DES MOINES, Iowa -- Organizers hoping for a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign in 2016 met here Saturday with Iowa Democrats and labor leaders to initiate an early effort to get the former secretary of state on the ballot.
Ready for Hillary, a super PAC, is working to build national grass-roots support for Clinton should she decide to make a bid for the White House. The PAC is unaffiliated with a Clinton campaign.
"Our goal is to try to harness the energy and enthusiasm throughout the country for a potential candidacy for her and try to channel that into something useful," said Craig Smith, the national director of Ready for Hillary.
"If we didn't channel the energy and put some attention to it in the hopes of a potential 2016 campaign, it would be political malpractice," Smith said.
Clinton has not yet made her 2016 intentions public.
The event Saturday, at Exile Brewing Company, was the organization's first in Iowa. A two-day statewide organizing event for early March is in the works; in 60 meetings, organizers hope to expand their email list, identify volunteers and raise small donations of $20.16. (Of 40,000 national donors so far, half have given that amount, Smith said.)
The group has also begun organizing in New York, New Hampshire, Florida and Texas, among other states.
Leaders from both the Clinton and Obama 2008 campaigns co-chaired the event.
"It's a very powerful symbol, in terms of being able to mesh both of those grass-roots organizations behind one candidate," said Jerry Crawford, a Des Moines lawyer and Democratic political operative. "It's a little emotional for me."
On hand were Jackie Norris, who served as Obama's Iowa campaign manager in 2008, and Tyler Olson, who was one of a couple of hundred state co-chairs for Obama; and Clinton '08 chairs Teresa Vilmain and former Iowa Attorney General Bonnie Campbell.
"We're with those people who were against her in 2008," Smith said. "The doors are open. This is not about you were there, you were not there. It's a clean slate. Everybody gets in."
The day began with a breakfast meeting with Iowa labor leaders, including representatives from AFSCME, AFL-CIO, the Iowa teachers' union and Progress Iowa.
"It's an interesting organizing strategy in terms of getting out and making the ask early," said Ken Sagar, president of the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. "I think they've learned from past experiences what they need to do."
But Sagar said his organization has other priorities first. "At this point in time we're going to be pretty focused on the 2014 races," he said.
Smith said Iowa's upcoming Senate, congressional and gubernatorial races are opportunities for future Clinton volunteers to learn the ropes.
Labor leaders also offered advice on when and where Ready for Hillary should reach out to Iowans, such as county fairs. (In a New Hampshire meeting, the PAC was referred to a scrapbooking convention.)
Vilmain, who headed Clinton's Iowa campaign in 2008, said the commingling of locals and strategists at this early juncture can be fruitful in the long term.
"People are just honest," said Vilmain. "And then they're also just real."
At a later gathering with about 30 top Democrats, leaders and attendees made a number of comparisons to Clinton's ill-fated 2008 campaign, with one Democrat saying that the campaign leadership was Washington-centric and ignored the grass-roots.
"Jackie (Norris) and her team were nimble, and our team was bureaucratic and sluggish," said Phyllis Peters of Ames.
Others in the group brought up a need for a Clinton campaign to reach out to minorities, young people, people who live in rural areas and people who aren't typically involved in politics.
Leaders say they expect a potential Clinton campaign to learn from its mistakes in 2008.
"The person-to-person conversation is so important," Olson said. "We tried it the other way in 2008, and we're still trying to elect Hillary Clinton president."
Campbell, a Clinton '08 leader, said she doesn't view Clinton's Iowa loss as a mistake per se. "Hillary worked very hard, and I think we had a good organization, but theirs was better," she said. "Some of that truly was the zeitgeist, and I'm proud of that now."
Obama's victory was "a moment in history," Campbell said. "And now, I think there's another moment in history."
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