Testing the Waters

03.26.14

Ready for Hillary Super PAC Throws In for 2014 Midterms

The political operation that had been aimed at 2016 is now about to get a test drive, enlisting its 2 million supporters to help the candidates that Clinton endorses for this November.

For six years, Hillary Clinton has toiled in the shadow of Barack Obama. He was the electric young upstart who upended her inevitable path to the White House in Iowa. He was the president, she the Secretary of State. Now he faces global crises, while she travels the globe addressing groups like the American Society of Travel Agents and the National Automobile Dealers Association.

But that dynamic is likely to flip in the coming months as the midterm election season gets underway. That’s because, with his underwater approval ratings, President Obama has been an unwelcome presence on the campaign trail. And Clinton meanwhile, is not only a sought-after presence on the campaign trail, but Ready for Hillary, the grassroots super PAC that has been building a list of supporters in advance of a 2016 run, is now planning to get involved in 2014 as well.

In most political campaigns, endorsements by other politicos barely matter in determining who wins and who loses. Ready for Hillary, however, is only planning to activate their list of two million supporters in races where Clinton herself makes an endorsement, which means that the Hillary nod in 2014 could become one of the most sought after endorsements in the entire cycle—more than a local labor union, more than a newspaper editorial board, more than perhaps even one from the president of the United States, because it will be one of the few endorsements that also comes with a ready-to-activate email list of Hillary die-hards.

“We are going to make sure that our supporters know about these critical elections and get out and vote and volunteer,” said Seth Bringman, spokesman for Ready for Hillary. “When Hillary campaigns for specific candidates, we are going to go all in helping those candidates in any way we can as we believe Hillary will be doing across the country.”

Bringman said that part of the motivation to create Ready for Hillary was because Clinton lacked an active base of supporters after having served four years in the apolitical role of Secretary of State. And winning in 2014—or at least staving off Republican wins in what is looking like a wave election year—would help a President Clinton, should she decide to run and should she win two years later.

“We want to make sure that we give as much political firepower as we can for whatever Hillary is doing,” he added.

Ready for Hillary will not spend the money it has been raising from the low-dollar fundraisers it has been holding across the country, preferring to keep the $4 million it has on hand (as of the end of last year) until it is really ready for Hillary-time. But the group will reach out to its supporters in the hopes that they can provide the ground troops for Clinton-backed candidates with that notion that 2014 can serve as something of dry run for 2016.

In races where Clinton herself makes an endorsement, the Hillary nod in 2014 could become one of the most sought after endorsements in the entire cycle.

“This helps trains the activists and the volunteers, to get them prepared to use 2014 as a testing ground or a proving ground in 2016,” said Mitch Stewart, a top campaign operative in Obama’s 2012 effort and now a key adviser to Ready for Hillary. “I really believe that elections are iterative, meaning that every election you go through you learn from that experience and then you apply it to the next one. And getting folks involved in 2014, even at the baseline level, will play big dividends later on.”

The news that Ready for Hillary will be making a midterm play comes as Democratic-leaning outside groups have come under criticism for focusing too much on the next presidential election while there remains a critical campaign to come. After word came that the Obama-affiliated Priorities USA would be taking a pass on the midterm, the super PAC faced howls of criticism from many on the left.

By making a play in the midterms, Ready for Hillary can show that it will be a crucial player in Clinton’s campaign, even as some of the more well-known Obamaland operatives and the major fundraisers go to work for Priorities USA.

“They need to show themselves as being valuable,” said one person close to the effort. “When Hillary decides to run, she will have a campaign in waiting, an email list that is substantial and active, a substantial field organization that is already on the ground and it will add some political capital.”

But making 2014 a show of strength is not without risks. Many of the two million people who have signed on as Ready for Hillary supporters have done so because they are, well, supporters of Hillary Clinton’s and it remains to be seen how active they plan on being in November.

At a recent Ready for Hillary fundraiser, for example, at the Standard Hotel on the west side of Manhattan, one attendee told The Daily Beast that despite backing Clinton in 2008, she was taking a pass on 2014. “I am not focused on [the midterms.] I am focused on my own personal economy.” At the event, which featured a $20.16 entry fee and $18 cocktails with names like The Ceiling Breaker, the midterms went entirely unmentioned to a crowd that filled the hotel’s expansive barroom. And there was grumbling among some attendees that the lone featured speaker was Carolyn Maloney, a Manhattan congresswoman who routinely wins her reelection bids by 60 points or more, while there are a number of incumbent Democrats and Democratic candidates in the metropolitan region who face uphill battles in November.

So far, Ready for Hillary's foray into off-year elections is mixed. The group backed both Terry McAuliffe in his successful run for governor of Virginia and Bill de Blasio in his run for mayor of New York City, but the McAuliffe race was closer than expected, and the group only backed de Blasio after he made it out his primary and faced limited opposition in the general election. The group made a show of backing a Democrat in the race for New Hampshire's executive council—a body that serves as a check on the governor—but their chosen candidate lost to a Republican. And if the predicted GOP wave comes, get-out-the-vote may not be enough.

Plus, Ready for Hillary will activate its list even when Clinton endorses in Democratic primaries, and primaries, as any Clinton supporter should know, have a way of ripping apart the big Democratic tent.  In Los Angeles, for example, the Clintons are likely to back Wendy Greuel, a former city controller who was an early supporter of Hillary’s 2008 bid and who received Bill Clinton’s support when she ran and lost her race for mayor last year. But many Democratic activists are backing Ted Lieu, a state senator.

And wherever Hillary Clinton seems to go, she generates attention. If Ready for Hillary deploys whenever Clinton gives the go-sign, Stop Hillary PAC, a conservative equivalent, has made it their mission to counter the Clinton forces. When Hillary makes a 2014 endorsement, they plan on deploying money and resources to make sure her chosen candidate loses.

“Our mission is to stop Hillary in 2016, but in doing so we need to stop her this year as she goes out and builds her liberal machine,” said Garrett Marquis, the group spokesman. “As she gets interested and involved in the midterms, there is no doubt we will do the same thing.”