In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Hopes Are Big For Pro-Hillary PAC, Even If Crowds Are Small

AP Photo

At 6 p.m. on Monday, when Clinton fans were scheduled to gather across the street from the Hamilton Hotel where former President Bill Clinton would be speaking that evening, there were three supporters in attendance. All of them were students.

The event organizer was George Washington University sophomore Avery Jaffe, 19, the super PAC's communications intern tasked with coordinating its D.C. events. The group had the idea for Monday's rally over the weekend after learning that Bill Clinton would be in the city. "We sent an email around the office," Jaffe said, pausing to explain that there won't actually be a brick and mortar office until this summer. The group advertised their first "Bill for First Gentleman" rally online and in email alerts to their listserv. Monday evening, Jaffe grabbed a stack of "I'm Ready for Hillary" posters from his dorm room and headed downtown.

Jaffe was undaunted by the small turnout. It was chilly, a weekday, and students were gearing up for finals, he said.

By 6:35 p.m., six people had joined Jaffe, including the first attendee old enough to rent a car.

Judy Beck, 63, serves as treasurer for Ready for Hillary, a volunteer position. Beck remembered the rally at the last minute and decided to drop by. The same went for Dominique Wilburn, 25, who saw the event on Facebook and headed over after work to check it out. Wilburn and Beck, like the rest of this merry band of supporters, are big fans of Hillary Clinton.

"Oh yeah," Beck said when asked if she is a supporter of the former secretary of state. "I think she's the leader of our lifetime," she said. Beck volunteered for Clinton's presidential campaign in 2008, working out of the national headquarters.

Wilburn, who recently began her job at a trade association, spent the 2012 campaign as an Obama campaign field organizer in her native Ohio. But her love of Clinton, she said, "goes way back" to Clinton's days as first lady. "My mom loved her when I was a little kid, so I thought she must be cool," Wilburn said. Dominique volunteered on Clinton's 2008 campaign in both New York and Ohio.

Wilburn remains dedicated to electing Clinton, which means she plans to attend more rallies. "I guess the mindset is, the louder our voices, the more she'll hear it," she said. "Duty calls."

The rest of the crowd, which by 6:50 p.m. had grown to nine people, were students, many of whom had volunteered for Clinton's 2008 campaign at the age of 13 or 14. Many of them praised Clinton's dedication to women's rights and hoped to elect the first woman president. Students also made up the majority of the group's first rally at the Kennedy Center here in Washington in early April, which numbered between 40 and 50 supporters. They rallied 45 people in Dallas last week, where the Clintons attended the opening of George W. Bush's presidential library. They're hoping to gather a few supporters Tuesday in Naples, Fla., where Hillary Clinton is giving a paid speech. Sometimes the group learns about a Clinton speech in advance and has months to plan a rally. Other times, they have a day or two to plan an event.

But even if their rallies are small in scale, the fledgling group has successfully courted the support of big names like strategist James Carville and the advice of Clinton loyalist and renowned fundraiser Harold Ickes. The goal is building a large following of people who will become soldiers for Clinton overnight should she decide to run.

"We'll continue to have them across the country, in all corners of the country," Seth Bringman, the group's communications director, told TPM in a phone interview Tuesday. "What we've found out is that people are eager to show their support publicly."

Over the past few months, the group has attracted 136,000 Facebook fans, 55,000 Twitter followers and 200,000 have joined their email list, demonstrating that four years before an election, people may be more inclined to register support online than in person.

About 7 p.m., Jaffe began a series of chants aimed at the modest line of people heading into the Clinton Foundation event across the street. "When I say 'Hillary', you say 'Clinton,'" he yelled. "When I say 'fired up,' you say 'ready for Bill.'"

The group chanted and a few horns honked. Then Wilburn started a new chant. "When I say 'madam,' you say 'president,'" she instructed. "Madam," she yelled. "President!" the other eight responded.