It’s long past time to start taking Ready for Hillary seriously.
What started as the passion project of two Clinton fanatics with no real ties to the notoriously insular Clinton world now has 18 full-time staff housed in the fifth floor of an office building in Arlington, Va., a few miles from the White House. Numerous Clintonites have signed onto the venture, including top Clinton White House aides and veterans of Clinton’s own races for public office.
Now it’s ready to expand into a truly national operation.
Ready for Hillary will soon hire field staff to work outside of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, the group’s first permanent organizing outposts elsewhere. The locations and hires haven’t been finalized yet, but Seth Bringman, Ready for Hillary’s communications director, told TPM that the group would divide the country into a handful of regions — maybe five — where the staff will concentrate on on-the-ground organizing.
That’s intended to give the group even more of the grassroots presence that it’s aiming to build for a presumptive Clinton 2016 run.
“While we have a national presence, and there’s really a national audience for what we want to do, right now we rely on volunteers,” Bringman said. “So that’s what we want to do as fast as possible because there’s only this year basically to accomplish this and build as big of a list as we can.”
It’s been a long road to get to that point. Bringman, who worked on a Clinton’s failed 2008 presidential bid, joined in February 2013 as one of its first full-time staffers. The unlikely origin story has been chronicled by many — this Mother Jones feature covers the ground well — but here’s the short version: Adam Parkhomenko and Allida Black, a reserve police officer and George Washington University history professor, respectively, kickstarted the whole operation out of Black’s house in January 2013.
In the ensuing year, they’ve raised $4 million and claim to have enlisted two million people to pledge their support for a Clinton 2016 campaign while slowly but surely winning over some skeptical Clinton allies. Craig Smith, who served as political director during the Clinton White House, was their big get in spring 2013, signing on as national senior adviser.
Ready for Hillary is registered as a super PAC. Some of the high-profile donors named in media reports include George Soros and Alice Walton, the Wal-Mart heir. It is allied with other major groups preparing for a Hillary 2016 run, including Priorities USA, the super PAC that backed Obama in 2012. Priorities USA announced in January that it would support Clinton’s run. Mother Jones portrayed Ready for Hillary as the voter development arm of the push, while Priorities USA will oversee ad buys.
Officials have said that, once Hillary declares, they’ll figure out a way — for example, leasing their voter database for a nominal fee — to hand over their resources to the official campaign and could then shut down.
They haven’t won over the entirety of the Democratic Party — Obama aides recently took shots in BuzzFeed at the early Clinton buzz, for which Ready for Hillary serves as the public face. “What’s the value of all this in 2014?” said Joel Benenson, the Obama pollster.
But that skepticism hasn’t deterred the staff in Arlington, where rooms in the office are named for cities where Clinton has lived throughout her life. The group is focused for now on 2014, and Clinton’s public schedule is its planning bible. Wherever Clinton appears, the group plans to be signing up new converts while helping its members volunteer for the congressional races that will set the stage for 2016. This weekend, the group is headed to the Iowa Democratic County Conventions.
The group is also consciously trying to incorporate as much of the political strategy that resulted in a two-term Obama presidency (and beat Clinton in 2008) as it can. Ready for Hillary brought in two Obama campaign veterans, Mitch Stewart and Jeremy Bird, last July. They’ve started hosting $20.16 fundraisers last year, and the ‘Ready for Hillary’ store — directly based on the Obama model — has shipped out buttons, bumper stickers and T-shirts to at least 300,000 people from an inventory room filled with shelves of T-shirts and cardboard boxes in the Arlington office. A social networking tool that will allow supporters to invite their friends to sign up for the effort will debut soon.
“No one knows more about organizing a grassroots army and mobilizing supporters early than they do,” Bringman said of Stewart and Bird. “We’re building on what works in modern presidential campaigns, and, quite frankly, wins elections.”