Too Soon?

Shots Fired Early in Hillary Clinton Super PAC War

The Hillary 2016 battle is under way. Michelle Cottle says neither side is waiting for Clinton’s decision.

“I’ve never had this much fun!” raves Adam Parkhomenko, the 27-year-old co-founder of Ready for Hillary, a seven-month-old super PAC whose name tells you pretty much all you need to know about the group’s mission.

On a rainy August morning, kicked back at a sandwich shop down by the White House, Parkhomenko sips his coffee and marvels at his organization’s early success. Since January, Ready for Hillary has amassed half a million Facebook supporters (with a new one signing up every nine seconds), more than 10,000 donors, $1.25 million in donations (over $1 million in June alone), and a swelling stable of advisers hailing from both Clinton and Obama worlds (Harold Ickes, Craig Smith, Jeremy Bird, Mitch Stewart …). And, oh yes, they’ve mailed out more than 65,000 “Ready for Hillary” bumper stickers. (Conveniently, there’s a post office next door to the group’s Huntington, Virginia, headquarters.)

“The support has been overwhelming,” says Parkhomenko, himself a survivor of Hillary’s ill-fated 2008 presidential run. “It’s more than I ever could have wished for.”

This is exactly the kind of talk that scares the crap out of Dan Backer and Garrett Marquis, the treasurer and spokesman respectively, of the even more recently formed—and explicitly named—super PAC Stop Hillary. “There’s no doubt that she’s going to run in 2016,” says Marquis. “The reality is we need to be ready when Hillary is ready because her machine in already moving. All she has to do is turn on the switch. So we need to get to a place where we can do the same thing.”

Registered with the FEC in May, Stop Hillary has been gradually rolling out its forces—Colorado state Sen. Ted Harvey is its honorary chairman, Campaign Solutions will handle fundraising, Response America will tackle direct mail, and the Strategy Group for Media has already produced an inaugural Web ad. While the group didn’t have a big fundraising number to tout this filing period, Backer predicts they will “blow the roof off the second half of the year.” He assures me, “There is no doubt that people will be really impressed by our haul and by our ability to get the message out.”

Like Ready for Hillary, Stop Hillary will have a strong focus on social media and online fund-raising. But they also will be out in the field working to undermine not just Hillary but any candidate she supports in 2014 or 2016. Whether she’s stumping for Terry McAuliffe in Virginia or Mark Pryor in Arkansas, Marquis says his team “will stop her wherever she goes.” Part of their strategy, explains Backer, is to prevent Hillary from creating a network of Democratic pols whom she helped elect. “The Clintons are a massive fundraising machine,” he reasons. “Their support comes with a pot of gold. We want to make sure it also comes with a price tag.”

“We will do whatever we need to do,” vows Marquis.

And so it begins: the race to impact the political fortunes of a woman who has not yet said whether she will be a candidate in an election that will not see a single vote cast for another two-and-a-half years. On one level, it sounds nuts. On another, it is the only logical outcome—the inevitable one even—when the endless presidential campaign cycle collides with a political figure who inspires such intense passions on both sides of the partisan divide. Of course the political world is already obsessing over Hillary. It has been doing so for more or less the past two decades.

Unsurprisingly, Ready for Hillary and Stop Hillary are not the only early combatants. On the pro-Hillary side, there are also the Iowa-based Hillary Clinton Super PAC and the California-based Hillary FTW (that’s shorthand for “for the win”). Though independently formed, there have been, even at this stage of the game, discussions between the groups’ about their roles. For several weeks, the much smaller FTW was eyeing a merger with Ready for Hillary (oh, let’s go ahead and dub it R4H). Emails were flying; lawyers were talking logistics. “We were in pretty serious negotiations,” says Hector Pacheco, FTW’s founder. But ultimately, FTW decided the “timing wasn’t right” and worried that its “West Coast emphasis” would get lost in the merger. Still, who knows what will happen down the road, says Pacheco, a 20-something entertainment lawyer based near Santa Monica. “The door was left open.”

The troops are equally active, if not more so, on the anti-Hillary side. America Rising, the GOP super PAC launched by ex-Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades, has set up its own Stop Hillary 2016 arm—though at this point it is little more than a fundraising portal on the group’s website. (Nothing opens up Republican donors’ wallets like the name “Clinton.”) The Defeat Hillary Super PAC was registered with the FEC in March, only to be officially “terminated” a couple of months later. Meanwhile, the Hillary Project, registered in July under the name of longtime Republican consultant Christopher Marston, remains largely a cipher. Hillary Project spokesman Tyler Harber explains via email that the group “was born from the interest of several national organizations,” though he declines to name any of them (“All I can say is that the circle of supporters and organizers are nationally recognized”). Harber says that, unlike other groups, the Hillary Project won’t waste resources on paid ads, rallies, field offices, phone banks, door-to-door efforts, or “other such grassroots activities.” They will instead be “targeting traditional and nontraditional media,” though, again, he avoids specifics. The PAC also won’t discuss its target audience yet, nor the various strategists guiding its efforts—though some of this will presumably become clear following the official launch, set to occur within the next month.

Happily, normal people can pretty much ignore this Sturm und Drang for the next year or two, by which point the massive party machinery will be shifting into high gear. (Parkhomenko estimates a lifespan of 14 to 16 months for R4H.) For now, the field belongs to the enthusiasts, the die-hards, and the obsessives. They’re dutifully building databases, raising money, and recruiting supporters. All of them waiting, anxiously, for one woman to make up her mind.