how voters feel about a woman president. According to Smith, the early findings suggest people might even prefer a female candidate—except on foreign policy. Which may be why Hillary’s memoir of her four years as secretary of state is being pushed so hard. The super-PAC adviser also mentioned yet another group, American Bridge PAC, that had well over a dozen researchers working for Hillary and against her potential Republican opponents. 

Smith warned that, while his new allies had been “very helpful,” they have “their own sets of politics that they’ve got to take care of.” President Obama himself is a case in point. “The president has been very helpful,” Smith says, before making a reference to a possible 2016 bid for the White House by Vice President Joe Biden.

“We all have to be cognizant that we have a vice president of the United States,” Smith told the crowd of about 30, each reportedly contributing over $1,000 to attend this private session. “He doesn’t want to be disrespected, and we have to be sensitive to that, or as President Obama says, ‘I have to have lunch with this guy once a week for the next three years.’”

BACK in Herndon, we make awkward small talk (I mention that I work for this magazine and am called out for being a “spy”) until Holly decides she can’t forget the reason for our gathering. She grabs a bottle of Corona to use as a faux microphone and silences us so she can speak. She starts by praising Obama, who, while not perfect, has done the best he could under the circumstances the Republicans have put him in. And, as the first black president, he’s paved the way for the first woman.  

Holly passes around the Corona, and everyone timidly expresses support for Hillary. They support her not because they’re true believers, it seems, but because she is the most plausible Democratic nominee for president in 2016.

That’s a good enough reason. Politics is about winning elections, it is said, and if they believe Hillary can win, more power to them. But Hunter—who at this writing is probably out somewhere in that tugboat—offers another rationale: He can’t wait to see the shenanigans Bill Clinton will pull as first dude. The crowd (there are now nine of us) laughs.

Daniel Halper is online editor at The Weekly Standard and author of Clinton, Inc.: The Audacious Rebuilding of a Political Machine (forthcoming).

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