Hillary-palooza descended on Midtown Manhattan on Friday as hundreds of the nation’s most fervid Clintonistas gathered at a Sheraton ballroom to talk strategy and prepare for the campaign ahead.
The official purpose was a gathering of the national finance council for Ready for Hillary, the super PAC that has grown from a Washington, D.C. troop into a fundraising powerhouse, gathering more than $10 million and millions of email addresses in order to lay the groundwork for an eventual Clinton run.
Or “potential” Clinton run, as supporters of the former secretary of state used to hasten to add, since Clinton has not indicated that she actually will run. No more. Few of the speakers at the confab spoke of “If.”
When asked by a reporter how many people in the Sheraton ballroom were convinced that Clinton would be a candidate, Stephanie Schriock, the head of EMILY’s List, was momentarily taken aback.
“This room?” she asked. “Oh no they are pretty certain.”
Still, Schriock, who is often mentioned as a potential campaign manager for a Clinton campaign, fell back on the old phrasing when asked about her own ambitions.
“I am not going to talk about any conversations I may or may not be having about a candidacy that may or may not be happening.”
The event was for those who had donated or raised at least $5,000 to the non-campaign campaign, and compared to the sprawling Clinton campaigns of old, the event ran with the efficiency of a Swiss watch. Speakers were kept to a strict schedule. The event was spread over two ballrooms, not one, so that the rolling parade of speakers would not be slowed by lunch. Reporters were kept squirreled away in a room down the hall, while a steady parade of political operatives and prominent Ready for Hillary supporters took questions, which kept the media away from the hallways where donors and operatives may say embarrassing things into microphones.
All of the bigwigs of Democratic politics were there. Paul Begala, mobbed by donors as he entered the ballroom. James Carville, who showed up in dark sunglasses, blue jeans, and running jacket. Conservative hit man turned liberal media critic David Brock, spotted smoking an e-cigarette in the lobby.
It was mostly a chance to make the case that Hillary Clinton is the only Democrat who save the country from the kind of ruin that Republicans would unleash on the nation.
“The general election in 2016 will be a very tight race, a very even race,” said Harold Ickes, who helped lead Clinton’s 2008 effort. “This is still an evenly divided country in many ways.”
And Ickes laid out for reporters what could be the specific nightmare scenario for Democrats: a ticket featuring former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, a ticket which would take two must-win states off the table for Democrats.
He said that whoever runs would have a simple message: “It’s time for a change.”
“And you can shove a whole lot under that metric,” Ickes said, flashbacks of 2008 perhaps coming flooding back to him, when candidate Obama slammed Hillary with that one word catchphrase, consigning her to being a figure of the past.
Indeed, Clinton’s former failures as a candidate hung over the event.
“My disappointment in 2008 was so profound,” said Jerry Crawford, who helped Clinton’s campaign in Iowa that year, when asked about the other candidates in the field. “That now I wake up with nightmares about Bernie Sanders.”
“I think message consistency matters,” said Mitch Stewart, who led Obama’s Iowa effort in 2008, and served as battleground director for the 2012 campaign, and is now ready for Hillary. “Every six weeks, [the Clinton campaign] seemed to have a new slogan. Identify what your message is and stick to it.”
Their message was simple. “Hope and change. And then we dropped the hope part.”
In Stewart’s conversation with the press, another slogan was suggested for Clinton this time around: “Super-Hypothetical,” since that is the mode in which most operatives seem to discuss a Clinton candidacy.
But if Clinton is not quite yet a candidate, other Democrats are. There is Jim Webb, who declared his intentions earlier this week. There is Martin O’Malley, who has not been shy about declaring his own intentions. And Sanders, who according to Crawford “is packing 200-300 people into church basements like a revival.”
As for Ready for Hillary, it now survives in a sort of suspended animation. In matter of months, if not weeks, it will shut down, its vision either realized by a Clinton candidacy or shattered by the lack of one.
“We are doing everything we have been doing for two years and we are not going to do anything differently until she makes a decision,” said Adam Parkhomenko, the founder of Ready for Hillary. “Folks are going to keep going.”
There was talk to do about “the Hillary Bus,” which the Ready for Hillary crew had been taking around the country to college campuses in order to generate enthusiasm.
Organizers were not sure what to do it with once the group shut down.
“The Smithsonian,” suggested Parkhomenko.
But few doubted that Clinton would be a candidate.
“Oh, c’mon,” said one attendee. “Do you really think Hillary would have let all of this go on if she wasn’t running?”