WASHINGTON — As Hillary Rodham Clinton privately weighs a second White House run, pieces of the Democratic establishment are beginning to fall into place publicly to help her possible candidacy.
Several super political action committees are collectively acting as an early de facto campaign organization to ensure Clinton is ready to compete vigorously if she decides to try again to become the first female president.
They’re building a network without her direct consent. But she’s not objecting either, and some Democrats are interpreting that as encouragement to push forward in anticipation of a campaign.
“There’s a lot of energy out there and it would be a mistake not to channel and use it as an opportunity to organize,” said Craig Smith, an adviser to Ready for Hillary.
The super PAC American Bridge 21st Century has launched Correct the Record, a group staffed by former Clinton aides who intend to defend the former secretary of state and other potential 2016 candidates against Republican critics. Priorities USA Action, which ran searing ads against rivals of President Barack Obama to support his re-election, is discussing bringing onboard a former White House chief of staff under her husband.
Ready for Hillary, formed after the 2012 elections, is working to keep grass-roots supporters around the country energized. And EMILY’s List, a group that has 3 million members and supports women candidates who back abortion rights, has been holding forums promoting the need to elect the America’s first female president.
Democrats have highlighted polls showing that Clinton would be an early favorite for the party’s nomination if she sought the White House again.
While this work goes on behind the scenes, Clinton has been staying in the public eye by traveling the country to speak before trade groups and to party supporters. She also plans to release a book next year about her time at the State Department, giving her a platform to tour the nation before the 2014 midterm elections.
On Tuesday, American Bridge and the liberal-leaning Media Matters plan to hold a daylong conference on in San Francisco, where about 80 prospective donors and financial backers will hear from Smith, former Vice President Al Gore and Democratic strategists James Carville and Paul Begala, longtime advisers to former President Bill Clinton. Carville has promoted a potential Hillary Clinton candidacy, and Begala is a consultant to Priorities USA Action.
An organizer of the San Francisco conference is Susie Tompkins Buell, a co-founder of the Esprit clothing company and a longtime friend of the Clintons who is also a finance co-chair of Ready for Hillary. Many donors attending the conference have pledged $100,000 or more to the two groups, which hope to raise $21 million by the end of 2013 and $25 million next year.
Bill Clinton addressed a similar closed-door Media Matters/American Bridge conference in May in New York, where he thanked the organization for its efforts, according to a person who attended.
Priorities USA has been in discussions with former Obama 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina and with John Podesta, a former White House chief of staff under President Clinton, about roles with the super PAC, according to people familiar with the talks. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to openly discuss the talks that Buzzfeed first reported.
Ready for Hillary, meanwhile, held a strategy session last week in New York and has been building a network of activists who want to help with an eventual Clinton campaign. About 600,000 people have signed its petition urging her to run, and more than 25,000 have given money — most in symbolic donations of $20.16. The group recently acquired a 50-state voter database to help it further build its network — and persuade Clinton to run.
EMILY’s List, which has conducted polling into voters’ perceptions of women in leadership positions, has a forum coming up — in Nevada in January — following two in other early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
“There is a growing understanding here that we may be able to break that final and hardest glass ceiling in the White House,” said Stephanie Schriock, the organization’s president.
Since leaving the Obama administration, the former first lady has limited her political activity to the successful campaigns of two longtime allies — Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe in Virginia and New York Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio. She also has headlined several fundraisers for her family’s foundation and recently sat next to Hollywood film producer Jeffrey Katzenberg, a top donor to Priorities USA, during a Los Angeles charity event.
Not everyone is cheering her on. Republicans say the outside groups are casting Clinton as inevitable, and they predict that will backfire if she runs.
“Hillary’s allies tried this exact playbook eight years ago and it didn’t work,” said Tim Miller, executive director of America Rising PAC, which has been critical of Clinton’s handling of the fatal attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.
The Republican-backed group helped spur the decision to form Correct the Record, which wants to rapidly respond to Republican criticism well before 2016. One of the group’s early hires was Burns Strider, a former adviser to Hillary Clinton on faith-based outreach.
David Brock, chairman of American Bridge, which is behind Correct the Record, recently released a book called “The Benghazi Hoax,” seeking to rebut GOP criticism of Clinton.
Democrats say past campaigns have taught them that they need to organize and spend early to stay in power.
“The division of labor that you’re finding right now is a manifestation of making sure that we spend those resources as wisely and efficiently as we can,” said Mitch Stewart, a former Obama campaign official. He’s now advising Ready for Hillary.