Politics

05.27.14

Clinton Apostates Trip Over Themselves to Get in Line Behind Hillary

Democrats who passed over Hillary to endorse Barack Obama in 2008 know they’re on the enemies list—and they’re jumping on the Clinton 2016 bandwagon as early as possible.

Question #1: Are you an elected official or prominent person?

If the answer is yes, Question #2: Did you use that privileged perch eight years ago to endorse Barack Obama, jumping early on the band wagon when the Democratic establishment and good sense suggested you do otherwise?

Then line up this way! There is a ring that needs to be kissed.

Hillary Clinton is by her own admission months away from deciding on whether or not she will run for president. But even before any other would-be candidate can do so much as set up an exploratory committee or cook up an excuse to visit to Dubuque County Democrats Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, Democratic officials are stumbling over themselves to announce that they support Hillary Clinton for president in 2016.

At this point in the electoral cycle eight years ago, there was still a whisper campaign to keep elected officials from backing Hillary Clinton and waiting for the process to play out.

And it just so happens that many of those Democrats were the very same ones who in 2007 were among the first to breach conventional wisdom and line up behind up the little-known Illinois senator.

Nearly a year ago, Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri became the first sitting member of Congress to endorse Clinton and Ready for Hillary, the independent SuperPAC operating as a quasi campaign in waiting for the Secretary of State.

“Hillary Clinton had to give up her political operation while she was making us proud, representing us around the world as an incredible Secretary of State, and that’s why Ready for Hillary is so critical,” she said back in June of 2013. This of course was the same senator who said in 2008 that she was rejecting the Clintons’ concerted advances because “it is very important that we look forward with optimism and hope that we’ve not been able to gin up in this country for awhile” and who said that she did not want to let her daughter near Bill Clinton for fear that he would prey upon her.

Tim Kaine became the first governor in the country to endorse Obama in 2007. “America wanted excellence again and that the nation yearned for “somebody who could make us feel proud again and who could bring us together,” he said at the time. Now Kaine, a senator from Virginia, told an audience in the early primary state of South Carolina this month, “I stand with you today to encourage Hillary Clinton to run, to pledge my support for her candidacy if she does and to ask you to make that same pledge.”

Dozens of Democratic lawmakers have signed a letter encouraging Clinton to run. But only a few have officially backed Ready for Hillary. According to a list of supporters sent by that group last week, of the three official supporters in the U.S. Senate, all three—McCaskill, Kaine, and Dick Durbin of Illinois—were very early supporters of Obama in 2008. (Three more of signed on last week, a sign of how quickly support is coalescing around a Clinton candidacy.)

Over in the House, of the six official Ready for Hillary supporters who were both in Congress in 2008 or are not from Hillary’s home state of New York, three were early supporters of Obama’s back in 2007.

“The issue for me eight years ago was that I was very impressed by Barack Obama. It wasn’t that I was unimpressed by Hillary Clinton,” said Adam Smith of Washington, one of those three.

When Smith backed Obama in 2007, he was taking a flyer on a little known freshman senator. This time, he says, “I guess it is more straightforward … Clearly she is much more establishment, much more of a front-runner than Barack Obama was eight years ago, there is no doubt about that.”

Next month, Smith is slated to headline a rally for Hillary in Seattle with former Governor Christine Gregoire, another pol who backed Obama early on in the 2008 cycle.

And on top of this political support, there is also the support of public figures like Caroline Kennedy, whose endorsement of Obama in 2008 was devastating for the Clinton camp, and fundraisers like Jeffrey Katzenberg, a one-time Clinton supporter who broke with them to back Obama in 2008, but has since returned to the Clinton fold.

Political observers have various theories about what is at play here. Although no one contacted for this article would admit to being pressured to get on board early after last cycle’s betrayal, in HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton, the authors, Washington-based correspondents Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, revealed that the Clintons kept an “enemies list” of who had not been loyal during the campaign. Clinton loyalists downplayed the significance of the document, but it has been hard to not notice that over the last six years Bill Clinton especially has vigorously campaigned on behalf of those who supported Hillary.

“They certainly know that the Clintons take note and keep score,” said Larry Sabato, a political historian at the University of Virginia. “This is not a couple that easily forgives and forgets. So this is kiss-and-make-up time for most of these people.”

But he added that there may still be a chance of redemption for those apostates if they come back into the fold right out of the gate—or really, before the gate has even lifted—this time around.

“Deep down the Clintons must have the fear that someone like Barack Obama will come out of nowhere and do it again,” he said.

That so many of the early Obama endorsers have endorsed Hillary early on this year also speaks to the fact that hardly anyone else has emerged on the landscape. At this point in the electoral cycle eight years ago, there was still a whisper campaign to keep elected officials from backing Hillary Clinton and waiting for the process to play out. This time, there is hardly any effort to keep party members from lining up behind Clinton. 

“In Barack’s case, I was astounded by his rise in the political arena,” said Danny Davis, a Chicago-area congressman who was an early backer of Obama’s in 2008. Now, however, he says, “I am really enthralled with the idea of Hillary becoming president…And I just don’t see a Democrat on the landscape that I think would be a better, well-positioned to win candidate than Hillary Clinton.”

Clinton’s decision to join the administration and lead the State Department also helped mend any possible future rifts in the party.

“She became part of the team, part of the overall administration,” said one political operative who worked against Clinton in 2008 but intends to work for her in 2016. “That engendered a lot of loyalty from people who were on the campaign.”

And those who have jumped on the Clinton train this time around say that it is a different moment. Then, she was still in the shadow of her husband’s administration, and women have become an even more crucial constituency of the Democratic vote.

“The drumbeat of the power of women voters has dominated the conversation over the last eight years,” said Marjorie Clifton, a Democratic strategist. “Back then, people were looking for that hope-and-change message that Obama touted very well. Hillary had a very different brand. Her brand is very much what is needed now.”

For those who are backing Hillary early this time around, it is not only a chance to make amends, but also a chance to once again jump on the bandwagon before it is too late. Many of those who backed the president in 2007 found that they had a network and a reliable supporter in the White House in the succeeding years.

And for Clinton’s team, the door is open. All bygones go good-bye.

“Across the country, whether it's grassroots supporters, campaign workers or U.S. Senators, President Obama's early backers are encouraging Hillary to run and they're ready to support her if she does,” said Ready for Hillary spokesman Seth Bringman in a statement. “His early '08 backers also understand better than anyone that successful presidential efforts aren't built overnight and that it's necessary to identify, mobilize and empower supporters early on.”