Democrats preparing for Hillary Clinton campaign
NEW YORK (AP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton's staunchest supporters held a daylong strategy session Friday to prepare for a 2016 presidential bid — even though she has yet to announce whether she will launch one.
Ready for Hillary, a Democratic super PAC unaffiliated with the former secretary of state, convened a meeting of Clinton insiders for strategy sessions aimed at helping elect Clinton if she runs. The closed-door planning session about two weeks after Democrats' dismal midterm election performance comes as Clinton, the party's leading presidential contender, considers whether she will seek the presidency again in 2016.
"It was a leap of faith," said Harold Ickes, a longtime Clinton White House adviser who has worked with Ready for Hillary. "We didn't know if people would come to us but we now have 3 million names which will be important to her if she runs."
The event drew about 200 financial backers who listened to panel discussions on lessons learned from the 2014 election, the media landscape and what the 2016 campaign might look like. Attendees professed no inside knowledge on when Clinton would make her decision but said the early organizing on her behalf would make the transition from private citizen to a candidate much easier.
"It's given her the luxury of time," said Jerry Crawford, an Iowa attorney who has been a longtime backer of the Clintons.
Attendees also cautioned against the notion that Clinton would have a big advantage because of her existing network from former President Bill Clinton's two terms and her own political operation. "She's not inevitable," said Adam Parkhomenko, Ready for Hillary's executive director. "It's not going to be easy."
Craig Smith, a senior adviser to Ready for Hillary and former Clinton White House aide, said Hillary Clinton should not run for a "third Bill Clinton term" or as President Barack Obama's third term. "She should run for a first Hillary Clinton term."
Ready for Hillary was joining with leaders of Democratic groups Priorities USA Action, American Bridge 21st Century and Correct the Record to review the 2014 elections and prepare for next year. In some cases, the groups will be wrapping up their efforts while others are beginning to ramp up.
Ready for Hillary, which was founded in 2013, has identified 3 million supporters, signed up more than 1.5 million people promising to help Clinton if she runs and has raised more than $10 million. The group expects to fold if Clinton launches her presidential campaign and then transfer its data and list of supporters to the former first lady's campaign.
Priorities USA Action, a Democratic super PAC that raised $70 million in 2012 to air tough ads targeting Republican Mitt Romney, has maintained a low profile this year but is reconnecting with donors to prepare for next year. Correct the Record, a rapid-response media organization that has defended Clinton in her post-State Department period, expects to continue as a part of research arm American Bridge.
The gathering is not authorized by Clinton, who will be speaking at an event in New York on Friday promoting the use of cook stoves in developing nations. But it will feature plenty of Democrats who have worked with her and her husband: Clinton campaign strategists James Carville and Paul Begala; Jonathan Mantz, who served as Hillary Clinton's national finance director; and Karen Finney, a former Hillary Clinton campaign aide.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor who backed Clinton's presidential campaign, will speak at the meeting as a private citizen, aides said.
Donors were also hearing from Democratic strategists who could play senior roles in a future Clinton campaign, including Guy Cecil, the executive director of the Senate Democrats' campaign arm and a former Hillary Clinton campaign aide; Stephanie Schriock, the president of EMILY's List; Ace Smith, a California-based Democratic strategist who directed Hillary Clinton's 2008 primary campaigns in three states; and Mitch Stewart, a former Obama campaign aide who has advised Ready for Hillary.