When Ready for Hillary was started by two Hillary Clinton superfans in a Washington, D.C., living room, its ambitions were modest: Build up an email list of dedicated supporters to convince Clinton that there was enthusiasm for a campaign. Then, once she hit the hustings, sell those email addresses to the Clinton campaign and shut down.
But that was before Ready for Hillary emerged as a pre-campaign powerhouse, raising more than $10 million and compiling more than 3 million email addresses, attracting big-time Democratic donors and big-name political operatives in the process.
Now, both outside and inside its sprawling network of organizers, some donors and operatives are wondering if Ready for Hillary could somehow live on after Clinton becomes a candidate in earnest.
“There is a view within the organization, and it’s getting louder, that it makes no sense to shut down when you have an organization and a brand that has so much momentum,” said one official with the group.
Sticking around would put the group at risk of criticism for reneging on its original and stated mission to fold up the tent at the appointed hour. But some Democrats say Ready for Hillary could provide a unique resource to an eventual campaign by building on the get-out-the-vote skills it honed during the midterms, when Ready for Hillary organizers worked to get every candidate that Clinton endorsed elected. (That endeavor, it should be noted, largely failed, with just one-third of Clinton’s chosen candidates winning. Whether that was due to Clinton, local GOTV efforts, or the Republican wave is a matter of a some dispute.)
In 2016, Ready for Hillary essentially could act as a super PAC field operation, much as Americans Coming Together did for John Kerry in 2004. Super PACs traditionally focus on messaging and advertising but are hamstrung by having to pay higher rates than the campaigns do to get on the air. A super PAC focused on GOTV efforts would free a campaign to target its resources and energy elsewhere or could work alongside a campaign’s field operation.
“What Ready for Hillary could do is stay ahead of the primary cycle,” said one Democrat. “No campaign manager [for Clinton] is going to say, ‘Let’s campaign and organize in South Dakota,’ but a Ready for Hillary could do that.”
If Ready for Hillary remained viable and outside the campaign infrastructure, the group could act as a scout team for the campaign, getting its supporters to rallies for her and signing up those who arrive on their own. It has some experience with that kind of thing, helping to bring crowds to locations on Clinton’s summer book tour and registering supporters in the process. Over the next three weeks, Ready for Hillary is planning more than a dozen events around the country, mostly at college campuses.
Ready for Hillary also has managed to do something the Clinton campaigns of the past have not been able to do: Excite young voters and turn the potential candidacy of someone who has been in public life for three decades into an event. Ready for Hillary fundraisers have often been fun—and packed, even at high-dollar New York City establishments like The Standard Hotel, where $18 signature cocktails had names like “The Ceiling Breaker.”
“I think those in the leadership [of Ready for Hillary] will look at the landscape and determine what the tools are at their disposal to help Hillary Clinton get elected president of the United States,” said Jeff Johnson, a communications specialist who has hosted Ready for Hillary fundraisers and who has performed outreach to the black community for the group. “Whether that means Ready for Hillary stays on as a super PAC or moves forward and gets absorbed by the campaign, it depends on what the other pieces are on the chessboard.”
Political operatives involved in the organization said the real question was whether an eventual Clinton campaign would want to take over the Ready infrastructure, with its email lists and its nationwide network of organizers, or whether it would prefer to build its own infrastructure.
And to be sure, there are risks associated with keeping the organization alive, not least of which is that an organization with Clinton’s name attached to it would be operating on her behalf but would be unable to coordinate with the campaign. Plus, even if the group focused narrowly on GOTV efforts, its inability to coordinate would mean it would not be able to narrowcast messages quite like an in-house field operation would be able to. Finally, many of the organizers who have signed on did so in the hopes that they would have the inside track to work on the official campaign and, later on, in the administration. Would they want to stay with an outside group?
“Ready for Hillary is remarkably simple. It has one mission—to build up a database of supporters for Hillary Clinton, and then one day be able to say, ‘Mission Accomplished,’” said Tracy Sefl, a senior adviser to the group.
Any speculation about what happens should Clinton announce a candidacy, Sefl said, is just speculation.
“It sounds like the kind of decision that a candidate and a campaign would be instrumental in shaping,” she said. “But because there is no candidate and no campaign, I know of nothing being planned.”