Being “Ready for Hillary” is sort of like being a superfan waiting for news that your favorite band is getting back together. You sign up for news updates and alerts, you confab with fellow groupies, and you wait for the tour dates to be announced.
Then you wait some more.
And in New Hampshire, home to the nation’s lead-off presidential primary, amid the waiting, supporters of a presidential run for Hillary Rodham Clinton are doing the initial work of fund-raising, networking, and — in the last several months — aiding local political candidates and the state Democratic Party.
Ready for Hillary “was really good in helping build up a volunteer base and enthusiasm for those running in 2014,” said Kathy Sullivan, the former New Hampshire Democratic Party chairwoman who was central to Clinton’s New Hampshire surge during her 2008 bid for the Democratic nomination. “Now that 2014 is behind us, we can narrow the focus to Hillary.”
There are more than 3 million Clinton fans like Sullivan on the Ready for Hillary super PAC mailing list nationwide.
In New Hampshire, most of the band is already back together — including Sullivan and Terry Shumaker, a senior adviser to the super PAC and the US ambassador to Trinidad during the Clinton administration — all of them talking the Ready for Hillary talk to everyone who will listen in an effort to raise money and enthusiasm for a candidate who may or may not toss her hat into the ring.
According to the latest figures from the Center for Responsive Politics, the group has raised more than $12 million. Shumaker calls it an “upside-down PAC” that relies on small donations from a large number of members, rather than a handful of wealthy contributors.
Maximum donations are capped at $25,000, and 98 percent of contributions come in at $100 or less.
“Our most common contribution is $20.16. That’s what the website defaults to. If you want to contribute more, you have to change it,” Shumaker said.
Before getting Clinton — or any Democrat — elected to the White House in 2016, organizers were keen on helping the party do well in 2014. To that end, most of the money raised was pumped back into state party coffers for the November general election.
In New Hampshire, $70,000 was distributed across several initiatives — to buy the state Democratic voter file, to sponsor the annual 100 Club Dinner and sell tickets for the annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, and to organize shuttles from local universities to help get out the college vote.
But the bulk of the money was used to boost top-of-the-ticket campaigns which, in New Hampshire, were largely successful, even in a big year for Republicans. Three out of four Democrats won in tight races, most notably Jeanne Shaheen, who edged her high-profile Republican opponent, Scott Brown, for a Senate seat.
The rest of the super PAC money has been used to incubate the New Hampshire branch of Ready for Hillary and fertilize the Clinton fan base at its grass roots, cultivating supporters not only ready for Hillary, but ready to evangelize, based on the belief that if they build a presidential campaign support network, Clinton will come.
Lynn Thomas, 70, of Meredith, hosted a fall house party that drew 10 people on a stormy night. Attendance at such events always includes either Sean Downey, the northern regional organizing director of the super PAC, or his assistant, Sara Moe, to “explain the boundaries and legalities of a super PAC,” said Thomas.
Ground rules include no direct contact with Clinton, and no handing over lists or databases — those can be sold to her campaign if and when she does declare her candidacy.
“None of us have any special ‘in’ with Hillary, and we explain that at every party. Yes, we’ve followed her when she had her bus, and her book signing tour, but there’s no personal contact, in keeping with what a super PAC is,” Thomas said.
As a volunteer, Thomas received training to help build the critical piece all successful campaigns require: the database.
Lenore Patton of Hampton is focused on building the list, as well. She draws the line at door-knocking, but carries a big clipboard.
“I’m 78, so I retired from canvassing a while ago, but my husband, Gary, and I have been going to fairs and events around the Seacoast since July 4 with the clipboard,” Patton said. “We sign up anyone who says they’re interested in getting news about Hillary, like when she’s coming, what she’s doing, where house parties are going to be.”
She says with few exceptions, the enthusiasm for Clinton is encouraging.
“Yes, we do run into Democrats who say they’re waiting to see who else is running,” Patton said. “Some say they’re waiting for Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
New Hampshire state Senator Bette Lasky of Nashua, a delegate for Clinton in 2008, says her recent house party drew those curious about Clinton.
“We had a lot of new faces — and we even had a Republican show up,” Lasky says.
For former New Hampshire Democratic Party chairman Ned Helms, being ready for Clinton is so far a matter of personal outreach.
“At this point, I’m just reaching out to build grass-roots support among friends and those I’ve worked with in the past, to share my enthusiasm.”
Ditto for Jim Demers. He appreciates the strategic nature of being Ready for Hillary, and the way it has galvanized her fan base.
“The movement fills a void that didn’t exist in 2008,” he said. “Back then there was no early organizing. And because she was running for the Senate in 2006, she got off to a late start in getting her presidential campaign organized. If she decides to run, we’re going in much stronger this time.”
If Clinton decides not to run, uniting behind another Democrat could be difficult, Demers said.
“In that case, you could see as many Democrats running as you have Republicans, and there are a heck of a lot. You’d see Joe Biden make a move, Elizabeth Warren, Martin O’Malley — and who knows who else might jump in,” Demers said.
“But it’s important to note that Hillary has frozen the field during this process of making up her mind. That says a lot.”