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Al Seib / Los Angeles Times/MCT

Hillary Clinton shows her UCLA Medal in Los Angeles on Wednesday, March 5, 2014.

Hillary Clinton supporters to use 2014 elections as a tuneup for 2016

Published: Monday, Mar. 17, 2014 - 2:58 pm
Last Modified: Wednesday, May. 14, 2014 - 2:23 pm

Hillary Clinton’s name won’t be on any ballot in November, but that doesn’t mean you won’t see her supporters hit the campaign trail this year.

Ready for Hillary, the political action committee that hopes to lay the groundwork for Clinton’s second presidential run, plans to help candidates for Congress, governor, state legislatures, even local offices in the off-year elections that don’t garner much enthusiasm.

The group expects to knock on doors, make phone calls, send out emails soliciting donations and register people to vote in support of any candidates that Clinton endorses. It will tap into Ready for Hillary’s own list of nearly 2 million supporters.

“Folks that don’t typically come out in 2014 are coming out because Ready for Hillary is taking the energy around her and her potential candidacy and giving them something to do today,” said Adam Parkhomenko, a former Clinton campaign staffer and now executive director of Ready for Hillary.

Already, the group has started holding campaign events across the nation that offer 2014 candidates an opportunity to meet Clinton supporters.

Next week, it will hold events with Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio. Future events are planned for Sacramento, Calif., Raleigh, N.C., and Kansas City, Mo.

“We hope that you will play a role in helping Democrats come out on top,” Ready for Hillary sent in an email to supporters.

Clinton is widely expected to endorse candidates later in the year. Former President Bill Clinton has already campaigned for Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is running against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

The traditional Democratic groups working on 2014 elections say they welcome the help in a crucial year where their party is trying to keep a slim majority in the Senate, as well as hold onto seats in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. In addition, 36 states will hold governor’s races and nearly all 50 will have state legislative elections.

Matt Canter, deputy executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is dedicated to keeping a Democratic Senate, said it’s “terrific” that Ready for Hillary is conveying to supporters that the fight right now is for Congress.

But privately some Democrats say they worry that resources, most importantly contributions, will be sent to Ready for Hillary, instead of a group solely dedicated to the 2014 elections. And they hope Ready for Hillary’s core mission of supporting Clinton in 2016 doesn’t distract from the midterm elections.

“Elections this year should be the focus,” said Lou D’Allesandro, a veteran state senator and Democratic operative from New Hampshire. “Let’s not put the cart before the horse.”

Priorities USA, one of the Democrats’ richest political action committees, had indicated it would sit out the 2014 races and hold onto its money for Clinton’s expected, but not certain, run for the White House in 2016. Stung by criticism, the group recently asked its donors to contribute to congressional races.

Kirsten Kukowski, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said it appears that outside groups, including Ready for Hillary, are merely trying to fill a void left by a “nonexistent” Democratic National Committee, which is nearly $16 million in debt. In recent weeks, the DNC has announced plans to ramp up its efforts to support Democrats running for office up and down the ballot.

Former advisers formed Ready for Hillary last year _ just after Clinton stepped down as secretary of state _ as a way to recruit volunteers across the nation for a potential campaign.

Clinton, 66, said she expects to decide later this year whether to run in 2016. “It’s such a difficult decision, and it’s one that I’m not going to rush into,” she said late last year on the ABC News special “Barbara Walters Presents: The 10 Most Fascinating People of 2013.”

The former first lady, U.S. senator from New York and secretary of state is already the presumed front-runner for her party’s nomination in 2016, dominating the potential field of candidates by huge margins.

If she runs for president, Clinton could benefit from having helped Democrats in 2014. But her image could take a hit if Democrats incur significant losses. Democratic political consultant Drew Lieberman said he sees no downside to capitalizing on enthusiasm for Clinton to help candidates this year.

“They’re aren’t many national figures as popular as her,” he said. “Anybody should be getting as much Hillary Clinton as they can right now.”

Clinton’s approval rating in some polls is 10 points higher than President Barack Obama’s, who has seen his numbers plunge after a string of political setbacks. Among them: the chaotic start to the federal health care law and his response to international developments, such as the ongoing civil war in Syria and the Russian military move into Crimea.

Some candidates are already distancing themselves from Obama in places that Clinton remains popular.

D’Allesandro, who supports another potential candidate for 2016, Vice President Joe Biden, said he already has asked Clinton to help re-elect Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. D-N.H., whose husband was Clinton’s state chairman in 2008.

Last year, Ready for Hillary backed two successful candidates _ Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia and Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York _ who was endorsed by both Clintons. McAuliffe, one of their friends, served as chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, while de Blasio served as her Senate campaign manager in 2000.

In the weeks leading to McAuliffe’s election, the group dispatched its own staff to knock on doors, sent out a flurry of emails urging supporters to volunteer and vote, and helped collect $100,000 for his campaign, according to Parkhomenko. It sent out an email for de Blasio.

This year, Ready for Hillary plans to promote Clinton’s policy positions _ from voting rights, same-sex marriage and a rewrite of the nation’s immigration laws _ and follow her around on her widely expected tour after the release of her memoir. It also expects to echo her endorsements.

“Hillary Clinton knows how important these elections are,” Parkhomenko said.

Kathy Sullivan, a Democratic activist who was a Clinton co-chair in New Hampshire in 2008, praised Ready for Hillary for their efforts this year.

“Anything we can do to get more people involved,” she said. “There are so many (people) that might not give to the Democratic Party but will give to Ready for Hillary.”

Email: akumar@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @anitakumar01.

Read more articles by Anita Kumar



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